Jeep Jeep coming through

Junior Ally Leara rides her way to good times.


Cristina Zapata

Avid Jeeper Ally Leara counts her red ride as one of her crowning glories.

The temperature is high and dirt clouds the air as junior Ally Leara drives her way up the rocky mountain. She’s in for a bumpy ride.

If she had to choose, Leara would much rather explore Big Bear’s back countryside in her Jeep Wrangler Rubicon than cruise the streets in a car worth more than your college tuition. Two and a half years ago, Leara took interest in jeeping — a hobby that consists of off-roading in groups of Jeeps.

“We drive over ‘rock garden’ obstacles and there are spotters who guide us over the huge rocks and boulders and we explore the back country, usually Big Bear,” Leara said.

Ever since her father suggested the idea of jeeping to the family, Leara had dreamed of the moment when she would get her very own Jeep. Since she planned to use her new car for jeeping trips, there was much to do to enhance the standard Jeep.

“We gradually added fancy stuff onto it,” she said. “We raised it, added larger tires and more lights for the night rides. Turning your jeep into a true off-road vehicle alone can cost upwards to easily $100,000 there is a lot of preparation involved in jeeping. Everybody in the jeep community knows that Jeep stands for ‘Just Empty Every Pocket.’”

Leara remembers how challenging it was to learn how to handle the Jeep on her own in different off-road settings.

“First of all, I was a new driver and it’s very challenging and technical to go over the rocks and take the lines that your trail guide is directing you on the mountain trails,” she said. “When maneuvering over the obstacles, you have to use both feet and that requires a lot of control and patience because you are literally crawling over the rocks inch by inch.”

Before her first time jeeping, Leara was unsure about what to expect.

“My first night ride in Big Bear was scary because we only had the light from the moon and the jeeps on the trail,” she said. “This made it hard to see what kind of rocks we were crawling over and it was difficult trying to figure out which was the best line to take.”

Because her first time was successful, Leara hoped to make each time just as safe by always keeping in mind the dangers of jeeping.

“Rule number one for jeeping: never go alone,” she said. “When driving over obstacles, your jeep could easily tip and roll over. Night rides can be dangerous because you just rely on the lights from the jeeps and the trail guides guiding you. You also have a higher risk of breaking an axle or tearing a tire.”

Jeeping requires practice and patience. Since the car cannot exceed 5 mph, the adventure can seem long and strenuous to just about anybody. However, a dedicated jeeper like Leara will agree that the hard work is well worth it at the end of the day.

“The tiring part of it is forgotten as soon as I remember how cool it was to explore nature and just how breathtaking the overall trip was,” she said.

Even though nature’s beauty is an essential part of the journey, the memories Leara makes with her family and friends are her favorite part of the experience.

“One night ride was probably one of the most amazing experiences,” she said. “At around 1:45 a.m., the whole group of about 50 Jeeps stopped to take a break. We all had cookies and milk and when we looked up we were able to see the Milky Way. It was amazing!”

With her family by her side, jeeping has become more than just an adventure; it has given Leara the opportunity to share special moments with the people she loves most. As for the future, Leara plans to take her hobby along with her as she grows older.

“I think that being part of a jeeping family has made me love being in the outdoors even more than I already do,” she said. “It only makes me want to explore and try other fun off-roading experiences. I will definitely want to take my future family jeeping because the community is filled with a lot of really great people who are there to welcome you and help you learn the ropes of how to be a true jeeper.”