Want to Call me Babe? I’m good with that!
When I got the call to participate in the Babes of Bantam event at the Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival in June, I had to jump at the chance. fter all, now that I’m on the wrong side of 50, it’s not often that I get to be considered a “babe” anywhere, unless I’m making an appearance at a retirement home.
The festival, now in it’s 6th year, takes place twice a year in Butler, PA, the birthplace of Jeep, an hour north of Pittsburgh. This year more than 2,400 Jeeps registered for the festival which also features more than 150 vendors selling Jeep goods and the world’s largest Jeep parade.
While off-roading has long been the purview of the male species, a new breed of Jeep owner has begun to make its mark on the trails—the female driver.
“I remember 20 years ago when I was out on the trails; you’d never see a woman driving,” said Wendy Callahan, who serves on the planning committee for the festival and is also a member of the Heritage Region Jeep Alliance. “Now I see more and more women out there—it’s no longer just a man’s thing to do.”
Callahan joined forces with Christie Vinson, who hosts women’s wheeling events at Rausch Creek Off-Road Park, and festival Executive Director Patti Jo Lambert to put together an event specifically designed for female off-road drivers. One hundred women signed up, which came as quite a surprise.
“Since it was our first year, we didn’t think we’d get that many participants,” said Vinson. “We capped it at 100 people, but we easily could have had more.”
We’re women, don’t you dare doubt us!
According to Callahan, many women are hesitant to try off-roading because they are intimidated or are afraid that they’ll be laughed at by their husbands or boyfriends. “The fact is, women are actually better at it because we have better depth perception and visual abilities than men,” she said.
To overcome the intimidation factor, the Babes event had women guiding women through the course and along the trails. “What I’ve found is that men sometimes doubt you can do an obstacle, or they lose patience,” said Vinson. “Females out here support each other. You don’t think you can do an obstacle? I know you can.”
“It was so wonderful to hear from girls at the festival who made it through the course and said, ‘I can’t believe I just did that!’” she added. “I love that feeling.”
Taking on the Trails
The course itself was a challenge, with narrow trails winding through the woods and obstacles including boulders, sharp turns and some serious patches of mud. My Jeep, Lucille, handled it like a boss, though there were a few tense moments when we had to squeeze between some trees and I was a little worried that she might be a little bit wider than I thought she was—the same problem I have when trying to fit through a tight space.
It was really great to be involved in an event not only run by women, but taught by women who stood alongside the obstacles and offered advice and encouragement, especially to those taking a more timid approach. Smiles lit up the faces of those drivers who conquered a challenge—not only were they getting more comfortable with their vehicles, but they were gaining self-confidence in their own driving abilities as well.
After wandering through the woods for a while, the “babes” convoyed over to the Jeep Playground, where more obstacles awaited—including piles of boulders, a telephone-pole bridge, and a steep hill with an intimidating vertical climb. I was worried that Lucille wasn’t designed for this type of course, which according to Vinson, is a common misconception.
“You don’t need to feel like you need a ‘built’ Jeep to handle these kinds of conditions,” she said. “A stock vehicle works fine, and you can go off-road in a stock Jeep as well.”
Watch Out, You May Develop A Driving Addiction
Of course, once you start this hobby, it may be a little difficult to stop.
“I started 20 years ago, but I’ve really been doing it more hard-core for the past six years,” said Callahan. “The last three years, I’ve overcome some obstacles that I really find amazing—they were way outside my comfort zone.”
Practice makes perfect, and there are a number of events geared toward women, including Rausch Creek’s Women’s Wheeling Event on Oct. 21, which started with eight women six years ago, and now has more than 200 participants.
“This year, there are five ladies’ events on the East Coast alone,” said Vinson.
The Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival organizers expect to expand the Babes event next year, possibly adding a second-tier event to allow more experienced female drivers to take on more advanced trails, while still encouraging entry level drivers to try their skills on easier paths.
For many of the participants at this year’s festival, it was the first time that they got out of the passenger seat and took control of the car—some of them even let husbands and boyfriends ride along. And while it might have been the first time, I’m quite sure it won’t be the last.