Imagine being stranded in the middle of the desert … with no cell phone or GPS technology of any sort. Two veteran sisters-in-law thought a lot about this precarious situation — and then proceeded to add it to their bucket list.
Selena “Mason” Converse and Erin Mason had already bonded through their military backgrounds, family ties (Mason is married to Converse’s brother), motherhood and mutual love of outdoor adventures. So, teaming up for the Rebelle Rally, a women’s 2,500-kilometer off-roading vehicle competition, became a dream challenge for the daring duo.
However, the entry costs and training required before spending nine days navigating the rough terrain of the Nevada and California deserts with nothing more than a map, compass and roadbook seemed impossible to conquer — until the pair connected with Record the Journey.
Rachael Ridenour, RTJ founder and Army veteran, offered to sponsor Converse and Mason through her nonprofit — a military veterans charity dedicated to PTSD awareness and helping service members successfully transition to civilian life with the help of outdoor therapy. Ridenour had already conquered the Rebelle Rally six times, and her new proteges jumped at the chance to begin preparing for the 2021 event.
“Training was intense,” Mason said. “Thank goodness we had a year because it was a lot of info that we were not expecting. We traveled to California about three or four times throughout the year to meet up with Rachel in the middle of the desert and to learn how to navigate and brain associate.”
Mason equated the process to going to a military technical school. Getting the scoring system and checkpoint process down pat proved particularly difficult, she says.
But when race day rolled around, Mason (the navigator), Converse (the driver) and Sammy (the 2-year-old German Shepherd service dog) were prepped, albeit anxious. Converse recalls feeling sick to her stomach when sitting in the 2022 Mitsubishi Outlander at the starting line.
“I was definitely very nervous,” she said. “Turning off our phones and driving the 500 meters to the front really put everything into perspective.”
Mason remembers mornings being particularly difficult times during the journey.
“We got up at 5 a.m. and had to get our breakfast, lunch, coffee, maps, coordinates, messages, driver’s notes and everything ready,” she said. Because Mason had a baby just three weeks before the adventure began, she also had to make time for “morning pumps in 30-degree weather.”
And the struggles didn’t stop there. If the team wanted to eat and sleep (in a tent with 30 other women) each night, they were required to locate base camp. Both Converse and Mason agreed their military background helped make the experience more relatable.
“It was so similar to a deployment that it surprised us,” Mason said. “We had no phones or connection to our family. We were out in the middle of the desert and only had basic necessities. Just like in the military you have MREs, we were getting these Mountain House Meals for lunch. And we were camping, so we were dirty, all wearing the same thing and hadn’t showered in days. But it was all fine. Both of us have been on deployments; we have gone through worse.”
Converse, who has had PTSD herself, said succeeding and representing Record the Journey felt particularly important.
“Erin and I have received so much of our own outdoor therapy by doing things like this,” she said.
“Representing Record the Journey showed other women the beauty of using outdoor activities and therapy as a way to cope, no matter their situation,” added Mason.
Of course, reaching the finish line also felt pretty fantastic.
“We couldn’t finish fast enough and at the same time wanted to pause time,” said Mason. “Finishing was incredible and also so emotional. We accomplished something that most people will never do in their lives. You don’t want it to be over but you are so ready to go take a shower and go home. But, yeah, I would do it again in a heartbeat.”