The First Rebelle Rally Brings Adventure to the Unseen Road

A Girls Guide To Cars | The First Rebelle Rally Brings Adventure To The Unseen Road - Sbc Rebelle Rally Feature

An off road challenge with no GPS, paved roads or MEN is a girl’s ultimate bucket list adventure.

The inaugural 2016 Rebelle Rally was on the bucket list of a number of women from across the U.S. and a few from further afield–will the 2017 event make yours?

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had a list for three decades. The list has motivated me to go after—and many times achieve—some of my greatest adventures. And, many of those adventures involve cars and the places they take me.

There’s nothing like a life-threatening disease to inspire a bucket list

I came to the Bucket List concept early in life, when I nearly died of an autoimmune illness at the age of 35. The list was short then. As I lay in a hospital bed in the intensive care unit of a small New England hospital and had been told by the medical staff that they didn’t know if they could “save” me, I prayed for and dreamed of two things.

My daughter was nine at the time; I prayed to see her graduate from high school. I grew up reading National Geographic magazines and had dreamed to see the world. The view from my quarantined room took in a small swath of the Berkshire Mountains and I made a pact that, if I lived, I would travel far beyond those mountains and around the globe before I died. At the time, I had never been to the west coast or outside of the U.S.

I was blessed. Over the ensuing years, I saw my daughter graduate from high school, walk the stage for her Bachelor’s Degree and promenade for a Master’s. And, I now have 71 countries in my passport. Vehicles have provided the literal and metaphoric means for me to see the world and to participate in adventures both small and tall. As an automotive journalist for 29 years, I have tested a few thousand vehicles in locations throughout the U.S. and around the globe, have participated in around-the-world drives designed to highlight a new model’s mettle, and have raced in all of the top off-road races and rallies on the planet, motoring in a wide variety of models.

My first drop in the bucket: driving the Gazelle Rallye in Morocco  

In 2015, I drove a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van in the Gazelle Rallye, the world’s only all female rally that has been held in Morocco for 26 years. The German automaker assisted me and three other women from the U.S. with gear and a training program, as well as transported us, our vehicles and a team of mechanics to the starting grid for the 9-day, off-road rally. This made a huge difference and made me realize that, while numerous women have had the Gazelle event on their Bucket List, practical issues- such as distance and cost-have made it difficult, or impossible, for many to participate.

Rebelle Rally

Jeep Lineup at the start in Lake Tahoe: The Rebelle drew 16 Jeep vehicles; Jeeps took first place, were four of the top five finishers and seven of the top ten. Two-person teams could interchange roles as driver and navigator. Photo: Rebelle Rally

A rally closer to home for women only: the Rebelle Rally

Enter the 2016 Rebelle Rally. Created by Emily Miller, an off-road racer, driving trainer and past competitor in ‘the Gazelle’, the first-annual, all-female, off-road rally in the U.S. took place in October. The 7-day-long event started in Lake Tahoe, Nevada and ended in the southern California desert. Miller knew that an ever-growing number of women enjoy four-wheeling, as well as participating in 4WD events, so she designed a course of 1,200 miles that included motoring on dirt tracks, along backcountry trails and over scenic sand dunes through a collection of historic Wild West areas and in iconic off-highway vehicle locations.

Emily’s goal was to initiate a rally that was easier for women in the U.S. to participate in due to location and costs, using a somewhat similar format to the Gazelle’s, relying on traditional maps and compass skills with roadbooks—with no GPS, cell phones or outside assistance. The rally drew 72 women that ranged in age from 19 to 68 years, in teams that consisted of two women taking the interchangeable roles of driver and navigator with two classes; the 4WD Class was designated for pickups and SUVs with a low range set of gears and the Crossover Class was open to vehicles with unibody construction and all-wheel drive. It was designed to accommodate both veteran drivers and novice off-roaders.

Rebelle Rally

Hydrating along the journey: Jo Hannah Hoehn participated in the inaugural Rebelle. Her family dealership, Hoehn Motors, based in Carlsbad, California, became the rally’s presenting sponsor, fielding six teams of Hoehn family members and employees. Photo: Rebelle Rally

 Jo Hannah Hoehn participated in the inaugural Rebelle and her family dealership, Hoehn Motors, based in Carlsbad, California, became the rally’s presenting sponsor, fielding six teams of Hoehn family members and employees from its franchises that include Land Rover, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, Honda and Jaguar.

Jo Hannah is a fourth-generation automobile dealer and the general manager of Hoehn Jaguar Land Rover of San Diego. The family, who have been in the car business since 1928, has developed Hoehn Adventures as a subsidiary to the company’s expanding platform in national and international events.

Hoehn’s mission in sponsoring Rebelle Rally: to inspire women to try off roading

“My family signed up to be the lead sponsor of the Rebelle because we believe in Emily Miller’s vision; the values of the event coincide with the values of our company. When my sister Suzanna and I started doing the Gazelle Rally three years ago, friends and customers were really engaged in our experience. Through our new Hoehn Adventures, we hope to encourage our customers, and particularly our female ones, to try something new and to take advantage of the extraordinary experiences you can have with a stock vehicle. I couldn’t not participate in the first Rebelle Rally! There is something so unique and strangely addictive about an event that challenges you on so many levels (driving, navigating, endurance, concentration, teamwork, etc.) It’s not a relaxing vacation by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a type of vacation from your normal duties and routine.”

“We sponsored 6 teams, with 2 members of the family (me and my mom, Karen) and 7 employees (with a combined 82 years at the company!) The vehicles were a Jaguar F-PACE, Porsche Cayenne Turbo, Mercedes G550, Honda Ridgeline and two Land Rover LR4s. The Jaguar, Porsche, and Honda were completely stock with the exception of off-road wheels and tires. The Land Rovers had done the Gazelle Rally, so they were already prepped with a few modifications (auxiliary fuel tank, off-road wheels/tires, and some aftermarket lights.), and the Mercedes G550 had a specialized suspension system.”

Rebelle Rally

Teammates Susie Saxten (l) and Jo Hanna Hoehn (r) assess topographical maps to find the location of rally checkpoints. Photo: Rebelle Rally

Going from whim to hobby with a bonus: Seeing this amazing country

“It’s not a hobby that I could have predicted for myself, but I’m so glad that it’s a part of my life now, and that I can connect with my profession in a whole new way. Plus, the best part was getting to see so many amazing places in our own country that I would never have seen otherwise.”

Driving and navigating tasks took place over a time-limited 8 to 11 hours each day. Not a race for speed, the rally was designed to reward precision, directing competitors to find checkpoints (CPs) that shared a ski-like rating system, with green, blue and black CPs; green and blue CPs had a marker in place, while black CPs were not marked and required that the teams signal with a handheld tracker, when reaching the designated radius of a coordinate. Additionally, some sections of the course used traditional roadbooks and required teams to maintain an average speed (at or below the posted legal speed). 

Shelby Hall and Amy Lerner participated in Miller’s event in the 4WD Class driving a 2015 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, with some modifications that made it more capable for its class and more rigorous terrain. Hall, 28, of Reno, Nevada, was experienced in off-roading and is the granddaughter of legendary off-road racer Rod Hall, but she had never competed as the ‘driver-of-record’. Lerner, 50, of Bergen County, NJ, had competed in the Gazelle Rally and the Australian Safari Rally, but had never been a navigator. Lerner took a mentorship role, after she got to know Shelby while producing a documentary on Rod Hall’s half century of racing.

Placing first in the 4WD Class was Charlene Bower and Kaleigh Hotchkiss, who drove their 2016 Jeep Rubicon to victory. Top finishers in the Crossover Class were Mali Barrett and Sabrina Howells in the team’s Honda Ridgeline.

Rebelle Rally

Celebrating the journey are Holly Freeman and Coralee Lack, who placed 21st overall in their 2001 Jeep Wrangler TJ. Competitors ranged in age from 19-year-old Bailey Campbell, the youngest, to Dana Saxten, the oldest Rebelle at 68. Photo: Rebelle Rally

“The vehicles in driveways across the globe are much more capable than people realize,” noted Miller, whose goal was to not only draw 4WD models, but also lure competitors to use everyday vehicles, like CUVs. Competitors came from Canada, France and Costa Rica. Miller coined the name ‘Rebelle’, blending the words Rebel–a verb to defy convention– and Belle- a beautiful woman.

So, is Rebelle Rally on YOUR bucket list for next year?

Registration for the 2017 Rebelle Rally is now open and limited to 60 teams. Next year’s course will have some changes and some similarities to this year’s competition route and will once again feature the stunning scenery of California and Nevada. To register or learn more visit  Contact the organization directly at info@rebellerally.


Rebelle Rally

Tire and air check: Shelby Hall checks the BFGoodrich tires for the best air pressure for off-road driving in the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited as teammate Amy Lerner looks on. Photo: Rebelle Rally

2016 Rebelle Rally Finisher’s List:

4WD Class:

  •  1.125 Charlene Bower / Kaleigh Hotchkiss 2016 Jeep Rubicon 815 80%
  • 2- 119 Taylor Pawley / Micaela Windham 1997 Jeep Wrangler 785 77%
  • 3- 129 Nena Barlow / Kande Jacobsen 2016 Ram 1500 Rebel 772 76%
  • 4- 134 Shelby Hall / Amy Lerner 2015 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 763 75%
  • 5- 104 Cora Jokinen / Melissa Fischer 2005 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 762 75%
  • 6- 128 Angela Terry / Sarah Saxten 2011 Land Rover LR4 753 74%
  • 7- 118 Bailey Campbell / Kendra Miller 2016 Jeep Wrangler 745 73%
  • 8- 115 Michelle Laframbroise / Jen Horsey 2016 Jeep Wrangler 736 72%
  • 9- 105 Rachel Micander / Julianne Zotter 2012 Toyota Tacoma 735 72%
  • 10- 131 Chris Mayne / Helene Becour 2016 Jeep Wrangler 733 72%
  • 11- 110 Naomi Grebe / Amy Cronin 1991 Toyota Land Cruiser 723 71%
  • 12- 140 Emme Hall / Rebecca Donaghe 2015 Chevy Colorado 723 71%
  • 13- 117 Tory Capezza / Jen Magli 2016 Jeep Wrangler 707 70%
  • 14- 109 Jo Hannah Hoehn / Susie Saxten Land Rover LR4 700 69%
  • 15- 122 Amanda Brown / Tana White Lexus GX 470 697 69%
  • 16- 137 Rhonda Cahill / Rachelle Croft 2008 Toyota Land Cruiser 692 68%
  • 17- 106 Sedona Blinson / Maria Clay (Parker) 2017 Nissan Titan 678 67%
  • 18- 103 Rachel Ridenour / Cindy Cantrell Toyota 4Runner 660 65%
  • 19- 116 Deborah Najm / Julia Pickslay 2012 Land Rover LR4 650 64%
  • 20- 124 JoMarie Fecci / Tracey Ristow 2015 Jeep Wrangler 638 63%
  • 21- 132 Holly Freeman / Coralee Lack 2001 Jeep Wrangler TJ 636 63%
  • 22- 101 Marty Hopkins / Pixie Hopkins 2006 Land Rover L3 633 62%
  • 23- 141 Laurie Van Dyke / Pam Jongert 2005 Land Rover LR3 632 62%
  • 24- 142 Pamela Hall / Keri Boyer 2015 Jeep Wrangler 629 62%
  • 25- 120 Valerie Crockett / Ashley Lee Toyota 4Runner 622 61%
  • 26- 107 Thuy Davis / Darlene Peck 2015 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 613 60%
  • 27- 114 Mary Jo Johns / Samantha Johns-Mumford 2008 GMC Sierra 590 58%
  • 28- 108 Dana Saxten / Karen Hoehn Land Rover LR4 576 57%
  • 29- 112 Julie Covert / Jennifer Peine 1982 Jeep Scrambler 549 54%
  • 30- 133 Whitney Joiner / Jaclyn Trop 2016 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 549 54%
  • 31- 130 Sally Gallice / Trish Lewis Mercedes-Benz G Wagon 550 525 52%
  • 32- 126 Michelle Davis / Andrea Shaffer 2004 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 462 45%
  • 33- 111 Jenn Zipp-Richmond / Nick Bloom 2016 Jeep Wrangler 420 41%

Crossover Class:

  • Mali Barrett/Sabria Howells 2017 Honda Ridgeline 770 79 %
  • Lisa Wolford/Sandy Connor Porsche Cayenne 627 64%
  • 203 Josan Badillo /Jaimy Grogby Jaguar F-Pace 514 53%

Thank you to guest writer, Sue Mead, for her contribution

Sue Mead, who was among the first women to test and compete in the off-road field, travels the globe... More about Sue Mead