Author: Diane Zalman
Being the meticulously organized person she is, Charlene emailed all of us ladies arriving in Denver on Thursday to tell us where to be and when. Theresa, Robin, MJ, Stacy, and I needed to meet a shuttle van at 12:30 PM. Since I was the first to arrive, I figured I'd go find door 505, the place we were to meet, and the ONLY place a hired car service may pickup and drop off. I actually learned that on the way home; as we were on our final approach at the airport, we all began stating which airline we were on, and the driver told us he was limited to door 505. Anyhow, I'm not a frequent flier, but in my limited experience, Denver airport sucks for signage, plus it's a confusing layout.
On my way to retrieve my checked bag, I passed doors 504 and 506, and thought, “Sweet! This must be near door 505!” Wrong! Then, I remembered that even doors were on one side, and odd doors on the other, so I looked at the opposite wall. No doors. So, I walked back to the huge middle concourse to see if 505 was there. Nope, just restaurants and restrooms. Then I walked until I found a passage to yet another concourse with more baggage carousels. And there, like a beacon in the night, right next to baggage carousel 3, was door 505! Since it seemed a lot easier to find baggage carousel 3 (signs all over the place!!) than door 505, I texted the others to tell them where to find it.
Once we were gathered and on our way, something amazing happened on the way to the hotel. It was a VERY long ride, and partway through I noticed and remarked that none of us were looking at our phones! We were all engaging in conversation and laughter; somewhat of a anomaly these days! Besides the skills, confidence and renewed enthusiasm I gained at the event, my favorite thing was how we all just enjoyed each others company and stories. We were a diverse group of women from places far and wide, representing several generations, and from all facets and phases of offroad, and yet I felt like there was instant sisterhood amongst us.
You wouldn't know it, but sometimes I'm kind of shy around new people, so I was grateful for the activities during registration because it was a great way to get conversations going. I was also glad to see that our seating arrangements at every dinner had been decided for us, eliminating that weird awkward feeling when you approach a table of strangers to ask if this seat is taken. One of my roles is Event Planner, and I enjoyed the laughter and antics during our after dinner games so much I'm bringing both them to our annual event this September. I hadn't laughed so hard in a very long time, as I did during the navigator challenge and the tent-folding competitions! Even the evening themes seemed to help break the ice and keep us talking and laughing, and has me thinking up ways to liven up future events I plan.
I want to give a huge shout out to Bower Motorsports Media, Charlene Bower and the Hotel Eleganté for their meticulous attention to detail and caring. It's easier for me to list the foods that I DO eat than those I don't, so I was a little worried about whether I'd starve to death while I was there. But imagine my pleasure when our waitress brought a special plate for me and several other ladies with dietary restrictions, and that happened with every meal (except for a weird mix up Friday morning when I had to fall back on my stash).
I was extremely impressed by our special guests who taught various seminars and gave speeches at dinner. Michael Morrison, an I4WDTA certified trainer from Overland Experts and 36 Hours of Uwarrie taught Vehicle Recovery (and how to stay safe while doing it) and Vehicle Inspection 360. Interestingly, in nearly 20 years of offroading, I had never seen much of what I learned at the recovery class. Although we don't really do much recovery in my club, I'm willing to bet very few of our members are fully familiar with many of the safety basics, so I'm excited to share my newfound knowledge.
By the way, my biggest aha moment of the Convention was during the high lift jack demonstration (I'm the one who blurted out, "OH SH!T") when he let the handle go and the jack handle slapped up and down like crazy a bunch of times completely out of control! I always thought that wire piece on the jack was to hold the handle in place when not in use, but when Michael did the same thing with the wire gizmo in place, the jack handle slammed up and stuck, thus demonstrating its real purpose.
Brad Lovell of Lovell Racing taught Trailer Towing and Tire Changing. In the first class learned some pointers such as proper weight distribution, safety checks while on the road, and actual behind the wheel trailer backing. This was huge for me! As I mentioned to Charlene that day, this was something I just couldn't seem to learn from my husband, whether due to his inappropriate tone of voice or my hotheadedness. And although I knew about turning the opposite of the way you want to go, I had never experienced following through after making the corner before. I cannot describe the tremendous sense of accomplishment and empowerment I had because of this experience. Now, I just hope Charlene can someday get her mirrors adjusted back to the way she likes before all us students tweaked them.
And speaking of empowerment, imagine this pipsqueak 58 year old changing a 37” BFGoodrich Tire BY HERSELF! Yep! After removing the flat, Brad showed us how to roll the spare onto a lever of some sort (in this case we used a jack handle, but I could easily use my shovel), to lift the tire into place. Once you've got the topmost hole on the stud, it's easy to kick the lever out of the way and start that bolt. We each got to do this on our own, and I was incredibly empowered by this because I've worried I wouldn't be able to do it on my own if I ever needed to, and now I have a solid technique to fall back on if it ever happens.
Mary Levenhagen from TNT Customs taught an Outdoor Cooking class concurrently and alongside the Recovery class I was in. The aroma was amazing as potatoes, corn, carrots, sausage and Old Bay seasoning simmered in a huge antique milk can. I have to admit, my mouth was watering and my stomach was growling during the last 30 minutes of my class. To my surprise, the lunch she prepared was enough to feed the entire group, so we all got to enjoy it and learn more about this genius outdoor cooking method!
Cora Jokinen, owner of Torq-Masters Industries, makers differential lockers, taught a welding class, and gave a very humorous and inspiring speech at Friday's dinner on "Why Women Make Great Racers." Oddly enough her speech helped me recognize that what I bring to the table as an expedition partner to my husband and business partner in Offroad Passport is invaluable and pertinent, because I possess certain qualities known more to women than men, such as the ability to read instructions and perseverance to never give up on a dream.
Coralee Lack who's name I'd learned from watching the inaugural Rebelle Rally, taught a Navigation class, and even though I didn't attend, I had several opportunities to chat with her a little and get to know her crazy sense of humor. Even her story of traveling to the convention was funny to listen to!
From the beginning to the very end, we were busy and having fun learning things. Charlene's speech, "How to Add Value to a Rock," on Saturday night brought it all into focus for me. By attending this event, the first of its kind, and thereby being vulnerable, my life had been enriched in many ways. I had new skills, new knowledge, new ideas, new friendships, and renewed enthusiasm for all things offroad. These were a bunch of really badass girls, and I fit right in! I rock! At the closing ceremony Charlene had us write the words, Inspired, Learned and Impacted, each on a square of toilet tissue, along with the name of a person who fit that caption over the weekend. Handing these out brought about an abundance of hugs, and I got a little choked up a few times. It was hard to say goodbye, but I couldn't wait to get home and show my husband that I could change my own tire on my Jeep.
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Author: Diane Zalman