When you buy a Jeep, for some reason names like the Rubicon and Moab start getting thrown at you. You soon realize that outside of your small town of Buford, Ga there are incredible off-road trails. Don’t get me wrong, Georgia is home to slick red clay, deep ruts, and mountain trail riding that may include a short section of technical rock crawling, but compared to the trails of Moab, high country in the Colorado Rockies or Johnson Valley the local south eastern trails don’t have near the scale, length or reputation for relentless obstacles. Bucket list trails come to mind, and the Rubicon certainly fits into that category. .
I got the call one week before the 64th annual Jeepers Jamboree at the Rubicon Trail in Northern California. As an outside salesman for Nitro Gear and Axle I travel quite a bit, but was still surprised when I was asked if there was any possibility that I would want to drive the 2,800 mile trip to the Rubicon trail to be a part of this year’s Jeepers Jamboree. My first reaction was yes, but my good buddy and fellow salesman Bruce reminded me that I am a married man. A few phones calls later and some rearranging of schedules my wife and I were cleared to travel to the one and only Rubicon trail. One of the things that surprised me was my wife’s enthusiasm to make this trek, but in truth during our time together she’s always been supportive of my Jeep habit whether wrenching in the garage or helping to spot through some tough section of trail.
We’d be heading west in a 2014 2 door Jeep Wrangler Sport. Equipped with a 2.5” X-Factor Rock Krawler lift, 37” Nitto Trail-Grappler tires mounted on 17×9 ATX wheels and running JCR bumpers and sliders, a Warn Zeon winch, and many other goodies – Hammerhead armor light bar brackets, Zilla light bars, Dropgearz Motorsports retrofitted led headlights and fogs, C.B. radio, and a Superchips Trail dash. Nitro 5.13 gears, Nitro gussets and tube sleeves, Nitro differential covers and ARB Air Lockers front and rear fill the axles and provide greatly improved traction. As built the Jeep works well at home in Georgia, but we knew the Rubicon Trail would be testing the little 2 door JK and it’s mods far beyond anything in the past.
Long drive ahead we first stopped in Big Sandy, Texas and stayed with some family. This was our last home cooked meal and familiar face for the next 4 days. We then took a very scenic route to our final destination of Georgetown. My wife and I had been out west before, but had never had the opportunity to drive it, and the view from an airplane has nothing on the amazing views from a Jeep. We saw many landmarks including Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo and the Grand Canyon in Arizona. We also took a 30 minute detour down a dirt road in New Mexico (something you can’t do in a Toyota Prius) just to check out the view. Our last big stop before making our arrival in California was Las Vegas. We were amazed at how much was going on at 10pm on a Monday night when we arrived. Thankfully we left with almost the same amount of money we showed up with.
Founded in 1849 during the California gold rush Georgetown has remained a cool little historic town and is the home of the Jeepers Jamboree office as well. Considered the gateway to the Rubicon we met the rest of our party who had travelled from our Washington offices, had a nice meal and some drinks and did some final planning for the vendor show the next day. Early the following morning the town shut down the streets as the Jeepers took the place over before they’d be heading out to the trail the next day. We had a great time meeting everybody, answering questions and enjoying the camaraderie of fellow offroaders at the event.
Located about 90 minutes from Georgetown we started out early to get to the famous trailhead, aired down and gave the Jeeps a quick inspection before rolling onto the rocks of the trail. Our second Jeep, a heavily built WK diesel solid axle swapped and rolling on 37’s took the lead as the driver had run the trail in the past. Our friend Pete from JKS manufacturing pulled in behind us and after some quick CB chatter we were crawling at last.
Rocks. Rocks everywhere and constantly. Some technical, some huge slabs of slickrock and lots of tight squeezes presented themselves over and over again. Unlike any trail I had ever run this trail just kept coming at us. Clear one obstacle and the next one was directly ahead waiting to be tackled. It was hard on the Jeep too. Within minutes we had lost a fender liner and busted the steering stabilizer having to stop for some makeshift repairs alongside the trail. Both my wife and I were very concerned we might be over our heads. We had a lot of trail to go and this was going to be a very long trip if things continued like this! The thing about the Rubicon is there are some very hard, technical and dangerous sections, but the one thing that will get you is focus. I started to get used to the often off chamber feeling, and I quit worrying about scratching bumpers and sliders and dropping in on big rocks and I started to have fun. I began to think of every trail I have every run, every mod I have done to this Jeep all preparing me for this experience. So what if the Jeep gets a little beat up and dirty, that is what these parts were made for. Once I relaxed and learned exactly where my tires were I began to have success. Thankfully the staff at Jeepers Jamboree were great as well and helped spot and guide us through some of the hardest obstacles and even when someone did break it made for a great time to stop and stretch, rehydrate and socialize with all the other Jeepers around you.
After 10 hours we conquered the first 8 miles of the trail and made camp in Rubicon Springs where we would camp a few nights. The weather was hot during the days and cool at night and the scenery was just an amazing mountain backdrop. The meals prepared by the volunteer staff were really good and at night the live music and bar were a plus. If you got hot during the day you could cool off in the springs and for a moment I wondered if I had died and gone to heaven. Such an amazing place to camp.
When the time came we decided to leave a little ahead of the group to give us a chance to try Cadillac Hill all by ourselves. People kept telling me it’s really hard, but amazingly fun. I didn’t see how those 2 went together but boy were they right. After making it to the top I have to say I have never felt so proud of my Jeep, my wife, friends and coworkers who got me here. Beyond Cadillac hill we rallied down the back side of the trail and popped out at Lake Tahoe where we were rewarded with a view of one of the prettiest lakes on earth. We just sat there a moment, amidst the noise of all the notifications from finally being back in cell phone service, and realized we’d just conquered the Rubicon Trail.
After 5 days of driving and limping my beat up Jeep back home I sat and reflected on my trip. I had just driven 6,000 miles, across 15 states, in a 2 door Jeep, and ran the Rubicon Trail. I spent time with my wife, my boss, and people from all over the country who worked hard to build rigs that they thought could tackle this amazing obstacle of a trail. We had seen things we had only read about or seen on T.V. We set out to accomplish something, drive our Jeep from Georgia to the Rubicon and back, and we accomplished that. Over the next few weeks as I change out my bent tie rod, and touch up scratched sliders I will think about that trail and the adventure this trip held for me. I would encourage any off-roader to go out and try a trail like this, especially with a great group like the people of the Jeepers Jamboree. I gained a new appreciation for west coast wheeling and I had my eyes opened to what rock crawling is all about. Was it worth breaking parts, was it worth all the hours driven, was it worth the stress and fear? My answer is simple, “Absolutely!”