We’ve Got You! Rebelle Rally’s Real Prize Are The Friends

Keeping Each Other Smiling At The Rebelle Rally. Photo: Kristin Shaw
Keeping each other smiling at the Rebelle Rally. Photo: Kristin Shaw

Women in Motorsports, and Unbreakable Bonds of Friendship

My teammate Jill Ciminillo and I were stuck. The tires of our 2022 Santa Cruz (nicknamed “Sandy”) were buried in the sand on the final day of the Rebelle Rally and our traction boards alone weren’t doing the trick. We were hunting checkpoint flags with two other teams during the competition, and they got out of their vehicles to help. But even with four boards and twelve hands, Sandy wouldn’t budge.

High above us on the next dune over, three more 4×4 SUVs pulled up and stopped. Six women grabbed their shovels and started careening down the hill, shouting, “We’re coming! We’ve got you!” The cavalry was on its way, and Jill and I felt our hearts squeeze a little at this show of love and support from our friends, all rookies like us. That’s what friendship looks like in action.

Related: Tackling the Rebelle Rally, the Female-Only Off-Road Rally, As A Newbie

Encouragement At The Rebelle Rally. Photo: Kristin Shaw

Encouragement at the Rebelle Rally. Photo: Kristin Shaw

Bonding on the Road

There’s a nasty stereotype out there that claims women are catty to each other and so competitive that they can’t get along. First, I know men who are catty and uber-competitive too. Secondly, I call baloney on this trope. I know enough women who support, encourage, and love each other enough to bridge the gap between them and the ones Madeline Albright once famously said “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help women.”

The Rebelle Rally brings that all into focus. While there are occasions when people don’t get along, by and large the women in this eight-day competition are looking out for each other. As rookies, there is a lot of “we don’t even know what we don’t know” and stumbling through the navigation process to figure out how to get where we were going.

Related: I’m Not Just Navigating the Desert During the Rebelle Rally, I’m Also Navigating Some Mom-Guilt

Moonrise, Friends And Tents At The Rebelle Rally. Photo: Kristin Shaw

Moonrise, friends and tents at the Rebelle Rally. Photo: Kristin Shaw

You’ve Got a Friend

We tried to be the helpful friends as well as accept help from others. For example, one rookie team was sponsored by an automotive-adjacent firm, and two women on the company’s staff had been tapped to run the rally just a few weeks before it started. They had to try to learn how to navigate, use a topographical map, and brush up on their compass skills quickly, while Jill and I had the benefit of two multi-day hands-on training sessions as well as time to practice at home.

When we saw this rookie team out in the desert, we checked on them to make sure they were ok. We shared coordinates and snacks with other teams and teamed up in segments.

Related: A Test of the Best: The Vehicles of the 2022 Rebelle Rally

My Teammate And Friend Jill Plotting The Rebelle Rally'S Course. Photo: Kristin Shaw

My teammate and friend Jill plotting the Rebelle Rally’s course. Photo: Kristin Shaw

The Win, for Us, Was to Finish

Our total point score was somewhere in the middle of the field of 51 teams, and for our first year out we could accept that. The even bigger triumph was the friendships we made starting at that first training session Jill and I attended in April.

On the first night, we pulled into our camp site and neither of us had erected a tent in many years. It was windy and we were tired after a long day, and as we struggled a bit with our tent poles one woman was walking by and she stepped in to help.

“Oh, I have a tent just like this,” she said. And she proceeded to stay until we were all set up. That’s Mandy. We soon met her teammate Tanya, and then we bonded with Jenna and Liza and the formidable redheads Colleen and Shea. This became our core team, the ones we leaned on for advice and encouragement leading up to October. And during the rally, these were the women who saw us cry and made us laugh and kept us going. We call ourselves the Plotty Hotties and we’re planning our next rally together.

Rebelle Rally Friends. Photo: Kristin Shaw

Rebelle Rally Friends. Photo: Kristin Shaw

Putting Competition Aside

In a competitive situation, teams are focused on their own goals and standing, and understandably so. The days fly by during the Rebelle Rally, and as the excitement amped up, the pace got faster and faster. It would be well within their rights for teams that had competed in the rally before to keep their heads down and plow forward toward a podium finish. But most of the time, as much as possible, they make time to assist other women.

Mercedes, an automotive journalist, and her teammate Emily were veterans of the rally, each competing at least three times before. They piloted a bright green Jeep Wrangler during last year’s rally and they were doing great and staying unfailingly positive and chipper. Their help was key in more ways than I can count: Emily checked our plotting, Mercedes guided us down a steep hill, and the two of them led us out of a gnarly washout area when we couldn’t locate the trail. They didn’t leave us behind.

Great Friends Found At The Rebelle Rally. Photo: Kristin Shaw

Great friends found at the Rebelle Rally. Photo: Kristin Shaw

2023… and Beyond?

On the eve of the final day on the road, I was exhausted. My nerves were frayed and I was frustrated and feeling defeated after we couldn’t locate a critical checkpoint. It turned out that the course director neglected to set that flag, but we didn’t know it at the time. As a result, we couldn’t find it and I dreaded the next day in the dunes, believing that we’d fall way behind, unable to make any sense of the waves of sand dunes. Nothing prepared us for the sheer terror getting lost. There are no roads in the dunes, save for the sand highways that skirt the outer edges of the area. Finding anything, let alone a colored flag at a checkpoint, was difficult.

My emotions let down hard, and before I could stop a torrent of tears were streaming down my face. All I wanted to do was get out of the car and get away from everything, but I wanted Jill to know that I wasn’t angry or upset with her. I missed my family, and the intensity caught up with me.

“It’s n-not you, J-Jill,” I said through the tears.

She laid a hand on mine, understanding. When we crossed the finish line, Rebelle founder Emily Miller could see that I was having a hard time, and she took us aside to offer empathy and confidence in us. This rally is no joke, and it tests the competitors in ways they never see coming, but Emily has seen it all.

Hanging At The Rebelle Rally

Hanging at the Rebelle Rally

Finding New Friends When They’re Least Expected

As Jill set up camp, I sat in line to get fuel and then parked Sandy in the impound lot until the next morning. Then I made a beeline for the chairs set up on the outskirts of camp to denote the perimeter, behind the main tent, to be alone. I looked up at the stars and spotted Orion, and I let it all out, catching my breath.

The lead photographer, Nicole, was passing by and she approached me gently. She has been snapping incredible photos of the event since the first year, and she knows what the Rebelle is all about. Nicole knows she doesn’t want to compete herself, and she told me how impressed she was with all of us. It was incredibly helpful to have someone who didn’t know me all that well but was radiating care and sympathy while she listened. By the time we finished talking, she gave me a giant hug and I was ready to recover my composure.

Sandy Is Our Other New Rebelle Rally Bff. Photo: Jill Ciminillo

Sandy is our other new Rebelle Rally BFF. Photo: Jill Ciminillo

Digging Out With Friends Who Dig In

The next day, we got stuck on a small dune and climbed atop our Santa Cruz to unlocked the MaxTrax traction boards from the roof rack. Placing them underneath our back tires, we were able to climb out of the sand fairly easily and head back to the relative evenness of the sand highway. It was the second time we beached the Santa Cruz, balancing the middle of the underside of the vehicle on a dune that seemed to taunt us, when we really needed help. Our new friends came running with such enthusiasm and loyalty it took our breath away.

Rebelle Rally On The Shore. Photo: Jill Ciminillo

Rebelle Rally on the shore. Photo: Jill Ciminillo

Finishing with Way More Than we Started

At the final finish line, the Plotty Hotties found each other for the biggest hugs and smiles. We had walked through fire, and it was time to celebrate not just the end of the rally but the unbreakable bonds of friendship that had been forged. I can’t wait until we get to do it again.

Bronco And The Moon Rebelle Rally

Bronco and the Moon Rebelle Rally

Writer. Car fanatic. Mom. Kristin is the co-owner of auto review site Drive Mode Show and a nationally-published writer... More about Kristin Shaw