New Beginnings: Misty Whitford and Her 2011 FJ Cruiser

New Beginnings: Misty Whitford and Her 2011 FJ Cruiser

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Photos by Misty Whitford, Joseph Whitford, and Tricia Lynn

Things happen for a reason. People’s lives deeply intermix with each other like layers of dirt, rocks, and moss on a forest floor. However, paths can change unexpectedly, sending some through a cataclysmic change of challenges and enlightenment.

Washington resident Misty Whitford’s life changed drastically when she divorced her husband of over a decade in pursuit of happiness and self-fulfillment. However, a 2011 Toyota FJ Cruiser and a solo trip to Ireland changed her life eternally.

Whitford felt accomplished reaching heights above her comfort zone. Colorado’s views are incredible.

Going Solo

“Finding the courage after 15 years to get divorced was scary and empowering,” Whitford said. “But at the same time, I found that I didn’t know what to do with myself as I have always spent my time trying to make a better world for my husband at all costs.”

Whitford decided to find herself. She let herself be free and do anything that “sounded fun.”  She started coming out of her shell and seeked life experiences, as well as meeting new people.  “I had to jump out of my comfort zone and jump into life,” she said with a smile.

Taking the chance to travel solo to Ireland was the catalyst of Whitford’s life change. “I have always been in an abusive relationship, whether it be physical or mental,” Whitford exclaimed. “I was always under someone’s thumb. I have never done much independently and freely in my life.”

Once divorced and having enough initiative and money to travel, Whitford packed her bags and headed overseas.

“Ireland was the best decision and coolest experience in my life,” she stated. During the two-week trip, she matured and discovered herself again. “I felt like I was just starting to actually live. There is so much in life I felt like I missed out on or didn’t know could be.” Whitford felt free.

A Change of Plans

However, shortly arriving back from Ireland, her vehicle was totaled. Whitford needed a new car.

“I’ve always wanted an off-road capable vehicle and was looking at a brand-new purple Jeep and two FJs at Toyota of Puyallup, Washington (I test drove one when they first came out).” She initially always wanted a Jeep.  Although, after completing her research and comparing specs and information from both Toyota and Jeep owners, she felt Toyota would hold up better for exploring the off-road trails of Greenwater, Washington.

One of the Toyotas at the dealership was a stock, one-owner 2011 Military Green FJ Cruiser. It wasn’t used as an off-roading vehicle and only had 28,000 miles on it. “It was in great shape; I fell in love with her as soon as I test drove her during my lunch hour!” Whitford let nothing stop her, she headed back to the dealership after work and completed the sale the same day.

FJ Cruiser in Colorado

Off-Roading Comradery

One day after grocery shopping, Whitford found a business card on her FJ’s windshield. It was from a member of the Empty Pocket Crawlers, otherwise known as EPC. Whitford quickly became obsessed.  “EPC is why I have been modding the heck out of REBEL.” (This is her ruiser’s name).

Whitford started exploring with her FJ. Her Toyota 4x4 took her to places she never dreamt of going, like FJ Summit. To her, FJ Summit was the best experience, offering expansive views and challenging trails. However, she’s saddened with recent news the event will no longer happen.

Even though the EPC group has somewhat fizzled as a whole, Whitford still stays in touch with some of its members. She now actively off-roads with her new husband, Joseph Whitford, and is part of 30 various off-road entities.  

FJ Cruiser in Colorado

Global Gatherings

“Most groups are very welcoming to all and you instantly have a bond with people you wouldn’t otherwise have,” Whitford exclaimed. “I talk to so many people all over the world.  I meet up with 20 people to go out wheeling/overlanding/camping and have an absolute blast.”

For Whitford, these people often become a part of her community and network. “We’re like our own little family.  Most of them are all willing to help each other, even if they only know you via social media.”

Off-roading has made it easy for Whitford to continue to heal, socialize, explore, learn, and evolve. “During Covid, I was laid off from work after 15 years, got married, and I watched my mom (her best friend) fade away from ovarian cancer and pass in January 2021. My positivity tanked quite a bit,” she said.

But that hasn’t stopped her from solidifying her new beginning. “Covid doesn’t affect the forest or Mt. Rainier. These are my escapes and I go at least one time a month to reset and get a breath.” Doing this brings life back into Whitford’s soul.

FJ Cruiser in Colorado

“It has been rough, I’m not going to lie,” she stated, “all I can do is keep trying.”

Off-roading with her beloved FJ Cruiser has given Whitford a definite boost in her confidence. She can now just be herself. Her advice to other women in similar situations is:

  • You are stronger than you think.
  • The first step is the hardest, but you can do it.
  • Life is out there—you just need to go grab it.

Although she was once filled with challenges and heartache, she found herself at a crossroads and started a new chapter in her life. Now happily married and exploring Mother Nature, Whitford earned a new lease of existence. Fighting for who you want to become and taking steps into uncertainty is never easy, but the rewards found on the other side of the mountain could very well save your life as it did hers.

Whitford stated her FJ Cruiser is the best vehicle she’s ever owned. The life and freedom it allows her is immeasurable as she teared up during the interview. “This vehicle has allowed me to find myself, explore the U.S., make new friends all over the world, and changed my view on learning.” (To date, she’s taken several off-road classes, including a Washington-based winching demonstration where we met her).

“I learned I can do things on my own without permission,” Whitford said, “Just because I was told I needed my hand held doesn’t mean I have to. Life doesn’t have to be that way—I can live for myself and not anyone else.”

Whitford stated she will always own a Toyota. “You will have to bury me in this FJ as I will never part with it.”

FJ Cruiser in Colorado


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