Susan Pieper will be sitting shotgun Thursday, staring down 10 days, 1,600 miles, dirt, sand and check points for the third consecutive year.
The Jackson Hole entrepreneur is taking the starting line of the Rebelle Rally with her third partner in as many years, but she’s confident. By now, she knows what she’s getting into. A good chunk of the field will be professional drivers, navigators, motorsports enthusiasts or some other background that lends itself to rallying in the desert without the use of GPS.
Her background is a shovel.
Pieper is the CEO of DMOS Collective, the outdoors tool company that’s called Jackson home since its launch in 2015. Back then, Pieper had no interest in motorsports. She certainly hadn’t considered competing in the Rebelle Rally. It didn’t even exist yet.
And then, the shovel she had marketed as a snow kicker tool became something else.
“When you have a shovel company you don’t really tell people what to do with the shovel,” she said.
Pieper said she found folks more interested in her shovel as a utility tool for a truck. That was sometime in 2016-17, and a year later she was competing in the Rebelle Rally, her company a sponsor of the event.
She was invited to a women’s party in Bozeman, sponsored by Expedition Overland. There she met the founder of the Rebelle Rally, who she recalls saying: “Oh my god, I love what you have, you need to do the Rebelle.”
“I’m a mom, I’m middle aged, I’ve worked in finance, tech, I’ve been a sailor,” she said. “But I had never done anything off road or automotive, certainly not rally car racing. And so I said sure, that’s how I roll.”
The Rebelle Rally, founded in 2016, is a 1,600 mile off-road drive in the Nevada and California deserts where teams of two hunt for 200 hidden checkpoints. The field is exclusively women. They can rely only on maps and a compass, along with their driving prowess, because GPS and cell phones are a no-go.
Of the 10 days, eight will be spent actually competing. There’s a mechanics team shared by all the competitors with base camps each night between daily runs.
In 2018, Pieper teamed up with another Jackson woman, Heather Berman. The duo had no experience, of course, and by the end of it Pieper figured that was her last go.
There are certain checkpoints that are mandatory to find for completion, with other optional checkpoints that are worth bonus points. In 2018, the duo told the News&Guide they got greedy, not honing in on the mandatory points during their run.
“It was so bad, one of those things where I didn’t even know what I didn’t know,” she said. “In 2018 I was like how hard can this be.”
That year the duo finished 34th out of 35. Pieper returned to the start line in 2019 with a new partner, that time improving to 26th of 29.
Now, going into this year’s rally with a third new partner, the reason for signing back up is two-fold, Pieper said. For one, she’s competitive, and has taken five trips to the desert to train just since January. Second, DMOS continues to sponsor the event, making the Rally and all of its fanfare a giant showcase of her company’s tools.
“What’s exciting is DMOS is actually in the vehicles,” she said. “They’re filming with our shovels in vehicles at the Rebelle. What we’re going for is exposure, we’re in so many vehicles, you can see logos for DMOS … it’s another way of seeing my company and our products, because it’s a part of the Rebelle.”
Pieper will be competing with Laura Moore, of Arizona, as part of Team True North. The pairing came together after both had previous partners drop out due to COVID-19 concerns. Their team bio at RebelleRally.com says the pair “wants to cross the finish line having left nothing on the course.”
The pair will be in a 2018 Jeep JLU Rubicon, working as co-drivers and co-navigators. Those at the top of the leaderboard are vets, true pros of this fledgling extreme sport. Still, Pieper insists she hasn’t put the “college try” in before, and now she returns with experience on her end, as well as her partner’s. Now it’s time to actually compete.
And to think, it all started with her shovel.
“Life is a wild ride and you’ve got to run with it and roll with it,” she said. “The key is just to get out of the way and let it happen. Water runs downhill and you must let life happen the way it is meant to, downhill.”