Rubicon, USA, 2002
Written by Tina Hansen-Baker
Last May Graham got off the phone, his eyes twinkling. He had been talking with Dave Jenden in California. "How would you fancy an off-road trip in California?" He quickly explained about his long time dream to drive 'the Rubicon'. "Off-Roading Mecca," he called it. 20 miles of rock trail in the Eldorado National Forest, West of Lake Tahoe. It started out as a horse and buggy route to a remote spa resort at the turn of the century. Years later an old Cadillac was refitted with very low gear ratio to make the trip. Now many people a year take on the challenge that changes yearly due to the snow pack.
It's not that I didn't want to go, I did. But I had all the rational questions. Where will we get all the gear we need? "Rover Accessories (www.roveraccessories.com) can provide everything we need." Who will we be going with? "Southern California Land Rover Club (www.SCLR.org) is arranging the 3 day trip." Can't it wait until we move over there and have all the gear ourselves? "No. It's under threat of closure by environmentalists." I checked that one out myself and sure enough it was true. Del Albright (www.delalbright.com) heads up a group called "Friends of the Rubicon". They do trail maintenance, waste removal, access roads and trail etiquette awareness and have done for many years. At the moment there is a court case put forward to close the trail to motorised vehicles. The first round has been successful but the next round may not be. Most women want a 4 star hotel for their first anniversary. I was being offered a million star views, Land Rovers, and a Hannibal Roof Tent. How could I refuse?
David pulled up in a fully kited Series II Discovery. In Los Angeles nothing looks out of place. Same old Dave but looking sun tanned and content. He took us to Charles and Lisa D'Andrade's home that would be our L.A. base. Charles is the owner of Rover Accessories. Graham, David and Charles met on the Border to Border Expedition in 1998. Charles' excitement is infectious. He showered us with helpful gizmos, contraptions and clothing for our trip.
The next day was spent helping Dave get our black Italian 90 diesel ready. We had brought a water pump over in our luggage that needed to be fitted. The truck came complete with long travel suspension and Hannibal roof rack/tent. A food shop and we were set. The next morning started at 7am. Dave and Greg were raring to go. We finished loading up and were off. We
were to meet up with the rest of the group at a truck stop up the Interstate 5 from Los Angeles. By the time we got there we had blown the hose off the water pump, (oops, not tightened properly. While Dave was doing it, Graham had been talking to him. So it was Graham's fault.) And the rear brakes went too (they aren't really necessary, are they?) At the meeting point there were all sorts of impressive machines. Many of them being trailered behind massive American pick-up trucks. Away we went, all connected by CB radio.
We tried to keep up in the 90 degree + heat, but the diesel just wasn't happy about it. The heat was being transferred from the engine up to the cab. Opening the windows pulled the heat up even more. Mid June in the heart of California was the reason air conditioning was invented, I'm sure. The 4 of us decided to stop for lunch and meet up with the others at base camp.
Quick stop in Placerville, outside of Sacramento, to get the final perishables and firewood. Did I mention that Dave had a fridge in his Diesel 90? Then it
was off the highway and onto winding logging roads. We took the 'shortcut' to Loon Lake base camp. And sure enough beat the rest of the pack. By the time they got there we had camp set up and dinner ready. Not difficult with the roof tents; just unzip the PVC coated canvas cover, flip the tent over and secure it down with the ladder. Sure more comfortable than trying to sleep amongst the rocks!
There were 13 vehicles in all. 2 Range Rovers, 5 hard and soft top V8 Defenders, 2 Jeeps, a Mazda and our 2 Defender Diesels. It was at the morning meeting that we found out that axle diff lockers and long travel suspension were considered essential. We didn't tell them that we didn't have rear brakes let alone lockers. The Yanks decided that we should be at the back of the pack because they aren't used to (and don't like) the smell of diesel. They mocked our noisy machines. Many had changed their tune by the end of the trip.
The trail itself posed all sorts of challenges. Steep granite slabs, long narrow gullies with boulders as large as the trucks themselves, mountainside goat tracks. Graham was used to trialing around obstacles and had to learn to go over them instead after we got hung up a few times. I got over my fear of the long travel suspension springs giving a blood curdling CLUNK! as they found their way back into place. It was a
learning experience but we quickly got the hang of it. Graham was given the 'most entertaining driver award' at the end of the trip; which we were assured was a compliment.
First night on the trail we camped at Buck Island Lake. It was a picturesque spot with the mountains, the lake and a waterfall. We even had a full moon that night. All arranged for our first anniversary! Here Graham got his first true camping
experience. We went for a swim in the cold lake to get the trail dust off, and learned that the shovel on the wing of the Land Rover was used mostly to dig holes for daily constitution purposes.
Day two we were to conquer the Big Sluice Box. In old-fashioned gold mining a sluice box was used to separate sand and dirt from the bigger rocks and gold. Water was run through a long narrow trough with a screened bottom. Shovels full of earth were thrown into the top of the sluice box and shaken violently to do the separating. In our case, a narrow gully had snow and spring run-off creating the effects of a sluice box. In the spring, large boulders rearranged by this effect made for interesting trialling. This is where the air lockers, side rocker bars, Diff guards, and belly plates really come into play. We had none of the above, but did manage to bend one of our rear bumpers.
That night was spent at Rubicon Springs, another beautiful campsite. We had a group campfire with games and awards. The SCLRC were a friendly, fun group of people that we would love to do trips with again in the future.
Day three was the last day on the trail. Today was Cadillac Hill. The remains of the old Caddy can be seen strewn along the side of the long steep, steady hill. At the top was the observation point and group picture. Then on to South Lake Tahoe before we all went our separate ways. Most of the group went South to LA again. We were to go through Death Valley to Las Vegas and then more camping in the Sierra Mountains.
Our 'experts' in the Mazda and one Jeep had broken down on the first day with a leaf spring and prop shaft respectively. So they had gone forth on their own. Not wanting
to hear our jokes we expect. The other Jeep had its' share of problems too but managed to keep with the group. One Defender had a myriad of troubles. But in the end, everyone got out under their own steam. Very impressive for such a gruelling trail.
This is my abbreviated rendition of the trip. Graham would give you quite a different version I'm sure. But we both agree that it was a fantastic trip, we fully recommend it, and we can't wait to do it again! A BIG THANKS to David, Charles and Rover Accessories, and the Southern California Land Rover Club. Tina Hansen Baker