Rebelle Rally: Empowering Women Off Road

Rebelle Rally
Lisa Wolford and Sandy Conner, Team Hoehn Porsche, before their win the Crossover Class. Photo by Kymri Wilt

My Rebelle Rally Initiation.

“Do you like camping?” I was asked, my editor enquiring about this assignment.
“Sure!” I respond enthusiastically, with visions of the many luxury tented camps I’d stayed at all over Africa – you know, with a porter to carry my camera gear, my own driver, mini-bar, ensuite shower and toilet, WIFI signal…that kind of camping. Yep, love it.
“Yeah, but I mean, are you a camper? Like, do you have a sleeping bag, at least?”
“Yes, of course….but…”
“Great! Want to cover the Rebelle?”
“The what?”
“You’ll LOVE it, you’re adventurous, the scenery is gorgeous for photography, and…”
“I’m in!” I blurted, still not sure what this “Rebelle” thing was all about. She carried on excitedly about girl power, dirt, cars, dirt, a Michelin-star chef, more dirt….but ultimately, she couldn’t really do it justice in words. It simply has to be experienced. I accepted the challenge to head into the great unknown.

Related: Life Lessons With Off-Road Driver and Rebelle Rally Founder Emily Miller

You, Your Wits and Your Teammate: The Rebelle in a Nutshell

The Rebelle Rally is an all women’s off-road navigation competition that spans 10 days as teams drive from Kingston, Nevada to San Diego California. ALL WOMEN. OFF ROAD. PAPER NAVIGATION. And I should mention that they go completely off the grid, with no tech, no phones, nothing but maps and compasses and an early morning daily briefing before they head out. Each day is spent navigating their way across all kinds of terrain to checkpoint markers where they log points to their scores. And they have to be prepared: to get stuck, fix a flat, swap a tire, diagnose an engine issue (there is a mechanic shop on wheels at basecamp for vehicles that need a pro to take a look).

Rebelle Rally

Team Armada Adventures head into the unknown of Imperial Dunes. Photo: Kymri Wilt

For Me, Unknown and Unexpected. For Rebelles, the Thrill of Competition and Conquest

My first task: Make my way to basecamp the night before the final day of the 2018 Rebelle Rally. I had no idea where basecamp was or how to get there on my own, nor was there any specific address I could pop into my smartphone or vehicle navigation system. All I had was a time window to meet my Rebelle host at a scenic overlook off Highway 89, from which I would follow her vehicle off the highway, down gravel dirt roads, and into the dunes. Fortunately, I was driving a Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Limited SUV with AWD, so my vehicle was more than capable on the terrain, even if I am more of a paved-road enthusiast.

Rebelle Rally, An All Women’s Off-Road Competition Spans 10 Days, Running From Nevada To California, And Instills And Empowers A Spirit Of Accomplishment.

Related: Free Your Soul and Empower Your Future at Women’s Day at the Chicago Auto Show

Rebelle Rally

Lisa Wolford and Sandy Conner, Team Hoehn Porsche, on the last day of competition. Ultimately, they win the Crossover Class. Photo: Kymri Wilt

I arrived at the scenic overlook about 30 minutes early – I’d been clued in that there was a navigation checkpoint nearby and I might see some of the Rally competitors around. Sure enough, I pulled up next to an obvious Rebelle Rally team vehicle. It was a beautifully decorated 2018 Porsche Cayenne V6. The vehicle was “wrapped” in an authentic Navajo weave pattern, so my camera was already smitten. I peered in the window, not wanting to disturb the team intently charting their course. But Sandy Conner and Lisa Wolford happily looked up from their map, smiled and introduced themselves like it was no big deal. But it WAS a big deal because these very women in their awesome Porsche would go on to WIN the 2018 Rebelle Rally in the Crossover Class! I’d love to think I had something to do with that, like I was their lucky charm, but really, it was me who got lucky, dumb-lucky, parking right next to them and getting such enthusiastic smiles on a day when I would later learn, few teams were smiling when they finally pulled in to basecamp.

Rebelle Rally

When the going gets tough, the Rebelles come together. Photo: Kymri Wilt

Team Wild Grace – Happily Back for a Second Year

The next team I chatted with were Sedona Blinson and Leah Heffelfinger of Team Wild Grace, competing together for the second year in a row. Sedona, a preschool teacher and Leah, a social media manager, both from Arizona, were surprisingly cheerful considering their sponsored vehicle, the Nissan Armada, was in the pit for a repair. They introduced me to “Babe – the Big Blue Ox,” then disappeared under her as smoothly as if putting on lipstick. That’s pretty much how all the competitors were – facing obstacles, meeting challenges, and getting through them all with a most graceful “get it done” attitude.

Over the next 2 days, I would meet and mingle and chat with other teams and other media. It seemed every woman involved was totally and completely into it, and their enthusiasm was both inspiring and contagious.

Rebelle Rally

Team Wild Grace, Sedona Blinson and Leah Heffelfinger, navigate the dunes. Photo: Kymri Wilt

Proving Grounds for SUVs as Well as Women

Nissan wasn’t the only brand to put a vehicle into the Rebelle as a proving ground for the Armada, which we might normally think of as a family SUV more at home in school pick up lines and on the road to Disney than traversing rocks and sand, miles from a cellphone signal.

But the Rebelle Rally has become proving ground for vehicles as well as competitors; with the super-smart all wheel drive systems they are equipped with these days, they can handle nearly all that a true 4 wheel drive system can. Traditionally an off-road field is filled with Jeeps, Toyotas and lifted pickup trucks. Jeep found the rally an excellent opportunity to show off the all new Wrangler Rubicon, driven by journalist Emme Hall and producer/director Rebecca Donaghe. Other brands saw the opportunity for their SUVs to not just to prove they can do this, but to win.

In addition to the Porsche Cayenne driven by Team Hoehn, Honda found Rebelle the perfect opportunity to showcase the off-road chops of the Honda Pilot and the Ridgeline. The Pilot was driven by Honda product planner Ariel Jen and fabricator Melanie Morimoto, and the Ridgeline was teamed by Honda test engineers Maria Guitar and Michelle Klein. Other non-traditional rally vehciles included a Land Rover LR3 driven by Texans Channel Williams and Marie Campbell, a Land Rover Discovery that typically shuttles toddlers and gear, driven by Penny Dale and Thayer Cooke, and representing Hoehn Adventures, Lori Arterburn and Jaime Grigsby took to the race in a Jaguar F Pace.

Rebelle Rally Finish Line

Rebelle Rally Finish Line at Glamis Sand Dunes. Photo by Kymri Wilt

And the Winners Are…

After 10 grueling days of driving, navigating and eating dust, competitors, organizers, volunteers and media were ready for two things: a fun dress-up gala and to learn who won.

Everyone trekked to San Diego for hot showers and blow-outs at a seaside Sheraton and then gathered under the stars to learn of and celebrate the Rebelle winners.

Michelle Laframboise and Elise Racette, Team Clearwater Design, who competed in a modified Rubicon, tied for first place with Emme Hall and Rebecca Donaghe, Team #140, in a Bone Stock, or unmodified Rubicon, for which they also took the Bone Stock award. Last year’s top winners, Kaleigh Hotchkiss and Teralin Petereit of Team Blondterrage took third place in their Jeep TJ.

Rookie of the Year award went to Sarah Homer and Lindsey Hunter of Team Escape the Paved, who competed in a Ford Raptor, and the Crossover Class was won by Lisa Wolford and Sandy Conner of Team Hohen Porsche, in their Porsche Cayenne.

Rebelle Rally

Emily Miller, founder of the Rebelle Rally, gives pep talk to competitors. Photo: Kymri Wilt

No One Really Just Observes. Rebelle Infuses Your Spirit

All of us – competitors, volunteers, organizers and media – leave the event infused with the Rebelle spirit. We are all winners, empowered to do what we think we can’t, what we worry we won’t, what fear is not possible, what we think we don’t want to do. And we all return to life as moms, preschool teachers, glamping aficionados and iPhone GPS navigators, stronger and more capable for the experience.



Based in Cardiff by the Sea, California, Kymri is a freelance travel photographer, writer, and videographer. Between travels, she... More about Kymri WIlt