by Lora Watson
I am an empty nester. My youngest moved out about 6 years ago; was I supposed to be upset? Because I was excited. Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids and they are good kids, but I was ready for them to go so my husband and I could enjoy our lives. I was 19 when I got pregnant, so this caused us both to grow up very fast. And when you are raising kids, unfortunately you lose touch with your spouse. My husband has always been my best friend and my high school sweetheart. We were set up on a blind date and realized as soon as we saw each other that we had already met and I didn’t like him. So it was another 6 months before I would agree to another date. Not exactly sure what happened that night, as he didn’t go home for 3 days. We have been together for 30 years now.
When my kids were growing up, my husband had a hot rod and they would go with him to various car shows and racing, they even traveled with the Run to the Sun one year. Hot rodding was never my thing, so I was happy to stay behind and clean house, work on a project, I even decided to go back to school at one point. I was never excluded from their ventures; I just was never interested in them.
A year before my youngest moved out, my husband sold his hot rod and bought a Jeep, he said that I enjoyed going to the beach, so this way we could go to the beach more. I was all for this idea. We made just a few trips to the beach, and I loved riding in the Jeep. Letting my hair go wild, feeling the sun and the wind, I was in my peaceful space. Then one weekend a guy that my husband works with invited us to Uwharrie. I have lived in North Carolina for 36+ years and have never heard of Uwharrie National Forest. The guy told us it was a place that we could drive the Jeep offroading.
Rocky Mountain Loop was our very first trail and we went up there the day after a good rain. Well, after my first initial pucker experience, I figured I needed to be more focused on the trails and I wasn’t exactly sure about this offroading situation. My husband was so expecting me to say that was it we were done, head home. But we continued on through the day, and I admitted to my husband that although nervous sometimes, I enjoyed it. So we went back a couple more times and every time I was a little more comfortable with some of the trails we were doing. I like puzzles, and to me, figuring out how and where to place your tires to achieve the easiest way up these trails was a puzzle. I will not tell a lie; I still use the excuse of wanting to take video or look at the trail a little better as my excuse to get out of the Jeep and lessen such pucker experiences. My husband is aware, and allows me to “video” without hesitation.
Since we have started going to Uwharrie, we have gotten more involved in various Jeep events and locations. We have been to Butler, PA for the Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival for 5 years, we have gone to Daytona, FL for the Jeep Beach for the past 4 years(also where I learned about Ladies Offroad Network). We are hoping to go to Moab, UT next year for the Easter Jeep Safari. Next year my husband will be turning 50 and I thought a bucket list trip to Moab would be better than a cookout or party. It will cost about the same too. So what if we are planning on trailering our Jeep to Moab, I mean, it is a 36 hour drive. Not too comfortable in a 1995 Jeep YJ with no cruise control or air conditioning.
My husband was surprised but very happy that I enjoyed offroading so much. I have always been the co-driver and navigator, and I am perfectly happy as such. Often times I put the trail map away and just let the trails take us wherever they may. We have made some new friends along the way, and have even talked others into offroading with us. I surprised my husband even more when I went out and bought my own Jeep. No, my Jeep is not an offroading beast, at least not yet. I have a 2018 Jeep JK with leather seats, cruise control and yes air-conditioning. It also came with the Freedom package which translates to the heavy duty front and rear bumpers and rear 373 gears. It is Firecracker Red and my windshield sticker is “Radio Flyer”, she is my little red wagon.
The only offroading that my Jeep has been on was a couple of beach drives. My husband suggested the January after I bought the Jeep that we go to the beach and I could practice driving on the beach and in the soft sand so that I can learn what to do if I ever get stuck. He explained the 4wd functions and when I should use the high and low. He made me purposely get stuck in the soft sand and then work my way out of it. After an hour or so driving up and down the beach, he asked if there was anything else that I wanted to learn about beach driving. My reply “show me how to do a doughnut”. He laughed but then proceeded to tell me what do and how not to flip over. Safety first! So my Jeep has never made it actually offroading. Yet.
On one of our next trips to Uwharrie, he asked if I wanted to drive his Jeep. I said no that I was fine as a passenger. He stopped his Jeep, got out and made me drive. He said that if I was going to have a Jeep and if I eventually want to take it offroading that I was going to learn how to do it right so that he won’t have to worry about me.
I was slightly uncomfortable, not because I was put on the spot, but because we had some friends behind us and I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of them. I mean, this was my very first time actually driving off-road. I also didn’t want to tear anything up so of course I wasn’t going to drive as fast as my husband normally does. The area that my husband stopped at wasn’t really a rough area, just a few small rocks and dips. As I was driving he would explain things and tell me where to make sure I placed my tires and how much gas I needed to apply. I continued to drive for about another hour. Then we came to the entrance of Rocky Mountain Loop (remember my first pucker experience). I stopped the Jeep and told him to drive up the steep rocky section and then I would continue to drive. He said absolutely not, that I was driving. He said that as many times as I have guided not only him, but quite a few of our other friends and various other Jeepers that we crossed paths with that I was driving up the steep rocky section.
Nervous and anxious, here I go. My husband radioed to the group behind us to be patient and give me space that I was going up. I sat there for just a minute, looked at my husband, he tells me to drive up it just like the way I always tell him to. I gave it some gas, and it’s like if our Jeep and us were the only things there. It was quite, there was no radio, no CB chatter, not even my husband, just the sound of the Jeep crawling the rocks.
As I was driving up, there were rocks jutting out and big dips on the other side; I had to drive up more the sidewall of the trail to maneuver an area. The top was tricky; when you got to the top you had to be careful because the boulders jutted up so high from the ground that you could easily get hung up. As I made my way up to the top of the trail, I turned to make the sharp left; I maneuvered the Jeep perfectly around and on top of the rocks and continued on to an area to pull off so everyone behind us could make their way up. I did not spin tires once; it was a nice slow crawl that made the whole trail look easy.
WOOHOOOO!!!! I did it. I made it up, without guidance or any difficulty. I got out of the Jeep stood at the top of the trail where all of the people behind us could see and I did my Rocky Balboa dance. I was so proud of myself for having the courage, skill and patience to do it!!!
Everyone behind us was laughing and cheering, not because I was doing my Rocky dance at the top of the hill, but because the entire time I was creeping my way up that Rocky Mountain Loop, unbeknownst to me, the radio was playing “Bad to the Bone”.
Posted by: Dulcy Rojas