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Knocking on Uwharrie: North Carolina’s secret door into a National Forest.

The Rebelle Rally is the first all-female, navigational road rally run in the U.S. The challenge is based around navigation, not speed, but the driving component requires some serious 4×4 skills. Originally from New Zealand, I’m used to driving on dirt roads, but I lacked the recovery skills we’d need when our vehicle would inevitably get stuck. It was clear I would need training.

Living in Virginia, I googled “help me off-road East Coast,” and scrolled through the pages of results. The most legit looking hit was a company called OEX. OEX is a fitting military style acronym for “Overland Experts” a training facility that attracts civilians who want the real deal on 4×4 driving instruction. The secret sauce to their curriculum is a five-point system that will keep you moving off-road, a key component to any overland adventure or military mission.

When they agreed to help with an upbeat “Sure, come on down!” I was beside myself. I sheepishly told my husband I’d met some guys online that were willing to teach me the ropes, and after more than a few raised eyebrow looks, I prepared the mothership for a weekend without mom and headed south.

In the first 30 minutes, Siri insisted I should head north on Highway 95 from Virginia to North Carolina. She was adamant, but given the Rebelle Rally is a navigational challenge, I checked my compass and fired her. Siri cannot be trusted. Onward to pick up my teammate and head for OEX located in the Uwharrie National Forest.

We arrived at the meeting point, the infamous Eldorado Outpost. I was imagining a giant cowboy-filled Cracker Barrel but as it turns out, the establishment is just a gas station. After 3 days in the Uwharrie though, this gas station began to shine. The Outpost is Uwharrie’s true north; if you need it, they have it. The people watching is priceless and the fried chicken is money. For the ladies, it’s also the best bathroom in a hundred miles.

By the end of Day One, sweating buckets in 105º heat, we had learned a month’s worth of 4×4 technique in the classroom and the field. Despite OEX’s military vibe, the gentlemen at the helm gave the classes a twinkle second to none. No one cared that we were women or that our New Zealand accents were more southern than theirs, only that we stayed focused and kept learning. We had a long way to go before becoming rally drivers or seasoned wheelers, but we were feeling confident we could survive the Rebelle Rally.

That evening, we returned to Troy, a pretty empty town except for a super cool mercantile store with coming soon signs. (You’ll miss it if you blink.) We were discussing the second component of the Rebelle Rally, navigation, with our new BFF Karl when someone pointed to a redheaded, wild-eyed guy called Ray. Ray and Karl were training military cadets who had been in the forest for weeks, and the pair agreed to help us with a little local training! #moresouthernhospitality

To our surprise, Ray and his fabulous wife had recently bought the old Troy hotel, and the mercantile store we were sitting in. They were renovating it, and based on what we saw, creating the new social hub Uwharrie desperately needs. It would be an off the grid escape for people like us who have dumped that nasty mistress Siri.

Ray made us a mean latte, and then turned the coffee shop into a no BS Navigation classroom. In less than an hour the duo helped us understand the “why” behind navigation and how we could best work with each other’s different strengths. Now all we had to do was put our newfound knowledge to the test. In the heat of the day we abandoned our fancy tools and set off Uwharrie to find a wooden post off the trail. I’m not sure that Ray thought we would find it, and we weren’t convinced we would either, but eventually the post came into sight, and we emerged victorious. It was a great end to the trip, and just a taste of the adventure that lay ahead.

Of all the doors the Rebelle Rally has opened for us, none are quite as special as the secret door into Troy and Uwharrie National Forest. Thanks to its thriving community of talented, humble, hardcore outdoor enthusiasts, we’d be willing to bet that the small town is going to make a comeback.

For more information on Overland Experts, visit their website here.

To follow our adventures, and to read about how we faired in the Rebelle Rally (we surprised even ourselves), click here. 

Although Katy has lived most of her adult life on the East Coast, she always keeps one foot in her homeland. New Zealand is where her deep respect and love for Mother Nature was instilled. At a young age her competitive spirit and love of ski racing landed her in Vermont at Burke Mountain’s world class ski academy, where she competed at a national level. In business school she tapped her creative energies and went on to work on Madison Avenue, writing ads for Pepsi on the Mountain Dew Account. Falling in love with a US Marine in New York City just before September 11th brought on a new adventure, when she married and moved Washington DC. Four children later Katy and Pete love to parent around an open fire and are committed to ingraining in their children a passion for travel and the great outdoors. In 2017 Katy entered the Rebelle Rally, finishing with a surprising top ten result. She is a marketing consultant dedicated to a term she coined "Carpe Digital.” Seize tech to leave tech is the idea, harnessing the power of digital to share and plan our adventures, in turn promoting and facilitating more time off the grid.