by Shannon Alpern
The first man I ever loved was my Dad. He was an adventurer, an outdoorsman, a steward of the land and a Mister Fix It. The best thing we did together was camp. From the earliest possible age my brothers and I were taken camping with our parents. A great love for the outdoors was imprinted upon me and shaped a major part of who I am today. My dad also had an affinity for 4x4s, and many cycled through our lives over the years. We had 2 Wranglers, a Cherokee, an Isuzu and a Ranger. Each vehicle holds many memories and stories. All of the memories, though, involve rural camping and off-roading, and for me the two are symbiotic. I love off-roading because I love being in nature, and I love getting to nature via 4x4…if I can’t get there by foot.
When my brothers and I turned 9 my dad would take each of us for our first camping trip to Death Valley. My first trip started at the Eureka Sand Dunes. These days, passenger cars can get back to the Dunes, but when I was 9, it was high clearance 4x4s only. And that was special. That made us special. Me special! It was like having our own private desert. And it was so fun getting there. I loved the bumpy road, climbing over a boulder or two to avoid parts of the washed out road and turning back to see our dust trail. I thought it was so beautiful and absolutely wonderful, in every sense of the word. At night, the quiet is deafening and LED stars against the black velvet backdrop of the night sky take your breath away and in the daylight the air is so crisp and you can literally see for miles.
A turning point in my love for off-roading was on a Death Valley trip when I was 15ish. At that time we had a little Ford Ranger with all-terrain tires. We camped overnight at Eureka and the next day my dad asked if I wanted to do a little off-roading. My heart fluttered at the thought of finally doing a long, exciting and potentially dangerous trek across the northern portion of DV. The whole trail was 25 miles and took, what felt like, over 3 hours. But, I loved every minute so much that I could have gone 3 more hours. There were so many obstacles to navigate and situations with other vehicles passing by. And amongst the excitement and the death defying maneuvers, the scenery was absolutely breath taking. I got to see things that most visitors to DV will never see. You would not believe the colors and the rock formations. It was incredible. The road we took was Marble Bath Pass and near the end was Palm Spring where there are literally marble baths filled with steaming Palm Spring water! And nudists!! Imagine my surprise as we’re driving through and fully naked men and women are walking through the desert under palm trees. All this adventure, brought to me by off-roading. How else can anyone get back into canyons and up into mountains off the beaten path?
Let’s skip ahead many years.
I fell in love with a boy. Then I fell in love with a boy and his Jeep. Kyle and I met at work and we bonded over our love for adventure and the outdoors. We talked about the camping trips that I had planned and he told me about his wheeling trips. He kept talking about this place called Johnson Valley that he loved so dearly. He talked about trails called Chocolate Thunder and Turkey Claw and Claw Hammer and all these strange names that were humorous to me and that I couldn’t even begin to imagine what they looked like. The pictures he would show me do no justice. He would also talk about wheeling in Big Bear and how absolutely gorgeous it is in the mountains. On a ten minute break he asked me if I wanted to see his jeep. I said yes and we went outside where I was introduced to Gingy. A 2002 Red TJ on 35s. Of course I didn’t know that at the time, and to be honest, I had to ask for the details for this essay. He showed me the rock lights he had just installed. These things called rock sliders that were supposed to be important on the trail. He talked about his winch and why it was so unique and cool. He showed me the tool boxes that he had mounted in the back and so on. Never have I ever seen someone so enthusiastic about their car. I know now that it is pure, unadulterated love for machines and fabrication and for wheeling that makes Kyle’s world go round.
I wanted to go for a ride in the Jeep so bad. I wanted to go on adventures with Kyle. I wanted to be a part of his world. After a month or so Kyle asked me on a date and I said yes. He’d invited me to go on camping trips prior, but because I was his manager I had to decline. But he wore me down and we had our first date. He brought the Jeep and after an amazing afternoon and evening he took me to the base of a fire road that I had always been curious about. We started our ascent up Drinkwater Flat and my endorphins were flowing. This is a very steep hill with many obstacles and foot wide cracks down the sides. But Kyle drove fearlessly and Gingy performed like it was a walk in the park. The top was off and I watched the wheels climb over boulders without any hesitation. She crawled like a beetle crawls effortlessly over whatever lies in its path. When we got to the top we could see the city lights in every direction. The view was incredible, the means of getting there was exciting and I was falling in love, so that was cool too.
Not long after our first date Kyle took me to Gorman where there is an off road park with obstacles to practice on. Kyle let me drive and I kicked butt! I learned how to watch my front tire, how and when to use the lockers and what I could do to get us screwed. We were prepping for my first trip. Kyle was going to this place called the Rubicon, and he invited me. It would be a week in the High Sierras among lakes and slabs of granite and pine trees galore. How could I refuse.
We spent weeks prepping. I was in charge of gear and food. Two of the things I’m best at. Kyle would take care of the Jeep being sound and I would take care of the rest. It was this trip that set the foundation for the future of our wheeling trips and my role in our off-roading lives. But my niche will always be the housekeeping…or campkeeping in this scenario. And I’m happy with that. Like I said before, camping and off-roading are symbiotic. A great off-roading trip is amplified by a great camping experience.
The Rubicon turned out to be a perfect trip. I’d never seen terrain like that, but I got to see it because a 4x4 got me there. There was wheeling, swimming, BBQing, exploring and camping. Everything that makes my heart full and then some. One of the most important things that happened on this trip was getting to drive. This was the first time I got to wheel on a real trail. It was fun, technical, challenging and exciting. But it gave me a confidence that I had never felt. Here I was in this big world that looked so out of reach to me, but I was in the drivers’ seat.
Since then there have been many Johnson valley trips, Two King of the Hammers. On my first one I got to be in the mix volunteering at Backdoor. The second year, this year, Kyle and Gingy took part in their first official Ultra-4 race in the 4500 class. They kicked butt by the way. It has all been such a wild ride, literally and figuratively.
We are currently working on rehabbing a truck bed camper in anticipation for KOH next year and all of the wheeling trips in between.
Posted by: Dulcy Rojas