by Sarah H
My Jeep’s name is Black Beauty. She is a 2000 TJ and although she is older, she is beautiful in my eyes and is a project Jeep for me to complete as I can. I settled on her name for a few different reasons. Black Beauty (as you may well know) is the classic story of the horse who goes through a number of trials and tribulations throughout the course of his life, but ends up persevering through it all. The first bit of advice in the book is: “Do good and give your best effort always and everything will work out.” That is what I have striven to do my whole life and my faith in God has helped me through some very difficult experiences. Another example from the book is that “Ignorance is as harmful as cruelty, despite whatever intentions the person has.” And I’ll get to why that’s important a little later in my story…
Offroading has changed my life by showing me that I am a strong person who is capable of many, many things that I never initially thought I would be able to do! I was born in a little Colorado town, Canon City, and when I was little, it wasn’t uncommon for my parents to load my brother and myself into my Dad’s Blazer, and take off on some nearby 4x4 trails. We’d take a picnic lunch and friends, and make it a nice day out. This was how my love of being outdoors was born! Once we moved to New Mexico, we unfortunately weren’t outdoors like that as much!
Life happened… I graduated from high school and college, met my husband in 2001, and started my career with the state of New Mexico in 2005. I manage a Clean Water Act permitting program, which regulates the discharge of pollutants into water from facilities like wastewater treatment plants, mines, stormwater and many other industries. I love what I do and it allows me to serve the general public and give back in a way that preserves our “enchanting” outdoor environment in New Mexico for future generations. My husband and I were blessed with the arrival of my daughter in 2008, and by then I was in full working mom mode. We did make time to get outside and offroad occasionally, and we’d go on quad trips with my father in law who used to build trails for the Forest Service. We’d also go offroad because my husband was an avid hunter and although I do not hunt, I would occasionally go along on scouting trips.
As sometimes happens, my husband and I drifted apart over time, and I felt very isolated. I realized that I needed to focus on myself instead of focusing on fixing things I couldn’t control. I focused on my daughter; I focused on work - I was promoted into a management position in 2012 and then promoted to manage the entire program in 2017. I focused on getting into better shape and started running. I picked up photography and I have a side business where I focus on wildlife and nature photography, but also take portraits for people. In 2015, I went on a photography workshop near Ouray and the outfitter put me on a horse and took me around to many beautiful places to take photos.
I knew that area was my happy place, but I looked at all of the Jeep trailheads, and wanted to come back and start exploring those trails, too. Eventually, one of the things that came to me was that because I loved being outdoors so much, a Jeep would be a good investment for me to get out into the wilderness on my own. It would also, I realized, allow me to focus on building up my confidence around doing mechanical stuff by myself. Something that really catalyzed this was an experience I had while my husband and I were at a conference in 2016. One of the activities that we had to do was introduce each other to the small group that we were part of. When he introduced me (we’d been married for 12 years at that point), one of the things he said shocked me… that I didn’t like being outdoors and that he was slowly teaching me how to enjoy it. He then told an embarrassing story about the first time I was on a quad by myself, in the middle of the Lincoln National Forest, on a hilly trail by a turn, and where I had trouble maneuvering (because it was my first time!) and laughed because he had to help me. I was mortified, because first, that wasn’t accurate - I have always loved being outdoors - but second, that he didn’t recognize the love of the outdoors in me. It was a turning point in my resolve to prove that WRONG!
So with the purchase of my TJ in 2016, this journey of self-discovery and renewed self respect began. It was totally a project Jeep, rusted out and needing some love, but it was something I was excited to get started on. To me, the Jeep was an opportunity to learn and recreate the outdoor memories my parents had made with me. So, my husband completely replaced the undercarriage of the Jeep - new brakes, shocks, and wheels/tires. The 2” lift that had been put on it originally was installed incorrectly and prevented me from engaging the 4-wheel drive (which I found out on my first run with the NM Jeep Group out to the Rio Puerco), so we fixed that.
We added a bumper, new fenders, and lights. I took it with me on a girls trip to American Basin in Colorado to climb Handies Peak in 2017 before the repairs were actually begun, which in hindsight wasn’t the greatest idea (especially with respect to the condition of the breaks!) but we survived, had an amazing time, and it was the first time I had really gotten offroad without getting criticized for every tiny mistake I’d made or being called a bad driver. It was incredibly freeing and confidence building. I also got connected with the NM Jeep Group Ladies’ Chapter and got to go out on a few runs with those awesome ladies!
It’s not uncommon for me to take off for a simple day trip by myself into the Sandia Mountains or the Jemez Mountains near Albuquerque in Black Beauty, and it always has a way of resetting my outlook on life and calming whatever worries I have. It’s a sanity saver.
So much so, that last summer, when I told my husband that I didn’t believe I was in love with him anymore, and the insanity of the last year began, in September I took off by myself for a camping trip near Ouray, Colorado. I felt like I had lost myself trying to fix our relationship, essentially pouring 100% of my effort into that with no help from him. At that point, there had been a lot of yelling, sleep deprivation, and invasion of my privacy in numerous different ways, so this trip was a way for me to have a few days completely to myself to really evaluate where I was and where I needed to move forward. And my reminder was literally carved into an aspen tree at one of my favorite locations - “love” above all else. I took many Jeep drives on county roads that turned into grand, beautiful mountain trails, camped by myself in the Ouray KOA, and spent a lot of time crying, thinking, journaling and praying.
It has been a rough year, and I’m sad to report that my divorce was finalized in February 2019. As I write this, I am soon to move into my new house in a couple of weeks. One of the things I've done recently is get a tattoo to remind myself of who I really am - it's a line of script down my spine, and in German (because that's my family's heritage) it says, "Her spirit is fierce, her heart is brave and her mind is strong." I got it down my spine, because that's the center of my being... my core... and it hurt like hell, but it was a cathartic pain and (I feel) part of my grieving process. But, what matters now is that I am here for my daughter, I am continuing to show her love and that she has a strong mom who can take on any challenge presented to her, no matter how scary it is, and I am prioritizing fostering a strong love of the outdoors in her. We have camping trips and Jeeping trips planned this summer and we’ll spend some girl time doing things that make us stronger as a family of two. And above all else, I want to remind us that love is what makes us successful and strong. My Jeep and being able to offroad is what connects me to nature and the important things in life, and shows the world that I am capable and smart, and that loving life is important because there is so much beauty in the world to discover.
Posted by: Dulcy Rojas