by Jolene Haines
“Every adventure requires a first step” (Alice in Wonderland, 1951). I grew up as the middle child of five and played the role of dad’s girl (and boy until my brother came along seven years later). It was the countless hours I spent with my dad in the workshop tinkering on snowmobiles, four-wheelers, and crafting wood that instilled a solid, mid-west work ethic; the value of a handshake; and a sense of adventure into my blood. Through the course of childhood, I continued to push the stereotypical gender rolls but was limited by the small-town mentality. I managed my way through high school and two different colleges (I was on the 5-year plan with no idea what I wanted to do). I graduated with Bachelors of Science in Business Administration with a double emphasis in Management and Human Resources Management and a Minor in Public Relations and landed a job as an assistant manager in a big-name hardware store.
Work was work, but the hours were long and unfulfilling. I took a gamble and accepted an offer (and pay cut) to work in Washington D.C. So I packed two bags and boarded a flight, only knowing I had a job and a hotel room for that night; as much as I am a planner, the details would all be worked out once I arrived some 1,000 miles later. I found temporary fulfillment in my work and the excitement of a new location, but found myself moving every few years to shake the status quo and break the mundane routine of everyday life. My mom often calls me her big city girl with a gypsy soul and jokes about when (not if) my next move will take place. Well, I found my way back to school and obtained a Masters of Arts in Servant Leadership. Although the course work was exhausting, especially coupled with full-time employment; the community and relationships I built with my cohort instilled sense of purpose and brought meaning back into everyday life through laughter and friendship. However, there was one particular class that impacted me the most. I chose an independent study and traveled to Peru with a group of five random ladies. I challenged my comfort zone, traveled abroad with strangers, spent a week in the Peruvian Andes Mountains and another week in the Amazon Jungle (even knowing it was the home of GINORMOUS tarantulas). It was the time and interaction with the villagers in Chino Village that will forever be ingrained in my heart. The Peruvian people were welcoming with open arms and humbled hospitality. They celebrated without distractions, they respected nature on a different dimensional level than I have ever witnessed before, the ancient ceremony of the local Shaman remained a sacred practice, and the local women joined forces to create a Cooperativa de Artesanos “El Huacamayo” to enhance the skill trade of women to allow them financial independence. This is the trip and event in life that truly awakened my soul and rekindled a passion for nature and community that had been trapped in the confines of cubicle walls for far too long.
Returning from this trip lead me wanting more; more adventure, more compassion for humankind, more time spent in nature… just MORE! “All around you are spirits, child. They live in the earth, the water, the sky. If you listen, they will guide you” (Pocahontas, 1995). Well, those spirits led me to Denver, Colorado. It was then, just a few short years ago, I was introduced to the Jeep world. I can remember the first time my boyfriend (now fiancé) took me for a ride in his jeep without the doors; this was crazy nonsense, but I liked it! It was when he took me for a trail ride into the mountain, and although I wasn’t sure where he was taking me not to mention the Jeep was making abnormal noises (I’m fairly sure we cracked the plastic side steps and earned some “Colorado pinstriping”), that I felt that strong connection with nature run through my body…it was then, that I was hooked. I was hooked on this Jeep thing and the adventures we were capable of having. Little did I know what I was truly getting myself into. Slowly, the after-market parts catalogues starting coming in the mail and the list of things our (his) Jeep “needed” quickly grew. He explained that many of the visually appealing accessories were like adult Lego parts; just unbolt one piece and snap on another (he failed to mention the cost of these adult Lego pieces; but that’s another story for another day). Just like his parts wish list grew so did our social calendars; we were attending meet and greets, chili cookoffs, Jeeps and java, trail rides, swap meets, and get-togethers of all kinds. This was the sense of community and belonging that filled my soul. I like to think I was a quick study and that all my tinkering in the shop as a kid just flowed back, but that didn’t exactly happen. Everyone in my new found “family” was so welcoming, patient with all the questions, and supportive to explain and educate me on this lifestyle.
It wasn’t long after our first adventure (and first after-market catalogue) that I just knew I needed a Jeep of my own. My conditions were that it had to be an automatic (although I am full capable of driving a manual, this mid-west girl had way too many other things to worry about then a manual Jeep on steep hill on the side of a mountain with no end in sight to the bottom below) and I wanted it to be orange. My boyfriend’s only recommendation was that it should be a Rubicon (for so many reasons I NOW understand). Well, low and behold, just a few short weeks later we drove past a used car lot and there she was…an orange JKU Rubicon! It was clearly a sign that it was meant to be so we took her home and called her LEGO.
Through the course of our relationship we chose to sell his Jeep and focus our time, energy, and money on modifying LEGO. Little did I know the extreme off-road, rock crawler my boyfriend really was and how he liked to push LEGO to her limits, and dare I say breaking point. I secretly think it was his way of convincing me to “invest” in bigger and better aftermarket parts. But, with each modification came an opportunity for us to work in our garage and repair LEGO… together. He is so knowledgeable and fairly patient with my continued questions and strong will to lend a helping hand. I loved seeing my boyfriend in his element and continue to be amazed by his technical knowledge and skill. Our mutual interest in the off road world and exploration of new places differs, in that; he seeks adventure for the adrenaline rush and I seek adventure for the serenity and connection with nature. Nonetheless, our adventures have brought us closer and strengthened our trust in each other. Not to mention, LEGO has introduced us to so many beautiful trails, strangers who have become family, and memories to last a lifetime.
It has almost been two years ago that I was on the move again for work; we left Colorado and headed to Northern Kentucky. I am happy to report we have found some great Jeep people in this area, but there is a huge difference in communities; aside from the COMPLETELY different type of wheeling in the Kentucky mud versus Colorado and Utah rocks! It was this vast difference in communities that was one of the driving forces for me to sign up for this challenge. I miss the empowerment and support of like-minded women, I miss the relationships built around the dinner table after a great day on the trails, I miss the lines of Jeeps supporting the toys for tots drive, I miss the honor flight and fallen officers tributes….I miss the community that recently rallied around a young Jeep lover that gave his life to save others. It is this through this challenge that I want to enhance my knowledge, challenge my skill set (and comfort zone…I’m a total introvert), and connect with a group of amazing women across the country (and Canada) to build my confidence to help strengthen the local off road community. For “we must take adventures in order to know where we truly belong” (unknown).
Posted by: Dulcy Rojas