by Stephanie Thomas
Lemme just start off by saying, I’m a 90s girl; I miss the 90s. WTF does this have to do with offroading you may be thinking? Well, it circles back to my rig, I promise. I was born in ’82. The late 80s had great music, but the 90s… Mid 90’s music came in strong for me. Most notably the ‘93-‘95 years. ’94 especially, with the huge explosion of grunge hits on the radio. To be honest, I actually wanted to start this off by posting some lyrics from some of my favorite albums but couldn’t find anything appropriate. ANYWAYS! The entirety of the 90’s was my formative years. Who I was, or thought I was. Moving a few times (my dad was military) and not quite establishing strong friendships. Not quite knowing what I was interested in, aside from said music. But I do know that my music style had no small part in forming my tomboy exterior. The last place we moved to was a small town in Eastern Alberta. This is where my love of offroading begins.
I met a girl in the small town and formed a fast friendship. A few years into our friendship, her older sister dated a guy who had a Jeep TJ. Always had the top off in the warmer months. We tagged along sometimes when they were out for errands. I thought it was the coolest vehicle I’d ever been in. I loved the wind in my hair and the sun in my face. I felt free.
The next Jeep I’d ever been in was an Jeep XJ (Cherokee for the non Jeep fans). My friend had recently gotten her learner’s permit and a friend of her brother’s let her practice more in his XJ. I thought this was pretty sweet too. Neither Jeep, however, was built up for offroading, but I liked them nonetheless.
So, another couple years, and her eldest brother bought an old Chevy shortbox (I promise I’m getting to offroading) and jacked it up with a lift and decent tires. That started my love of lifted vehicles (which, frankly, wasn’t rare in small town Alberta). Their father had an old van that he lifted too. They would sometimes go out in the country with their friends and go on trails, up steeper hills, anywhere they were allowed to go and have fun. I ended up being friends with some of those guys, and they let me tag along sometimes out on the trails. I fell in love right then and there. The rough bouncing on trails, going up steep hills, going back down them. I was young, and it gave me an adrenaline rush I never forgot. My friend’s eldest brother ended up getting a Blue TJ and doing the whole shebang to take it off road. I loved the color, and the lift, and definitely knew it was the coolest vehicle, and that’s what really made me fall in love with Jeeps, and going offroad.
Fast forward many years, through many mistakes, regrets, many surprises, loneliness and no license. I had my learner’s permit for years, but couldn’t justify having a license I’d never use as a single mom.
Now for a boring TL:DR love story… I met my now Fiance 6 years ago. He pushed me to do a driver’s ed course, and subsequently I passed the test for my GDL (Graduated license here. Not a full license, but still able to drive). For a present, he bought me my now rig. A 4 door, 1995 Jeep Cherokee Sport. In Emerald Green color. A ’95! The year brought back many music memories, and no surprise, I listened to all the older stuff in a severe case of nostalgia. Just like 90's music, getting the XJ and discovering how to offroad myself, helped shape me, and find others more like me. It already had a modest lift (4.5) and 33” tires. I’m tall, so I had no problem getting into and out of it. It was my daily, and this particular model had 2 wheel part time. Good for slushy conditions. Which, here in Canada, it can stay that way for quite a while. It was as close to offroading that I would get at that point.
A few months after getting it, I got the chance to actually take it offroading for my first time. We have a long weekend up here in May, which generally also signifies the first real camping weekend. So of course everyone with rigs goes out to the nearest spots and camps, offroads, just generally has fun. My fiancé had, at that time, his own XJ, already built up so his was more than capable for the weekend. I followed him out to where our friends were (all employees of the local 4 Wheel Parts store, imagine that, haha). We took his Jeep out as it was more capable than mine. Again, I fell in love with wheeling. Even though I was the passenger, I was itching to take mine out and follow along. Well, naturally it had rained that weekend, so the road back through the woods to leave the area was muddy and puddle filled. I ‘pinned it to win it’ through a deeper hole in my Jeep. I made it through, and it even ran fine enough to get me home (about 45 minutes away). However, on the way to my mom’s house, it started acting up. Lost my power steering, radio quit, totally crapped out. Turned out the alternator decided to die. Most likely filled with dirty water. So it was replaced, and over the course of the next few months, my Jeep was turned into the big, badass rig it is now.
Naturally, being a Jeep, lol, there were problems with it. Breakdowns, leaks, the usual. So on one of our anniversaries, I was gifted a black, 4 door, Wrangler Sahara Unlimited. This reinforced my love for the Jeep brand. The bikini top was easy for me to remove in summer months, and now I had more freedom to go on long trips and not worry about cancelling due to breakdowns. I was worried that we would sell my rig, but I was assured this would not be the case.
A year and a half ago, I flopped my jeep, onto the passenger side. Thankfully I didn’t have anyone with me, but it scared the crap out of me. The XJ was out of commission for about 6 months for repairs - and there were a lot. I was worried it would have to be cut up and welded with a new partial roof at the A pillar. Thankfully this was not the case. When it was finally fixed, I was itching to get back onto the trails. I finally did, and it was almost euphoric to be able to go out again. Since then, I have gone out numerous times with a local offroading group, including 2 winter wheeling trips this past year, for my first time.
This is my ‘thing’. My XJ, my friends, the trails, the camaraderie with local groups. I love mudding more than regular trails. I can’t quite explain why, maybe I feel it’s more of a challenge to go through the big ‘puddles’, get stuck in mud and try to work myself out, helping others get unstuck too. Everyone I’ve gone out with mudding is great at helping others, even if we don’t know them. I think that’s what I like the most; that a shared love of offroading (and Jeeps!) can turn strangers into future friends.
I can’t wait to go out again!
Posted by: Dulcy Rojas