Off Grid Rebelles: Rebelle Rally Recap

Off-Grid Rebelles and the Rebelle Rally Experience

It’s difficult to contain the excitement when you’re so passionate about your hobbies. And that’s just how I feel about the Rebelle Rally. This experience combines passion, endurance, and teamwork to bring out the best in women everywhere. The Rebelle Rally is the largest women’s navigational rally in North America, and soon to be the longest course in the world. 

 

It’s easy to see why there is so much excitement around it! This is definitely not for the faint of hear, and competitors muster up every ounce of determination and courage that they can to complete the 8-day course that covers 2700km and 3 states, with nothing but a map and a compass. You read that right. No GPS, no technology. And we love it! 

 

My name is Kelsey Pringle and I am from Vancouver Island, Canada. My teammate, Liz Switten, is from Sacramento, California, USA. Together for 2021, we’re team Off-Grid Rebelles, separated by distance but united in our love of the Rebelle Rally. Our team was formed through our connection to Off Grid Trailers. 

 

I have been working with Duane Leedell and the Off Grid Trailers team for two year and I have seen their exponential growth first-hand. Needless to say that I am so proud to work with them and to be a small part of their success story and am likely their biggest fan. Liz is the proud owner of the Off-Grid Expedition 2.0, which is how our Rally adventure came to fruition. 

 

The Rebelle Rally is not just about competition. It’s all about empowering women from all walks of life to take the leap and navigate their way to the ultimate adventure. It’s about knowing that as a woman, the sky’s the limit, and we can do anything that we set our minds to. 

 

When we approached them with our wacky idea of competing in the Rebelle Rally, they believed in showcasing our story and what it represents. We have truly received the most amazing support and encouragement from the team. Even through our most scary and daunting moments, the Off-Grid Trailers team was always behind us, giving us that extra strength that we needed to cross the finish line. Words are not sufficient to express our gratitude to this amazing team with enormous hearts and all we can say is that we love you Off Grid!

The journey of a thousand miles

Everything sounds a lot simpler in theory, right?! But I can tell you that it seems way easier as fans cheering teams on from the sidelines. As a rookie having completed her first event, it looks very different from the inside. And it is way harder too.

 

I can however definitely bear witness to the practice and preparation. It pays off a million times over. There is nothing quite like the actual experience. If you’re considering competing in the future, or if you would perhaps just like to get some insight into what the Rally is like, I’ve journaled my experience for you. Let me say from the onset that 2021 was an amazing year to participate in the Rebelle Rally because of all the spectacular backdrops that we got to experience.

 

With that being said, let’s cover the events that took place.

Day 1

The tech expectation was hosted at the world-famous Hoover Dam. At this event, all teams received their official Rally vests with relevant team numbers. We would live in these for the next 8 days. In addition to this, our Rally team numbers were placed on our vehicles, and our GPS and Rally trackers were installed. And everything had to be inspected, from insurance to helmets and our vehicles. 

 

As always, safety first, and the mechanics’ team has to ensure that every vehicle can endure the difficult terrain that it would be traversing over the next 8 days. Then came the hard part – disconnecting ourselves from the real world. All prohibited items such as phones, ipads, and any GPS enabled electronics had to be handed over. 

 

It’s hard to describe the energy on day 1. Unlike the Off-Grid Rebelles, many teams are seasoned and fierce competitors under the banners of companies like Ford, Meridian, Jeep, and Volkswagen. These are the types of teams that have their eyes set on surpassing their personal bests and gaining their spot on the podium. But thankfully, there were other rookies this year, 24 teams in total, each with a spark in their eye, probably a combination of a little anxiety and a lot of excitement. Which is exactly what I felt. I know that I wanted to do my best, but being as competitive as I am, I had my sights set on the top 10, or rookie of the year. 

 

In hindsight, crossing that finishing line should have been the goal from the get-go, and one that the Off-Grid Rebelles are proud to have accomplished.

Day 2

This is considered the prologue day and is an opportunity for competitors to transition from their hotel in Vegas to the base camp. It is structured with coordinates and checkpoints and gives the teams a feel for what lies ahead. However, the points accumulated on this day do not go towards the Rally score. 

 

Call this a practice round because teams are given the chance to get into the rhythm of map reading and to get oriented with the reality that they will face over the next week. This is where we get to put our skills to the test, and Liz and I nailed all our green and blue checkpoints as we made our way to base camp.  

 

A quick note – Green checkpoints are worth between 20 and 30 points per check point, marked by a large green flag, and are mandatory to collect throughout the day. Blue checkpoints (7 -10 points) are more difficult to find, not mandatory, and marked by a small flag or a skinny blue poll.  And then there are the black diamonds which are not marked at all and have a bullseye radius of 30-50 meters where you can score points.  The maximum radius is roughly 300 meters and if you signal your tracker outside this space is considered a wide miss and you are ducted 10 points.  The black diamonds are what separate good navigators from exceptional navigators. 

 

We had an amazing day 2, and we’re pumped for the upcoming week. At the beautifully decorated base camp, we were met by amazing Rebelle staff who checked our trackers. From there, we headed to the fueling station and had the option of visiting the mechanics for a check-up or heading straight to the impound lot. 

 

At this point, we had an hour to remove all our gear from the vehicle. Forget anything, and you get a penalty for having to be escorted back to your vehicle. The hike from the impound carrying your gear is exhausting. Dinner at the main tent and the next day prep was welcomed, and as we settled down to rest, I had to get my head around this being routine for the next week.

Day 3

This is where the competition actually begins. We awoke to the ringing of a cowbell by Emilly Miller at 5 am. This is when we learned that other competitors start their day at 4 am by organizing all their maps and tools. Smart move. We didn’t have to tear down camp this morning, so we just followed suit and prepared for the day ahead. 

 

Between plotting our coordinates and getting to the start line, we had 2 hours and with all the mandatory briefing, I was easily distracted and did feel quite overwhelmed. We needed to plan our strategy and route too. A sip of coffee and intent focus along with my practice sessions at home and I managed to plot the 20 points in 1.5 hours. 

 

Our morning was epic and we nailed the greens, blues and went for a couple of black diamonds. We did pretty well on the enduro which is a time speed challenge that requires a roadbook. However, we did run out of time in the afternoon with 5 checkpoints about 150 km apart still to cover. 

 

Lesson number one learned. Spend less time celebrating during the morning. Every second counts and you have to be quick and efficient with your time if you plan on getting all the checkpoints. We managed to get 3 out of the 5 and booked it before closing off. Getting to base camp on time is an easy 10 points.

Days 4 & 5

Lesson number one learned. Spend less time celebrating during the morning. Every second counts and you have to be quick and efficient with your time if you plan on getting all the checkpoints. We managed to get 3 out of the 5 and booked it before closing off. Getting to base camp on time is an easy 10 points. A little more efficient today, we awoke at 4.30 am to roughly -3°C. Liz tore down base camp while I began plotting our cps for the day.  Although everything felt frantic and rushed, both Liz and I knew that poor time management was our downfall, and we were definitely going to be more efficient today. After tearing down our tent and packing up the jeep, we started with an enduro that lasted about an hour and required extreme focus and communication.

 

When we completed it, we hit our first green check point and made it to the next blue check point 24kms away in record time. The road was full of washouts, and as luck would have it, we hit one at 70kms an hour. It was crazy, with our heads hitting the roof and stuff flying everywhere. The impact was truly frightening, and as soon as we got control of everything again, we got back up to speed. 

 

Shortly after, with my head down map reading, we hit another washout and went off the road. This time, the Jeep wouldn’t move, and Liz dropped the bomb. We had damaged the axle housing. As we called dispatch with our emergency satellite phone, the hard reality set in. We were done for the day, and possibly for the entire Rally.

 

My heart sank and I literally felt sick. Our vision of crossing the finishing line was fading at an alarming rate. Waiting for the mechanics to arrive was the worst as we watched other teams race past in a bud to collect checkpoints which were now out of reach for us. 

 

One team did stop. It was team 145, Andra Shaffer and Kris Vockler. They pulled off the road, and put their competition on pause. These ladies were definitely not rookies, and have been competing in every rally since the Rebelle Rally began. With their sights clearly set on competing to the highest level, we understood that pausing their day to help us out would have set them back a lot. 

 

With tears, empathy, and amazing words of encouragement, Kris and Andrea worked wonders in lifting our spirits and helping us to see beyond this moment of devastation. Kind souls truly exist, and the sacrifice that team 145 made for us is something I will always treasure.

 

The mechanics took an hour to arrive during which time Liz and I didn’t utter a single word to each other. The Jeep had to be loaded on a flatbed trailer because of the damage. After the mechanics left to get the trailer, I lay in the desert dirt with my bandana over my mouth to avoid the dust from our competitors that continued to fly past us. 

 

I was angry and so disappointed. I felt even more saddened at having let Off Grid Trailers down. Our sponsors had high hopes for us. They believed in us, and yet here we were lying in a heap of dirt. As I wallowed in my pity party, I knew that it was selfish especially since it was Liz’s vehicle that had been so badly damaged. 

 

Yet I couldn’t stop thinking of all the time, effort, and training that I had put into preparing for this. Or the fact that I had left my husband and children for 21 days to follow this dream. Self-centered, I know. But I also knew that it was better not to say a thing to Liz at the moment, so I took a cat nap until the mechanic came back.

 

With the mangled Jeep winched onto the trailer, we headed on to the airport where the mechanics crew had a mobile shop. We waited in silence for Nick, the head Rebelle Mechanic, to paint us a picture of our near future. 

 

After he had assessed the vehicle, we figured out that Liz’s Jeep would need an entirely new front axle. Thanks to the pandemic, parts were short and extremely hard to find, and the diagnosis just went from bad to worse. 

 

Nick gave us the news and it was probably the look of dreams that were completely dashed that brought a spark back. What we heard from him next was music to our ears. He said, “Well, I’m going to spend all night welding the housing and shaft back together to get you on the road tomorrow”. 

 

No guarantees and no promises, but the mere fact that another soul was willing to sacrifice for us made all the difference. We had faith that Nick and his team would do whatever it took to help, and this is just what I needed to put the wind back in my sails.

 

We were escorted to our new base camp at Big Dune by another Rebelle mechanic and waited there until our jeep arrived on the flatbed several hours later. The base camp was absolutely stunning. By this time, I had come to terms with what had happened, and Liz, as cool as a cucumber all along, now started showing signs of anxiety. 

 

It still amazes me how perfectly timed it was, because, with me being a little more level headed, I was in a better position to help her out of this current headspace. The reality was harsh. Yes, the accident was our fault. We could have controlled it, and this wasted day could have been avoided. That with the thought of not being able to continue in the Rally broke our hearts.

 

 

C.A.R.

Emily Miller, the owner of Rebelle, reminded us of that when we arrived at base camp. The truth is that we were going too fast. We were not following our safety rules. Our bid to be more efficient and prudent with time cost us an entire day. We exchanged caution for urgency, and we did not exercise the C.A.R principles – Control, Accuracy, and Relaxed while driving. As a result, we lost our rig, time, and faced the looming possibility of not finishing. 

 

The incredible mechanics’ team at Rebelle worked on our rig until 5 am the following morning. Liz had to stay up with the Jeep all night and I slept in the tent, hoping that I would need the rest to plot and navigate the next day. Fingers crossed.

 

I woke up at 4:30 am to the sounds of Jeep RPMs. It had to be ours! I put on my gear and ran out to the mechanics’ station. And yeah it was ours! Nick and his team worked tirelessly to weld the housing and axle shaft together. We understood that it could go one of two ways. Either we would fall apart on the first bump we hit, or it works and we get to finish the Rebelle Rally. 50/50 odds that we kept hoping would stay in our favor.

 

With new hope, I ran to the main tent, collected our checkpoints for the day, and started plotting. Liz and I had a quick talk before hopping into the Jeep, and we both wanted to finish this as a team. Our focus suddenly changed. We were no longer competing to get top 10 or to get rookie of the year. Instead, we had one goal in mind. We were now competing to finish what we had started. 

 

Before we left base camp we were informed that hurricane winds were coming through the area and that we should bring our sleeping bags with us and secure our tents to the ground as we may have to shelter in the vehicle if visibility diminished. We did that and rolled through the start line.

 

All the determination and strength in us didn’t prepare us for the day ahead. At a top speed of 20km per hour, the day was very, very slow and extremely trying on both Liz and myself. We had to be strategic about our checkpoints because we didn’t want the green checkpoints to close on us. Our morning started off well with us nailing two black diamond points. The next was a blue checkpoint that took us ages to get to. And then of course were dummy blue flags that were new to the rally this year. Clicking one of those would give teams a wide miss and cost you 10 points. Talk about messing with your head!

 

The struggle got real as we passed a blue flag, and although I was convinced that this was not ours, the doubt began to set in a little while later. Turtling down the road a long kilometer later, we still didn’t find a blue flag. All I was thinking is that we have no time to go back to check if the dummy was in fact our flag.  I scanned our surroundings and there it was! The relief was indescribable. But the frustration at our slow speed was hard to overlook. 

 

As I hopped out of the Jeep to signal our tracker, I was overwhelmed by this frustration. I looked at Liz and said, “What I am about to do has nothing to do with you so please don’t take offense or judge me.”  I then turned to the desert mountains and proceeded to scream into them. I needed to let it go.   

 

The winds picked up during the day, and they were quite intense, but we still had ankle visibility and we’re not deterred from collecting our checkpoints. We did our best and headed back to base camp in time to collect our final 10 points for the day. As luck would have it, we arrived back at a decimated base camp. Our tent had been destroyed and I couldn’t believe our luck! Couldn’t we just get a damn break? The winds were so severe that we ended up eating a dehydrated meal for dinner and retired to the Jeep for some rest. No sooner had we closed our exhausted eyes when we heard the 5 am cowbell. It was time to start again.

Days 6 to 9

I’m sure you’d agree that it had started feeling like groundhog day.  I’m going to condense days 6 to 9. Although challenging, everyday offered amazing experiences and new friendships with fellow competitors. I would like to give a huge shout-out to team Ford (150) for hooking us up with a two-man tent so that we could have a place to sleep the rest of the Rally! Shelby Hall and Penny Dale placed 4th overall this year and were inspiring to watch. 

 

Liz and I were a little worse for wear, and we continued our slow-paced journey. The next 3 days gave us enough time to appreciate the beauty in our surroundings, take in the scenery, and really dial in the accuracy of our navigation. Our axel held up, and we were able to increase our pace daily. And I must say that the experience of the Mojave Desert, Colorado River in Needles, and the incredible Glamis Sand Dunes is something not to be missed. 

 

The camaraderie and friendships forged over these days are ones that will last a lifetime. All teams experience highs and lows, however, the tribe that the Rebelles create is unlike any other. We all have to lean on each other at some point, whether it be a recovery in the sand dunes, or help to navigate because a team trip computer has died, or just a hug when you’ve had a hard day and are feeling low. The tribe comes together and our connection is deep. You realize that there is no way that a team can get through this in isolation. 

 

We crossed the finish line on the final day. Naturally, the tears flowed without warning. The reality of what we had endured as a team during the week hit me like a ton of bricks. And we got through it together and crossed that finish line. What an accomplishment! What a display of strength and a will to succeed! There is no doubt that we faced tense moments in the Jeep, but we managed to overcome these emotions and work as a team. We achieved the goal that we had signed up for a year ago, and we did it in style, washouts, tears, screaming, and all. 

 

My first call after receiving our prohibited items back was to my family. As I face-timed them, the tears wouldn’t stop. I couldn’t wait to get back home, but at the same time, a wave of melancholy came over me. The Rally was over. Now what?

 

We didn’t go home immediately but instead spent an additional day with the tribe, where we just hung out and enjoyed quality time playing games together. We then prepared for the Gala in honor of our accomplishments and to celebrate the force competitors in the race. Big ups and a well-deserving win to Kris and Andrea who won the team spirit award.

Advice for rookies.

Go in humble and with your mindset on finishing. You can’t possibly be prepared for this Rally without having done it.  Know that it is really, really hard, and it is going to push you to your limits.  It is about endurance. You will be tired, hungry, dehydrated, lost, and will be frustrated. But you will also discover a new strength in yourself and will meet remarkable women from all walks of life.  You will learn a new skill, make new friends, and will want to come back.

Words by: Kelsey Pringle, Team Off Grid Rebelles.

Off Road is Better!

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