Author: Tonya Mercer
In early September, I was fortunate enough to be a part of an amazing group of women that descended upon Mesa, Arizona to go wheeling. As one of the Ladies Offroad Challenge participants, I was one of ten girls selected to come on this Wild Women’s Wheeling Weekend. From the very beginning I was faced with challenges. How was I going to get myself, and my 4Runner to Arizona?! Offie and I have been through a lot together, but I wasn’t going to drive her all the way there. I’ve never really towed her very far, and for that matter, I didn’t even own a truck big enough to tow her with that I knew how drive. I couldn’t have my husband take us and then tell him he couldn’t stay with us, or go wheeling with us. But I was determined to go, so I agreed to come, and then worked on a plan to get there.
The week before the trip was so busy. I had a lot of great support from my friends and my family. Although I have been wheeling for twenty years, I have never gone without my husband before. I had a lot of doubts in myself. Even though I knew how to do so many of the things that I would need to do, I had never done any of them by myself. I had never had to tie Offie down on a trailer before. I have helped change tires a million times before, but never had to do it on my own. I had to learn about all of the tools and equipment that I already carry with me, but never had to use. I had to learn how to take off my doors and put on my tube doors in case I needed them. I worried about the soft top on the 4Runner, and not being able to get it back on by myself. By the time my husband tried to show me how to use our radios there wasn’t any room left in my head for anything else.
Tuesday, the day I was leaving, I showed up at my husband’s shop for lunch and found that the entire trailer was torn apart. He had found that the U-bolts were loose, and had decided to check the wheel bearings before I left. I became a nervous wreck. When it was time to go I hugged my family, said my goodbyes, and ventured off into the unknown. I had planned on stopping for the night in Moab, and then driving to Mesa the next morning. I was nervous when I headed out of town, but my momentary uneasiness subsided as I settled into the drive. I really still had my safety net after all. If anything happened before I got to Moab, I could always call for help.
Wednesday morning, I got up before the sun, stopped for fuel, and headed out. About twenty miles from Moab, I felt like I had just passed the point of no return. What the heck was I thinking driving eight hundred miles all by myself with a trailer in tow? How was I going to take care of myself if something happened? Why did I agree to come do this? Oh yeah, because I wanted to prove to myself that I could do this. Quit whining, pull up your big girl panties and get over it! About an hour from Mesa I get a text from Charlene saing, “You got this!” Okay, I made it this far. I can do another hour. I pulled into our home away from home and there was Charlene to signal that I really had made it. And as far as I know, no one died in my getting there. Yay! I unloaded Offie and parked in my spot.
Right off the bat, I jumped in and started with an online navigation training presented by Emily Miller of the Rebelle Rally. I had done a little bit of this at the Ladies Offroad Convention, and I thought it was so cool. There is so much to learn, and I’m definitely going to need more practice. As the rest of the ladies arrived we all got to know a little bit more about each other and what the general plan for the weekend was over dinner. I’m not going to lie to you, I don’t have a lot of experience in hanging out with a bunch of girls, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but I was so happy to find that we all just settled in together like we had been friends forever.
Thursday morning, we packed our lunches and headed out for our first trail. We were going to drive the back road to Crown King. As we were stopped at the gas station, one of the Jeeps had started to overheat. We all went and had a look at it. I’m quite certain that all of the people passing by just quietly shook their heads at the sight of the eight of us all under the hood. We determined that there was a crack in the radiator and that this Jeep was down for the count. We regrouped, came up with a new plan, and moved on. Several miles up the dirt road, we were struck again with another radiator problem. We pulled over and assessed, then we had lunch and worked on a new plan. We were going to have to tow back out. We hadn’t even hit the trail. Some people may have considered this a bit of a defeat, but we turned it into a learning opportunity. We learned about towing, communication, and teamwork. We worked together, and we made it back out to the highway.
Friday, we jumped right into hands on training with Hi-lift Jacks, Pull-Palls, and discussed BFGoodrich Tires. Then, Andrew McLaughlin from LetzRoll Offroad Racing showed up as our guest for the day. Everyone grabbed their stuff, and we headed out. As we started down the Box Canyon trail I had a brake hanging up. I radioed the information, and we stopped to look. Andrew came up with a plan to get us back on the road, and we all jumped in and got to work. Fortunately, I had everything we needed to get back on the trail with me. Once again, we worked as a team and overcame the problem. I even kind of laughed when Andrew commented that this was not how trail repairs went when he was out with the guys. I guess we were a little more supportive of one another. With our repair work completed we moved on. We worked on a little spotting, we saw some amazing sights, and we learned about jumping cactus. We even completed the trail!
We then hurried back to our home away from home and quickly got ready for our next adventure. Charlene surprised us and took us to Letzroll Offroad where we got the chance to learn how to weld. Andrew was awesome and answered all of our questions while Matt gave each of us a quick lesson in welding. Now, it’s probably fair to tell you that I have a healthy fear of electricity, and as such, has held be back from learning to weld. But I was so excited to have the chance that I just jumped right in. I really appreciated Matt taking his time and talking us all through it. With our little welding projects in hand we all headed back to the house.
Saturday, we decided to try again to complete the back road to Crown King. We loaded up, hit the road, and all cheered as we passed the spot that we had stopped at before. Today was all about learning to be a better driver and spotter. We had more communication lessons, and discussed how much better it was to have clear concise directions instead of weak, indecisive ones. Gabe Arnn came with us as our guest, and I worked on being more of a co-driver and less of a passenger. We worked our way along the trail and took in some amazing views. When we got to a good stopping spot we had some great lessons on safely using a WARN winch. We all got to practice pulling line and feeding it back in properly. On the way out we practiced more co-driving. We stopped and had a great dinner with fun conversation and a lot of laughing.
On Sunday, it was time to go home. All too fast our adventures in Arizona were over. We were all exhausted from our weekend, but we were so energized from all of the learning, laughing, and teamwork that we had done. I got Offie loaded back up, and it was time to say goodbye. We all went our separate ways, and I started the eight-hundred-mile trek back home. I tried to reflect on my weekend, what I had learned, and what successes we had had on the drive home. Not everything on the trip had gone according to plan. We had to readdress and reassess many situations. We had to work with breakdowns. We had to push past barriers, both physical and mental. Initially, I felt as if I had proved myself wrong and that I couldn’t go and do this on my own. I felt as if I had struggled mentally and emotionally. I felt like I may have let people in the group down. I second guessed if I had really put my all into this trip. I made it to Moab with these nagging doubts.
Monday, I got up and headed home. I made it four blocks. I had a wheel bearing seize up on the trailer. My trailer tire passed me by and kept on going long after I pulled over. I thought it over a minute and called a friend that I had met at the Ladies Offroad Convention. By the time she arrived, we had both come up with the same plan. Between the two of us, we unloaded Offie and limped the trailer back to where we could park them. Her husband stopped by to make sure we made it okay. I reassessed the plan again, and decided to leave Offie and the trailer in Moab. I made a call to my husband and we made a plan to come back for them on the weekend. I felt defeated for having to do so.
In the following week, I told my story to my friends and family. We talked about the vehicle breakdowns and we talked about my struggles. We talked about the long days. We talked about the learning and the friendships. The more we talked about it, the more I decided that I proved myself right. I could do this. I could load up and make a 1,600-mile trip. I could learn to tow a trailer and face my challenges. I had the equipment I needed. I knew how to use it. Some of my friends said that they wouldn’t have done it. Some of them said they knew I could. All of them were proud of me for taking the chance and going. They talked about the smile on my face as I told my story. They said I would have never learned so much without the struggles. They are right. You can look at the challenges ahead of you and let them beat you, or you can face them, learn from them, and be stronger in the end. It’s all a matter of perspective.
Author: Tonya Mercer
Source: Ladies Offroad Network