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Rebelle Rally: An off-road adventure in the BMW X2

7 min reading time
1,300 miles through the desert of Nevada and California in 8 days – with the Rebelle Rally, the first off-road navigation rally in the USA exclusively for women. Driver Rebecca Donaghe and navigator Sedona Blinson faced this challenge in the new BMW X2. Relive the ultimate adventure here, through their digital diary.

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BMW X2 M35i xDrive:
CO2 emissions: 183–174 g/km (WLTP)
Fuel consumption: 8,1–7,7 l/100 km (WLTP)

No GPS. No smartphones. No digital tools. Rebecca Donaghe, Sedona Blinson, and their BMW X2 are facing a uniquely challenging adventure: the Rebelle Rally.

Competing with different teammates since the first edition, this is Blinson’s eighth Rebelle Rally and Donaghe’s seventh. Donaghe has celebrated victories in 4x4 and X-Cross classes of the Rebelle, and is always on the lookout for new challenges. Her most recent extreme adventures include an ocean crossing in a historic sailing ship, a twelve-day ride through Mongolia on a 50cc mini motorcycle, and a six-day, 300-kilometer (186 mile) paddle through the remote Peruvian Amazon in a traditional wooden canoe. After six Rebelles as a navigator, Donaghe is taking the driver’s seat for this race.

Driving and working with vehicles has been one of Blinson’s main interests from an early age. The birth of her second child prompted her to search for a combination of balance and new challenges – which she found in off-road rallying. Adventure for her means: “seeing a challenge that might scare me and deciding to take it on anyway.”

Off-road driving is freedom. And adventure means personal growth – pushing yourself beyond your preconceived limits.
Rebecca Donaghe and Sedona Blinson
Rebelle Rally, Rebecca Donaghe, Sedona BlinsonRebelle Rally, Rebecca Donaghe, Sedona Blinson
Riding it out together, with the BMW X2 at the Rebelle Rally: Rebecca Donaghe (left) and Sedona Blinson.
5 facts

That’s the Rebelle Rally

  • The Rebelle Rally is the longest competitive off-road navigation rally in the United States and covers 2,100 kilometers (1,300 miles) of difficult terrain in the desert of Nevada and California.
  • The Rebelle is the first off-road navigation rally in the United States exclusively for women.
  • The competition stretches over eight days.
  • The Rebelle combines the joy of driving with the challenge of precise navigation – it’s about the art of precision offline orienteering rather than speed.
  • This rally is a competition for regular vehicles; no race cars allowed. Street legal, with minimal modifications. The Rally has two vehicle classes: 4x4 and X-Cross.

The start of Rebelle Rally 2023: Mammoth Mountain Resort in Mammoth Lakes, California (➜ Read also: Food road trip California). The finish line: the Imperial Dunes near the Mexican border.

Why have the two women decided to compete in the Rebelle Rally? Because it’s the ultimate challenge! “The Rebelle Rally is a unique adventure that demands complex strategy, problem solving, as well as physical and mental strength.”, explains Donaghe. “It also calls for a considerable amount of endurance, trust, communication, as well as flexibility and concentration.” Blinson emphasizes: “It forces me out of my comfort zone. I love the chance to become a stronger, more resilient person through the adversity. The Rebelle Rally is designed for just that, to push you to your personal limits – and then beyond. The vehicle becomes your trusted third teammate. I find it impressive when a manufacturer is willing to test a new car on what has been called the ultimate authentic proving ground for vehicles.

The new BMW X2 faced a major challenge that would test its endurance and reliability to the limit. The BMW X2 was fitted with specific modifications for this.

The vehicle for the Rebelle Rally

How the BMW X2 was equipped

Highlight-Video

The BMW X2 at the Rebelle Rally

The art of navigation is more important than speed

Rebelle Rally KarteRebelle Rally Karte

The Rebelle Rally is not a race about speed (➜ Read also: From 0 to 60 – all about accelaration. It is a competition about precise driving and navigation, searching for the right route and hidden checkpoints with the aid of nothing more than a map, a compass, and a roadbook. Good preparation is essential. Though they practiced separately, Sedona and Rebecca had little chance to train together as a team before the race. They were nervous heading into the first stage – not least because this was also the first time they would drive the BMW X2 in the dirt. Uncharted territory lies ahead, in every direction.

“My inner compass has evolved through the adventures I have experienced,” explains Donaghe. “I feel much more comfortable with uncertainty, mistakes, and taking risks. I use a challenge like the Rebelle Rally to practice facing my fears. I know I can push the limits of what I think is possible.’’

Rebecca Donaghe and Sedona Blinson kept a digital diary to capture the experience of how the Rebelle Rally adventure went.

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Day 1: Prologue and a solar eclipse

It begins with the Prologue, and it’s time to get right to work. We get a hint of the challenges that could lie ahead. I have to learn the capabilities of the car, and Sedona and I have to get into the groove of our communication. Two strong navigators in the car have to learn to compromise. Day one requires difficult navigation in forested areas, but Sedona triumphs. Steep hills and slopes limit our pace and I learn the best approach angles so the BMW X2 isn’t damaged in the deep ruts of the trails. We use our traction boards as bridges a few times to avoid scrapes or damage to parts. We and the vehicle get to know each other better with every mile. Our personal highlight: we witness a solar eclipse in the middle of the competition day. What an experience!

Day 2: A stage winner in the ghost town

Setback: At one point, we lose our orientation and a lot of time in the so-called spaghetti trails. We sacrifice a checkpoint and click our tracker for a reference point so we can catch up. But we move forward as a team, with great strategy and process. I push the pace of the BMW X2 through the winding trails with the speed and precision we gain coming downhill into the valley, and make up time. We chalk up a stage win! Victory drinks in the ghost town’s saloon are fair reward for our accomplishments. Our takeaway: good teamwork creates good results and even better spirits.

Day 3: On the wrong track

After a successful day two, we head into the new stage confident – and maybe a little too cocky. Instead of a long, but likely trouble-free drive to checkpoint 12, we opt for a 12X advanced checkpoint that seems to lie in the middle of a small, rocky canyon pass. We want the extra points and believe we are up to the challenge. But rainfall has ravaged the ravine and exposed massive rocks. We spend over an hour clearing small boulders out of the way and building stone bridges to drive through the most difficult segments. It was the wrong choice; we gain no points and lose a lot of time. Nevertheless, it is inspiring to know that the BMW X2 not only made it through the rocky ravine, but also let us enjoy rushing through the winding mountain passes of the pavement transit with amazing grip and speed. Note to selves: don’t get cocky.

Day 4: Our courage at a low

Absolutely nothing goes according to plan on this day. Shortly after the start, we make a wrong turn in the first ten minutes. The pressure to recover brings us, as well as the vehicle, to the limit. The roof rack loses a fastener, and we lose time securing it with zip ties. We try to recalibrate ourselves as a team, yet nothing seems to go right. We get stuck, can’t self-recover, and have to get help from fellow competitors. Nevertheless: even at the end of this catastrophic day, we can be proud that we didn’t back down from the most difficult challenges. Tomorrow is a new day.

The BMW X2 handled the demanding, rugged course with surprising ease, excellent handling, and comfort.
Rebecca Donaghe and Sedona Blinson

Rebelle Rally – the BMW X2 in its element

Passenger and vehicle grow together at the Rebelle Rally. “Handling, horsepower, and torque – the power is there when you need it, especially for steep inclines,” says Donaghe. “On top of that, there’s the agility of steering at different speeds to avoid obstacles, fantastic acceleration, and powerful brakes. There is plenty of space for the navigator, Sedona, in the passenger seat, and loads of storage for all of our off-road equipment. We felt connected to the vehicle and its reaction to the terrain.”

What sets a modern rebel apart? Both agree it is the capacity to be unafraid of pushing against conventions. “Make bold decisions (➜ Read also: Freeing Gaia Podcast) and don’t be afraid of experiencing something new or trying something different.”

Day 5: Friction in the middle of nowhere

Days five and six are marathon stages with checkpoints we can chase out of order. Lots of strategy and decision analysis, but we are confident and do well. A minor setback: After a break, I forget my helmet on top of the X2, dumping it in the dirt as I drive away. The detour to retrieve it takes around 20 precious minutes. In the middle of a dry lake at the end of the day, the clock is ticking, our nerves are on edge, and an argument over the chosen route breaks out. The BMW X2 handled the harsh Johnson Valley terrain fearlessly. And despite the challenges, we win today’s stage. We make it to our campsite and, after dinner, Sedona and I sit together in her tent to apologize and plan out the rest of the checkpoints. An important insight: never go to bed angry.

Day 6: Don’t stick your head in the sand

We spend the morning crawling through the toughest rocky terrain of the rally. After day three’s problems in mercilessly deep sand, I try different adjustments to the settings of the BMW X2 when we hit sand again early in the day. What is helpful on asphalt can impede and get in the way in off-road conditions. I deactivate some safety settings, such as forward collision and other driver assist systems. It works. By the time we hit the dunes of Glamis at the end of the day, we trust the car to surf up a tall dune with confidence for a checkpoint. The BMW X2 maneuvers through it as though it was built for this. We have a great time and win the stage again!

Day 7: Together against all adversities

We head into the last day of the race second in our class. No matter what we face today, we are already proud of our accomplishments. Early on, however, we get stuck in a small bowl, then waste time and fuel searching for a checkpoint. We get confused by a seemingly impassable canal we must cross, but don’t recognize on our maps. After long hours of driving in brutal heat through the soft hot sand, we overheat the BMW X2. We stop and let the engine and distributor cool, losing valuable time. As we drive back from the farthest checkpoint in Glamis, we run out of gas. The refueling penalty and time wasted feels like a punch in the gut. It’s an emotional rollercoaster ride, but we maintain our humor. We finally cross the finish line and learn we secured second place in the X-Cross overall ranking. It’s a victory over all the adversities that we celebrate in style.

Rebelle Rally – a journey into your inner self

The Rebelle Rally experience lays bare your strengths and weaknesses. It develops leadership, fosters teamwork, communication, independence, and connectivity. And it also forces you to trust yourself and your teammates, overcome limitations, and get yourself out of seemingly impossible situations. “The next checkpoint can always be a new start,” says Donaghe. “That also applies to each day. This adventure is yours to craft for yourself. You look forward to each objective, to each morning, to see which of your limits you will surpass next.”

Author: Markus Löblein; Art: Madita O’Sullivan; Photos & Videos: BMW

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