Author: Kristen Endres
Where do I start? The Ladies Co-Driver Challenge has been one of the best things I have done for myself. Aside from given major life events, it has been and will be one of the most influential periods in my life going forward. Those are pretty profound statements, huh? From the time I filled out the first application/entry form and sorted through my pictures to pick the top 3 that best fit me, to the time I stepped off the plane in my local airport returning from North Carolina, I had to push myself and stay outside of my comfort zone to experience those moments and meet the people who made this all happen. Now, keep in mind, I am not the kind of person who everything always works out as planned for. When I entered the Ladies Co-Driver Challenge, I didn’t really think I was going to be chosen. I was confident about who I am and what I brought to the table, but I was certain there was another lady out there who had the edge on me. So, instead of focusing on that, I just showed up. I focused on being me and had to be confident that I was enough. For anyone reading this that wants to enter the next Challenge, my only advice is to be yourself. Just show up, be present, and show everyone who you are. Confidence and honesty go a lot farther than insecurity and pretending to be someone you’re not.
From the beginning of the Ladies Co-Driver Challenge, the 36 Hours of Uwharrie event caught my attention because of its challenges, location (the mountains happen to my happy place), and my familiarity with wheeling in the East. I knew I could handle the weather in North Carolina in mid-August; I knew that if the rain was an issue, I could wheel in the mud; and of the skills needed to compete in the event, I already had them. I’m a scrapper, and I am usually able to figure things out if I have some understanding of it. What I did not know was what exactly 36 Hours of Uwharrie would be and quite frankly, I don’t know if any of the competitors knew what it would be either.
Upon arriving to the Uwharrie Offroad Training Center, I was in shock that I was actually there. Out of all of the impressive ladies that entered the Ladies Co-Driver Challenge, I was intimidated by the fact that Charlene Bower had actually chosen me to be her co-driver for the event. I was also excited and determined. I remember thinking to myself, “Kristen, you’ve got this. You deserve to be here and you’re going to prove to yourself and everyone else that you can do this.” Little did I know, we were moments away from embarking on one of the most challenging experiences of our lives. I needed to give myself a pep talk, and so did Charlene. I struggled with the pressure of the situation. I missed my family back home; there was a night that I didn’t get to talk to my son, and it affected my performance. In addition, the weather was wearing down my body. It was approximately in the mid 90s and about 85% humidity, which meant I was sweating A LOT and felt sick all of the time. I needed someone to push me and believe in me. I needed Charlene to remind me that we were going to own it and needed to keep moving. While I can’t say I rely on the people around me to keep me going, I can say it was critical for us to keep each other motivated, not just for Charlene and myself, but for all of the other competitors, too. We were all dealing with the same environment, the same struggles, and the same drive to win.
Although my trip from Indiana to North Carolina was much shorter than Charlene’s trek across the country, it was a necessary leg in our journey. The time that she and I spent together was very important to me because we were able to settle into the partnership that we would need to successfully compete all weekend. We needed to learn things like how each of us functioned first thing in the morning and as fate would have it, neither one of us are morning people! We also learned how well we handled directions and suggestions from each other, and what each other needed for a boost of confidence or to relieve frustration.
Charlene and I were put into a very unique position because she and I were not partners or teammates prior to 36 Hours of Uwharrie, so we didn’t know each other very well. We met through the Ladies Co-Driver Challenge, spent some time together in Arizona for the training weekend, and had a few hours together in Bantam. Then, it was off to 36 Hours of Uwharrie for a grueling competition. All of the other competitors knew their partner, but Charlene and I had to learn about each other and how to work together as we went. And, I must say, we did really well. It wasn’t two catty women stuck in a Jeep with very little sleep and no showers for 4 days. It was two competitors working together with very little sleep and no showers for 4 days. Every time tension would arise, we were able to settle down without it affecting us. Plus, as some of you may know, when you’re in a fast paced environment like that, it is very easy to let things get away from you, and sometimes ignore what your body is trying to tell you. Charlene and I were able to keep a watch on the other person to make sure that food or water wasn’t an issue, and that was a huge success in my opinion.
The event itself was composed of a series of missions, which were disclosed shortly after arriving to the Uwharrie Offroad Training Center. The missions ranged anywhere from winching challenges to hi-lift jack challenges, and we had to do a lot of things that involved our spare tire and canoe. The location of each mission was given to us as a way-point (coordinates) and we had to find it on our own. This was way more challenging than I expected because I didn’t have much experience with GPS navigation on trails instead of roads. That became the most frustrating part of the weekend for me. I knew we could not acquire points if we could not get to the location of the mission, and I was struggling to get us there. Time was of the essence, and every time I would doubt our direction, I felt like I was costing us time. Fortunately, Charlene was able to help me get somewhat of a handle on it. (By the time we needed to get to the trailer in Charlotte to get our things, I was able to figure out the map. Better late than never, right?)
We were stationed in a forward operating base at the training center and provided few accommodations: tents to sleep in and two port-a-potties. It was a far cry from the preferential fluffy beds and hot showers at the Holiday Inn, but we made it work for us. We were responsible for all of our own food (except for two dinners that they provided) and water (drinking and non-drinking), and anything we would need for the Jeep and ourselves was up to us. The focus was on self-sufficiency, so the only items we were allowed to use had to be with us when we checked in on Thursday. We were not permitted to stop anywhere outside of the base to get supplies for the duration of the event. We checked ourselves in knowing what we needed to bring with us, but did not know what it meant for the weekend. Given us not knowing what to expect when we got there, not knowing what to expect from each other, the temperatures and missions we completed, we did really well. We completed every mission we attempted, even if we didn’t receive the points for it, and we attempted every mission except one—a 3½ feet deep mud hole just wasn’t something we wanted to mess with.
The 36 Hours of Uwharrie event was easily one of the hardest things I have ever done and possibly the hardest thing I have ever volunteered for. But without question, I would do it again. Aside from the difficulties, Charlene and I had a great time. We had so much fun pushing each other and pushing ourselves. We shared a lot of firsts: Charlene had never canoed before or fired a shotgun, and neither of of us had ever built a bridge to drive a Jeep over or carried a canoe through an obstacle course.
I cannot thank everyone who made this happen for me enough: from the folks at BFGoodrich Tires, who put together 36 Hours of Uwharrie and let us use Ruby, to all the other companies involved, and to all the ladies who entered the Ladies Co-Driver Challenge and made it an amazing experience. Thank you to my family and friends for believing in me, pushing me, rooting for me, and being excited for me when I was nervous. To the extra special people out there who know who they are, I will forever be grateful to you for going above and beyond when I needed it. And, Charlene, I cannot say enough about how humbled I am to be have been your chosen co-driver. We joked that “winning” the Ladies Co-Driver Challenge may not be the right word but I undoubtedly believe that it is the right word. It was a lot of work and I learned so much from you and the situations we were in.
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Author: Kristen Endres