by Renee Birdsong
My path through life has been filled with several defining moments that all lead up to how I fell hard for the off-roading lifestyle. From losing a loved one to meeting my first husband to getting sick to getting a divorce to cutting myself off from life to finding love then to finding off-roading, I became the person I am today…a Jeep girl for life!!
Life was good until I turned 18 and ten days later my Dad died. This impacted my Mom, my sister and myself more than I could ever express. At that time, family meant everything so I chose a college that was close to my Dad’s family. Even though this meant leaving my Mom and sister behind, college was something my Dad and I had worked hard for and I knew that not going was not an option.
So here I am, a freshman in college, in a dorm where I know no one and have been placed with roomies that I don’t really relate to. One night I go downstairs to play pool in the lobby and end up meeting my future husband. We date for the next 3 years until he graduates and moves home to start a new job. Somewhere towards the end of that time frame, my health starts deteriorating rapidly and I am diagnosed with Myelodysplastic Syndrome. He was with me in the beginning but between his graduation/new job and my need to withdraw from school, it was easier for us to separate.
My health. What started out as fatigue ended up becoming so much more. As it was explained to me, Myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) are a group of cancers in which immature blood cells in the bone marrow do not mature and therefore do not become healthy blood cells. In my case, it was the red blood cells. And no red blood cells mean no oxygen for your body. I withdrew from school, started seeing an oncologist and made plans to receive a bone marrow transplant. While all this was going on, I graduated from college, moved home and waited to find a donor. My donor ended up being my Mom, so now she laughs and tells me I was double cursed to grow up and be just like her! Although we make jokes, I can’t think of anyone else I’d rather be!
Quick clock reversal here and a little bit of foreshadowing. In the year and half between graduating and being admitted for my transplant, my Mom and I took a trip to Hawaii. I lovingly refer to this as my “I hope you don’t die but just in case” consolation trip. My Mom absolutely hates that I call it that but I think it’s quite funny! Now here’s the foreshadowing part. While we were there, we rented a vehicle to drive around the island for the day. Can you guess what it was? Just try. Come on, you can get it. Yes, it was a red Jeep Wrangler YJ! I loved it! I’ve forgotten a lot of days in my life, but that is not one of them!
Chris and I have been together for over 7 years now. Chris introduced me to the Jeep life by suggesting we get a used Cherokee and build it together. We ended up buying a stock ’99 Cherokee and naming her Babs. We added a lift, bigger tires, changed the gears…all these things I had no idea about back then! I was afraid to drive her in the woods at first. Mud holes, hills, off camber, all that was scary! Then when I finally did, I wasn’t comfortable because it felt like I was driving a boat. This is when I decided I wanted my own Jeep! I started looking for a Jeep that day. I knew I wanted something lifted, with bigger tires and I was totally digging the half doors. It took awhile to find anything that fit the bill because it was either priced too high or the pictures were of when the Jeep was young, beautiful and in shape (just like on dating sites!) and nothing like what I found when I showed up to test drive!
Then one day, I found her (imagine the angels singing on high!). Actually, Chris found her and sent me a picture. I responded “I shall call her Cherry Bomb” and that sealed the deal. Cherry Bomb was and is everything the picture promised me. The girl is stacked! She was way more Jeep than I could handle at the time but she made me feel safe. Even though I am still growing into her capabilities, she makes me feel safe trying new things. At first, I played it safe, I started off on simple “stock” trails with easy obstacles. Then I started getting braver! I saw water, we owned it. I saw mud, we cut through it like butter! Until I’d get over confident and hit a hole I probably should have avoided! She was built to be a rock crawler but it wasn’t until recently that I took on an actual rock pile. That feeling of fear was back, but I did it anyway and pardon the pun, but IT ROCKED!!! So now, I look for the things I’ve been afraid of or haven’t done before so I can push myself out of my comfort zone. And as long as I have my Cherry Bomb, I’ll always feel safe doing it.
Cherry Bomb is my play Jeep. I never intended to buy another. But then, I saw the 2017 Chief Edition. Again, it was love at first sight. I knew when I saw her at Jeep Beach that I was going to buy her. And I did! The exact one that was sitting on display at Jeep Beach is in my driveway right now! While I don’t take her off road, I’m still proud to drive her around and show her off. I love the attention she gets! She’s gotten a few upgrades too. A lift, bigger tires and new front and rear bumpers. I haven’t fully decided on a name yet, but I’m working on it!
All of this has led my family to ask Chris, where is our Reneé and what have you done with her? My response to that is meeting Chris, buying our Jeeps, and getting to know other Jeepers in our community has completely brought me out of the shell I put myself in and defined myself by. Now, I enjoy going outdoors more than I ever did and getting dirty like I never did! I have more friends than I could’ve imagined 10 years ago. I even have no problem going places by myself now because I know that I will be among my extended Jeep family. I love this life I’ve grown into and hope it continues for many years to come!!
Posted by: Dulcy Rojas