When the dust settled in the Glamis Sand Dunes at the finish of the 2016 Rebelle Rally (the first-ever all-women’s off-road rally in the United States), it was a Jeep that crossed the finish line ahead of all the rest.
Four Jeeps placed in the top five positions, and seven ranked in the top 10. In fact, Jeep was the most-winning vehicle brand in this highly competitive, seven-day navigation rally that traveled across the remote and rugged terrain of the American West from Lake Tahoe to the Imperial Sand Dunes of southern California.
The real winners, though, were the women who drove the Jeeps—and their co-drivers/navigators. However, it was the love of Jeeps and the confidence in the brand that led 16 out of the 33 participating two-person teams that competed in the 4x4 Class to choose Jeeps ranging from 2016 Wranglers to an ’82 Scrambler.
The 1,200-mile-long rally had two vehicle classes: the 4WD Class for pickups and SUVs with a two-speed transfer case (among other vehicle-brand entrants were Toyota, Chevy, GMC, Land Rover, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Ram, and Range Rover); while the Crossover Class was open to vehicles with uni-body construction and all-wheel drive (no low range), and included the Jaguar F-Pace, Porsche Cayenne, and Honda Ridgeline.
Based on precision, rather than speed, the Rebelle Rally was created and directed by off-road trainer and competitor Emily Miller, who has participated in a number of the legendary all-women’s Gazelle Ralleye events in Morocco. Somewhat similar to the Gazelle, the ultimate goal of the Rebelle was to make competitors problem solve, be self-reliant, and display driving and navigation skills. All this was done without cell phones, GPS, or outside assistance.
Teams were made up of two women taking the interchangeable roles of driver and navigator. Using traditional map and compass skills, competitors were required to find checkpoints that Miller designed with a ski-like rating system of green, blue, and black. Green and blue check points were physically marked, while the coveted black check points had no physical marking and required that the team signal with a handheld tracker when they reached the radius of the coordinate.
Adding a dimension of difficulty, competitors did not know if they were successful at finding the points, until they reached the base camp at the end of the day. Some sections used traditional rally road-books and required teams to maintain an average speed (at or below the posted legal speed).
The Jeep contingent drew a number of veteran off-road competitors as well as novice drivers and navigators. Charlene Bower, of Bower Motorsports, who has been off-roading her “entire life,” but was not experienced in sand dunes, and Kaleigh Hotchkiss, who also co-drives with her husband in Dirt Riot events, drove their 2016 Jeep Rubicon to victory. Bower called their win “surreal,” as the teammates had only met each other shortly before the rally, had only trained for a small amount of time together, and neither had owned a compass until six months before the rally.
The pair used “strategy and IQ” in locating the check points; and thinking on their feet, removed almost 600 pounds from their Jeep for the final day of dune driving. Bower said that taking out the spare tire and camping gear was a factor that aided in the dunes and gave her more confidence with the steep ascents and descents.
Taylor Pawley and Micaela Windham took second place in their ’97 Jeep Wrangler. Pawley told us her prior off-road experience, “comes from growing up on a cattle ranch in the middle of nowhere and learning to drive out of necessity, because we lived down a nine-mile dirt road and the school bus would only come seven of those miles to pick us up at the gate to our property.
So, I learned to drive our 2001 Wrangler Jeep and drove that every day to the gate until I was old enough to get my license and drive myself the rest of the way to school. Pawley’s husband is an avid off-road driver, and after other international exploring in the past the couple are now headed out for three years of off-roading down the Pan-America Highway and in Africa. Pawley also praised Windham for her driving skills. Windham is an outdoor enthusiast and experienced off-roader, likes cars, trucks, and motorcycles, and set up the team Jeep with the help of her husband.
Shelby Hall and Amy Lerner placed fourth in their 2015 Wrangler Unlimited. Hall, the granddaughter of legendary off-road racer Rod Hall and in charge of the Rod Hall Drive events in Reno, came to the rally experienced in off-road driving, but had never competed as the driver-of-record. Lerner, who filled the role of navigator, is an experienced off-road rally driver and Jeep owner, who won the production class at the Australasian Safari Rally in a Jeep, and is the first woman to win a Dakar Challenge race. Lerner was also part of the first American team in the top 10 at the Gazelle Ralleye.
Taking fifth place in a 2005 Wrangler were Cora Jokinen, owner and president of Torq-Masters, and Melissa Fischer. Jokinen said, “I knew I wanted to be a part of the Rebelle as a woman-owned business leader in the off-road industry, and as a racer. I've been off-roading and fabricating for 15 years, and my navigator Melissa and I both have strong rock crawling backgrounds, but no experience with analog navigation.” Fischer is the president of Moab Friends for Wheeling and has led level 8-9 trails for Easter Jeep Safari for several years.
Kendra Miller of ARB, and Bailey Campbell placed seventh. They upfitted their ’16 Wrangler with an ARB front Stubby bar, rock sliders underbelly protection, a 4-inch OME suspension system with OME BP-51 internal bypass shocks and ARB control arms, front and rear ARB 35-spline air lockers, a Safari snorkel and breather kit, and ARB IPF H4 headlamps. The Jeep also sported Dana Ultimate 60s, Tom Woods driveshafts, TR beadlock wheels, and 35-inch Nitto Trail Grappler MT tires.