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Don't judge me by the size of my tires

I'm an off-road enthusiast and a passionate environmentalist.

By Katrina Ramser / January 23, 2008

Novato, Calif.

Living in northern California, I get to enjoy all that nature has to offer: abalone diving off the Mendocino coast, backpacking into Lassen Volcanic National Park – and trailing down Tahoe's Fordyce in a jacked-up, modified 1985 Toyota pickup.

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You heard me. Off-road vehicles complete my love for the outdoors. You had me at 37-inch BFGoodrich Krawlers.

It wasn't always this way. Like many Americans do today, I used to believe that off-road vehicles and their drivers were the main destructor of the land we love and share. Today, I see that recreational four-wheeling can be compatible with environmental sensitivity.

Admittedly, I'm in the minority: It's not every day you meet a woman who is able to detect a snapped axle based on sound alone. Before you assume I am someone I am not, let me clarify a few things: I do not wear acid wash jeans, have big hair, or chase squatters off my ranch with a salt-packed rifle, a pocketful of obscenities, and a Ford F-450.

My tastes are a tad more developed. I am a devoted recycler and built my own compost pit in the suburbs. My organization of choice is not the National Rifle Association, but the Blue Ribbon Coalition, which represents over 500,000 motorized recreationists. It's dedicated to preserving responsible recreational access to public lands.

So how did I become a defender of the off-road lifestyle? Fourteen years ago, armed with a major in journalism and a minor in environmental sociology, I got my first freelance gig working for an econewsletter. This was way up north in California's Humboldt County, around the time the Surfrider Foundation was suing the wood mills for dumping pulp excess into the tide.

It was a lucrative job. After all, hippies and loggers can create the kind of natural controversy found at every wetlands corner. I witnessed firsthand what Caterpillar vehicles did to roads created for clear-cutting redwood forests. This is what I remember about my first experience with an off-road recreation vehicle, which came during a walk through the forest: tires spinning, mud splattering, and the heinous sound of mechanical death screams as ugly smoke filled my nostrils.