Total Chaos Fabrcation

Rebelle Rally - A Peek Behind The curtain

Since 2016 TOTAL CHAOS has been involved behind the scenes with the Rebelle Rally, scouting trails each year to plot the course and also as an event sponsor. The competition course is fully confidential, so everything we do cannot be shared. We wanted to invite you to peek behind the curtain and share what it’s like to scout and explore this amazing competition. 1 vehicle solo, 2 bad ass chicks, over 40,000 miles logged to date, and almost a decade of exploring the deserts together to help frame one of the most EPIC off road adventures in our sport. And the rally just happens to be for women. We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Rebelle Rally founder Emily Miller and TOTAL CHAOS Director of Operations Nicole Pitell to discuss what it takes to make this event happen, and all the miles they cover prerunning together.

Question: How did you first meet Emily?

Nicole Pitell: I first heard of Emily in 2000 during my senior year of college when she was desert racing in the Stock Full class. We were racing in the Stock Mini class so you kinda knew names of other drivers. Fast forward to 2014. I lost my sister-in law from a brain aneurysm and was looking to do something totally different to remove myself from my comfort zone. I wanted a crazy challenge. I was contacted by a woman who asked me to compete in the Gazelle Rally on a motorcycle. I did some research on the event and it looped me back to an evening meeting with Emily to discuss this unique competition in Morocco. I was invited out to a Canadian desert training a few weeks later for the navigation. Boy I sucked at the navigation outta the gate. And I realized doing the rally on a bike was more than I wanted to sign up for. Jessi Combs had mentioned she wanted to do this Morocco rally when we had raced Battle At Primm together in our TOTAL CHAOS race truck. Fast forward again, and we are training with Emily and nine other USA teams to go compete in Africa in 2015.

When we returned to the states I asked Emily to go compete in the Vegas to Reno BITD race with me and share driving duties. I did not believe I had the endurance to drive the entire race. We went to Johnson Valley and logged some miles and put her behind the wheel of our Tacoma that August. She saw something in me that I did not see in myself and told me she didn’t think I needed another driver for the race. Emily then became a mental coach to get me prepared to race the 546 mile Vegas to Reno race as the solo driver in 2016. We would MTB and push each other weekly with training. Fun stuff. Her energy pushed me to build the mindset and physical endurance to race it and drive the entire distance in 2016 and again in 2018.

Question: How did you first meet Nicole?

Emily Miller: Nicole wanted to compete in Morrocco and she came and trained with me in the desert and dunes. Nicole’s background was in desert racing so she already had the driving skills, but navigation rallies are a different animal; it takes more endurance, core navigation skills and dune skills are key.

Q: And now the two of you prerun for the Rebelle Rally together?

EM: Yes, we prerun together and have a great time out there! Prerunning takes a lot of miles and days. I don’t prerun the whole course with one person. I go out with (Course Director) Jimmy Lewis and Mike Shirley (owner of Rally Navigator roadbook software) as they are key to the competition as a whole. This gives me face time with all the key players on the team. And sometimes I go out by myself. Preunning the course is strategic, it is important that no one knows the full course and CPs to ensure it stays confidential.

Q: What TOTAL CHAOS vehicles do you use when you go prerunning?

NP: We rotate the Morocco Taco, Sea Biscuit (Lexus GX 460) or Princess (Lexus GX 470) into the schedule. I pick the rig based on the weather and time of year. The Tacoma has a custom 14-gallon water tank for remote locations when its 100+ degrees and we have extra water capacity if something went wrong and we were stranded until the crew got to us. The GX’s keep our gear secure and dry in rain and snow. We have prerun in snow, mud, rain, thunderstorms, flash floods and the dunes have been 120 degrees. I have woken up in Nevada in 3 degrees and had the thermometer read 121 in Death Valley. We average about 5,000 miles per year, maybe more. TOTAL CHAOS prepped rigs are extremely dependable. We are two chicks that run solo in one rig for 3-6 days at a time. It’s wild when you really take a step back and think about it. What we do is considered nuts to some people.

Q: What do you appreciate about prerunning with Nicole?

EM: There are not many people I trust to drive. Nicole is such a great driver. And she is fun to prerun with! I need someone I can trust so I can be in the right seat and lay out the course and get the lay of the land without having to worry about the driving duties. I am laying out a chess game in my head. Will this be a blue or a black CP? Can X-Cross reach this location? I can focus on those details when Nicole is behind the wheel and I am in the right seat. She razzes me as she can see I’m building the game in my head.

Q: You mentioned Nicole being fun, do you have an example of that?

EM: Well her playlist is the first thing that comes to mind. It is so random, one minute we are listening to Eminem and the next minute it is Pat Benatar. You probably would not peg her as someone who listens to George Michael out in the desert. Nicole is a complex person, and her playlists are equally complex. We have fun and the music sets the tone.

Q: What are some things people might find funny about your days on the road?

NP: Each rig has a San Felipe bobble head animal attached to the dash. The Morocco Taco has a double dice I roll every day just for giggles & sh!ts. Emily always asks what the numbers mean and I laugh and say I have no idea. I just like lucky 7’s and snake eyes. But a six still puts a smile on my face too. We sometimes carry a mini football to toss when we pull over. I started packing a hacky sack to stretch my legs when we stop and stand up. Numb butt is really a thing! We are guaranteed at least one CHAOS crop circle a day.

Q: What time do you usually start prerunning in the morning?

EM: It is a fine balance between getting enough sleep and burning daylight. We try to get going as soon as the sun is up typically. The problem is, the course is so long; think about how much ground they cover in the day during the rally. I need to cover the same amount of ground each day, and I am stopping to lay out the course and look at different options.

Q: How long are the days when you are prerunning?

EM: Sun up to sun down. Prerunning is a job, but it is my favorite job. We have connected the valleys and mountain peaks of the west through passes that most people will never see. So long days don’t feel so long when we are exploring and planning.

Q: What is the craziest thing to ever happen to you while prerunning?

EM: In 2020 Nicole and I were woken up in the middle of the night by an earthquake in the Monte Cristo Range outside of Tonopah. It was like having an out of body experience. The day before we were down inside the Reward Mine – super claustrophobic and I said “I hope we don’t have an earthquake” and then it happened! This was during the pandemic so it already seemed like the world was ending, I assumed San Francisco finally had the big one. It turned out that we were right on top of the epicenter of a magnitude 6.5+ earthquake (for comparison the Loma Prieta earthquake that destroyed the Bay Bridge in 1989 was a magnitude 6.9).

NP: The earthquake for sure tops it. We almost got stranded on the top of a mountain in the snow one year. I got a twig wedged between the bead and the tire and we were going to install the spare. I got three lugs loose when my thin wall lug socket split. We had zero cell service and were at 8,000 feet after a freak cold storm that hit us. Luckily this old man stumbled upon us and followed us down the hill. My BFGoodrich A/T TKO never dropped below 22 psi. It luckily seated itself after I beat on it with a sledge hammer.  We used to run a SPOT tracker. Now its full-blown Garmin In Reach with Iridium satellite communication and emergency SOS. Every adventurer should carry a satellite device.

Q: What is the fastest speed you have ever driven while prerunning?

EM: Due to insurance considerations I am unable to answer that question.

NP: I plead the 5th.

Q: What sort of weather have you encountered?

EM: You name it! One of the things I like about the rally is that we start in Northern California and it gets down to 14 degrees at night and we end in Glamis and it was 112 degrees this year. It’s a proving ground so a wide range of temperatures is part of that. So, in addition to the navigation and driving you must be prepared not only for any situation but any weather as well. The prerunning is no different.

This year we had a lot of flash flooding. That really wreaks havoc on the course and we must make last minute changes to keep competitors safe. We were prerunning north of Beatty this year at the end of August and got hit by the same storm that immobilized Burning Man. The storm completely wiped out the road to Baker. We kept encountering drainages that were washed out, and we were close to not making it back that night. We always go prepared for weather scenarios and long periods of having to survive in case of weather emergencies.

Q: What are some challenges of being alone in one vehicle in such remote locations?

EM: We need to be prepared for any situation. I do not think about food much, when I preran with Rod Hall or go out with Jimmy we just bring some trail mix or a couple snacks. I always keep Mountain House freeze dried food and Baja Jerky with me. But Nicole takes care of us. She has the best prepped Yeti cooler that I have ever seen. She keeps us hydrated and well fed in the middle of nowhere. She is always perfecting the best trail appetizers, keeping us from just eating bars.

NP: We have to remain 100% focused on our surroundings from the time we leave until we get back and have situational awareness every step of the way. Weather. Random unstable people. Wildlife. Terrain. What we get to do is really bad ass. You’re really present. Emily is hyper focused on the mapping systems and navigation and I am making sure the vehicle is dialed in. We have a ton of trust and respect for each other and our roles out there. We are solo. It does not get more insane than that!

Q: Have you ever encountered terrain that you thought was just too rugged for the rally?

EM: This happens multiple times every year. Half the time Nicole and I will drive something that Jimmy has on a route file and it is insane. He ran it on his motorcycle though and thought it was no big deal. If we have cell service, we will call him – and yell and laugh. We have a swear word – “Jimmy F’$#@’ing Lewis!” If there is a 30% chance a vehicle is going off the edge of a cliff even with a good driver? Yeah, we take that out.

It takes a lot of experience and seat time to set the course, there are no shortcuts in this regard. People have no idea the time and effort it takes. This year, when prerunning with Mike Shirley, he asked multiple times “Are we going to take the rally through here?” There is story after story where we have an inch on each side of the vehicle with no chance of being able to turn around and we just hope it does not get any narrower. Sometimes it takes an hour and a half to get through a short canyon and we must turn around, knowing it will eat up too much time in the rally. Plus, we don’t want a situation where a car gets stuck on a route we should not have had in the inventory and it ruins the rally competition and scoring that day for those who were behind that situation. While it isn’t a race, time does matter.

Q: What equipment do you rely on when you are out prerunning?

EM: The number one most important thing is an Iridium tracking device with SOS capabilities. We use a Garmin InReach when we are out in the middle of nowhere. I also have a Zoleo. There is no reason to go into the backcountry without one of these devices; in this day and age it would be foolish to do so. We also bring a well-equipped tool kit, tire plugs, and spare tires. And of course, a TOTAL CHAOS-equipped vehicle, they are always meticulously prepped and maintained. They are so comfortable, and that really makes a difference when it comes to fatigue on these long days of prerunning. However, I also prerun in my truck, Jimmy in his bone stock truck and other vehicles and loaners to know just how challenging the miles of washboard can actually be.

NP: My Garmin InReach for emergency services. Our Yeti Cooler packed with clean energy food and Yeti soft bag for beverages on really hot days when ice is a necessity. Our TOTAL CHAOS race prepped Toyota Tacoma or Lexus prerunner. Tool bags. MaxTrax. Spare custom parts & belts. Zip-ties (laughs).

Q: You can only pick one GX to take home with you. Sea Biscuit or Princess?

EM: I cannot pick! I really can’t. I have spent so much time in Princess (GX470) so I am endeared to it, but I am catching up in seat time in Sea Biscuit (GX460). Both have amazing suspensions but the new interior in Sea Biscuit sure is nice and it rides great on the Pirelli Scorpion A/T tires. Every time I drive Sea Biscuit people are stopping me to ask questions about it.

Q: Why you run TC products on your personal Ranger?

EM: I run their upper control arms and KING SHOCKS 2.5-inch shocks sourced from TOTAL CHAOS. This truck has the Tremor package so it was already better than a normal Ranger but this really took it to the next level. They are a sponsor, but I would run TOTAL CHAOS equipment regardless because I feel that it is the best on the market. They are humble and quiet but the most intelligent people you will ever meet. They are true masters in the suspension space. They are not just selling suspension; they are enabling a lifestyle full of exploration and adventure.

Q: Any final thoughts?

EM: You know what is great? Our lives. Because we get to do this. And we get to do this together. It means more when you have a great friend there to share it with. We talked about putting a GoPro camera on the car because there are so many crazy, unbelievable things that happen out there, we thought we should record it. Then we said “no way”…these memories are for us.

NP: The last 8 years have been EPIC exploring the southwest trails and chasing trains. Our buddy Don Father always says, “You know what’s awesome? Our life!” And we try and say that once a day each day we are out on the trail. It’s true. We are both out there living our dreams in the sport of off road!

Q: TOTAL CHAOS is also a sponsor of the Rebelle, can you tell us a little more about that?

NP: TOTAL CHAOS has been involved with the Rebelle Rally since its inception back in 2016. We became involved with the Rebelle because this rally is really different from your typical off-road event. We enjoy being different. I saw how much I personally grew from competing in Morocco. It changed my career! I feel the Rebelle promotes that same self-confidence and encourages women to get out and explore and gets them removed from their comfort zones. The competitors gain a tremendous amount of personal confidence and their families and friends grow with the women throughout their experience. These competitors are forever changed by this competition. And I think it is great that TOTAL CHAOS can say it supports this competition and what it stands for. Check out the Rebelle’s recent company profile on TC HERE. 


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