The Rebelle Rally is the first women’s off-road navigation rally in the United States covering over 1,200 miles in a 10-day trek from Nevada to California. Entrants come from around the world making for a diverse group with varying levels of off-road experience. This year, the rally had its first disabled athlete who drove as a part of team Record the Journey in a 2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross.
This is a grueling race. Teams are up before sunrise to plot the day’s route and often don’t arrive back at camp until nearly sunset. It’s physically and mentally exhausting for all the women, but Karah Behrend faced a unique set of extra challenges.
She drove for team Record the Journey alongside navigator Rachael Ridenour and is the first disabled athlete to compete as a Rebelle. Due to a degenerative neurological disease, Behrend does not have the use of her lower extremities or parts of her hands, which leaves her in a wheelchair.
Ridenour is a Rebelle Rally veteran who founded Record the Journey as a nonprofit organization that helps veterans and their families through outdoor photography adventures. Ridenour served in the Army for 31 years and knows well the challenge of reacclimating to civilian life after combat. Behrend is also a veteran with seven years of service in the Air Force.
A Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross isn’t what you typically think of when it comes to off-road vehicles. This is a compact crossover. It’s what you expect to see in the school carpool line, at the grocery store, or maybe on the road next to you during your morning commute. Ascending a steep sand dune? Navigating down a rock-strewn hillside? Not so much.
Yet, that’s exactly what team Record the Journey did in their Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross and with only a few modifications. Outside, they added an off-road wheel and tire package, skid plates, roof rack, light bar, and custom bash bar to protect the intercooler.
Inside, the rear seats and subwoofer were removed for added cargo space while a fire extinguisher, trip computer, speed sensor, and mounting points for securing gear were added. They also added a grab handle to help Behrend get in and out of the vehicle, mounting brackets to secure wheelchairs, and hand controls.
That small list of modifications is all it took to make a stock Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross ready for the Rebelle Rally. What didn’t change was the engine, which is a 1.5-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder with 152 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque paired to an 8-speed continuously variable automatic transmission.
While that might make it seem like the rally isn’t all that tough, don’t be fooled. Instead, see it as a testament to the capability of the stock vehicles on today’s roads. The only performance features added were the skid plates, wheel and tire package, and bash bar. That’s it.
We caught up with the team just before the end of the rally, at a time when you’d think they’d be exhausted and ready for it all to be over. While the exhaustion was there, Ridenour and Behrend were still full of enthusiasm and joy.
Our first glimpse of the team came as they arrived at base camp on the day before the finish. As they pulled up, they had the windows down and were singing and dancing as they crossed the line. Days on the road, obstacles that tested their driving and navigating skills, and challenges posed by Behrend’s disabilities did nothing to dull their enthusiasm.
On the last day of the race, the team navigated its way through the sand dunes of Glamis, California and Record the Journey crossed the finish line at base camp for the final time. The infectious enthusiasm of the day before was still there and had everyone cheering and laughing.
They secured a second-place finish in the crossover category, which isn’t the win they wanted, but is still an incredible accomplishment for both women. In addition, they received the Team Spirit Award chosen by fellow competitors to honor the team that exemplifies the Rebelle Rally spirit.
While the race is over, the Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross the team drove is only just beginning its journey. This is the first vehicle in Mitsubishi’s “Small Batch, Big Impact” initiative, which aims to redefine the term CUV or crossover utility vehicle to mean community utility vehicle. The team’s Eclipse Cross will stay with Record the Journey to help the organization continue its outreach efforts and improve the lives of military veterans and their families.