by Dana Edler
Covered in dirt, always in flip flops. At least they’re manicured. That’s the story my toes and feet tell throughout my life. It started with me as a barefoot infant, tent camping at beaches. Then running around campgrounds dotted along the Colorado River. My youth was spent in the dirt at lake areas in the Kings Canyon. I have always been drawn to the heat, water, and tan-colored ground. When I was eleven, my parents traded the water for the desert. Forty-six years later I’m still adventuring in my happy place; in the dirt. For me, it’s about the wide-open space of nature and the freedom to go wherever I wanted that got me hooked.
My dad’s best friends from elementary school and high school got into RVs and dirt bikes, and we followed. I loved everything about it. The anticipation of planning the trip. Caravanning to unpopulated spots in the low and high deserts. The smell of bacon cooking in the morning. Having multiple surrogates’ parents and brothers. Group potluck dinners. Hanging out around the campfire with the other kids, storytelling about the day’s adventures and mishaps on the trail rides. There where highs and lows on those rides. Tears when I was scared to traverse the steep hills or navigating deep sand washes. The frustration when another dad always had to stay with me behind everyone else. I mean, way behind. The proud smile on my dad’s face. Keeping up with the boys inspired me to improve my skills and speed. Along this journey, I moved up within the pack. Literally, passing the guys on the trail. What a thrill.
Wanderlust: These early experiences revved up my love of driving. Unlike kids today, I could not wait to get my driver’s license. Then, my own car. I could do what I want, when I wanted to. No longer did I have to wait for family weekend jaunts to the desert for adventure.
Los Angeles in the early 1980’s was an incredible playground to explore. Cars could drive the freeways for miles and miles without hitting traffic. Streets led to diverse neighborhoods, historical finds, and friendly faces. Every time I got behind the wheel, the unexpected could be expected. My first car was a small tin box with a stick shift; a Ford Fiesta. With the car loaded up with sleeping bags and a cooler, my best friend and I took off often. Mainly to the beach, the Colorado River, San Francisco, and Baja California. Never one to take the direct route to our end destination, I turned right and left depending on a spur-of-the-moment feeling. Strengthened by jobs as a sales rep, I quickly learned back routes and side streets. My sense of direction was keen and changing up how I got to the same place became habit. New scenery excited me. I joked I hadn’t been to many of the top tourist attractions but had visited numerous places no one knew. Driving provided me simplified joy. Just get in the car and go. Dine on fruit, lunch meat, cheese, Wheat Thins, and tacos. Clean up in public restrooms or ocean. Sleep in the car, on top of a picnic table, or in a tent. Rarely a resort or hotel over $69 a night.
Wanderlust kept calling my name, and I had new destinations in mind — overseas. As expected, I took a tour bus through 23 European countries, and in the last few years rented cars to discover Ireland, Thailand, Cambodia, Turkey, Cuba, Guatemala, and Peru.
Mature Decisions: It took one unseen bump on the trail to change my vehicle of choice. An epic toss over the handlebars resulted in a broken collarbone. It wasn’t an easy decision to give up bikes and ATVs, but it was a rational and wise decision. Thinking back, moving on to a Jeep was a natural progression. My dad’s friends all switched over to 4-wheeling in their later years. I just never considered it for me. I remember them packing up in the morning hours and heading out of camp, returning late in the day. The rides weren’t about speed but investigating points of interest on their maps.
After my collarbone debacle, I started eying my neighbors Jeep that always sat parked in his driveway. It took two years of joking and pleading, but the Jeep is mine now. I call her Lily White. She’s my constant companion, second to my three pups.
A New Type of Ride: Lily White has friends; the same as mine. The kids – now adults -- I rode dirt bikes during my youth have also transitioned to Jeeps, side-by-sides, ultra-lights and a variety of dune buggy types. Together we own a cabin out by Landers, just east of Johnson Valley OHV Park. This provides us the opportunity to invite other Jeepers, and their friends to camp with us. What a great way to create a community of wonderful people who share the same passion.
At first, I was a little bored with the slow pace of the Jeeps on the trails. I was used to riding a bit on the edge, nearing dangerous. Over the past two and a half years, I've developed a new appreciation of this sport. Its peaceful and comfortable. I certainly don’t miss wearing the helmet, gloves, jersey, thick riding pants, long socks and heavy boots, chest protectors, camelback, backpack required with dirt bikes/atvs. My trail gear is now flip flops (of course), shorts and a tee-shirt. What a welcomed difference.
The wind still flows through my hair, and now I can take in the sights. Not just watch the trail five to ten feet in front of my tires. I can smell the flowers and trees, instead of the dust trapped underneath a helmet. The best part — my Jeep is legal on the street and dirt trails. Many more adventures are possible. In three days, I begin another road tip. This time to Utah, Wyoming and Idaho. Me, Lily White, my dog Mr. Pancakes, a tent, and cooler. Just like when I was young. I’ll still be seeking trails to drive, odd places to stay a night or two, a peaceful mind — in my flip flops with dirty toes and feet.
Life is good in a Jeep.
Posted by: Dulcy Rojas