by Kris Bowe
As a kid, I’m sure you asked your parents that very question, over and over and over again, waiting and wanting to get to that “final destination”. My journey into the sport of off-roading was slow and gradual, like a beautiful drive through the woods with rolling hills. I suppose I should be grateful I wasn’t exposed in a more abrupt fashion or I might have gone running for the hills (without the Jeep). While I have always loved Jeeps, my first impression of what I thought was off-roading was the rowdy high schoolers that would drive their pickup trucks through my grandfather’s fields when they were soft with spring mud. Oftentimes getting stuck, and almost always getting yelled at by my dad and grandpa. And yet in high school and throughout college, some of my favorite pastimes were zooming around our property and farmlands up north in one of our four-wheelers or snowmobiles (depending on the season). I didn’t even realize I was off-roading! Little did I know, my bags were already packed and I was ready to embark on a crazy and incredible journey.
The first leg of my journey into to the “sport” of off-roading and our community of off-roaders came after I was married and a mom of two young girls. My husband Mike had purchased a “project Jeep” (you ALL know what I’m talking about), and was busy spending all of our hard-earned money and family time working on it. I was not very impressed. For years I rode as a passenger in my husband’s Jeep, a 1998 5.9 ZJ. While I was a bit nervous at first, mostly of my husband breaking something and needing to spend more time and money fixing it, I quickly became accustomed to the movement and sounds the Jeep would make. I honed my spotting skills over the next couple of years, and could pick a great line. I credit myself with him not breaking more often than he did, but I’m sure he would say otherwise. This portion of my journey was about familiarizing myself with the road in front of me, and learning how to navigate. I thought this was the entire journey, this family activity that we did together and that I really enjoyed my role in. Little did I know that was simply the very beginning.
In 2013 my husband encouraged me to drive in a “ladies run” at an event we were attending. I was excited! And nervous! Sitting in the driver’s seat for the first time can be nerve-wracking. While I was used to the larger bumps, scraping noises and the movement of the Jeep, I was not prepared for the amount of tension in my body as I gripped the steering wheel with everything I had and followed the Jeep in front of me. During my first driving experience, I was driving Mike’s Jeep on and our trail leader took us backwards up an easy trail. There was a small difficult patch that about half of the Jeeps in our line were getting caught up on. I approached it and almost got through, but not quite. My spotters had me back out a bit and hit it again “with a little more skinny peddle” this time. I did exactly as instructed. And broke both axles. My husband was not upset with me, he has a pretty good attitude about breakage on the trail.
It turned out to be a good experience because I learned so much. I used a winch for the first time. I learned that while I should listen and take advice from my spotters, I also need to trust my gut, even if it is going to take me longer to get through. And I learned that attitude is the number one tool you need on the trail. It keeps a good day from going bad. This was pretty defining for me. I earned the nickname Axle-Crusher from the Iron Rock Off-road guys, and it later influenced the naming of my own Jeep. My journey had taken a new path, one I hadn’t thought I would travel down. It was not a familiar sight for me to see ladies behind the wheel other than at ladies runs. I was having fun with this new adventure, but I hadn’t yet fully realized how long and exciting the road in front of me could be.
I continued to drive in ladies’ events for the next few years, but it was hard sharing a Jeep! On one hand, my husband loved it because I was a whole lot more understanding when it came to the time and money that had to go into the Jeep. On the other hand, he didn’t get to drive as much. In 2016 I started looking for a TJ, which was my favorite off-road vehicle style. Everyone has a favorite right? Favorite food, favorite off-road vehicle, favorite child... kidding! In June 2017 I found the PERFECT vehicle for me. It was a heavily modified red 1997 TJ and had been built for off-roading. There were a few changes I knew I would want to make moving forward with it, but it was off-road capable, beautiful, fun and just what I wanted. It was also built the same year I had graduated high-school (please don’t do the math), and so I already had a kinship to that year. I named him Axle, and we suited each other perfectly. There is nothing quite so incredible as a guy looking at my Jeep with envy, or the look of disbelief when I can do an obstacle with as much confidence as the person in front of me. The more I know and the more knowledgeable I get about my vehicle, the better it gets.
With my new Jeep I was unstoppable, and I have had an amazing two years becoming fully integrated in our amazing off-road community. Once I had my Jeep I connected immediately with the local ladies off-road club in the area “Ladies Rock Off-road Club”. From there, I agreed last minute (one week beforehand) to attend the Ladies Off-road Network convention at the beginning of August 2017. It was mind-blowing, awe inspiring, and had my brain spinning with different trips I wanted to take, events I wanted to attend, things I wanted to learn, and people I wanted to see more of! Yes, you!!! I ended the 2017 wheeling season with a whole list of upgrades, mods and fixes that I wanted and needed to get done and worked tirelessly with my husband and local off-road shops to get those done prior to the 2018 wheeling season. I added steel fenders and skid plates, new tires and wheels, on-board air, changed out a transmission, upgraded an oil pan, and upgraded and added some stereo components. We all need more music in our lives, right? Not only was this journey turning into one of the best adventures, I was also finding “my people”, travelers on their own journey and oftentimes sharing the road with me. I was now caravanning with my people and all of a sudden, the journey wasn’t as difficult, and the road was not as rough. I loved the road I was on, and I could have stayed in that caravan on that same road for the entire journey, except that was not what was meant to be.
I started 2018 off with a bang and I hesitantly signed up for the LON top ten challenge. I’m not a hesitant person typically. If I want to do something, I charge full steam ahead, list and shopping cart in hand. There are some amazing women off-roaders out there, in all different arenas, and I would be in the running for a top ten spot against some of the best, which was a bit intimidating. I take pride in being the best I can in everything I do. If something is outside my skill set, I leave that for others who would happily and more efficiently take that on. You will not catch me stitching anyone up, running a daycare, doing sales, or running a marathon. It just isn’t me. This was a grey area for me. Off-roading was something I LOVED to do, and I was confident in my own set of skills in my small portion of the world, but I knew I was not a superstar. I did not have all of the knowledge, or all of the experience that many off-roaders have. I did know I loved it and had a passion for it, and so I put on my big girl panties and hit the gas. That was a steep hill for me. Do you know when you’re climbing a really steep long hill, and you know if you hesitate, even for a second, that you might not make it? That’s what it felt like. I knew I had to push myself as confidently as I could to make it up that hill.
I made it to the top of that hill! I must have made it, right? I was blessed to be chosen as one of the top ten challenge winners for 2018. I say blessed because I KNOW there were ladies out there with more talent in their pinky finger and they were not chosen for the challenge. If you have time, go back and read some of the top ten recaps for 2016-2018, they are amazing stories of the 30 incredible ladies that were chosen to participate and it will get your adrenaline pumping just from reading. From the amazing top ten weekend in May of 2018, I was also chosen to participate in one of the national events, and I was able to attend Polaris Camp RZR in Glamis in October 2018. Eeeeekk!! Have any of you been?? If you haven’t, you NEED to. If you haven’t put your butt in a seat of a RZR and taken off across the dunes with your passenger screaming bloody murder next to you, then you just haven’t lived. Just ask Charlene Bower how many grey hairs I probably gave her. I think that was almost as much fun as the ride itself. I never would have known how exhilarating that part of my journey could have been if I hadn’t pushed for that hill climb.
So here we are and I am taking the leap into the Ladies Off-road Network Challenge once again. I’m not nearly as scared this time, as I know I am in the best of company, with these ladies that I would follow or lead anywhere our craziness and wanderlust can take us. And I know that this journey we are on is the absolute best part. So are we there yet? If we’re doing it right, we never are.
Posted by: Dulcy Rojas