by Nichole Minice
Wheeling gave me a community when I needed it the most. I went through an unexpected break-up which not only took away a boyfriend but a circle of friends – I am a pretty independent person but quickly missed having a social circle. Shortly before that happened, my Dad gave me one of the best presents of my life – a ’78 CJ7 (I named Goldie) that he built himself. Now, I had claimed this Jeep as mine for many years but on my 23rd birthday, he made it official. I’m not one to feel sorry for myself (not for long anyway) so I jumped online and joined an off-road club and worked up the nerve to sign up for my first run on my own in my Jeep! Sign-up I did – over and over again! But before I get to that fun, let’s go back……
My off-road story started in the womb (hence the title of this story)! I’m not kidding, my mom would race in the ladies drags every year at Dumont and apparently being pregnant only meant you had to modify the gas pedal so you could reach it since the seat was pushed back to accommodate a growing belly! That pretty much set the tone for my childhood! My mom was 4’9” and 90 pounds soaking wet but that didn’t stop her from drag racing and wheeling with the best of ‘em all while raising, breaking and riding 2,000 pound equines for fun. My 6’2” gentle giant Dad started his own Jeep clubs (Desert Burros in California that was just revived and re-incorporated by my oldest brother and the Vegas Valley 4-wheelers that is still in existence today) and no matter how hard he worked, he played harder (we camped, wheeled and duned, fished and more almost every weekend for years). I spent more time on a Jeep trail or in a garage than anywhere else and my brother and I loved the action and toys to be found (aka tools, greasy parts, dirt and friends). I remember going out 4-wheeling and having to hold on to the roll bars for dear life, or at least I thought I did because I was sure we were going to topple over but didn’t dare make a peep because Dad was concentrating. I am sure we were not in the precarious situation I imagined but who still doesn’t pucker a bit when off camber?! My brother and I got a shot of the action with a 50cc 3-wheeler when I was around 4 years old. I wouldn’t be surprised if our ‘track’ is still in the backyard of our childhood home – as many times as we went around and around.
Fast forward to high school and driving lessons – what other vehicle did I learn to drive in but a Jeep obviously! I might have taken out a tree on a back road somewhere in the process, but I couldn’t imagine a better training ground or vehicle. It was around this same time my Dad found Goldie (she was red at the time) which I was totally against – she looked like a mail Jeep and I couldn’t believe he was crazy enough to want that thing let alone make it his wheeling rig. Needless to say, he proved me wrong and I quickly fell in love and started claiming she would be mine – he fought it for a while, but you now know how that ends!
So back to the online Jeep club - I was soon wheeling Goldie regularly with my loyal and adorable side-kick dog, Porter and meeting new amazing people all the time. I was also getting more confident in the driver seat and starting to do harder trails, getting some damage and breaking things, which my Dad liked to give me a hard time about. My favorite memories are of my Dad and I in his garage fixing my latest damage (or his). He always insisted that I do most of the work myself. He was all too pleased with the process which had him in a camp chair with a cold drink providing instructions and me in his overalls up to my eyeballs in grease!
I got to do some great runs, the Rubicon was the biggest trip and something I would love to do again someday. The best run of all is the low-key basic back road to Crown King – that is the trip where I met my soon-to-be husband, who proposed on that same trail several years later. My off-road adventures just kept gaining momentum to include off-road racing, King of the Hammers, Spook Rally, Easter Jeep Safari (among many others) and lots of dune trips. My most cherished dune tradition is Thanksgiving. I went to the dunes for Thanksgiving for the first time with my Dad my senior year of high school and haven’t missed a year since. My Dad is no longer with us, but I am now more committed to the tradition than ever. We have been very lucky to have some amazing friends become a staple of this holiday and year after year help us create some of the greatest memories!
The adventures are far from over - Goldie is going under the knife for quite a significant overall including, but not limited to a new cage, 1-ton axles and bigger tires! I can’t wait to see her make over and hit the trails!
I started this story with the importance of the community that wheeling created for me. I don’t know if I could have planned for a better group of people to be surrounded by. They bring camaraderie, support, love and so much fun!
Posted by: Dulcy Rojas