by Shelby Wagner
Always one to go it alone, my love for offroading really began with my passion for the outdoors. From an early age I enjoyed playing alone in my MN city backyard, listening to trees, admiring butterflies and simply being a part of nature. As I grew older I moved on to numerous bike rides around the neighborhood, where I enjoyed the wind on my face, the sounds of the city in my ears, and the beautiful changes in nature that came with each season.
Born to a family that viewed the outdoors more as a place for picnics than camping and exploration, I was lucky to find friends during my 20’s that shared a common interest in being free among the trees. I dabbled in camping and enjoyed running around the lakes throughout the city, but it was the combination of my first backpacking trip with a group of friends and meeting a man who had a love for adventure, that really set my sights on a new way to get out into the world.
I met my husband almost 11 years ago this fall – when we started dating he had a 1991 Wrangler he was rebuilding. He’d wake up early to work on it before work and often on the weekends. When we talked about what he liked so much about offroading and rock crawling, he simply said, the challenge of trying to conquer an obstacle, discovering the capability of your rig, and at the end of the day sitting around a fire with a group friends telling stories all about it. I thought, I like challenges and I like camping and having fires, so maybe this is for me.
Even though I married the adventurous mechanic a year later, I wouldn’t get out on a trail for a few more years. Life was busy and we had a child in 2012, so I stayed home while trips to Moab, and the Iron Range were arranged. My first chance to get off-highway came in 2015 when I attended the annual Crawl 4 The Cure event in Gilbert, MN – a weekend long fundraiser that raises money to find a cure for multiple sclerosis. In addition to contributing to such a great cause, I had my first experience rock crawling in our buggy. It was just as my husband had described - I enjoyed the mental strategy that came with each obstacle and change in terrain, and the camaraderie at the end of the day, when we shared stories around the fire.
While I was getting acclimated to the world of offroading, I was also beginning to explore the freedom of backpacking. The same year, a group of friends got together to plan a trip to Wyoming to backpack through the Wind River Range. I had never done such a thing before (which usually means I’m all in). It was on this trip I confirmed just how much I loved being in nature, with no humans around, just me and the elements. It wasn’t an easy trip, there were storms, blisters and arguments, but I enjoyed every minute of it - we were stronger for it, and I knew I had to do more of it.
During one of our backpacking trips I told my friend about an offroad navigation rally I saw on Facebook, the Rebelle Rally. I told her it seemed like the ultimate adventure AND even better, it was for women only. I asked her if she would be interested in being my co-pilot. I knew we’d get along well, which is very important when you spend 8 days together in a Jeep and tent, but I also knew she was super smart and great with a map. While I was definitely a beginner when it came to driving offroad, I had a natural interest in technical driving and owned a Jeep. It seemed like a no-brainer.
So last fall my dear friend and I competed in the 2018 Rebelle Rally, and that is when I can say I really fell in love with offroading. The rally was the first time I had ever driven offroad outside of MN, and I loved each day as we encountered challenging terrain, found our way out of no-where, and had time to just be present with what lie before us. It was amazing to be surrounded by landscapes I had never seen before, using navigation skills I never thought I’d possess – it was the ultimate adventure that pushed me to see the depth of my strengths and my capacity for adversity.
As a person who isn’t into labels, it’s hard for me to say I’m an offroader, JeepHer, you name it. I feel like a lot is implied with those terms and I’m not sure they all suit me. I can tell you though that when I think about offroading, I think about my love for steep challenges, and how I will always find a way to be among nature, and that I’m not afraid to take the road less traveled. Get out in it.
Posted by: Dulcy Rojas