I don’t know that I could ever put in to words what the CoDriver Challenge Training Weekend was really like. I don’t know that there are enough words or thoughts to encompass the epic time and the bonds that were made.
Upon being selected as one of the Top 10 Finalists for the CoDriver Challenge, I was so stoked and so terrified at the same time. My head was just swirling, “What if the pressure is more than I can handle? What if this whole thing is a disaster? What if I get sick on the trip? What if something happens and I don’t even make it?” Then, my heart kicked in, “Kristen, you have been chosen for a reason. People like Charlene Bower don’t do things without full purpose and commitment. She chose you because she sees something in you worth believing in. You are going to take this opportunity and commit and focus 110% and you are going to be a changed person. These things happen for a reason and you are going to have a once in a lifetime experience.” And that is exactly what happened. Charlene, the mentors she had chosen for us, and the other 9 ladies made the Training Weekend a truly once in a lifetime, unique experience.
Upon arrival to the airport on Thursday for my flights to Arizona, I had already been through a gamut of emotions. By the time I got to Arizona, I was so excited that I could hardly concentrate on finding my gate to be picked up by Charlene in what we affectionately called the Big White Whale. Little did I know that first 30 minute ride in the 15 passenger van would be the first of countless rides to some of the coolest places in Arizona and even out to California. Once we got to the house, and I met all of the other Top 10 Finalists and our photographer, Rachel, my excitement settled into focus. I knew I need to baton down the hatches and stay focused. It was overwhelming being surrounded with such like-minded, incredibly down to earth normal women.
The rest of the weekend was the longest shortest whirlwind epic adventure. We started off with on Thursday with a tour of a gold mine as well as a photo scavenger hunt, and a really cool photo shoot the first night in an old gold mining town just outside of Phoenix and Mesa.
Friday was a fantastic day that started with talking to the folks from 36 Hours of Uhwarrie, and spent the morning/afternoon with Nena Barlow from Barlow Adventures and Jeep Rentals in Sedona where we worked on recovery and rigging skills. She was an amazingly strong and confident woman who instilled the same confidence in us. She took 2 days’ worth of training and was able to cover it in little more 5 hours with us. We were given hands on experience where Nena was able to explain to us in detail all of the things we see on the trails but never get time to understand. The group also got to take some Jeep JKU Rubicons off of the beaten path and got to wheel on Soldier Pass out to Sink Hole. We watched Nena spot Charlene up an obstacle of slick red rocks and we saw how the trust and confidence between a spotter and driver is one of the strongest bonds you can off in an offroad setting. The landscape in Sedona is amazing. Red rocks and mountains littered with small trees, cactus, and boulders. We hit up a really cool rodeo bar/restaurant for dinner (one of Charlene’s personal favorite places to eat), and ended the evening shooting AR-15s and 9mm handguns at Shooters World in Phoenix.
Saturday was the longest day of the weekend. We had an early wake up and were out the door before 6am. Just like Friday, we did not know where we were going but we knew it was going nothing short of awesome. We drove most of the morning out to Ocotillo Wells, California where we spent the day at the Raspy Roost with Emily Miller. Emily is such a sweet spirit of getting out there and never truly being lost. She taught us the skills needed to be able to use a compass, a plotter, and a topographical map to find our way to or from anywhere. She talked to us about the incredible things you can accomplish just by having a sense of direction or a sense of where you on a map or in life. This lesson was particularly special to me. It gave me a sense of direction on my journey. Emily was also the first one to jump in the sand and stay calm when we got the Big White Whale stuck in the sand. (Long story short, we ended up running out of road and thanks to a group effort, some badass driving in the sand, and a lot of sweat and muscle – we were able to push the van out of the sand and free it enough to get us home.) The time in Ocotillo was nothing short of an adventure in itself to say the least. We were able to look out across the California desert as far as the eye could see; we were able to use mountain peaks and washes to hone in our navigation skills. We got to call the Raspy Roost home for the day and the Raspy Roost is a cool, funky, post-apocalyptic looking hideout in a remote part of the desert. It was just a fun, cool setting to spend time with the most incredible sweet spirited woman.
Sunday was a refreshing to wind down to the weekend. Charlene took us to the Saguaro Lake Ranch where we were given lifejackets, a paddle, and a kayak. We were taught the basics of kayaking and set loose on the Salt River where we kayaked 14 miles. The scenery was breathtaking. The mountains towered over us, we saw wild horses and roadrunners on the shores, Bald Eagles circles the skies above us and turtles sat on the logs and watched us float by. We were able to spend some time in solitude in our own boats as well as have some great conversation with our new found friends. We were able to joke and laugh and have heart to heart conversations as well as spend some time reflecting on everything that had happened over the last few days. We pushed ourselves to finish as were physically and mentally exhausted.
Just when we thought the day was coming to an end, we were informed of a surprise waiting for us at home. When we got back to the house, Charlene was insistent we waited for her signal to enter the house. We did our chores and cleaned out the van while we waited. Charlene signaled us to enter the house and we were greeted by 10 other ladies who were entered in the challenge but were not selected as finalists. Their being at the house and being so excited to meet us was such a humbling experience. Here we were in awe of the women Charlene introduced to us and these ladies traveled from as far as Las Vegas to spend their time with us. It was our time to share with them. Bailey Campbell came to spend the evening with us.