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Women Auto Know: Empowerment of Driving Challenges

By Sue Mead, December 31st, 2016

We all know that women are the purchasers of more vehicles than ever, but did you know that a growing number of females have been learning how to drive in the backcountry and go off-roading with their families and groups of other women?

In fact, over the past decade, more women have become experienced in four-wheeling and many have added off-road racing and 4WD rallies to their bucket list and their bios. So, it was no surprise that Emily Miller, an off-road racer, driving trainer, and past competitor in the all-women's Gazelles Ralleye held in Morocco for 26 years, created the first-ever, all-female off-road rally in the U.S.

Shelby Hall and Amy Lerner participated in Miller's event and completed the 1,200-mile-long rally driving a 2015 Jeep Wrangler with some great stories to tell. This year's Rebelle Rally drew 72 women who ranged in age from 19 to 68 years old. Teams consisted of two women taking the interchangeable roles of driver and navigator with two classes: the 4WD Class for pickups and SUVs with a low range set of gears; and the Crossover Class, open to vehicles with unibody construction and all-wheel drive. The inaugural rally started in south Lake Tahoe, Nevada, with a course that traversed a swath of picturesque scenery in Nevada and California, motoring on dirt track, backcountry trails, and over scenic and challenging sand dunes through a collection of historic Wild West areas and in iconic off-highway vehicle locations.

The seven-day event, with driving and navigating tasks that took place over a time-limited 8 to 11 hours each day, was designed to accommodate veteran drivers, as well as novice off-roaders. 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, N.J., had competed in Morocco's revered Gazelles Ralleye, but had never been a navigator.

The duo, which participated in the rally for "fun and adventure, the camaraderie off off-roading with other women, and the challenge of learning precise navigation in the remote and beautiful backcountry of the west," placed fourth out of 33 competitors in their class. Placing first in the 4x4 Class was Charlene Bower and Kaleigh Hotchkiss, who drove their 2016 Jeep Rubicon to victory.

Miller, who created and organized the rally, coined the name "Rebelle," blending the words Rebel -- a verb to defy convention -- and Belle -- a beautiful woman. Her goal was to design a rally that was easier for women in the U.S. to participate in due to location and costs, using a somewhat similar format, relying on traditional maps and compass skills with roadbooks -- with no GPS, cell phones, or outside assistance allowed. Of note, until the 2016 Rebelle, the Gazelles was the only all-women's rally in the world.

Not a race for speed, the rally was designed to reward precision, directing competitors to find checkpoints that shared a ski-like rating system.

"One of the primary CP scoring systems is one I borrowed from my love of skiing and snowboarding. The green, blue, and black markings were designed to help competitors understand the level of navigation challenge." Miller's ultimate goal was to create a playing field where women possessing a wide range of skills could compete together and also challenge themselves to problem solve, be self-reliant, and sharpen their driving and navigation skills.

"Through training and participating, I believe even the most seasoned woman can gain and grow in skills," said Miller. "Despite any amount of experience, additional "seat time" in a new setting just adds to the tools in the quiver," Miller explained, saying that in order to score well, drivers had to have to have excellent throttle control, accurate tire placement, and know how to drive in sand.

"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. Registration for the 2017 Rebelle Rally is open and limited to 60 teams. Visit

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