Rebelle Rally Toyotas for Life

Rebelle Rally Toyotas for Life

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Photos By Mercedes Lilienthal

Toyota vehicles showed up at the 2019 Rebelle Rally in force, they out numbered all three previous years. From Tacomas to Tundras, FJs, Lexus,and a Land Cruiser, each two-person team was ready for action—and action they got! Whereas my first feature showcased FJ Cruisers (Fall 2019 issue),this story highlights non-FJ Toyotas.


The all-women’s traditional navigational rally traversed through 1,500 miles of dirt, rock, and sand. Among the Yota competitors was Kathy Locke, the Creative Director of TCT Magazine. She and her partner Stacey commandeered their FJ Cruiser and completed the Rebelle Rally strong.They, along with the other Toyota teams, finished more confidently as they navigated 10 days of off-road challenge.

Rebelle Rally Toyotas for Life

Team:#190 Xelles Racing

Driver:Rachelle Croft (2016 and 2019 Rebelle)

Navigator:Taylor Pawley (2016 and 2019 Rebelle)

Vehicle:bone stock 2019 Lexus GX 460

Build list:General Tire Grabber A/T tires

Seasoned Rebelles Rachelle Croft and Taylor Pawley paired up together towin this year’s Rebelle 4x4 and bone stock classes. Rachelle, who produces Expedition Overland with her husband, Clay, is a busy mother of three boys and loves driving off-road. Living in Montana, she learned she could be a solid off-roader, no matter what the terrain was.

Taylor, who has spent time traveling the world, once journeyed from Oregon to Uruguay on the Pan American Highway. She quickly found out there’s an amazing group of folks that love traveling the globe and creating a sense of community while doing so. That’s a major reason she’s competed in the Rebelle Rally.

Why did you decide to compete in the Rebelle Rally?

RC: I love challenging myself. Combine that with amazing women who arewith you, driving all day, problem solving, learning how to work with yourteammate, not having your phone, and not knowing what to expect, is theperfect recipe to fill me up and inspire me to grow!

TP: The Rebelle is the most fun, difficult, exciting, overwhelming, fulfilling,and all-around best thing I get to do in my life! I’m so fortunate I get to do itagain this year, and with an amazing teammate who is a kick-ass driver witha ton of experience.

What was the most challenging thing during the rally?

RC: Letting go of our mistakes and tackling the dune day on day seven. Itwas a total mental game for both of those things that required some seriousredirection and overcoming of negative thoughts and emotions.

TP: Dealing with the shear exhaustion that comes with seven days of 14+hour days of being 100% invested in what you’re doing. We were so tired atthe end of day five we forgot to check in to base camp despite being thereearly, costing us 10 easy points!

What’s your biggest takeaway?

RC: Making a goal and strategically pushing for it day after day will pay off. Wins don’t happen by accident. It takes extra mental preparation and daily “giving it your all” to help make it happen.

TP: Life is about taking risks and putting yourself out there, because without doing that you can never find out what you’re capable of.

Rebelle Rally Toyotas for Life

Team: #182 Locos Mocos Rebelles

Driver: Laura Hardesty (2018, 2019 Rebelle)

Navigator: Erica Sacks (rookie)

Vehicle: 2004 Toyota Tacoma TRD

Build list:Total Chaos mid-travel kitKing shocks (front)Deaver leaf springs (back)

Erica Sacks and Laura Hardesty work in the off-road world full-time. Erica’s competitive nature started when she was young, when she and her Dad raced off-road together. Then she started racing with other limited class teams. She’s currently a professional navigator who continues to race. She also owns her own company, the Waypoint Nav School.

Laura also has been off-roading since a kid. Her career as a firefighter and paramedic turned into owning and operating VORRA (the Valley Off Road Race Association) with her husband, BJ. They showcase a variety of desert races throughout Nevada and California. Laura and I became instant friends once we learned we both were rallying the 2018 Rebelle with Tacomas and a manual transmission.

What was the easiest thing for you during the rally?

ES: The easiest thing to do at the rally was meet new, motivated, fun people who have a passion for adventure.

LH: Taking care of my truck! It may be one of the older vehicles participating in the Rally (2004), but it’s proven incredibly reliable, no matter the circumstance. I’m so lucky to have great help from family and friends ... I always feel reassured my truck is going to take care of me, because I’ve taken care of it.

What was the coolest part(s) of the rally?

ES: The views! Emily [Miller] creates this rally around amazing scenery and they were nothing but beautiful.

LH: Truly amazing scenery! I love all the surprise views we come up on, plus,the comradery with the other teams. We’re competing against each other and with each other. It’s a very unique dynamic. The bond of being a Rebelle is a special thing.

What did you learn from this experience?

ES: We learned to stop second guessing ourselves and be confident. We would always second guess ourselves but our original idea would be right.

LH: I learned how much I value being able to control my emotions (most of the time) and appreciate when others can do the same. It shows a level of intelligence I really admire. There’s not a tool I can think of more important than staying calm, cool, and collected—no matter the circumstance.

Rebelle Rally Toyotas for Life

Team: #138 Team DMOS Goaldigger

Driver (sharing navigator duties): Susan Pieper (2018, 2019 Rebelle)

Navigator (sharing driver duties): Ashley Lee(2016, 2018, and 2019 Rebelle)

Vehicle: 2016 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro

Build list:

Total Chaos control arms, sway bars 10"

King Shocks

CBI Offroad Fab front and rear bumpers

Prinsu Design roof rack

Rigid Industries LED Light bars and rear spot lights

Air Raid cold air intake

60 amp plasma battery

BF Goodrich KO2 tires

Returning Rebelles Ashley Lee and Susan Pieper teamed up together and decided to share driving and navigation responsibilities. Ashley, a California native, is a newly licensed realtor in Las Vegas and lives for adventure. She returned in 2019 to rally her third Rebelle competition.

Susan, who was land-locked as a kid, lived on both coasts where she pursued offshore sailing and yacht racing, but always had an affinity for cars. It wasn’t until moving to Jackson, Wyoming and starting DMOS Collective that Susan started off-roading. What was offshore sailing expertise now translated into land exploration.

Any unexpected things happen?

SP: The biggest shredded tire I've ever had. Gold Point Nevada wash just ate our tire (35 PSI was too high).

AL: It's not what happened but how [my teammate and I] came out on the other side. How to handle stress, circumstances, course changes IS what shaped us. I’m so proud of myself. I was able to course correct on so many issues I couldn’t predict.

What’s your biggest take away?

SP: Keeping my eyes up; line choice and throttle control are as applicable tips as a CEO of a shovel tool company as they are for being a driver.

AL: I can take on a lot more in my personal and professional life by my experiences on the Rebelle. It's hard. It's gritty. It's pushed me to my boundaries and back. More than showing my strength it's exposed my vulnerabilities, but each time I have come away a stronger person for it.

How did you do during the rally (how did you place, how did you feel)?

SP: I was disappointed we didn’t place higher in the rankings. In retrospect, feel we left something on the course. There were times we held back from trying for black check points and even driving to known blue checkpoints due to confidence. Our prior experiences weren’t as "serious" competitors. NOW we do feel confident ... I look forward to 2020.

AL: We placed 5th from the bottom. I feel fortunate and grateful for the experience. My skills improve every year. I face fears and personal growth opportunities without avail. This competition makes or breaks people; emotionally and physically. I feel stronger than ever.

Rebelle Rally Toyotas for Life

Team: #107 Team Luna

Driver: April Leone (rookie)

Navigator: Joanna Chen (rookie)

Vehicle: 2011 4Runner Trail Edition

Build list:

ToyTec Boss 2.5 rear/front shocks

OME/ToyTec lift

KMC beadlocks with BF Goodrich KM3 tires

Total chaos UCAs

Domello Offroad front winch bumper

10k Smittybuilt winch

Allpro rock sliders

CBI rear plate bumper with swing-out tire carrier and table

RCI 3-piece full skid plate

Custom dual battery system from Bioenno power

Bioenno 100 amp hour lithium iron phosphate auxiliary battery

Bioenno MPPT charge regulator

Custom roof rack

ML solar 100w solar panel

Dometic CFX 50

Custom tire winch

Custom MAXTRAX holder

First-time Rebelles April Leone and Joanna Chen have varied backgrounds that ultimately led them to have careers in software engineering and to the Rebelle Rally.

No matter if April, who grew up in Alaska, worked on commercial fishing boats, and lived in an old school bus while working 20 hours a day in a cannery, or Joanna (who now is an outdoors woman who enjoys sport kite flying and off-roading), this duo placed 12th overall and just missed the rookie of the year award by four points.

Why did you decide to compete in the Rebelle Rally?

AL: It looks like an ultimate adventure. I’ve been chasing adventure since I can remember.

JC: I've been following the Rebelle Rally since it began. It looked like an amazing adventure. I saw glimpses of the places that teams went to, unique remote places I would otherwise never have even heard of. I wanted to see those places and experience the journey that’s Rebelle myself.

What was the coolest part(s) of the rally?

AL: I got to wheel 10-11 hours every day and come home to a delicious meal.

JC: I'd say day one and some of the staff's reactions were the coolest parts of the rally.

What did you learn from this experience?

AL: I want to win next time.

JC: Roads on a map don't always match roads on the ground. Sometimes one has to trust one's gut instead of focusing on finding that road on the map. Also, I learned I didn't always have to know exactly where we were at all times in order to find the next checkpoint. Sometimes knowing where we wanted to get to was enough, and we could figure out if we were at the right checkpoint when we got there.

Rebelle Rally Toyotas for Life

Team: #114 Sand Cats

Driver (sharing navigator duties): Maria Guitar (2018 and 2019 Rebelle)

Navigator (sharing driver duties): Debbie Bruen (rookie)

Vehicle: 1998 3rd gen Toyota 4Runner

Build list:

ARB rear air locker

ARB on-board air compressor

Icon Vehicle Dynamics suspension

Nitto Ridge Grappler tires

Rock sliders


Aftermarket front bumper

Mother daughter team Sand Cats paired up to run the Rebelle in Maria’s 3rd gen 4Runner. Along with Team Goaldigger, Sand Cats shared driver and navigator responsibilities.Debbie Bruen, the mother, is originally from the Bronx, NY. She’s lived all throughout the US. and was a missionary in the desert in Turkana, Kenya, for 12 years. There, they relied on their diesel-powered Toyota Hilux for transportation. Maria, Debbie’s daughter, grew up in Turkana and had an amazing childhood that afforded her many opportunities of varied experience. It helped shape her broad-world view. Maria was an engine test engineer for Honda R&D Americas for the last 12 years and recently left to pursue starting her own businesses.

What was the most challenging thing during the rally?

DB: Plotting points on the map. I ended up losing my glasses and couldn't see. But I wouldn't have been as precise as Maria anyway, so maybe that was a good thing.

MG: One morning, day 1, leaving out of Goldfield we were departing facing north, but we needed to head due south to our first check point. The only way to go south was to go back thru base camp, which felt very incorrect. I was second guessing our every move. I made mom stop multiple times so I could take a heading of the trail we were on. Thankfully, at each interval we chose the correct path, we soon found ourselves at our first checkpoint of the day. It felt really good & reassuring we had correctly navigated ourselves there without getting lost!

How did you do during the rally (how did you place, how did youfeel)?

DB: We placed in 19th place, the top of the bottom third. I wished we had done a little better.

MG: I feel really good about what we accomplished, and I’m super proud of my mom for being my teammate and really stepping out of her comfort zone to join me on this adventure!

What’s your biggest takeaway?

DB: It was a great experience. Initially I did not like it at all. I thought "who does this crazy stuff?" Then, it slowly grew on me. It was cool finding my groove both personally as well as us as a team. I loved being Maria's teammate.

MG: As Emily Miller says, "If it were easy, everyone would do it." Often times, when I’m faced with an opportunity that sounds challenging but beneficial, I now think about those words and I push forward. I choose to not be a passenger to life, but to press on towards my goals.

Rebelle Rally Toyotas for Life

Team: #120 Lost In Overland

Driver (sharing navigator duties): Samantha Nielsen(rookie)

Navigator (sharing driver duties): Tammy Battistessa(rookie)

Vehicle: 2005 Toyota 100 Series Land Cruiser

Build list:

OME 2” Lift

ARB front and rear bumper

WARN winch

Safari snorkel

Front Runner rack

James Baroud rooftop tent

ARB awnings

ARB Intensity LED driving lights on front bumper

285-70-R17 Nitto Ridge Grappler tires

Method wheels

Slee rock sliders

Californians Samantha Nielsen and Tammy Battistessa are new to the Rebelle but also wanted to switch roles. Sam’s boyfriend Alex sent them a text about the Rebelle Rally. Even though they were “complete rookies in every sense of the word” and hadn’t heard of the Rebelle Rally; they decided to give it a go. They had only been off-road a couple of times but threw caution to the wind and jumped right in.

Any unexpected things happen?

SM: We did better than we thought we would!

TB: Our friends Ellie and Lisa from team #128, Wenches in Trenches!

Were you prepared for the Rebelle Rally? If not, how did you compensate for that?

SM: We definitely were not as prepared as we thought we were. Not ever having done a rally before, it was challenging to even know how to prepare. Now knowing what to expect, there will be much more navigation practice in the year to come. We’re going to be ready for those blacks!

TB: That would be a hard no! As the saying goes, you don’t know what you don’t know and prior to the rally we struggled with how to prepare. I think we did a great job adjusting and adapting by understanding our capabilities and limitations.What’s your biggest takeaway?

SM: You can do more than you think you’re capable of. Look at us, we are your average Joes, and we DID it! TB:If you take a leap, you just might surprise yourself!



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