by Alisa Graham
The sun is coming up over the rim, trying to take a bite out of the early morning. It is just enough that I need to put on my sunglasses. Excited more than I am cold this morning. Doors off, top off, and it is not the chill from the wind that is rushing through my veins. I look ahead and then in my rear view mirror, finally we are all together rolling down the highway heading to the trail of the day. A line of Jeeps filled with gear, tools, lunch, and those I love the most. “Lights On for Safety” is called out over the CB. Witty comments are squelched through CB speakers with everyone’s back ground music setting the playful mood we are all in. No matter how many times we line up and head out, the rush is the same. I have kid-like excitement for what lies ahead on the trail. Am I ready? Am I ready to drive and pick my lines for the big challenges on the trail; Ohhh…did I remember my milk to have with my lunch?
Many mornings and years later, taking the right lines and challenges that I worried about the most, is not what plays through my memory slide show. Of course every challenge and trail fix changed me. So has every spotter who has taken me through not just an obstacle, but also my own fear of failing. My family and trusted off-road friends showed the lines to take and encouraged me to challenge myself. As a family we have worked together to fix broken axles and drive shafts, towed a Jeep off a trail at night, and learned to work with each other's strengths, all while laughing and smiling in the most frustrating situations. The trail, the Jeep, the adventure provided the backdrop of all those people I have shared my most cherished memories.
I have always loved being outside! As kids we camped and backpacked the Rockies in Colorado. I love the sound of the river, hearing the pine and aspen move in the wind, and the sound of the trail below my feet matching the rhythm of my heart beat. My Mom and Dad shared their love and passion for the outdoors with me. Fast forward to the late 1990’s and all of sudden Jeeps start showing up in our photo albums. I have to be honest, I did not understand why you would take a vehicle out and run the risk of breaking it. My family had discovered Moab, though they were not the ones living in Utah. I was convinced to meet them down there for an event called EJS. At the time I was driving a black Cherokee that had not seen any “offroading”. As you can predict it happened, I felt the rush. We were a family playing and working together on the trail, becoming addicted to Jeeps. In 1996 I picked up a 1998 black TJ Jeep Wrangler. My first upgrade was pulling out the carpet and using this new product call Rhino Lining. That was the only upgrade I did because I was more worried about “upgrading” my driving skills. It was not long until a red 2001 TJ Sport Wrangler had caught my eye. This would be the Jeep that really taught me how to drive and have fun! I learned and loved working on my Jeep and what upgrades were important. I put a 6 inch lift kit, new bumpers, winch, and super cool shocks on my TJ. Quickly I realized that tinkering and wrenching, is a bug you never get over. What I love most about Jeeps is that no one Jeep is built the same. In a way, it reflects the driver’s personality and how they choose to use the trail. The red TJ would also be the Jeep that could fly. I had installed a toggle switch for my KC lights. When one of my nieces or nephews were in the passenger seat they got to push the fly button, KC light toggle switch, and we would take off, we would fly! They really believed the red Jeep could fly, so did I and still do.
I was learning how to wheel, wheeling with others and wheeling as much as we could as a family. Trips to Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona, and throughout Utah had become my playground. I became a member of the Big Horn 4x4 Club around 2004/2005 and later a board member. The Big Horn’s introduced me to the community that so many offroaders talk about. Through my membership I made lifelong friends that helped me to become a better offroader and taught me how fix my Jeep off and on the trail. To this day, when we see each other we talk about the “good old days”, the fun we had together, crazy trail fixes, inside jokes, and memories that come with being a part of a great community.
My love for this sport and the community doubled when I had the opportunity to be a part of the Moab Jeeper Magazine in 2007-2008. Being a female offroader was already a rare species at this time. But writing install articles, testing off-road upgrades, and being “one of the guys” grew my confidence. It pushed me to think beyond the trail and overcome any fears I had of being one of the few females on the scene. This is also when I got my trail name or handle, as some say. My nickname on the trail is Dirty Girl. Get your mind out of the gutter! I got that name because I am always covered in dirt and, well I am a girl. Dirt under my nails, on my face, and on my clothes when I am wheeling, camping, or backpacking. When I wrote or did install and testing for Moab Jeeper Magazine I did under the name of Dirty Girl. I heard all the famous people use a different name.
Another big step was when I purchased an '07 2500 Dodge Mega Cab to pull my Jeep around on a trailer. Prior to this, I had never driven a large vehicle or pulled anything! I still have my truck and love it as much as I do my Jeep. I have learned to pull trailers and a 5th wheel on the road, then jump in a Jeep to hit the trail. I do get teased by fellow offroaders and get a few double takes because I am only 4’11 driving a big truck.
Today I roll around in my 2007 JK 2 door Rubicon. I am still very proudly involved with a local club, Wasatch Outlaw Wheelers. I continue to grow as an offroader through my membership and friendships. It is an honor to be a part of a group of people that pull together for each other and work together to make days on the trail safe and a blast. I love the challenges of rock crawling and the lazy drives taking in the landscape on a desert dirt road.
Overlanding found its place in my heart about 10 years ago. Being out on the Arizona Strip and north of the Grand Canyon totally self-contained for a week is surreal. Watching the sunrise from the rim of the canyon where the Green and Colorado Rivers meet recharges all your senses. In the last few years or so the responsible use of our public lands has become very important to me as it should any user of public lands for any recreational sport. Organizations like Tread Lightly have become a part of my personal mission statement. Use it, love it, respect it, and respect all users.
Exciting as all that might be, there has been the dawn of a new day! Ladies are on the scene and in force. The last year has been pivotal for me with my involvement with Ladies Offroad Network. It has “aired the tires back up”. I am meeting women from all over who love to offroad and play in the dirt. They are drivers, co-drivers, spotters, single track, ATV, side-by-side, they are women who love to live beyond boundaries. My fire for dirt sports has been sparked with being involved in the Utah Chapter and letting other women know that playing hard is lady-like.
Eighteen years of offroading and being a part of the community has shaped and formed parts of who I am today. Eighteen years of growing (not taller), changing, becoming, unbecoming, laughing, dreaming, wishing, believing, and not believing - this is my life. Offroading is more then I will ever understand. It is eighteen years of big tires and big love that holds on to me because my arms could never hold on to something so epic. I feel so young still when I am behind the wheel or inside my hiking boots. I try to reach and grab it, all of it. I want to study it, feel it, never forgetting each and every trail or person I share it with. I will keep on the trail adding more years with a grateful heart, eyes wide open, and with a few new dance moves. Anything for a Jeep part!
Posted by: Dulcy Rojas