by Valerie Crockett
I am a bucket list checker. As far back as I can recall, the first things on my list I wanted to accomplish were not always on everyone’s list. My list included getting my scuba open-water certification, to go swimming with sharks, save an endangered species, visit Antarctica, go skydiving, complete the Pan-American Highway, break the world’s longest trip on a roller coaster (which still stands at 405 hours and 40 minutes since 2007), and publish a book entitled “You Better Quote Val or Else” (as recommended by a friend when I was 16). Admittedly, I’ve only accomplished one of the above. Still, the list gets longer and longer every year with things that may seem a little absurd to some.
Offroading didn’t make my list nor my radar well into my late 20s. Thankfully, I was not so much as introduced to it, but taken on a phenomenal 7-day camping/wheeling trip for my first “date” with my now amazing husband.
Some people say that if you really want to know if your new relationship can hack the toughest of things, go on a multi-day trip somewhere with just them. Did you try to kill each other after realizing that one of you takes “forever to get ready every morning”? Did they complain a lot about the little things that you don’t bother you? Did they cheer you on or tell you to get over it when something was difficult for you? Did you think for a split second “I can’t wait for this trip to be over”? Your answers to the above questions may provide 20/20 insight as to whether you’re still together today.
I grew up in the most cosmopolitan of cities, where everyone had the latest technology at their fingertips, and where I’d never heard of Jeepers or JeepHers (whichever tickles your fancy). Curiously enough, my husband’s life choices took him into the Marines where offroading was just another day at work. So now as a veteran, it only made sense that he owned a Jeep or two, modified it to his liking and disconnected from the world whenever possible. But we met like all other people - being strangers at first.
How could people from what could feel like two separate universes have something in common? In all situations, when you take a moment to discover every person you encounter, there is a common thread. For my husband and me, our thread was to live a life that could have been so easily snatched away from us (circa 2010’s rolled car accident for me, and his time deployed overseas post 9/11).
We could dive into how my accident changed my life, because it certainly did. You may want to know how I bled all over the road with my best friend next to me terrified that no one would get to us in time. You may want to know how far I was flung from my vehicle when it rolled. You may want to know that being flung from the vehicle was actually a good thing because during the multiple flips the car did it, the roof would have crushed my head. You may want to know how long my journey to recovery was. But let’s not discuss this. Let’s discuss fear.
Looking back, I am so happy that I took the risk and faced my fear of meeting a stranger because it turned out to be best decision of my 20s. We met over milkshakes, and kept a long distance relationship for a year before taking the plunge into “Happily Adventuring Together”.
So here I am, are a couple months into dating long distance when we decide we have to meet up again to see if it is the real thing. He says, “Let’s go camping!” I say, “Sure thing! I have no camping gear.” I am fortunate to say that from the moment the windows came down and the top off on the Jeep, I had a blast. He made sure to check in every once in a while, being mindful of the threshold of what was “too dangerous” for me. There are definitely Go-Pro videos of me squealing in delight when we went wheeling and bombing through the desert.
The first question from people I meet as they get to know me, almost 99% of the time is “How is it that you’re still driving after your accident? Aren’t you scared?” My answer: “All the time, especially when there’s a ____ around. But the moment I could, I did because being scared cannot be the reason I don’t live my life.”
Adventure comes in many forms for different people. For me, it is being independent, being married AND independent, being an Original Rebelle (see: Rebelle Rally), being a leader in my line of work, getting my credentials in HR (Human Resources), clocking over 200 nights and counting in my Tepui roof-top-tent, seeing the world, checking my bucket list, working towards being debt-free, being a puppy-parent (because having a kid is 1,000,000x scarier and kudos to everyone who is conquering this).
How did I go from not knowing anything about offroading to being an Original Rebelle? It started with my discovery of an International Women’s Off-Road Rally called the Aïcha Des Gazelles Du Maroc Rally: The All-Women Dakar, held in Morrocco since 1990. As I sat on my couch, watching the rally recap on YouTube, I turned to my husband and said, “I’m going to do that!” He smiled, “Yes you will!”
Fast forward a couple months, and I am now, at the Overland Expo West in 2016, looking at USA Team X-Elles, in awe of what they’ve accomplished and essentially geeking out about them and their recent return from Morrocco. Through our conversation, they inform me about a local opportunity to participate/compete in a US version of the Gazelles aka Rebelle Rally. Not a heartbeat later, I said, “I will see you there!”
I had a mere four months to prepare/build my Toyota 4Runner and learn all necessary skills to be self-reliant from the ground up (including how to use a compass and read a map). I learned that most skills can be taught in a day/weekend, but it is all about the practice in one’s lifetime that makes one feel confident enough to take on any challenge. Through the build, I learned about the exciting number of local companies that support the off-road industry and women leading/participating in it. And so, with my husband’s unyielding support, I learned to install upgraded brakes, suspension, sliders, skids, lighting, and so much more.
When I did the Rebelle Rally in 2016, it opened up a (good) wormhole. It showed me who I was, and it gave me a glimpse into who I wanted to be. I learned that how calm I remained, how I critically thought through a problem, and how well I knew my gear reflected on whether I would make it through any sticky/rocky/muddy/slick/(insert your version of scary) situation. Since then, offroading and overlanding is an aspect of my life. It doesn’t define me, but it has helped shaped me. It has given me an outlet to conquer my fears, to show others that fear is meant to be the stepping stone to being better, and that fear becomes not so scary when you face it over and over again.
Through my off-road adventures, I’ve learned how to be self-reliant, diagnose and repair on and off the trails. These off-road skills sets are translatable to the many areas of my life - from problem solving in precarious situations, to the importance of communicating clearly and without emotions because sometimes lives are on the line, to dissolving group think and creating synergy, to understanding opportunities that hinder effectiveness, to finding the answer to the toughest question, “Do I really need this?” And in all things, remembering that I’m no expert and that all leaders ask for help. Leaders are effective when fearful, but they are curious, they seek answers to understand their opportunities/goals, and with the information at hand, they seek to conquer and win with their teams.
My bucket list now has over 25 things that I know I am currently not prepared for, and that is scary. I am a fearful adventurer, a fearful leader, and there is power in being that because I conquer anyway.
Posted by: Dulcy Rojas