My Ladies Co-Driver Challenge Story starts when a good friend of mine and fellow wheeler messaged me on Facebook asking if I had already signed up for this Challenge. I read over what the Challenge entailed and my adventurous spirit immediately kicked in. As I began filling out the paperwork, I started to doubt if I had what it took to compete in such a challenge, but my heart told me to submit it to see if I had a shot! I was absolutely blown away by the amount of support I got from friends, family, and fellow Jeep enthusiasts, it warmed my heart more than words can even begin to explain. I had already won in my eyes and didn’t expect to be one of the chosen 10 to go to training in Arizona!
I have never been out West and was so excited to experience it, especially if I knew there would be a Jeep involved somewhere in the mix! I packed up my goodies, unaware of what exactly we would be doing and headed West, completely unsure of what I had signed myself up for! I just knew I would give it my all, have fun, and absorb as much knowledge and experience as I could.
The challenge began once I landed at the airport, to find the other girls and the van that I was unaware would become so homey after all the time we were set to spend all “cozy” on our adventures. We then headed to the store to get ice, landing at headquarters right on time and were set to work filling coolers. After rounding up all the ladies we headed to our first unknown challenge, which happened to be the easiest one yet (Charlene was breaking us in). The van stopped at an abandoned coal mine, called Goldfield Ghost Town where we were treated to a nicely done tour. I greatly appreciated the coolness of the underground tunnels, as the adjustment from 40 degree weather back home in NY to the 100 degree weather in AZ was pretty rough!
We were then split in to several groups for a picture scavenger hunt, with the challenge of duplicating the photos we saw (easier said than done). We then headed back to headquarters for some well appreciated dinner that was made by “Mom” (Charlene's mom who had come to help with the weekend). We were pleasantly surprised when we came home to an amazing backpack sitting on our sleeping spaces, thanks to BF Goodrich Tires, Warn Industries, and I’m Not Just a Girl. This was completely unexpected and I was so overjoyed at how generous they were to us, the backpack was packed full of swag, offroad gear, and even candy! I remember thinking -- they actually believe in us!
The feeling of the unknown was challenging, the only thing we really knew about the activities every day is what time we had to be ready to go and what times we would be eating dinner. That was it! I had imagined that we would be wheeling, practicing recovery, shooting, practicing navigation, and kayaking, but didn’t know what days we were doing what and how many curve balls would be thrown at us.
Every day I packed my bag for the unknown, perhaps water? Perhaps boots? The thing that stayed consistent was FOOD. I made sure I had plenty of high protein foods to keep me going along with water, water, water! The second day entailed us driving out to a training on recovering your vehicle properly at Barlow Adventures. Our instructor, Nena Barlow was such a treat, she was fun, engaging, and incredibly knowledgeable about proper recovering techniques. Sure, I had recovered numerous vehicles by winching them out, and a few times helped myself out of tricky situations on the trail, but Nena taught me the safe and most productive way! I also learned how to winch with a high jack lift, use a 3 way snatch block system, and even how to properly utilize tree straps. I was so excited about all that I learned, and I couldn’t wait to get home to test my new skills and teach others some helpful tricks!
After our training we took off with some of the new Rubicons, testing out the electronic sway bar disconnects and lockers. I must say, I was impressed! Finally we went for our sit down dinner at a fun ranch style restaurant, called Roadrunner Restaurant & Saloon where we then headed to yet another secret location for another challenge. I can’t tell you how excited I was when we rolled up to a building labeled “Shooters World”, I knew I’d finally have a gun in my hand again! Cassandra was an amazing trainer, with a real respect and understanding of how to handle a gun. This was also the first time I had ever shot in an inside target range, it sure was different then shooting at bales of hay with targets stuck to them in the field!
The following day was a long one, we had to be out of the house by 5:30 am and knew we wouldn’t be eating until late, that’s all the information we were given! We loaded up and headed West, I found myself questioning a few times if she was dropping us off in Mexico! We crossed through California and stopped to take a quick look at the Mexican border, all which were firsts for me! Even Border Patrol was something I had never seen in person, I was surprised when they didn’t ask to search the questionable looking passenger van covered with girl writing! After almost 6 hours of driving we landed at the Raspy Roost, where I had the pleasure of meeting Emily Miller!
I’ll never forget how we pulled up and this beautiful woman just appeared out of the desert. She was stunning! She spoke with such poise and passion for the sport, and I just wanted to soak up as much information as I could from her. She taught us how to navigate with a compass and topographical map, a much needed skill for any offroading adventures, especially for the lengthy driving challenges. I couldn’t wait to get myself a good compass, a map, and practice my newly learned skills back home! We had some “van trouble” when we set out to find our plotted checkpoints, forcing our already long day to be a bit longer, but we held it together, staying positive and encouraging to one another the entire time! Finally we stopped for some highly appreciated fast food on the way home and I learned that cacti do not make good posts to lean on! I must say, this day was hot, long, and tiring but I LOVED every minute of it, I wouldn’t have wanted to change a thing! We took any unexpected challenge and rocked it!
The final day we headed off for kayaking training on the Salt River in Arizona. It was absolutely breathtaking the entire trip, with bald eagles, wild horses, and even vultures circling us at one point! The trip was far from easy, as the flat water paddling was made even more difficult with a constant, strong headwind that seemed to be pushing us backwards the entire time. We all stayed positive and I just enjoyed the amazing scenery and wildlife while thinking that I could skip arm day at the gym when I got back home. We were all very tired from our lack of sleep and long weekend, but we encouraged each other to keep on going and finished the 14 miles together. It was so empowering to look around at the other ladies and see how hard they were working to make it to the end as fast as we could, seeing this made me dig even harder!
Finally we headed back to headquarters where we were surprised to find 10 other ladies that were involved in the competition. This was the first time I cried, it was AWESOME to open the door to so many happy faces waving and cheering us on at the finish line. Again, totally unexpected and super thoughtful. Charlene gave us each a bag of swag to give to each guest, which I was excited to do and helped break the ice so I could get to know the ladies a little better, and man, where they awesome women! Matt made us some amazing BBQ and we finally got to relax and take in all of the adventures we had this weekend. We finished the night off with a touching offroad movie and then I quickly had to rush to get to the airport for my departing flight. I ended up caught in security because of a bullet (surprising, right?), but I made it home and had to drive right back into the real world called work.
It is hard to put into words what this training meant to me. I will never forget this amazing experience that I somehow was lucky enough to be a part of. The ladies that I met blew me away. I honestly thought it would be more of a cut throat competition, and couldn’t be happier that it wasn’t. Every single girl had something to bring to the table, be it wheeling, kayaking, or proper gun technique. Each person had a strength and a weakness, by pulling us together we were able to learn from one another and help each other to better strengthen our weaknesses. I was pleasantly surprised at how well I clicked with the girls, every single one! I just wanted to take them all back to NY with me! The trainers that Charlene brought in to the competition were perfect, they were powerful, confident, and extremely knowledgeable, I could tell that Charlene had put a lot of thought in making sure we were instructed by a top notch professional. I can’t say enough good things about our photographer, Rachel, she was in with us for everything that we did. Her huge heart, encouragement, and warmth was so appreciated. I was so impressed by her drive to make sure we had the best photos, but going beyond that to share her experiences and encourage us throughout the challenges. Charlene was so generous the entire trip, she was right in saying that this training weekend was the win, because it truly was.
I pushed myself to limits I didn’t know I could pass, learned skills I never thought I’d learn, and gained a special friendship with a group of kick ass girls that are scattered over the United States. This weekend was more than just learning how to recover a vehicle, it brought me more confidence and more drive towards being a stronger woman in the off-road industry. I am forever grateful to Charlene, her team, and the sponsors that made it happen for us. This weekend was EPIC!!