Author: Jaime Bengston
When I entered the Ladies Offroad Challenge, I never thought there was a chance that I could win. As things started to progress and I kept moving up in each stage, I was constantly in shock that I had made it that far. The shock certainly didn't stop when Charlene called my name saying I was chosen for the Achieve Tahoe Rubicon Trail experience. I was thrilled, nervous, but thrilled and ready to take on the challenge ahead. I had no idea what the trip was going to bring and let’s just say, nothing went as planned! Ha!
My journey actually started during the Ladies Offroad Convention. Fred, the owner of New Mexico Jeep Builders and I, had been working on my Jeep for a couple of weeks and despite our best efforts, the upgrades just didn't go as smoothly as we had planned. So, as I pulled into the Convention, my Jeep was having some issues. I used the break times during convention to work with Fred via phone and a local shop on getting my Jeep trail ready. Unfortunately, after the entire weekend, it was time to make the call. Mama’s Monarch wasn't going to make it to the Rubicon. I was upset and disappointed but reality is reality and making the best call for the situation was important and it wasn't worth the risk of continuing. I made the call to not take my Jeep. Luckily, Charlene jumped into action and came up with Plan B.
Monday morning, we loaded up Big Red with everything from convention and all of our stuff for the Rubicon and left for Reno. Now, I could give you a play by play of everything we did, but that would just take up way too much of the Internet, and looking back, I don't know that all of the details are what’s important. The journey brought so much to my life that I want to focus on sharing that with you.
It’s kind of crazy when you start a journey and you’re so excited and eager to get going. Then life happens, things break and suddenly it feels like absolutely nothing is going as planned. All the hard work you and others have done, appears to mean nothing but wasted time. All the hopes and expectations you had, are shot and there is nothing you can do. As a mom, a police wife, a Ladies Chapter leader, I am used to having control and being the one making the calls of most situations. Going into all of this, my control was my Jeep and my Jeep was failing me. It’s also extremely hard for me to stomach the idea that I was letting people down, and man, did I feel like I was letting everyone down. From Charlene, to Fred, to my family, New Mexico Jeep Group, my Ladies Chapter, my Top 10 sisters, and everyone who had supported me in making it to the Top 3. Now, because of my Jeep there was a fundamental change to the entire event, and there was nothing for me to do but sit back and watch as things unraveled.
Sitting in the hotel of the Convention, there was this moment when I realized that in order to enjoy this event I had to actually put into play what I thought was the major emphasis of the Top 10 Weekend - to live in the moment, be in the now, and roll with the punches. I took a deep breath and I approached Charlene, and she and I had a moment. I gave myself permission to get upset and cry and then to forgive myself, to let it all go, and leave the negativity at the hotel. I allowed myself to turn the stress into jokes; the disappointment into excitement; and the tears into fun and laughter. That was the best decision I’ve ever made. There was so much thrown at me for the entire time I was on this trip, and I had I brought the negativity with me - it would have ruined everything.
That’s the backstory, now on to the main event! We started by exploring the ins and outs of the Rubicon Trail, its history, and its background. Holy moley, was that amazing. I love to learn - and take the opportunity to learn as much as I can. While, I know there are books, and websites and tons of resources out there to learn all about the trail, there is absolutely nothing like getting it first hand from people who have lived there and experienced the trail. Or hearing the tales from others as they are passed along to you. Visiting places like Ice House and Uncle Tom’s Cabin were mind blowing for me. As we walked into each place, I was immediately hit by the dollar bills hanging from each and every nook and cranny of the walls and ceilings. And as I examined them closely I began to see the names, dates, clubs, trip names, etc written on each bill. Each of these were a memory left by someone as they passed through. A memory of a time that was spent in that place. How amazing to think of all of those stories that were represented there, and I was standing among them. I didn't leave a signed dollar or anything else, but I was able to sign the guest book at Uncle Tom’s Cabin - how cool is that? I’m in that book now! This trip is now a part of that story!
Entering the Rubicon Trail was one of those completely overwhelming moments. Everything hitting at once. We made it, we were there, and it was happening. There were moments that I was sad that I didn't have my Jeep, but I kept reminding myself that "everything happens for a reason," and there was a moment of clarity the second day we were there. I was riding in the back of another rig as we were traveling up Big Sluice, there was a participant in the front passenger seat. As we crawled up and over the obstacles, I was able to sit back and really take in the experience in a way I never could have if I was driving. You see, as I sat there and watched the facial expressions, heard the laughter and truly felt the joy of our participant as he went over these obstacles, I realized that if I had been focused on making my way over these same obstacles, I would have never been able to really take in the joy of the people around me.
It made me really understand and appreciate what Achieve Tahoe does. I had another moment like this when we were at Lake Tahoe. Many of the participants went into the (freezing cold) water to swim. Among them were both of the participants that came in wheelchairs. No one blinked an eye when they expressed the want to go into the water. The volunteers made it happen as smoothly as you or I walking into the water on able legs. I watch as one gentleman got aboard a paddle board with his son and took off into the lake. I realized, that while they could go swimming anywhere in the city - they couldn't be in this amazing lake up in the Rubicon, if it wasn't for Achieve Tahoe and all of their rigs. Some people might think its not a big deal, water is water and swimming is swimming. But when you see the looks on their faces, and you see the joy in their eyes, you know that this means something special to them… to be blessed to be a witness and a part of that, will never ever leave my heart.
The people of Achieve Tahoe are amazing. Meeting and working along side of Jason and Andrea Berger was awesome. Listening to their stories from the past 15 years of this trail ride was so cool. Watching their eyes light up when they shared some of the more touching stories of the participants they helped and supported. It makes you really see that all the work they put into it, all the times it takes to prep and prepare might be tiring but it worth it to them. They’ve dedicated so much to this program and it’s clear they are the heart of it. Surrounding them are so many volunteers that come from all over the area just to lend a hand. They load up their rigs, bring trailers, and set to work the second they arrive at the staging area. They are all so willing and want to help so much, that there are times you can’t even find a job to do! Not a single person ever hesitated to do whatever was needed to make the camp run smoothly. Food was prepped and cooked,and dishes were always done. The fire was always warm. When participants wanted to change vehicles or hike or move around, everyone was more than willing to do whatever was needed to make it happen. But the absolute best part of all of it - watching everyone interact. It took me quite a while to figure out who had been to the camp before and who hadn’t - everyone was so warm and welcoming you couldn't tell if anyone was new! There was never a time that I didn't feel like they hadn't known me for years! There was never time that I saw anyone alone. Every single person took the time to make sure that everyone was right at home.
And speaking of people… I met so many amazing people during the entire trip. Each and every person made me feel like I had always been apart of this huge offroad community. And as I took in their stories and their experiences, and heard them talk to Charlene about the other people we had visited or spoken with, I began to realize that there was more than just a community - it was a family tree. This family tree had roots deep within the Rubicon Trail and surrounding areas. They all knew each other in some fashion, many were close friends, and many had plenty of stories to share! But not a single person ever hesitated to welcome me into it all, and for that, I am so very grateful. I truly left feeling like I made new friends and I cannot wait to see them all again.
People ask me over and over what the best part of the trip was, and I try to answer it each time, but as you can see it’s a difficult question to answer. The road trip with Charlene was a blast - sleeping in the truck, wheeling in a Honda, working on secret squirrel stuff, and of course laughing for hours on end. Being on the Rubicon with Achieve Tahoe was true life changing experience - reminding me that we take so much for granted, reminding me to stay in the now and focus on what is actually happening in front of me, and reminding me to just keep laughing. Meeting new people - from all walks of life, all backgrounds, all situations, all capabilities, all experience levels - but all welcoming and sweet and people I would love to spend more time with. See, I can’t say that one part was better than another, and I can’t say that there was favorite because they don't compare to each other. Each day brought a new adventure, a new experience and something else to learn. I will certainly remember each moment, and cherish each memory.
*Thank you to everyone who supported me, from the very beginning to the very end. I could not and would not have done any of this without any of you. Thank you to Rod Hall Drive for the rental Jeep! And thank you to my family for allowing me to take on this crazy adventure and be gone for two weeks! I love you!
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Author: Jaime Bengston