by Katy Sweigart
I never intended to become an off-roader. I never had any interest. As far as vehicles were concerned, I wasn’t concerned! I drove a mini van for years while my kids were growing up and I was completely satisfied with my ugly, but utilitarian vehicle. But a few key events changed all that.
In 2016, my daughter was deployed to Iraq with the USAF. I moved out to Arizona to house and dog sit for her while she was gone. While I was there, I drove her Jeep Rubicon. The sky lit up, the angels sang, and I was hooked on Jeeps! I loved driving her Jeep. I’m a bit embarrassed to think of all the Jeep waves I missed, because I was clueless about the community aspect of Jeeping. I do remember stopping at a four way stop with three other Wranglers in Surprise and thinking, what are the chances that all these people know each other? I drove her Jeep daily and took trips to Sedona and the Grand Canyon in it.
I returned to Michigan in the spring of 2017 after my daughter’s safe return. I’m not going to lie, it was a let down to go back to driving my Honda Odyssey. My husband started driving through Jeep lots, but I never expected anything would come of it. One day as we drove through, I saw the most beautiful Oscar Mike Freedom Edition Jeep in Gobi. I fell in love. The Oscar Mike gave a nod to the Jeep’s military beginnings as well as honored the service of men and women, like my daughter, who have served in our military.
The next week, we drove by the lot again and it was gone. My heart fell until I realized it had been moved to the showroom floor. We bought my Jeep that day. I didn’t need a new vehicle. It really didn’t make any sense to buy one. But my dad had just entered hospice, and I think my husband just wanted to see a smile on my face. After the paperwork was done, our sales guy, Mike, asked if I wanted a ride on the Jeep track. I had no intention of off-roading, but I said yes anyway.
As soon as we crawled across the rocks on the first turn of the Jeep track, I thought, I want to do this! Something clicked. It wasn’t a race; it was slow moving and going places you couldn’t or wouldn’t go in most vehicles. There was more to this Jeep thing than highway driving. By the time we finished the track, I knew I had to try this.
I got my Jeep on a Friday and the next Monday, I took my first solo road trip to visit my dad 500 miles away. He was able to see my Jeep from the window of the house. While I was there, I did some online research and found out the Jeep the Mac event was going to be held the following Friday. I had to cross the Mackinaw Bridge to get home anyway so planned my return to coincide with my first Jeep event. I’m shy by nature, but I signed up and went alone. I got in the queue for the bridge crossing and then walked around to check out the other Jeeps, vendors etc. I met and talked with some great people and began to understand what a great community there is to be found among off-roaders. If you knew me, you’d know what a huge deal it is for me to talk to people I don’t know! But my desire to learn was greater than my fear of talking to people, so I did. I did the bridge crossing, not the trail ride, but I was proud of myself for going alone.
A few weeks later, I went off-road for the first time when my husband and I attended the Silver Lake Sand Dunes Jeep Invasion. He suggested we head to the dunes early before it got crowded so I wouldn’t be as nervous. It was beautiful with the sun sparkling on the water, and the weather couldn’t have been more perfect. The first big hill is called Test Hill, for a reason. It is big and scary and heading up, all you can see is sky. But I made it! Then comes the terrifying realization that what goes up, must come down! You head over the edge of a hill that you can’t see the bottom of. It is frightening and exhilarating at the same time! And when you get there, you stop, start breathing again, feel proud of yourself, and gear up to do it again!
My second time up Test Hill, I got high centered at the crest and freaked out. I had no idea what to do and was scared that I had ruined my new Jeep. Within seconds, a half dozen people were working to help me out. I never even got out of my seat! I was truly amazed at the willingness of others to drop everything and help out someone they didn’t even know. But that is what the off-road community does. I’m not one that finds it easy to ask for help, so this was another big lesson learned.
That summer, my husband and I spent time hitting up DNR trails here in Michigan. I found that I loved getting out in the woods, moving at a slow pace, enjoying the Jeep, the day, and my best friend. We even got a Jeep tent and camped. One day while hitting the trails and enjoying the woods, my husband reached back and grabbed a bag of Lay’s Potato Chips and offered me some. I started to cry. It immediately took me back to childhood days spent riding in back of my dad’s old Chevy truck with my siblings. Mom would pack a lunch that always included Lay’s chips (seconds) from the local factory. Dad would drive the fire lanes while my siblings and I bounced in the truck bed eating chips.
I lost my dad just a couple weeks later from cancer. He never got to ride in my Jeep before he left us, but I think he planted the seeds for this journey and I think of him every time I get out in the woods. He taught me to change a tire and the oil in my first car. He could fix just about anything. He was surprised when I told him I got a Jeep, but I’m not sure why. I am my father’s daughter after all. I think he’d be proud of the things I’ve learned and I’m not done yet.
Posted by: Dulcy Rojas