It's 3pm on Day 7 of the Rebelle Rally. We've just spent the last 8 hours driving through the Glamis sand dunes as the temperature climbed to almost 100 degrees. We pull up to where we think our last blue checkpoint of the day should be and jump out to scout the area. As she always does, Micaela turned off the Jeep and put her keys in her pocket before she got out. We joined the two other teams we travelled with that day and started looking around. Up on the hill about 200 meters from us we can just barely see a blue stick in the sand. "Yes!" We all high five and jump in our vehicles to drive up and ping our trackers. We knew once we got this last checkpoint we would be driving back to Base Camp 4 and crossing the official finish line of the Rebelle Rally.
We got in, went to start the Jeep and nothing happened. "What's wrong?" I asked Micaela as I put my helmet and seat belt on. "Ruby isn't starting" she said as she tried to turn the key again. Nothing happened but a single click, which told us nothing as to what was wrong. On the hill next to the checkpoint, our firends were honking at us to see why we weren't following. We had established a system that morning while searching for points in the difficult driving conditions of the dunes. One honk for "yes" or "all good", two honks for "no" or more likely "I'm stuck", and three or more for "I found the checkpoint." They gave us a couple series of three honks as we answered back with two honks. Since it was the first time any of us had had to use the two honk system that day, it took them a bit to realize something was wrong.
We popped the hood and checked all the wires and connections we could find, then determined one thing: we had NO idea what was wrong. After an unsuccessful attempt at a jump start, the call was made that our fellow team mates would pull us across the finish line if they had to, but we would be finishing the race. Two things you need to know. If you called for outside help, wether search assistance if you were lost or mechanical help, you would be disqualified and would receive a DNF for your score (Did Not Finish). The other important thing to know... we were currently in third place. The determination had been made that morning by our fellow teammates that they would do everything they could to help us stay in third place. That was their whole goal for the day. This is the kind of people that this Rally was full of, but these two teams were exceptional friends and competitors.
So we hooked up our Jeep to our two heroes and started the weirdest (and most terrifying) ride I've ever had. Remember we are driving in sand dunes and as the day gets hotter, the sand got softer. As we reached our first large dune, the two Jeeps in front of us accelerated and made it almost to the top before the first strap broke. We unfortunately were barely a third of the way up the dune.
In an act of desperation, Micaela tried the key one more time and to our utter joy, Ruby came to life. I jump out and start jumping up and down. "It started! It started!" I ran around yelling. "Good! Now go before she stalls" Melissa, our recovery expert, yells back. We unhook the remaining unbroken strap and take off for Base Camp. We all crossed the finish line that day, with over an hour to spare and the hugest sense of accomplishment and relief. Micaela maintains that this was her favorite day, despite our lack of success at actually finding checkpoints and several times of giving up on difficult dunes. It was the way we weorked together as a team that made it one of the best days. Our fellow Jeeps helped recover three other teams who got stuck and as a reward Melissa and Cora received the Team Spirit Award, voted on by their fellow competitors, and $5,000 to the charity of their choice.
Our last day of competition was definitely our most challenging, as it was designed to be. They told us in Rally School before we even started that the course was designed to get harder as you went. We took that to heart as we prepared for each day, knowing that we couldn't rest on any one day's success. We had to keep looking ahead to the next day and the upcoming challenges. Now reflecting on the race I can see how that helped us and kept us at the front of the pack.
We had many successes along the way. On our first day, we completed our challenging TSD, Time Speed Distance, section wth a 13/15 score, the highest in the group. Unfortunately they determined at the morning briefing that it would be a practice section as a lot of people were still struggling to figure it out. Those extra 13 points would have put us in the lead for several days of the race, but in the end wouldn't have bumped us up to the top spot, so we have gotten over it (with some effort). Another day as we were following a set Roadbook (similar to turn by turn instructions your GPS would give you), I noticed that the route was taking us around an important turn to two additional checkpoints. After convincing Micaela that we were most definitely not where we needed to be if we wanted those checkpoints, we turned around, made it back to the right road, collected the blue checkpoint and the very difficult black, and still made it to our final checkpoint with four minutes to spare.
We also failed on a regular basis. There were days where we missed easy blues simply because I didn't read the map correctly. Or times where we missed a black checkpoint by whole kilometers (black checkpoints were unmarked so you had to make sure you plotted them very accurately and then triangulate to confirm you were in the correct spot). What I learned on these days was how to move on and continue going forward after each failure. We never gave up on a day and we worked hard to get every checkpoint we got (or didn't).
I still can't believe we got 2nd place. I know we did really well, and I am not surprised by our score, but I'm surprised that it was good enough to beat some of the seasoned competitors that we raced against. It's just an example of how fair they made the race. It was very important to the Rally organizers that everyone competed on a level playing field and we definitely felt that was true. People keep asking if I'll do it again next year, and at this point I don't know. It would be nearly impossible to top the experience I had doing this Rally and I know Micaela felt the same way. Instead of doing this rally again, we may try to find a new challenge to test our skills. I'm also anxious for the chance to get to do a race with KP. Being away from him for the past 12 days was harder than I thought it would be, mostly because there was so much of this adventure I wanted to share with him. Not being able to call him and recap each day was definitely one of the worst things about an otherwise exceptional experience.
Today I am writing this post from my home office, i.e. the passenger seat. We are currently somewhere outside of Boise on our way to Moab for a weekend of visiting Melissa, the aforementioned recovery expert, and her husband. They are members of a Jeep Club in Moab and have invited us to run the famous Coyote Canyon with them this weekend. In tribute to my new favorite rally team we said "Why Not?"