by Azalea Quinquilla-Raffaele
My journey started in October 2015 when I finally got a Jeep. I had wanted this type of vehicle for a long time because of its uniqueness; you can take parts off like the top, all the doors and add things to it to make it your own style. I really wanted one to call my own.
My husband was not a fan of me getting a Jeep. His perception of a Jeep was that they were unsafe & I was going to roll over in it. He works in the ER and has seen a lot of horrible things. So, he tends to always think worst case scenario when it comes to what could happen. Working in healthcare as well I understood his concern for our kids and my safety but, did not agree with him completely. For me, all vehicles can be unsafe, and life is too short to worry all the time. So, I put off wanting my Jeep until our lease had come to an end and our second child was no longer an infant (he was about to turn 2 years old). I went to the dealership and started looking for my Jeep. I did some research on the different Wrangler models and thought I wanted a Rubicon, but did not know much about cars, engines or even the Jeep. I did know that I wanted one!
I remember finally bringing my husband to the dealership after convincing him that we were ready for a Jeep. I had found a simple, black 4 door Wrangler, but when we walked into the showroom another beauty had caught my eye. She was an olive green, 4 door, Sahara Sport. I was in LOVE and this was the one! The color was beautiful, and it had a few upgrades as well. It had a 2” inch lift, 35” inch tires, and a winch that I had no idea how to use, but I knew this was the one I wanted, and to my surprise so did my husband.
So YES! I did get the Jeep and enjoyed driving it every day. I noticed people waving at me and soon found out about the “Jeep Wave”. Also, I did not realize there was a whole Jeep community that came together to offroad. I meet another Jeep owner and he informed me about two groups that were very family friendly in the South Florida area. He would go out with these groups and bring along his wife and three teenage daughters. He said both groups were knowledgeable and could teach me about using my 4-wheel drive and were very safe while off-roading.
So, in December of 2016 I finally went off-roading for the first time with my 2 kids and my younger sister. My husband had to unfortunately work that day. I was so excited and nervous that I was finally going to use my 4-wheel drive and go off-roading. My husband was concerned for our safety, but I reassured him I would not do anything crazy. It was a simple ride out in the Everglades and we had a wonderful time enjoying the outdoors. We saw a lot of beautiful wildlife and even learned about the native animals that live out there. It was not a very muddy adventure, but it was good clean fun.
Another big moment in my off-roading journey was my first out of state off-roading trip with my family and Jeep club to South Carolina, Gulches Off Road Park, in October 2017. This trip was going to be a challenging experience because the terrain would be different from the flat lands of Florida. The Gulches had a lot of mud along with steep climbs and drops. I was excited and nervous at first, but we had some awesome spotters from the park that took us around and kept us safe. They were very knowledgeable, wonderful and made us feel very welcome. I was able to go back for a second visit in March 2019 and this time I had made some upgrades to my Jeep. I put in a front locker and front disconnects and with these changes my vehicle was able to do more than before. I was amazed with the ease of going over certain obstacles and the difference in my vehicle's performance in 4-wheel drive.
In between the two South Carolina visits I also went to Tennessee, Windrock Off Road Park, with South East Jeep (S.E.J.) club. This terrain was very rocky and one of the most challenging for me. As we rode around and got familiar with the terrain, I felt more confident about what I was doing. I was able to push myself to go outside of my comfort range. We had a goal of doing all the Jeep trail badges at Windrock. Trail #16, was long and very challenging and we came to a place that it had gotten very difficult, but there was an alternate easier route. I wanted to attempt the difficult access first, and at least give it a try. Especially, to show my daughter, who was very scared because of other people we watched attempt it before us, and that made her nervous. I explained to her I was going to at least give it a try and I would never put her in any danger. She calmed down and was willing to sit in the passenger sit and let me try. I tried but decided to throw in the towel after 20 minutes of beating up my rims and undercarriage. So, I plan to go back and attempt that section again as a goal for myself also, I did not have my front lockers or disconnects at the time and think I can now probably tackle that with a bit more grace. I look forward to showing my kids you should never give up just because something does not work out the first time.
I have taken some basic recovery classes and finally learned how to properly use my winch. I knew simple car maintenance because of my father. He showed me how to check the fluids, check my tire pressure and change a tire. So, my Jeep was lifted, and my wonderful husband bought me a Hi-lift. I then read the manual and watched you tube videos on how to safely operate it so I could change my tire if needed. I have also participated in offroad trail trainings when I could like the one offered by Ladies Offroad Network. I believe it is very important to learn as much as you can and refresh your memory even if you already know how to do something. Also, you get to meet more cool Jeep people.
I recently purchased an overlanding trailer with a tent. We will be using this on the upcoming Memorial Day weekend for the first time. I also plan on getting a lot of use out of it during this upcoming summer to go to other offroad parks and look forward to having the ease of a quick tent set up and room for plenty supplies as well. It is going to be a fun summer.
We have made some great friends since that first time out and we are part of many great Jeep clubs. With these groups, we have been able to go to many different meet ups and join in on all types of adventures. We have gone camping, celebrated birthdays, gone out to dinner, helped CLE in the Keys after Hurricane Irma, and have even traveled to other states to go off-roading together. It has been a wonderful experience being part of the Jeep community and I have also learned a lot about myself and my Jeep. My husband is still not a fan of off-roading, but he supports me 100%. He has driven my Jeep on the road only a few times, but all the off-road action is done by me.
Posted by: Dulcy Rojas