After going on Facebook and viewing my notifications, one caught my eye. Hmm...an invite to join a Ladies Co-driver Challenge? I've been off-roading for a few years now. I competitively race Quads in hare scramble races and off-road my 87 YJ recreationally. I’ve got a little experience and I’m ready for a challenge. Yes, interested! I encouraged all my friends to apply even tho' I had not yet sent my application in. With a lot of information, but no details, I finally bit the bullet with 20 minutes to spare. The moment I hit send the adventure began.
On to the second challenge...marketing myself. As I solicited my friends and family to give me a vote of confidence on the Facebook link, I felt a little silly. I was putting myself out there in way I have never done before. I had knots in my stomach every time I shared the posts or reached out for more comments and votes. The other bios were amazing. I felt like I was an underdog and hardly any competition. They said it was not a photo contest...ha! I have heard that one before. There were pages of beautiful, strong, amazing women. I brushed it off and kept selling myself and reaching out to people and the likes and comments started flowing in pretty steady. Some comments and likes were from people I didn't really know saying they believed in me. Huh? People were saying some great things about me and I was seeing myself all over Facebook. I was a little uncomfortable with it at first. I like to be the center of attention, but not the focus.
Only one of my friends, Jenn, entered and I had just met another girl, Trisha, a few weeks before at off-road event. Jenn knew that she didn’t make it into the top thirty, but she learned so much about herself during this process. Seeing that in her was pretty special and she was humbled by the inspiring words of others. She had a “sense of self” about her, a renewed confidence. She had already won her personal goal. Trisha, on the other hand was killing it! I was intimidated. Then Charlene had announced she was drawing three names at random so no one was out yet.
I, myself, began to realize that I WAS a beautiful, strong, amazing woman. I had really never given a thought on how I actually viewed myself. My emotions were all over the place. What if I really made to the top thirty and advanced to the next challenge? I couldn't stop now. With cryptic messages coming in from Charlene and her constant encouragement I rolled up my sleeves and was ready for more.
The day the top thirty was being announced, I literally was sitting on the edge of my couch. I was all packed for a weekend to see my girlfriend in Pittsburgh and couldn't leave until I heard the announcement. Oh my God, she said my name. Well, it just got real folks. It's so hard to describe what I was feeling. I was a little scared since I still really didn't know what I was actually getting myself into. Lots of communication, but very little details. Everything was on a need to know basis and little surprises kept popping up everywhere.
Enter the next challenge. I was travelling, hiking and visiting with friends knowing I had to get this next questionnaire finished, it was hard to stay in the moment. It was great to be with Ashlee as she was so happy to get to be involved in the next step. After an amazing hike at Ohio Pyle, PA we talked more about it in the car. When we got to her house she was running around, setting up printers and getting what I need printed. My husband and Ashlee sat there with me as I answered each question. I found myself so excited that it was hard to write. Each set of questions made me dig a little deeper into myself.
On the drive home Kevin, my husband, and I talked about it at length. He was so supportive and encouraging. He’d already had me in the co-driver seat. It was great being supported. It made it easier to deal with the mystery of it all. At times, I would think, “What you are doing?” Time and time again, I took a deep breath and continued on. I wanted it, I needed it. . This was the year of the Kristie.
I was a nervous wreck over the phone interview with Charlene. As soon I told her that she immediately started to ask me about my weekend in Pittsburgh. Well, that was easy. I felt relaxed and we began the interview. I felt pretty good about it even tho' I was thinking that I should have said this or I should have said that. Well, too late. It’s done.
On the night she was announcing the top 10 live from Jeep Week, some of my friends and family gathered at the garage so we could watch it together. I heard Trisha’s name announced and I was so happy she was chosen. We had gotten to know each other thru this process, constantly messaging each other about the crazy emails we would get from Charlene. We inspired each other. We were from different generations and different walks of life yet had something to offer one another. We related to each other’s vulnerability and it helped stay focus on the next task at hand. WE ARE GOING TO ARIZONA FOR AN EPIC ADVENTURE.
There was no time to hesitate. We needed to coordinate flights with Charlene, provide more information, hop on conference calls and pack (Ugh…) I am so not a pro at packing. It was hard to figure out what to bring since there was little information about what we would be doing. Each day there would be some clue from Charlene, some little teaser post or email that would cause Trisha and I to start texting each other frantically. These emails and posts would pop up daily, generating excitement with all of us.
So here I am on the plane. This is the first time I have taking a trip on my own. I kept wondering what I forgot to bring. After all, all I know is that I am being picked up at the airport, moving into Bower Media for 4 days with 10 other girls from different parts of the country. We were told there would be no trips to Wal-Mart and to pack smart. Sound likes The Real World Off-Road edition. What was in store for all of us?
Charlene had us set up in group texts based on when we were arriving. As we started to land the texts started. Now we got to find each other at a meeting point at the airport and wait for a white van to pick us up. As each of us met, I kept feeling more and more comfortable. We all had the same information, which wasn’t much. All we knew is that we were going to do what we gotta do so that we can do the things we going to do. After a quick stop at the store for some snacks and a gazillion bags of ice we were off to take over Bower Media.
Once we were all there we got all our beds er, I mean “our houses” set up. We did pretty well working as a team. Not gonna lie, I was really surprised that there was no drama, no attitude and we rocked it! We came together so quickly. However, no time to think about that we had coolers to fill. Our instructions were put your fancy pants on or comfy tourist attire we were rolling out for our next adventure. I can’t call it our first adventure because the minute I sent my application in, each day was a new adventure. Anyway, we piled in the van…all 12 of us, including Charlene and our round the clock photographer, Rachel. We each had a Rugged radio that we kept with us while we were out. It kept us all on the same page the entire time. Loved that. It was nice having that level of communication.
We rolled up on this Ghost Town, took some group photos and were treated to a Mine Tour. After learning about the mining we were split into groups and given a set of photos that we needed to duplicate. I was a little lost at first but that is what was so great working as a team. One of the girls knew right away that we needed to duplicate the picture…exactly how it was taken. We were all running around and figuring out our pictures and then we had to meet back for our first live broadcast. Eeek, You can probably see me hiding in the back and shying away.
We went back to “our homes” for dinner. All sorts of goodies were waiting for us, our very own cooler for our lunches and a Warn back pack filled with tools that we will need for our adventures. Charlene’s mom was there to take care of us and Matt, Charlene’s boyfriend, made a huge dinner for us. Strangers just hours before and now we are family. Ok, I’ll go with it. It was an early night there for pacific time but for the few of us from the east coast it was late. I thought I would have a little more of a struggle with the time change. I guess I was too busy to worry about it. We had to be up early for the next adventure, not that we know what that is. All we had was a paper taped to the wall of what time we needed be up, what time we have a conference call, what time we are leaving, what time we are going to eat, what we needed to wear and what we should pack. This gives a whole new meaning to going with the flow!
The four days went by so fast. I just kept my back pack packed with anything I figured I would need. For three days I carried my bathing suit because when I asked Charlene about it she simply said well there is a water challenge in one of the rally’s. Well, ok then. I started paying close attention to what Charlene was wearing and bringing and then would scurry to make last minute adjustments. But,If we are doing a water challenge today I’ll be prepared. So we piled in the van, making sure to switch seats so we sat next to the different girls. Charlene would ask a question and we would go around one by one and share our stories. Listening to everyone’s stories was a great way for us to get to know each other. Sometimes we recorded each other. Took me a bit to be even “kind of” comfortable with all of that.
When we arrived in Sedona AZ, I got a feeling we’d be meeting Nena Barlow of Barlow Adventure. Nice to finally meet a Facebook friend. After our live broadcast we were off to learn recovery. I was feeling nervous and second guessing myself again. However, like the other times it was quickly dismissed. Nena got down and dirty with us. I couldn’t believe how much I was learning about judging clearance, the many uses of a hi-lift jack, safe recovery and spotting. We hopped into a few jeeps and drove off….destination unknown of course. The drive itself was captivating it was so beautiful. I couldn’t believe that am going to go wheeling on….WHAT, Soldier Pass? Yup, that’s what the sign just said. Access to this area may be restricted and there have been petitions going around to try to prevent that from happening. I am pretty lucky to have wheeled there. I’ve dreamed of wheeling out west and there I was…living the dream. In awe. Ended the day at the shooting range. Pew Pew. Still stuck in Sedona!
Up super early we piled into the van, you know, to do what we gotta do so we can do what we are going to do. I saw the signs for Yuma as we were all sharing more stories over the radios. Yuma is on my bucket list, but we drove right by. Welcome to California ladies! We pulled over and stopped at the Welcome to California sign. I got really excited. Like sick to my stomach excited and asked if I was going to be meeting Emily (of the Rebelle Rally). Charlene didn’t respond. A yes, maybe? I’m silently jumping out of my skin. I have spoken with her on the phone after I registered for the rally. She was so sweet and excited to talk with me. I’ve never done a rally and this was the first all-women’s off road navigational rally in the US. I thru caution to the wind and signed up. When we pulled in to the Raspy Roost and I saw her walk up to the van I was taken back. I got out she knew who I was and said that I inspired her and she was following our posts. I got all misty eyed as we hugged. There I was in the desert of California learning navigation from Emily Miller. I didn’t see that coming! Still living the dream. The navigational training was the most challenging for me. It just got real. I’ve got a lot to learn about it still. It made the 21 hour day was worth every hour.
Up before dawn. I know shocker right? Charlene was wearing water attire. I finally get to use that suit that I’ve been carrying around for three days! I figured it would be canoeing since that is part of one of the rallies. When we arrived at the Salt River there were 12 kayaks all waiting for us. Could this adventure get any better? There I was paddling with my “sisters” in a spectacular surrounding. Breathtaking really. Tho’ pictures hardly do it justice, I was super glad to have my waterproof camera to capture that. Don’t be fooled, this was not a lazy river. There was a lot of flat paddling with a headwind, but I didn’t care. I took it all in as I tried my best to capture moments for the others as well. It was peaceful and gave me time to reflect on the last few days. Then Charlene would be Charlene and point out that it’s so important that we stay hydrated or we are going to regret it later. You know, because we gotta do what we gotta do the do the things we are going to do.
When we got back it was hard not to notice the jeeps and trucks lining the street. Hmm? We weren’t allowed to go inside until the coolers were emptied and the van was cleaned out. Then we had to wait and go in together. WOW! When we walked in there was a group of people waving checkered flags at us. The emotions were overwhelming. I recognized some from Facebook, some were in the industry and some were part of the original 91 that entered. They flew in and drove in to celebrate with us. I don’t think they will ever really know how much that meant. It was huge!
Everything we did over those 4 amazing days had a strong impact on me. We started and ended each day together. We started each challenge as a team and ended it as a team. We supported and encouraged each other. Encouraged each other, relishing in the accomplishments of others. I admire every person I met on this trip and I mean everyone. Charlene is so amazing. She who opened her world to us fully. It was clear that she worked endlessly putting this all together and things were so smooth. That cannot be an easy task. Her endless energy and motivation kept us going. I can’t say that I have trusted or respected someone that I have just met so quickly before Charlene. I admire her integrity and everything she did for all of us.
My personal goal was to make it to the top 10 and get a chance to be a part of this training weekend. Picked or not picked for one of three to be Charlene’s co-driver, I’ve already won. I walked away with amazing new friends, more self-confidence, greater knowledge and even more inspired to share all of this others. I left fully aware that I'm not just a girl as there is no limits to what I can do and no one word used to describe me. I am anything and everything that I want to be.