Vancouver cousins team up for off-roading navigation competition

By Adam Littman, Columbian Staff Writer

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Every day for a week, Kris Vockler and Char O’Day woke up knowing where they needed to go but unsure of how to get there.

“You’re lost from the beginning,” O’Day said.

It was O’Day’s job to get the duo to their destinations. She was the navigator and Vockler was the driver during the Rebelle Rally, a seven-day, 1,200-mile off-roading excursion through parts of California and Nevada.

It was the duo’s first off-roading event, although O’Day has been off-roading since 2000 and Vockler started off-roading a bit while in Prairie High School, and has gotten serious about it in the last five years. This was the second year of the Rally, an all-women’s off-roading race.

Vockler, 46, of Vancouver was the driving force behind the duo’s entry into the event. O’Day, 66, of Vancouver was nervous about the event, and about failing. O’Day said she was pushed to enter by her husband and Vockler. The two have known each other since Vockler was born — they are cousins.

Navigation challenge

Each day of the race, there were 12 to 25 checkpoints. The duo got a map of the checkpoints about an hour before heading out each morning, and they had to map out how to get to them from base camp. They could use only a map and compass to get to as many checkpoints as they could. Before the race, the organizers took away everyone’s cellphones and put up cardboard over each vehicle’s GPS system.

They couldn’t have any contact with the outside world, meaning they couldn’t check up on their families or their businesses. O’Day owns Charter Controls, which designs and customizes high-tech control panels. Vockler owns Ridgefield-based ICD High Performance Coatings, which manufactures paints, coatings and chemicals.

There were varying degrees of checkpoints all worth differing amounts of points. The checkpoints worth the fewest points had multiple flags waving that could be seen from a distance. The checkpoints worth the most points had nothing. The racers had to find the right latitude and longitude to check in.

“You couldn’t hit all of them every day,” Vockler said. “You had to strategize. You had to think in time, distance and pathways.”

Wild country

The course was a mix of maintained and unmaintained dirt roads, public land and private land approved for the event. The last few days of the event were spent driving through sand dunes. There was one day with winds up to 50 mph and sand blowing so much that it looked like a snow storm, O’Day said.

The dunes was the hardest part of the course, both said, partly since unlike mountains, the tops of dunes aren’t going to show up on a map.

Their 2014 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon took a bit of a beating during the race. They broke a rear shock, bent a tire rod and blew a tire.

“We hit a lot of stuff,” Vockler said. “The rig was set up for this.”

Their driving speed was a bit faster than normal, Vockler said, which played a role in some of the damage to the Jeep.

“We caught air a lot,” she said. “I felt like a parent. I kept reaching out and holding her back while were flying. It was so ‘Dukes of Hazzard.’ ”

Solitude

Vockler said that more than 90 percent of the time, they felt like they were in their own world. Occasionally they’d see locals around or other competitors. A few times they stopped to help other drivers, including one French team who had a tire fall completely off a rim and they couldn’t read directions in English well enough to fix it.

Vockler said that while the teams were competing, the race with only women had a very supportive atmosphere.

“I’ve come from the old (days), where women stayed in the house,” O’Day said. “I’ve seen things change. It’s refreshing. We can challenge ourselves. It hasn’t always been that way.”

The event was a challenge for the duo.

For the first two days, they felt like they had no idea what they were doing, despite times that placed them in the top 10. On day three, the two said, “we might not suck” and for the next few days, the duo couldn’t believe their adventure was going to end.

“It was our purpose for seven days,” Vockler said. “All we did was drive and map, drive and map. Getting home was weird.”

‘Rally hangover’

It took Vockler about two weeks to settle into everyday life again, which she said is what the racers call a “rally hangover.” The two plan on competing in the rally again next year, and already signed up for it. Vockler has plans to try and get to some other races around the world in the coming years. The two also plan on helping another team get into the rally next year.

They’re also looking for sponsors to help them pay for parts and entry into next year’s race. It costs between $11,500 and $12,000 to sign up for the 2018 race, according to the event’s website. Anyone interested in learning more about the duo’s team, Fast ‘N Curious, can do so at their website, www.fastncuriousoffroad.com.

Vockler said she wants more women to get involved with outdoor activities, and she thinks everyone should participate in the Rally or a similar event. It forces people to learn how to navigate, but also trust their instincts, she said, adding that it also gets people more connected to the planet.

“This was more than a race,” Vockler said. “This was a life-changing event. It was so much more than just Point A to Point B.”