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Rebelle Rally training: 5 key off-road driving tips

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We recently announced that I would be competing in the Rebelle Rally driving the Hyundai Santa Cruz, and I’ve just gotten back from our first training session. While my brain is about ready to explode with all the lessons learned, I wanted to share some of the key off-road driving tips I learned in “Rebelle U.”

Some of these tips may seem obvious, but most of them bear repeating. Again.

Flow like water

While we were driving in sand and lose dirt in a downhill direction, Emily Miller, founder of the Rebelle Rally, kept saying: “Flow like water.” The idea here is when you are basically sliding down a hill don’t fight the direction of travel. If you do, you’re likely to end up sideways, which puts you at a greater risk of rolling over.

Miller kept repeating: Think how the water would flow down this hill and do that.

Another favorite phrase: “Don’t fight gravity.” If you’re going down, you’re not going to be able to change directions and go back up mid slide. So, it’s better to go down, nose first, and then think about how you’re going to get back up if you need to.

And if you do start to slide sideways, you need to get your wheels turned in the direction you want to go – kind of like turning into a skid on wet pavement.

The goal is always to keep from getting sideways.

Don’t baja blind over sand dunes

I know. I’m a killjoy. But this is one of the more key off-road driving tips we have to offer. While it may seem like a fun time with a soft landing on the other side, you should never ever fly up and over a sand dune without knowing what’s on the other side. Why? Ever heard of a witch’s eye? No? Google that shit. Then look at the images.

The TL;DR explanation: If you’re not careful you could bury the front half of your vehicle in a sand hole.

But what if you need to power your way up a dune so you don’t get stuck? Best practice: Power your way up, and as your front wheels crest the dune, turn slightly so you are at small angle, slow down significantly and just dip your front tires over the edge of the dune before a full brake. This way you can see what you’re driving into and get out of the vehicle easily to take a closer look if necessary.

Miller’s takeaway phrase for this one: Don’t drive what you can’t see.

Stop facing nose down

If you are on dunes or hills with loose dirt, the last thing you want to do is stop in the middle of going up the hill. Momentum will not be your friend, and the likelihood of getting stuck is high. Best practice is to get to the top of the hill or dune and either stop on level ground or get your front wheels over the top and stop with a slight nose-down tilt. That way your vehicle will have momentum in its favor when you’re ready to go down.

Carry your own recovery gear

One of the first lessons learned on day one of training was this: You will get stuck. It may not be today or tomorrow, but at some point in your off-road driving, you will get stuck. On a dune, in mud, in sand – somewhere. And, if you’re in the middle of nowhere, you can’t count on someone else to help you out. So, you need to carry your own recovery gear and be prepared to use your own muscle to get unstuck.

At a bare minimum, you should carry a shovel and a set of MaxTrax – but two shovels and two sets are ideal. In the event there are other vehicles in the vicinity, it will also be helpful to carry a nylon recovery rope – assuming your vehicle has the proper tow hooks. If it doesn’t, you might consider adding them before off roading.

Put on the brakes

This might be one of the obvious off-road driving tips, but if you need to stop quickly, you need to do more than just take your foot off the gas pedal. You actually need to hit the brake as well. Why? If you have a tire that isn’t getting traction, it will continue spinning (and digging you deeper into stuckness) if you simply lift off the accelerator without hitting the brakes.

And, yes, I did, in fact, learn this one the hard way.

The bottom line on off-road driving tips

Most of the off-road driving tips I learned in Rebelle training are logical. But it’s good to read and repeat because in the heat of the moment, you might panic and do the illogical. It is only with lots and lots of practice that these tips will become second nature.

Off-road driving is so much more fun when you don’t have to dig yourself.

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Jill Ciminillo

Jill Ciminillo is the Managing Editor for Pickup Truck + SUV Talk as well as a Chicago-based automotive writer, YouTube personality and podcast host, with her articles and videos appearing in outlets throughout the U.S. Additionally, she co-hosts a weekly radio show on car stuff for a local Chicago station. Previously, Jill has been the automotive editor for both newspaper and broadcast media conglomerates. She is also a past president for the Midwest Automotive Media Association and has the distinction of being the first female president for that organization. Jill is also currently a juror for the North American Car, Utility and Truck of the Year (NACTOY).

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