Well, it finally happened, the Rebelle Rally 2017. A year's worth of training and prep, culminating in the California and Nevada desert. If you followed along over the year, you know that this is the first off-road rally for myself and my navigator Char O'Day. Our expectations for the rally were rather simple; complete it, don't suck while doing it, and have a lot of fun. Somewhere in the middle, we both looked at each other and said, "we don't suck, holy crap, we've exceeded our expectations.
If you are just joining us in our adventure, the Rebelle Rally is a 1,200 km "ride" through the desert from Lake Taho to Glamis Sand Dunes in southern California. When I say "ride," the quote comes from what Emily Sturges Miller is fond of saying at the starting line: "Relax, it's just a drive from point A to B." But it's more than just a ride, and the Rebelle is more than just a rally. Emily created the Rebelle Rally, a rally she always wanted to have competed in.
This truly was a life experience, one I hope to relive repeatedly. Much like going to a week-long Zen Buddhist silent retreat. Where you prepare a ton before, wonder in the middle why the hell you did it, but come out the other side with a literal change in consciousness; the post-rally hangover. All the while, you change to a different person in the end.
For months I had heard about how hard it was to re-enter normal life after the race. Drink lots of fluids and sleep as much as you can; the stress will be taxing. In the end, you are left with a low. What do you do now? Nobody save for your other Rebellers understands the race. Many just think it's a cool camping trip in the desert. Until the see the videos and photos, of tears, joy, sadness, and dancing.
We eagerly drove to Lake Tahoe, getting there a day early, so we had time to grab something forgotten. We had trained for map and compass work all year, and Char was the stronger of the two of us. What we didn't understand was how an Enduro worked. I think some will fondly know of them as TSD's or Time-Speed-Distance racing. We noticed that many had multiple stopwatches and timers, we figured we better find some, just in case we figure it out. Char and her husband spend hours looking for timers. It was becoming clear that there may have been a run on timers between Seattle and LA. We settled on a small ladies Casio watch with a stopwatch. We would make it work.
Day 0 we cast off Char's husband Patrick to go feral for a week while we jump into the unknown of what we were about to do. Rally School, more info on Enduro's and rules and how to do this and that. We followed an Enduro roadbook to get from Lake Tahoe to Rally School; we got this. We thought.
We finished the day with lat & longs, finding checkpoints, setting pace goals. "We have to get all the greens and blues, blacks if we can," we decided. Char and I settled into roles quickly. She mapped, and I drove. So far, the plan is working. Basecamp 1, a score around 76%, and a tremendous amount of accomplishment. We did this once; we can do it six more times.
Days 1-3 - What the hell did we do? Internet withdrawals are kicking in; a cold beer is now a need each night. Day 2 I started missing my son. Initially, I wanted to see if we could make quick calls home. But after a short while, all those needs were pushed down. Whatever I was doing at work the week before didn't have urgency. I knew my son was safe and happy, and he vanished from my continual thoughts. The sole path becomes your schedule and how to maximize time. From waking up and preparing maps and routes for the day to the evening ritual of putting the rig to bed, eating dinner and passing out in a cold tent in the desert. (No kidding, ice on the inside of the tent and a frozen water bottle outside.
By Day 3 we realize we are pulling in some great scores in the 85% range. We both can feel we are getting better each day and doing Enduro's and maximizing time to route for checkpoints. One night I was so elated over our score vs. how hard we had been working, I burst into tears at the scoring table. Several cool chicks asked me if I was ok that they saw me crying, "I couldn't be better." I remember we turned to each on the morning of Day 4 and both expressed that we are doing it. We are starting to get it, and it turns out we don't suck! A LONG way to go to be good but not sucking was pretty big on our list.
Honestly, the remainder of the days were a blur of focus and determination mixed with intense bonding with all the other women in the rally. Packs are being made for what we know is a pending finish at Glamis dunes.
Every night we returned to basecamp we were exhausted but excited. Each night became a little bit sadder as we realized we were one more day closer to the end. A shift had happened. Intense focus and connection with our other competitors had flipped a switch. Even from Day 0, we were repeatedly asked if we had fun or how it was. The answer was always the same, even at the start, "that was an absolutely epic day, we did great." I couldn't tell if I was trying to stay positive or I was really and truly getting high off this. I was getting high off it, not all that surprising.
Somewhere around Day 2, Andrea Bullard, with the Rebelle staff asked me at the finish line for that day how the day went. My response was, " there aren't enough F-words in the world to describe how awesome this day was." But that was every day. Even the bad ones we made mistakes to learn from. It was indescribably awesome to experience, each day.
Throughout each day we made decisions together, learned how to bolster each other, and quickly jumped when other teams needed support to get back into the rally. Be it mechanical or emotional; it was these moments where we could help others that became the most impactful. There were times we were at risk of losing points but never passed a team needing help. This doesn't always happen in a competitive environment. Our strongest bonds with other competitors came from these events and later in the week; those bonds rang true as we needed help getting unstuck in Glamis.
With the final day approaching, we learn how big and odd Glamis is. Upon arriving at basecamp on Day 6, I needed help finding a slow leak I couldn't plug. Forcing us to stop every hour or two and pump the front driver tire back up to highway pressure. While I'm at it, help to get a bent tie rod back relative straightness. Staff mechanic Nick taught me a new trick in using my winch to do the job. While searching for the hole in my tire, I'm talking to tech director Chris Woo about Glamis. As I'm telling him how strange it feels he chimes in with, "It's the moon, Glamis is like being on the moon." At this point, I'm wondering when the shrooms came out, and I missed it. But he wasn't wrong. It was a hard and foreign place. Spiced up with a 50 mph wind an sandstorm throughout the final day. The bonus is having to use my goggles and scarf. Resulting in what I feel is an epiclly cool pic of myself.
Crossing the finish line on the final day was something we knew and felt was looming all day. At some point, we would run out of checkpoints and have to go in. Discussions of next year, nay debate on why Char needs to be my partner next year, ensued. I had known for days I was doing this again. And, I felt that doing the Gazelle was possible. But the end was coming closer. Greatly wanting a hotel and shower but not wanting it to end. Tired of living in the Jeep - which means my Jeep looked like a tossed salad each day - but knowing that soon the dust would all fly off in a dash to San Diego.
I cried. I held it together pretty good as we crossed the finish line. The hugs and cheers and success. We did it. We completed it. We learned how to finish it and now are starting to see how to work on winning it. But then I cried. In my Jeep, behind the tent city. Char cried. We got our cell phones and called our loved ones, and cried. It was the same for most everyone. It was the most surreal feeling in my life. Feelings I should say because there were a lot of them.
There were parties at basecamp and a big party in San Diego.
Then the drive home and the start of that silly post-rally blues. Or "rally hangover" as one of my rally friends says. After a year of prep and days of routine, stress, and focus. I was lost. My focus was on driving home, but my emotional state was definitely in the blue tones. What the heck was going on? It's Wednesday following the rally finish, and I'm still in a funk. However, that funk is being softened by looking for the next event, planning for Rebelle Rally 2018 and buying Jeep parts online.
The experience was incredible. Our new friendships are deep. Next year, we are playing for top 5. :)
Thank you to the whole staff, you made the trip amazing. It never ceased to amaze me how incredible and accomplished not only the competitors were but the staff as well. Each day I'd be chatting with another staff member to learn they were geophysicists and IMAX cinematographers. To us, they were moral support and medical staff. Mind-blowing. Handpicked well by Emily. Now for Emily, there are not enough "thank you's" in the world to express how much gratitude we had in her presenting an opportunity like this. She's had an inspiring career, and her presence pushes you to do more and be more. I wasn't kidding when I said this was more than a rally, and trust me it is competitive. It's personal and emotional, forming deep friendships with each other. It's life changing if you let it.
Until next year!
Special thanks to the Intern Lilly Macaruso, always moving and always smiling to make everyone laugh and dance. You are an inspiring bundle of energy, and I hope we find our way towards some adventure in the future.
As well, thanks to Doug and John from staff, great conversations, and cold refreshment when I needed it the most.
To learn more, go to www.rebellerally.com
Special thanks to all our sponsors and friends who have helped us on this great adventure.
And one final thanks to Char O'Day, she is indeed a navigatrix. I've known you since as far back as memory allows. I'm so happy we got to share this experience together and become closer. Even if you decide to not to the rally again, you will always be in my right seat. Much love and respect for you.