Our world is fast-paced, hectic, and filled with all things tech. People juggle twenty different tasks at any given time with smartphones seemingly attached to their hips. But what if we slow down and let nature be our TV set? What if we unplugged our social media-crazed brains and let the great outdoors be our next endorphin hit?
Fifty-four teams of two did just that (including me). We took to the desert in determined form. All women, no GPS or technology, and a whole lot of guts. Eight days and 1,600 dust-encrusted miles later, each team found their way through the Nevada and California desert and finished an all-women’s vehicular-based competition, the 2022 Rebelle Rally, with a renewed sense of self, along with greasy hair and lots of bruises.
About The Rebelle Rally
Competing in this off-road rally is expensive and tough. Approximately $15,000 earns admission into the rally (via paid registration). That’ll also fund fuel, food, and tracking device rentals as you camp across the desert. Teams enter the ever-popular 4×4 class or the X-Cross (crossover) category, piloting all-wheel-drive automobiles. Other segments included Electrified, Bone Stock, Team Spirit award, International Cup, and more.
The goal of the competition is to find as many of the 158 hidden checkpoints and earn as many points as possible, while only using a compass, maps, and a roadbook, while managing your vehicle and time wisely. Rally special designations like Daily Stage Winner, and Rookie Of The Year earn awards that include donations to charity, trophies, and more.
Each team has a driver and navigator, as well as their associated vehicle. About half of this year’s competitors were newcomers, or rookies, while the rest have previously competed. Gasoline-powered off-roaders ruled the roost (with 18 teams running the Jeep brand alone), but diesel-fueled vehicles gained in popularity and showcased personally owned autos from various manufacturers like Jeep, Land Rover, and for the first time, Germany-based BMW.
The X-Cross class shrunk, from 10 down to 8 teams this year, most OE-supported. Unique or lesser-known adventure rides were also in attendance. They included a 1994 V8-powered Land Rover D90, a 2004 Nissan Xterra, and even the rally’s first-ever Isuzu, a 2001 VehiCROSS.
Our Vehicle Of Choice
What was our vehicle of choice for 2022? For the second year in a row, my teammate and seasoned navigator, Emily Winslow, and I competed in the Electrified designation. This year we piloted a bright yellow 2023 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe plug-in hybrid. Equipped with 375 horsepower and 470 ft.-lbs. of torque, this electrified Rubicon gave our team instant power, a key feature when rallying this remote desert competition.
My Rally History
I first competed in the rally in 2018 with a manual transmission-equipped 2012 Toyota Tacoma. The heavily customized 4×4 was owned by my then-navigator’s husband. Although I’ve spent years as a passenger in various off-roaders, I started off-road driving only a few months prior. After a few desert off-road training sessions in our 1992 right-hand-drive Mitsubishi Pajero on local trails with my husband, Andy Lilienthal, to get familiarized with the types of terrain I’d soon face. From rocks, hard-packed dirt, and massive whoops to washed-out off-camber trails, loose sand, and intimidating slip faces, the rally included it all.
Shortly before the 2018 competition, the Tacoma’s clutch failed during a training session in Glamis, California, which hosts the rally’s finish line. However, a new clutch was installed shortly before the competition. Being a new critical part, I carefully “broke it in” during the 1,500-mile off-road competition. Practicing mechanical sympathy with the rig honed my off-roading chops for the event. The Tacoma rewarded us with a solid performance. My navigator and I, as Team Free Range Dames, finished the demanding rally, placing within the top third of the rookies.
In 2021, I drove a completely different vehicle. I was approached by Volkswagen of America to be the driver of their new all-wheel-drive ID.4 SUV—an all-electric crossover—a vehicle type the rally hadn’t seen before. Although dubbed “a cute car” by some, Winslow and I, as Team Volkswagen, proved any naysayers wrong. We became the first team to compete in and successfully finish the eight-day off-road rally in an EV crossover. We also ran alongside one other all-electric vehicle in 2021, a stock Rivian R1T truck.
Team Nor’Wester And Our Jubilant Jeep
Fast forward to this year, variety is the common theme and spice of life for me. Winslow and I partnered up again, and this year, we joined with Jeep and became Team Nor’Wester. We took to the trails in one of the most iconic and capable off-roaders in history—an electrified plug-in hybrid 2023 Jeep Rubicon 4xe.
It was Winslow’s first time navigating and off-roading in a 4×4; her expertise lies with crossovers. However, she immediately became comfortable with our jubilant Jeep, never once worrying about ground clearance or if the PHEV 4×4 would finish the rally in one piece.
Our Jeep Rubicon 4xe tester normally gets a total 49MPGe as a gas/electric hybrid. It can achieve 20 MPG using straight gasoline but, as with other off-road warriors, those ratings drop when taking it off the well-worn path. However, the 4xe had excellent total range, offering up to 370 miles of adventuring opportunities, giving us no worries with fuel consumption.
Various drive modes were used during the competition. Full automatic and hybrid mode used the least amount of fuel. Popping it over to all-electric gave us unique and quiet experiences as we traversed through difficult terrain with relative ease. Shifting the 4xe manually was fun and intuitive; it gave me more control through tricky sections, but it used more petrol.
Even though it was my second time rallying an electrified vehicle, I grinned not hearing the strain of an ICE-powered engine while in EV mode. It is unusual at first, but after a while, you forget about the “all-watts” aspect as Mother Nature envelopes you with subtle sounds.
The Rebelle Rally Course
The rally route is kept top secret each year. However, this year’s course stemmed from the north end of Lake Tahoe and methodically made its way through the Nevada and California desert before arriving near the Mexican border in the famed Glamis-area sand dunes.
Off-Road Equipment And Navigation
This year our team piloted a bone-stock vehicle. We packed bare essentials for vehicle recovery, emergency gear, and overall preparedness. These included items like a WARN vehicle recovery kit, a Factor 55 kinetic recovery rope, WARN soft and Epic hard shackles, heavy-duty gloves, Leatherman, and basic tools. Also on board were two sets of MAXTRAX MKII vehicle recovery boards, a DMOS Delta shovel, five gallons of water, a robust first-aid kit, and emergency triangles in the event of mechanical issues.
In addition to off-road equipment, navigational supplies are also must-have items to have on board. The rally is a map-and-compass event. Duplicate and even triplicate map rulers, compasses, mechanical pencils, and even map plotters come in handy when supplies are lost or get broken. We’re speaking from experience, here. Sturdy “navi” clipboard boxes or zippered pouches secure small items and are easily stashed until needed. Expect the unexpected, because it happens.
Finishing is Winning
Unfortunately, an unforeseen issue hit us right before the rally started. Our non-GPS equipped Terratrip odometer computer (a device that measures distance to the hundredth of a kilometer versus a stock odometer counting at a tenth) wouldn’t calibrate. Our Terratrip was rendered useless.
So, we relied on the Jeep 4xe’s stock trip odometer to help us find visible checkpoints, as well as invisible ones, Winslow felt comfortable capturing with less accurate mileage readings. It was a challenging feat to complete the rally without the help of an aftermarket rally odometer, a critical piece of equipment to help pinpoint exact locations in the middle of nowhere. The closer it measures distance to intended targets, the easier and quicker they’re found. This made teams more efficient and confident.
Winslow and I achieved our main goal and completed the 1,600-mile off-road rally strong. We finished in the top 20 4x4s class (which housed 46 talented teams). With this 2022 Rebelle Rally finish, we become the first pair to successfully rally three diverse engines/motors: an internal combustion ICE engine, an all-electric powertrain, and most recently, a plug-in hybrid. Additionally, Winslow and I have now competed in both crossover and 4×4 categories, adding our names to a small list of teams who have also done so.
Challenges And Highlights Of The Adventure
Desert tracks gave way to surreal landscapes of craggy rocks and endless sagebrush. Steep inclines awarded teams with sky-high challenges and soft sands that swallowed tires of even the best of teams. Vehicle woes and sickness paved the way for some, whereas spectacular scenery and long hours kept all competitors company. The event challenges teams in ways they won’t anticipate… but it’s up to them to work through challenges in a manner where that will pale in comparison to their highlights.
Believing in yourself and taking the chance to learn something new will forever outshine those who doubt you or don’t want to see you succeed. Even if you’re challenged or fail along the way, learning from those hardships can help solidify confidence, ability, and the yearning to learn even more.
From the Driver’s Seat: 2022 Rebelle Rally – A Journey And Adventure
Words by Mercedes Lilienthal
Photos by Mercedes Lilienthal, Richard Giordano, Nicole Dreon, Paolo Baraldi, and Regine Trias