Sometimes you just have to quit your job, hitch up a trailer, and hit the road for the ultimate adventure. That’s just what Utah-based solo female off-roader Cristin Whetten is doing this summer and fall with hopes of inspiring others to do the same.
“I started showing up at little trail events locally,” she explained. “People started teaching me the ropes and I really loved it. Now it’s going to be my little full-time gig doing the off-road overlanding thing.”
For the past few years, she has taken short excursions around Utah and the surrounding states, even a trip to Baja, Mexico. She skydives. She dirtbikes. She paddleboards. She snowboards. She treks to some of the most remote locations in the country.
But she was always tied down to her day job. This June, Whetten gave up her job manufacturing heart valves to pursue the adventure full-time. This week, she embarks on a road trip throughout the Western Untied States with plans to attend some shows and a wish list of locations to visit.
“There are a lot of off-road and outdoor and van life expos,” Whetten said. “It parallels what I’m doing, so I want to go to those and meet people and network and shake hands.
“Aside from those, I’m kind of leaving it up in the air. Every now and then, opportunities will come up, and it will be nice to have the freedom to make those happen. I would love to check off a lot of national parks, and who knows if Canada will be opened up, but I want a return trip to Canada too.”
There are certainly challenges that she faces as a solo female off-roader, but Whetten is uniquely prepared and ready to face them.
“I expect mechanical problems to happen, like flat tires, broken ball joints, wear and tear stuff on the truck,” she said. “That’s just naturally going to happen. I’ve always loved learning and working with my hands, and so when I started working on the truck, I wanted to be involved with all of it. If I didn’t know what I was doing, I would say ‘hey, you know how to install this, can I watch you do it, or will you guide me through it?’”
She’s also acutely aware that there will be challenges beyond just mechanical.
“I’m sure emotional and mental obstacles will come up, which I’m expecting as well,” she said. “There will be good days and bad days for sure, like ‘what have I gotten myself into?’ But I’m going to have to run with them when they come. I’m not expecting this to go perfectly and I’m kind of excited for it.”
Whetten is used to breaking molds of what people think a young woman should be. In the off-road community, most solo off-roaders are men, and women tend to travel with their husband or spouse. Many people see her solo exploits as dangerous or naïve.
“On one hand, I think people love it because it’s rare,” she said. “But there are stereotypes as well, that you might not know what you’re doing, and that’s hard because I think a lot of women want to get into the off-road scene but that scares them, that they’re going to be judged. If I show up and don’t know what I’m doing, then I’m the damsel in distress and it looks bad.
In fact, she experienced that when she first started.
“At first, there were several off-road meet-ups that I went to and I had no clue what I was doing,” she recalled. “Everybody starts from square one, which is something to remember, that even the guys started at square one. So you just have to put that fear aside and show up and be the badass female. You can play with the boys too and you have every right to be there with them.”
As the planning for her tour started to take shape throughout the winter, Whetten decided to break another myth – that trailers and off-road can’t mix.
“Some people think trailers and off-road should never go together,” she said. “Other people are starting to realize that there are trailers that are capable. You get into the debate of, how remote can you go? Or how advanced on the trailer can you go? Obviously, towing a trailer adds difficulty and you can only go so far.
“It just depends on what you want and what you’re looking for. My goal is to kind of change the stereotypes a little bit, like, ‘okay, that’s actually really cool that you have this garage, so to speak, and it’s not really slowing you down as much as everyone thinks.”
Whetten plans to use the trailer as a base camp garage, capable of towing her dirtbike and other adventure gear that won’t fit in her truck. When she wants to go more remote on trails that a trailer just can’t go, she can drop the trailer and go.
She started researching trailer companies to partner with her and a Google search turned up Advantage Trailer, despite being on the other side of the country.
“Eventually, Advantage came up and had the best reviews and had all of the positive signs, like ‘okay, this company seems really good to work with,” she said. “You guys were actually the first and you guys bit which was really cool.”
The first week of June, Whetten made the 1,300-mile drive from Salt Lake City, Utah to the Chicago suburbs to meet the Advantage team and pick up her new trailer. We gave her the full Chicago experience – Lou Malnati’s pizza and Portillo’s Italian beef and Chicago dogs – and allowed everyone, from sales to service and everything in between, to check out her rig.
There were a few last-minute modifications that we had to make, such as installing a custom drop hitch due to the height of her truck, moving the trailer’s ladder from the wedge to the rear to accommodate the spare tire on the back of her truck, and shaving down the trailer’s rooftop ladder rack for better clearance, but it allowed every service technician at Advantage to take part in getting her truck and trailer ready for the road.
The trailer itself is a 5'x8' Discovery with a blackout package, walk-on roof with ladder rack (which she plans to use as a lounging deck), floor and wall-mounted e-track, a spare tire, interior lights and a rear loading light.
After getting all hooked up at Advantage, Whetten drove back to Utah where she is getting the truck and trailer wrapped before the adventure begins next week.
“I definitely hope I can inspire some other women out there that see me and say, ‘you’re doing it and it’s doable,’ she said. “Yeah, it’s doable. Go do it!”