Selected for Ladies Wheeling Weekend
"Jessica enjoys exploring Arizona in her jeep and hitting the scenic and moderate crawling trails throughout the Phoenix area and beyond with her friends. She enjoys hiking and backpacking, but since getting her Jeep, she has not done either unless it was related to a Jeep trip. Whenever she gets the opportunity, she likes to take off with her dogs and "escape" for a weekend camping trip."
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I enjoy being outdoors, enjoying nature with my dogs; jeeping, camping, exploring, etc. My friends and I like wheeling to out of the way spots and enjoying the beauty of Arizona and the desert of the Southwest.
How long have you been offroading?
I got into off-roading after I bought my first Jeep in August 2013. I wanted a vehicle that would be capable of taking me to better hiking, camping, and backpacking spots than I could access with my daily driver. I’ve loved Jeeps since I was a child, my sister and I even had a pink plastic Jeep for our Barbies! I originally started looking for a small 4x4 pickup and the more I looked, the more I realized I should just start looking at Jeeps because I wouldn’t be happy with a pickup.
I went on a newbie run in my Jeep club (Arizona Virtual Jeep Club) in January 2014. I had never been rock crawling before and while Box Canyon in Florence doesn’t seem like much to those that have been crawling for years, the sum total of my off-roading at that point had been forest roads up in Payson and roads/sandy washes in the desert out by my house. The first time I saw the waterfall in Box Canyon, I was terrified. I couldn’t believe the trail leaders thought we were going to be able to get our Jeeps up to the top. Another member graciously allowed me to ride with him when it was his turn to tackle it. It was scary and exhilarating at the same time. Since then, I’ve been hooked! I built my Jeep to be able to tackle any of the trails in the Phoenix area that I wanted to try, it has always surpassed my expectations.
I currently have a new to me 2005 Rubicon Unlimited Wrangler. At the moment, it is in a local off-road shop (LetzRoll Offroad) having a cage installed. I had their sport cage in my last Jeep and refused to do any crawling in the new one until I had a stronger cage installed. My new Jeep has not been modified much yet, when I bought it, it had a 2-inch puck lift; a friend helped me take the front pucks off and we installed the 3-inch springs that came with my first Jeep. I still have to remove the pucks in the rear and change out the springs, when I do, I will also be installing a bolt in track bar reinforcement from 4 Wheelers Supply in Phoenix that acts as a gusset to reinforce the track bar mount and ensure the track bar remains connected to the axle. The plans for the build include a custom long arm from LetzRoll, trussed front and rear axles, and replacing the rear track bar with a 4 link. I would also like to stretch the rear axle slightly so I would have the same departure angle as a TJ when the truss, 4 link, and lift are installed so I do not have to go through the rear half of the build more than once.
MOAB!!! A group of us from VJC rented a house and went to Moab for 5 days/4 nights after EJS last year. We ran Hells Revenge, Fins N Things, Kane Creek Canyon, 7 Mile Run, Top of the World, and did Poison Spider as a night run.
What was your most exciting offroad achievement?
Exciting isn’t always fun, my most exciting achievement was walking away after rolling my Jeep on a dirt road. Thanks to the sport cage I had installed (and hoped I would never use), my dogs and I all survived an accident we probably would not have, if the Jeep still only had the factory cage. Both of my dogs are Yorkies, one 5.5 pounds, the other is 12 pounds; people are shocked when they see the ‘after’ pics of my Jeep and find out that we all walked away. Whenever anyone asks me my thoughts on what to do to their Jeep, my first answer is always ‘Cage Up’!
I always get apprehensive before attempting an obstacle for the first time. There are some that still give me the same feeling and probably always will. I find it exciting to have that much control. I also like the ‘controlled’ setting in which we attempt these amazing feats. Most of the time, on the trails I run, a mistake is an inconvenience, not catastrophic. All the flops I’ve seen while crawling moderate trails have been more of a slap to the ego than an actual accident where serious injuries are involved. A friend flopped and after getting out of her rig, accidentally touched the exhaust, causing 1st and 2nd degree burns on her hand, but nothing life threatening. The most hurt is the ego because your friends will never let you forget it, and there will be photographic proof of your mistake! Accidents that occur on the road often end with much different outcomes.
Overcoming your fears and realizing that YOU are what is holding you back, not your rig. I know that I was the weakest part of my last build. I used to joke that, if it wasn’t for the loose nut behind the wheel, there’s no telling what my Jeep would have done!
Which aspect of off-roading do you think is the most fun?
The camaraderie and friendships that are forged on the trail. Also, the pictures and memories of the places I’ve been able to see. I have friends and family back East and they love seeing Arizona through my pictures and see the desert in a way they would never be able to experience.
What does prepping for an adventure look like in your world?
Lists! I like to go on camping trips that last several (4-5) nights, so I make lists to make sure I have thought of everything I might need. The last thing I want to do after setting up camp is to go into the nearest town because I’ve forgotten something. I also make sure everything I can check appears to be okay. If I’m in doubt, I’ll bring it to a professional shop. Before my trip to Moab, I had a shop (4WS) inspect everything for me, they found a wheel bearing that was shot and took care of the ball joints on the same knuckle. The repairs are ones I could have done, with help from friends but I did not have the luxury of time.
The Rubicon Trail is the next trail I want to experience with my friends. I have friends who have posted pictures of some of the more scenic trails over the mountains in Colorado, but I’m not sure if I can handle some of those drop offs! I don’t want to rule them out but those drop offs scare more than a lot of the obstacles I’ve overcome on the trail.
The people I wheel with I met through the Arizona Virtual Jeep Club on various runs that were organized through the forum. There are people whose runs I always try to join because they have such great fun. I am fortunate that in the core group of people I normally wheel with, I am not the only girl! In addition, several of the wives also take turns driving. We get together off the trail too, BBQs, poker nights, and games of Cards Against Humanity are some of the activities we enjoy outside of wheeling and camping.
We are very fortunate in Arizona to have a lot of public lands that we have free access to. Respect the land and don’t trash it. If you stop somewhere for lunch, pick up after yourself, look around and pick up any mess left by others as well. It’s a campaign I’ve seen on billboards on the freeway, but it’s true, respected access is free access. We’ve lost too many areas due to others not taking care and respecting the opportunities we have. Many clubs have sponsored trails and do clean-up runs and maintenance. Thanks to their efforts, we still have a lot of trails that might have been lost due to misuse.
Do you have anything else you would like to add?
Consider the safety of your friends and family when planning your build. While we all want that ‘cool’ rig, the best thing is walking away when things go bad. Include safety in your budget. Maybe forgo those wheels for a year or two or keep the brand new tires your rig came with and run those down first; spend the money on a cage instead. The factory cage is not strong enough to hold up to what we do. The biggest waste of money on your build should be on the one thing you never want to have to use - a cage! Also, learn your rig before you start your build. The most expensive upgrade is one that you have to re-do because you didn’t build your rig for the right purpose.
Learn more about Jessica here.
Click here to see all the 2017 Ladies Offroad Challenge Entries.