Team Wild Grace makes top four at all-female Rebelle Rally
Armed with only a compass, map and roadbook, participants of the Rebelle Rally traverse 1,400 miles of rugged Nevada and California desert over eight days of heated competition. It's equal parts grueling and exhilarating, and Nissan's Team Wild Grace can't get enough of the all-female off-roading navigation road rally.
Back for her fifth year with Nissan as a "Rebelle," preschool teacher Sedona Blinson reunited with automotive journalist Lyn Woodward for the 2020 event. While both women considered themselves novice off-roaders just a few years ago, competing in the rally – where endurance, moxie and time management skills are prerequisites – has given them confidence to go beyond where the road stops.
Blinson was seven months pregnant when she signed up for her first rally with no off-road experience, but she was ready for a new kind of challenge.
"I knew when I signed up that I would have an eight-month-old baby and a three-year-old at home, but I thought if I don't sign up for the very first one, I will never do it. I will always put it on the back burner," Blinson said.
Still new to the automotive industry, Woodward was asked to compete and write about the event for a news outlet in 2017.
Lyn Woodward, left, and Sedona Blinson, right, landed in fourth place in the 2020 Rebelle Rally, marking Team Wild Grace's best-ever finish and coming in first among the nine pickup trucks participating.
"At that time, it was very hard for me to feel like I belonged in this business," Woodward said. "It felt like I had to work doubly hard because I am a woman and triple because I just didn't have the background some of these guys in the biz for 20 years had that were my age or younger."
Woodward's first round competing in the rally was challenging. She wasn't sure she'd sign up again until Blinson asked to be her partner in 2019.
Teammates share a tent each night and spend every minute of each day's competition side by side. Each day, teams set out at about 5 a.m. to plot an adventure of locating up to 30 checkpoints, of varying degrees of difficulty. The number of checkpoints achieved cumulatively determine the competition's winners. It's what makes the Rebelle Rally a game of skill, not speed, and keeps teammates on their toes from the moment they wake up.
"I can remember the first hill I went up, back in 2017," Woodward said. "It had already been this very intense, unpleasant situation. By the end of it, I just started sobbing uncontrollably because it was this huge release of anxiety and stress and pressure. I was so proud of myself. I did this thing that was hard and that not everyone can do. I feel like it legitimized me on some level in this business and made me feel like I do belong here."
Team Wild Grace is one of 36 two-person teams. While driver and navigator can change roles at any point during the event, Woodward and Blinson stick to the jobs they enjoy most with Woodward taking the wheel and Blinson navigating. Having competed with Woodward before, Blinson knew what her friend was capable of behind the wheel.
"Last year, Lyn made the Nissan Armada that we competed in an extension of herself," Blinson recalls. "We had no issues with our tires because she picked great lines. She never got us stuck. She had amazing control of the throttle. I have nothing but praise for Lyn and the way she drives."
Nissan is the only automaker that has sponsored a team since its inception. This year, Nissan provided Team Wild Grace a 2020 Frontier equipped with a new NISMO high-performance suspension kit, an off-road bumper, lighting and wheels.
"On some of the terrain, you need to be nimble and maneuverable," Woodward says. "A lot of the trucks out there had power but didn't have the agility that the Frontier did. It was the perfect size, and we had an abundance of room for gear. There was never a time where I felt we had too much truck."
"I fell in love with that truck," she says. "Its new powertrain and NISMO parts provided the perfect push forward. It was the greatest third teammate."
Team Wild Grace had eyes on moving up the leaderboard from its sixth place finish the year prior. In the end, Blinson and Woodward landed in fourth place, marking Team Wild Grace's best-ever finish and coming in first among the nine pickup trucks participating.
Since becoming "Rebelles," skills and grit gained at the rally have overflowed into other parts of their lives. Blinson started leading an automotive skills summer camp for middle and high school-aged girls.
"That kind of empowerment is different and incredible," Blinson said. "It is about seeing girls say, 'I can touch this part of the car or pull this dip stick out.'"
Besides boosting her credibility as an automotive writer, Woodward now spends her spare time in the garage, building an off-roader with friends for fun.
"I definitely would not have before, but this event has turned me into a person that thinks it's OK to have more than one car and to build something that takes you off the pavement," Woodward said. "I now have a bit of a reputation as someone who is an 'off-roady' kind-of gal."
Blinson feels particularly gratified that her two sons follow their mom's Rebelle Rally adventure online and appreciate the preparation, hard work and determination she puts into the competition.
"I'm a badass," Blinson laughs. "I'm a super cool mom. What I do out there is amazing. I don't say it enough for myself, so it's nice when my kids do."
For Team Wild Grace, the experience strengthened its teammates mutual admiration and their love for the event.
"This event provides such an opportunity to rise to the occasion, and it can be very empowering," Woodward said. "I feel like we walk away from this event with a little bit of swagger. You get a shot in the arm from that."