by Diane Zalman
Jeeping adopted me about 20 years ago, and by now I’m entirely immersed in the off-road lifestyle. I say ‘adopted’ because it feels like I’m a member of this special family that took me in back in the day. And there's never been another hobby that has occupied as much of my time, thoughts and energy. All of my meaningful friendships are with people I’ve met due to my involvement in off-roading. I guess you’d say I’m pretty committed to it too, because these days I’m a co-founder of an off-road club, a contributing editor at a Jeep magazine, and I’m on my fifth Jeep!
My husband George and I are in this together, and in a lot of ways, I think it’s made us closer. While he loves fab work and wrenching, I’ve found my niche in photography and adventure writing. I love that we both contribute our talents to create this experience that we’re living. We’re both passionate about it, and the passion is like glue to our relationship.
When we first got involved in the 4x4 community, we went with local groups on local trail rides every weekend. That was a blast – for about five years – until suddenly we were tired of the same old trails, and wanted something different. That’s when we started doing longer trips and camping along the way. It turned out that expedition-style off-road travel was the remedy to our wheeling boredom, and shortly thereafter, we started a website and off-road club at OffroadPassport.com with our friend Kristoffer, to specialize in it. As a team we three have led trips all over the southwest: Mojave Road, Death Valley, the Rubicon Trail, Big Bear, Corral Canyon, Moab and Colorado, to name a few. We try to go someplace new-to-us every year, and right now, we’re in Hurricane, UT, enjoying Sand Hollow for the first time!
Expedition travel was the catalyst for me to start writing adventure stories. I found out that I really enjoy chronicling our trips and all the crazy stuff that happens along the way. Soon thereafter, I submitted my first story to JPFreek Adventure Magazine and I’ve been writing for them ever since.
My favorite published story ever happened on the way home from a trip to the Grand Staircase and Escalante. We stopped in Cannonville at a Visitor Center, to ask directions. The Visitor Center lady suggested we stop at Grosvenor Arch on our route, since "it's only a mile back, and it's beautiful”, she said. So when we got to the turn-off, I cruised up the road to the dirt lot, and parked next to a juniper tree and the restrooms. The weather was warm, so my windows were down, and once I stopped, I noticed bees hovering around the windshield and coming inside the Jeep. Then I realized, it’s not just a few bees, it’s a LOT of bees! My first instinct was to move the Jeep, and I would have done that, except that as I saw my hand reaching for the shifter, it was covered with bees. By then they were in my hair too, so I freaked out and abandoned ship!
So imagine this: my Jeep is running, the driver's door is open, the windows are down, and there are bees everywhere. In it. On it. And on us! I yelled back to our friend Phil: "Bees! Bees! Quick! Move your Jeep!" He hurriedly drove to the road, and ran back, yelling, "Diane, they're all over you!" George said my back was teeming with them, and started swatting at me with a towel. Now we were at a loss as to what to do, because everyone was afraid to approach my Jeep. Then I came up with a plan: George would wear Phil's sweatshirt and gloves, drape the towel over his head, get in the Jeep, and MOVE IT! He suited-up, mustered his courage, jumped in, and with his left foot dangling out the door, he drove it out to the road. Just as he exited the parking lot, a wide-eyed family pulled in. No telling what they were thinking when they saw this big, hooded, be-toweled guy hanging half-way out of a moving Jeep; but their SUV didn't slowdown as they rounded the parking lot back out to the road. Luckily the bees soon lost interest and left, and we were able to continue our trip, but we will never forget the looks on that family’s faces!
My involvement with JPFreek brought about the experience of a lifetime when they sent me to cover Sierra Trek 2016, and we got to run the Fordyce Trail. It was a bucket-list trip that I will never forget! The Fordyce was the most difficult trail we’ve run to date, and my old ‘92 Jeep Cherokee made us proud by surviving the 1600 highway miles there and back, as well as enduring the rough terrain of the Sierra Nevadas.
Jeeping has given me countless amazing experiences and funny stories, views of back-country landscapes most folks will only see in pictures, relationships with the truest friends I’ve ever known, and a super strong marriage. It’s a lifestyle I’ve come to know and love, and I’m here to stay.
Posted by: Dulcy Rojas