by Julie Farr-Gay
Like a precious stone, I keep polishing my gem through each added experience!
I love engines, the excitement of you against the elements, exhilaration; pretty much anything that gets the adrenaline flowing. I wasn’t born into the off-road life, but I was born a tom-boy; preferring to play with Tonka Toys in the dirt, instead of dressing up Barbies in the house.
After closing a dark chapter of my life’s story, I rekindled a passion for outdoors and focused on ways to further explore on four wheels. I took the plunge immediately after my step brother found a cool ‘98 Jeep XJ. This was decked out with efficient Baja capabilities and was a perfect shade of white. From the Jeepspeed modifications, Mickey Thompson 33 inch tires, to the Walker Evan beadlocks; this was amazing! Fun was had running through sandy washes and desert trails across Western Arizona, dreams of Baja adventures swirled in my head. Unfortunately, my affectionately named Great White Buffalo, was despised by my first loves; my dogs. This beautiful machine was a very proficient desert runner, which had great suspension with King shocks. Unfortunately they invaded the rear compartment, the noise was too much for my Rat Terrier’s Bandit and Chip. My pups came first and my quest for exploring the desert was interrupted; back to the drawing board for my perfect Jeep!
Why a Jeep? I am analytical and had to evaluate what would work best to feed all facets of my new life. I grew up a truck girl, my first vehicle was a truck. I learned to drive our family Subaru wagon equipped with manual transmission and 4 wheel drive. Driving dirt roads wherever possible was always great, burnouts and doughnuts were even better; could be why those tires never lasted more than a few thousand miles. I also loved driving my Mom’s ‘74 Corvette Stingray whenever possible; but, that’s another story! From my original Chevy Cheyenne square body, gen 1 and 2 Toyota 4Runner, 1988 Toyota 4x4, Ford Crew Cab, 1998 Tacoma, and GMC Z71; all but my original truck had 4 wheel drive. I digressed occasionally with a ‘92 t-top Camaro and most recently a Mazda CX-7. I enjoyed driving a Gen 1 Raptor for a few excursions across California and Baja, but I kept going back to years of wanting a Jeep CJ. Rugged off road capability was key, small enough to park in the garage, ability to drive to a client appointment, and with plenty of customization options; the 2016 Jeep JKUR was finally selected as my perfect vehicle.
I spent at least six months carefully researching my build, curating my perfect ride, then pulled the trigger with the purchase. Anxiously waiting, like an expecting mother; my ride arrived to the dealership late March. The waiting period was long, selling my XJ and Mazda went fast, and it gave me extensive time to start planning adventures. I read about this amazing trail named the Rubicon, sounded like the perfect place to take my new Jeep Rubicon! Yep, I signed up for Jeepers Jamboree before even taking delivery. I guess I have been known to jump into the deep end without some research. After paying the entry, I started reading and watching videos about the trail; figured out quickly that this was quite different than Baja travel. Then the OMG moment hit me, I need some experience before heading to the Rubicon.
I grew up riding original ATV 3-wheelers at Dumont Dunes and Glamis, well before the throngs of crowds consumed the sand. I felt like I was on top of the world with my ATC 70cc at 11 years of age; running the razor edges of a dune and catching lizards under the sage bush. Camp circles filled with crazy characters, sleeping on top of the motorhome under the stars, and riding the dunes as a passenger in the family water pumper; this was the dune life, the dune family was a blast!
This later led to Personal Watercraft Racing, where the shortest race was Long Beach to Catalina and back in the open ocean. I was the only woman at the time to compete in the Pro-Open class, not only earning the #3 plate, but many Ironman Awards. Tenacity and perseverance were honed during this phase.
As an adult I ran as navigator for my Step-Dad in the 1995 SCORE 1000, and the last six years as part of NORRA 1000 race teams as navigator, logistics coordinator, and/or co-driver. Sprinkled between those years were a few other experiences; running on back of a Yamaha Warrior up the Crown King trail in Arizona, Funco passenger exploring dunes in Glamis, or riding my own quad. All this fun and excitement of desert racing, trail running, and dune fun wasn’t enough to prepare me for what I was going to face on the Rubicon Trail. This was going to be technical and mentally challenging. This was with my own vehicle and I was the driver of record. I had four months to prepare for this challenge ahead. Tick-tock!
Fortunately the off-road family is full of great people and an extensive network. My friend Brian ‘The Jeep Guy’ connected me with Don Alexander who owns the Jeep 4x4 School in Big Bear, CA. I signed up for the intro, and then a private one day session. We christened the Jeep on Gold Mountain and John Bull trails, studied his published book Backcountry 4x4 Basic Training, and listened to stories about how relentless the Rubicon was. All this knowledge and training was quickly absorbed, we still knew so little. My boyfriend Mark, now husband, was my co-driver for this new adventure and the hand signal communication we learned from Don would soon be put to the test; and our patience with each other!
I was extremely fortunate to connect with family friends before Jeepers Jamboree and was welcomed into the group about thirty days prior to the trail; we were the greenhorns, newbie, unproven, and I was the only woman in the group. We got to know our gang on this adventure along the drive up from Southern CA, enjoying stops at Harris Ranch and Dry Diggings distillery. We met up with the rest of our group after checking in at Georgetown, quickly heading on to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and finally for our evening campsite at the Auburn Jeep club facility, they are the oldest club in the country. The trail into the club property was rough, challenging and fun; only a small glimpse into how relentless this trail actually is.
We packed away our tents, placed burritos on the engine manifold for lunch, and headed out during a chilly pre-dawn departure. Someone in the group said my tire pressure looked really low and I should stop and add some air, I stopped and followed directions without considering air temperature and how quickly the day would heat up. Did I say I was green? I was now at the tail of the group and quickly learned why keeping the group connected is important. By the time we reached the granite slab area, the sun was peeking over the horizon and blinding me. Mark was walking in front of me, guiding me from marker to marker, on the radio we said we would catch up...
Sometimes life hands you lemons and you must quickly make lemonade, or is it that you may be up a certain creek without a paddle? Either way, we made a wrong turn and later learned we went down the original Old Sluice Trail. No biggy, right? I sum it up as beginner luck and we didn’t know better. We knew it was early in the morning and we were with very experienced Jeepers’; but criminy, where were the spotters they promised, and WHERE was our group?? The boulders were as big as VW Bug’s stacked on top of each other and I made use of every piece of armor on my trusty steed. This is where I thank Don Alexander for his excellent training. Mark and I communicated effectively, maybe with a few expletives exchanged and thoughts of murder; but we actually made it through with high fives at the end. I say this experience was the pivotal moment in our relationship. Under extreme stress we maintained communication and not only got through this section without killing each other, we got my new Jeep 4-door, with 1500 miles on it, down the trail with only a couple love taps. Thank goodness I rolled my windows down as a couple boulders intruded into passenger space! I still wear the driver door badge of honor proudly and it can be seen in most of my pictures. This was definitely the most intense and adrenaline filled section of any trail to date, and absolutely had me addicted! I would love to traverse this section again, only in an exoskeleton rig so the pucker factor wasn’t an issue!
That was 2016 and my first big technical trail adventure. The Rubicon is certainly relentless, challenging and rewarding. I look forward to heading back again for my fourth Rubicon Trail Jeepers Jamboree this July. Other fantastic journeys have included a week in Moab with the San Diego Jeep Club, Colorado Mountain Passes, and a couple scenic trails in Sedona with my husband Mark as chief navigator. The latest was an event known as the Rebelle Rally, I was the Driver of team 165 with my friend Shawn Alladio and my 'Unrulicon' Jeep as our third team member. What else would Unruly Julie drive? Yes, that name comes from another facet in my life, feel free to ask me in person when you see me!
Lastly, I didn't want to leave off how important it is to keep these trails open, for all of us to enjoy. I have joined Adopt-a-Trail cleanups with a local club for a trail called Dishpan Springs, in the mountains of Big Bear, CA. We actively remove trash from trails we travel, mylar balloons, cans, plastic bags, etc. In addition to taking action on the trail, we are lifetime members of CORVA and Cal-4-Wheel; two organizations that help fight to keep trails open. I would encourage everyone to take part in local trail conservation, maintenance, as well as writing to support your local trails when actions are taken to close them. Take a risk, stand up for what you believe in, explore and enjoy!
Life is an adventure, keep polishing your precious stone to shine as bright as possible!
Posted by: Dulcy Rojas