Author: Elisa Burke
The Ladies Wild Wheeling Weekend was an event imagined by Charlene Bower, who launched Bower Media, Ladies Offroad Network and I’m Not Just a Girl. Ten ladies from the 2017 Ladies Offroad Challenge - Audrey Byrd, Bonnie D. Lake, Diane Zalman, Jessica Chasse, Liz Fisher, Mary Jo Airo, Taunya Jones, Tonya Mercer, Trisha McMurray, and myself, Elisa Burke, were invited to participate in this wild event after participating in the Ladies Offroad Challenge.
I learned about the 2016 Ladies Co-Driver Challenge through Ladies Offroad Network (Facebook) and found myself going to two Ladies Offroad Network meet and greets. The first gathering was at the 2017 King of the Hammers Offroad Race in Lucerne Valley in the high desert of Southern California, and second event was at the 2017 Easter Jeep Safari in Moab, UT. The 2017 Ladies Offroad Challenge was announced at Easter Jeep Safari in Moab. When I got home I decided to enter the challenge.
The 2017 Ladies Offroad Challenge is an event to help Charlene Bower find three ladies who best compliment her in three separate offroad driving events. The three events are the 15th Achieve Tahoe Rubicon Trail Experience, the 50th SCORE Baja 1000 and the 1st Fury Rode event. The 2017 Ladies Offroad Challenge was divided into three qualifying competitions. To try and make Charlene’s Top 30 selection I had to write a story answering questions about myself and post photos. I made the TOP 30, Yay!
The next step in the selection process was a phone interview with Charlene where she will determine Top 10 finalists. The Top 10 ladies would move on for a training weekend with Charlene, hoping to be selected for the exclusive Top 3 event participants.
I didn’t make the Top 10… I was “kicked out” of the challenge. BUT, I was selected with nine other ladies to attend a surprise event… 5 day adventure, with 3 wheeling days in Mesa Arizona’s back roads and trails, in our own vehicles. This event was called the Ladies Wild Wheeling Weekend. Audrey, Bonnie, Jessica, Mary Jo, Tonya, Trisha, and I traveled from all over the US to be part of this special weekend in early September.
It was so wonderful meeting and wheeling with these awesome ladies. Before we all met I had been chatting with these ladies on the Ladies Offroad Network Facebook page. The Ladies Wild Wheeling Weekend event allowed me to learn so much, from so many, in such a short period of time… teamwork, camaraderie, bettering my driving skills and vehicle recovery. I also got a chance to enjoy some of Arizona’s beautiful countryside, history and wonderful locals.
Wheeling ended up being an unplanned recovery day. It was a very HOT day with temperatures above 110F resulting in two of our vehicles having radiator issues. Two Jeeps down and my Jeep acting up. This is where our teamwork stepped in. With Charlene’s direction, we learned how to tow another vehicle with both a short and long tow strap along the winding dirt road. WOW, that was a crazy experience!
This was a short wheeling day. We had the privilege of having Andrew McLaughlin, owner of LetzRoll Offroad and a well known King of the Hammers racer with “Sally” Matt, joining us on the Box Canyon Trail. We experienced more unplanned recovery. The Toyota Forerunner broke with a brake caliper issue. Our teamwork got the Toyota up and running again with a creative solution of pinching off the brake line reducing the Toyota to three working brakes. The Toyota had an exceptional amount of articulation. In the soft sand the High Jack wasn’t working, so we needed to use a rock and a Bottle Jack to lift the wheel off the ground. In this recovery I also learned how to use an impact gun to get the lug nuts off and on the wheel. Once on the trail I learned the value of a bumping technique to clear some tough obstacles.
At the end of the day Charlene surprised all of us ladies with a trip to the LetzRoll Offroad shop to meet up with Matt and learn to do some ESAB welding. This was “very cool” and I now appreciate just how much craftsmanship it takes to lay down a beautiful weld. Welding clearly got me out of my comfort zone…I have a hard enough time lighting off fireworks and if you’ve ever tried to get a weld started, you know what I mean.
Today I was out of my comfort zone again! Charlene was my co-pilot teaching me to be a trail leader. This means driving with more confidence, driving with more speed, lightly touching the brakes and learning to lead by picking the best line on the trail for the group. The trail we took was Crown King Trail. Everyone agreed it was just beautiful. On our way we passed through the Castle Hot Springs Resort tucked away in the Bradshaw Mountains not far from Lake Pleasant. The resort is in the middle of being renovated to it’s famous past as an oasis in the desert originally built as a health retreat in 1896 for wealthy customers and celebrity clients.
Gabe Arnn joined us on the trail in his JKU called Craigslisticon. Before we got to the community of Crown King we stopped to eat and got a winching lesson with Gabe’s Warn VR-10 winch. Surprise, this lesson was planned and wasn’t the result of us breaking down. The forest and valleys were green and beautiful. It had just rained which kept the temps and dust down. Crown King is an unincorporated community in Tavapai County at an elevation of 5,771 feet. It’s the site of a former gold mining town in the Bradshaw Mountains. We took a break from wheeling and had a cold one at the historic Crown King Saloon. I wanted to see some Arizona history and the Crown King Saloon had loads of wonderful old photos decorating the walls.
On our way down the mountain Charlene wanted to beat the sunset to the historic town of Cleator. The community of Cleator was established in 1864 as a placer gold mining site located in the Turkey Creek Mining District. This was a true ghost town with abandoned buildings. The Post Office was built in July 1869 and was abandoned only three months later. Yes, we made it to Cleator right at sunset and enjoyed a treat of awesome sunset views.
Picking our way down the trail-head just after sunset we aired down and got ourselves “pretty” on the trail, for a night out on the town at the local Roadrunner Restaurant and Saloon. The Roadrunner is a local cowboy/country bar and restaurant which had “real” bulls for bull riding. No mechanical bulls for this group. Imagine having a rodeo in your backyard and you have the Roadrunner. It’s “never a dull day with Charlene Bower!”.
Reflecting on the Ladies Wild Wheeling Weekend I met some amazing ladies I can call friends. We learned from each other and the value of staying positive while problem solving. Also important was the opportunity to improve my driving skills. I was given the opportunity to challenge myself while keeping it safe, not wheeling beyond my NEW capabilities.
I would like to thank Andrew McLaughlin, Matt, Brandon, Sally and Gabe Arnn for your friendship, knowledge and support. You made this Ladies’ Wild Wheeling Weekend so special.
Also a BIG thank you to Brian O’Day for opening your home to us ladies and Deanna “Mom” Bower for feeding all of us, keeping the ladies supplied with fresh towels everyday and telling such great stories. You are a very special lady.
A special thank you to Charlene Bower. This is such a wonderful thing you’re doing for us ladies in the offroad world. Introducing and teaching us so much and adding more confidence to our future adventures.
I also want to thank my husband Steve for your love, support, encouragement and motivating me to pursue my offroad adventures.
Author: Elisa Burke