Like an astronaut preparing for takeoff, Kristie Levy of Ahwatukee is checking her gear and limbering up for a ride next week into the unknown.
Only instead of outer space, Levy and Rachael Ridenour of Albuquerque, New Mexico, will be riding through mountains, valleys, lake beds and other unknown parts from the Hoover Dam to the Imperial Sand Dunes in Glamis, California, as they participate in the Rebelle Rally.
At eight days and 2,500 km, the Rebelle is the longest off-road navigational rally in the country – and it’s a women-only endurance test. It starts Oct. 8 and runs through Oct. 15 with an awards celebration the following day.
“It is not a race for speed, but a unique and demanding hunt for checkpoints using no GPS,” Levy explained. “A compass and map are your only tools, as you manage time and distance to outmaneuver and outscore your opponents.
“We live out of our vehicles carrying everything we need to sleep and repair/maintain our vehicles with us. Each
night we set up and sleep in our tent under the stars.”
Kristie Levy, now a federal agent, retired as a master sergeant from the U.S. Army with 25 years of service and combat deployments to Afghanistan, Iraq and Bosnia and Ridenour, now in IT, is a 32-year U.S. Army veteran with combat deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq.
If the Rebelle sounds grueling – it is – it’s also not exactly out of the ordinary for both women, who enjoy tests of endurance that stretch their mental and physical capabilities.
In July 2019, Levy decided she wanted to run a 100K Ultra-Marathon in May 2020. She and her running partner Chrissie, trained through the brutal Phoenix summer, running by 3 a.m. to beat the heat.
And while the pandemic canceled that marathon, Levy and her partner found 62 miles of unmarked trail in northern Arizona and – with friends at stations five to seven miles apart cheering them on – finished 100 kilometers in just under 20 hours.
A world taekwondo champion who once was named Army athlete of the year, Ridenour is no couch potato either. She has driven the Khyber Pass, run a 5k in the Pyramids of Giza and snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef.
She is the founder and CEO of Record The Journey, a non-profit organization that provides outdoor photography adventures and training to military veterans and their families to help with transitioning to civilian life.
This is Levy’s second Rebelle and Ridenour’s sixth. They earned third place in last year’s rally in a Mitsubishi Outlander electric hybrid SUV.
With Levy at the wheel and Ridenour as the navigator, the pair – who describe themselves as “fueled by freedom and caffeine” – will be driving a 2020 ocean-blue Jeep Wrangler Rubicon they have christened Atropia.
It has been modified in a head-spinning number of ways – with an equally head-spinning array of sponsors – to withstand the rally’s rigors.
Ridenour and Levy, who are competing in the 4x4 class, also have been training since December.
They’ve been meeting at various places in Arizona and California “to work together on our map, driving and communication skills,” Levy said.
“Individually Rachael focuses on the maps, while I focus on the vehicle,” she explained. “We have video conferences to discuss everything and make sure we are accomplishing all the mini-goals and time-hacks we set for ourselves.”
“Training together and in person is difficult, as we live in different states. But we have video conferences and practice plotting latitude and longitude, doing all the conversion math, talk about equipment and revisit our checklists,” Levy said. “We talk about what we could have done better last year and how to improve on that.”
“Individually, Rachael does a lot of reading maps and plotting,” she added. “I do some driving, but mostly familiarizing myself with the vehicle and all the tools and how to fix whatever might happen during the rally, because we have to repair our own vehicles.”
While they are not allowed to have internet access and can’t use GPS, participants will be searching for checkpoints in along the rally route and people can observe their progress by downloading the YB app for either Apple or android. The rally also will be broadcast live at rebellerally.com and can be viewed on YouTube and Facebook.
Their local sponsors include A++ Window Cleaning, BFGoodrich Tires, Apex Chassis, RPM, LV8DG, Nextbase Dash Cams, Taco Santo, Pure Luxury Tint and Detail, RangeTime, Jon Rodriguez Insurance, Sommer Decker Realty and Project RR.
Modern Off-road, Iron Rock Off-Road, RPM Steering, Apex Chassis, LV8DG and BFGoodrich Tires have provided approximately $7,500 in parts to upgrade Atropia’s suspension, steering and ride capabilities along with her rally-style appearance. Modern-Off Road also donated some man hours towards installation of the donated items.
The pair are still seeking donations to cover food, drink and most of all a 12V refrigerator/freezer “to keep our water and fruits and vegetables reasonably chilled and edible during the event,” Levy said. “Ice in a cooler does not last long at all and we cannot stop anywhere to get more ice.”
For how to donate and more information on the vets’ journey, follow them on Facebook at CWG: Fueled by Freedom and Caffeine, and on Instagram at cwg._.freedom.and.caffeine.