Without roads, wits and willpower win the race.
Late into the 2019 Rebelle Rally—an eight-day, women’s off-road competition across the Nevada and California deserts—driver Emme Hall ’94 had started to take it easy.
Mind you, this rally isn’t about going fast down a set course. It’s about traversing more than 1,000 miles of wilderness to find hidden checkpoints using only maps and a compass—no cell phones, computers or GPS.
Hall and her navigator-partner, Rebecca Donaghe, had thought they were far enough ahead to win. “Then Rebecca sees a checkpoint and says, ‘We have a minute, let’s go for it!’” Hall recalls. “So we go speeding off across the desert, and the massive amount of power pushed us back against our seats and even raised the front end a bit. Rebecca hit the buzzer the second before it closed—one second!”
First place in the crossover class that year went to Hall and Donaghe, together known as “Team Jeeves,” a playful nod to the fanciness of the Rolls-Royce Cullinan all-terrain vehicle they drove. Hall and Donaghe have competed in a different vehicle every year since the Rebelle Rally started in 2016.
Hall has been a car enthusiast her whole life. In college she drove a prized 1974 Volkswagen Thing and worked extra hours at the Rathskeller to afford parking fees. In her career, she turned a part-time gig writing auto reviews into her current role as reviews editor for CNET.com’s Roadshow. In fact, the Rolls she entered last year was a loaner for review. But as you might imagine, the Rebelle Rally is far from a luxury ride.
“Not only are you trying to find checkpoints, you’re also contending with nature. There’s no one to throw a red flag if someone puts a napkin out on the track—because there is no track,” says Hall. “You’re out there battling the terrain and the weather. We’re covering at least 200 miles a day—so, at least eight hours, but probably more like nine or 10. It’s very much an endurance thing.”
UC San Diego helped prepare Hall for the Rebelle. A linguistics major, she says her study abroad experience in England during her junior year helped broaden her horizons.
“That gave me not only a love of travel, but a love of putting myself outside of my comfort zone,” she says. With the first Rebelle Rally, “I was stepping into the dark, and because I was able to experience that when I was in college, it has just led to a whole life of embracing my non-comfort zone, becoming OK with new challenges and then moving on from there.”
And with 1,000 miles of desert to contend with each year, Hall is sure to keep heading toward that broad horizon.