|Story and Photos by Jessi Combs
While waiting for teams to cross the finish line at this year’s King of the Hammers, Camo and I ended up having an improv auction. It started by Camo suggesting that I autograph a Griffin KOH ball cap and auction it off for Land Use. Needless to say, the hat selling for $120 spawned a bidding riot between the spectators on the lakebed and the audience at home tuning in to the live coverage here at Pirate4x4.com. We were selling everything; swag from every vendor out there, Monster Energy ice coolers, Tracy Jordan’s sunglasses … you name it, it was all selling for a good cause. WARN Industries donated two winches on the spot which ended up selling for approximately retail value which ended up being about half of the $6000 we whipped up to help keep our trails open. It was pretty special for all who experienced it.
Thank you to everyone who participated in that auction, including Bob Sweeney, Director of Jeepers Jamboree. Bob stepped up with two tickets to the 4 day event including his Jeep and me as a personal driver for the highest bidder. I must say thanks to the Enger brothers for winning the tickets, and double thanks for giving them to their dad, Kit Enger. Kit, owner of Turn Key Engine Supply, and I had met over a handshake at SEMA one year; other than that, I had no clue who I was about to carpool with from Southern California to Georgetown and then camp with for 4 days in the middle of the mountains. Thank God he turned out to be one of the coolest guys I have ever had the pleasure of getting to know. Never short on knowledge, conversation, humor, or skill with the simple wish to sit in the passenger seat and enjoy the ride. It had been 10 years since Kit’s last trip to the Rubicon for the Jamboree, it was fun to hear his fond memories of what was and the excitement of what was yet to come.
After a late night at the Georgetown Historic Hotel and Bar for the event pre-party, the alarm went off at 4am that Thursday morning. A red-eyed, 45 mile drive from Georgetown to the trailhead at Loon Lake proved to tease the scenery and show off its sunrise splendor.
Hundreds of rigs packed beyond the brim with camping and party supplies started rolling in for their breakfast burritos, coffee and the 6am Rubicon Express Re-Launch ribbon cutting. Box Lunches and swag bags were handed out and off we went to explore more of what the 59th Annual Jeeper’s Jamboree had to offer.
Being from the Midwest, I’ve never had the satisfaction of taking this highly regarded excursion through the Sierra Nevadas, so saying I was excited to finally run the entire trail was an understatement.
Yes, excluding a brief trip to the granite slabs at Loon Lake for a JKO episode several months ago, it was my virgin outing on the Rubicon Trail. Faithful fans of the area have tried to explain how epic this trail is, but you truly cannot experience the magnitude of its breathtaking beauty merged with 7.5 miles of achievable, at times unforgiving, obstacles. The swimming waters were clear and crisp. Bald Eagles soared through the fresh mountain air. The history was alive and ready to be made once again on a journey of camaraderie, carnage, and carefree spirits. I now understand what the locals and lovers of the Rubicon have attempted to put into words. I’ve been wheeling my whole life, in many different areas, with many random people, but nothing compares to the enchanting allure of the Rubicon.
Kit’s friend unfortunately could not make the trip last minute, not so awesome, but grabbing my 17 year old friend Kyle to take his place and having the opportunity to share in his first ever 4-wheeling expedition was definitely up there on the rad scale. Initially he was feeling a little tipsy, but about a quarter of the way in Kyle reminded me he had never been wheeling before … and then I asked if he wanted to drive. I can’t tell you the last time I have seen a boy light up that bright. Turns out, the kid was born for off-road.
He was spotting and driving like he had been doing it for years and having the time of his life. Seeing Kyle’s enthusiasm brought me back to the days of what it was like to be a kid again. His tipsiness was gone by the end of the trip, guaranteed.
Throughout the entire trail, at every potential axle eater or rollover spot had official Jeeper’s Jamboree “Rock Rollers” to help spot you through it, no matter the capability of the Jeep or the driver. Wheeling the infamous sections like Little, Old and Big Sluice and Thousand Dollar Hill made me feel like I was finally achieving the Holy Grail. It’s no wonder Jeep named a Wrangler after this trail! Arriving at Buck Island Lake, the perfect place to take a break and go for a refreshing swim, we were greeted with water balloons and the first repair pit stop. Volunteers offer up their knowledge and wrenching skills to provide free fixes (tips accepted) as long as the parts can be paid for.
After a quick dip in Buck Island, we had a great ride down Big Sluice into Rubicon Springs. Talk about catering to the guests! Among the numerous camp tents popping up everywhere, one of the first things you see pulling into the privately owned Rubicon Springs is the main repair station, where you can take your Jeep, leave it there, go party and it’s fixed when you come back. Just around the bend is the common area locating the bar, dance floor, the Friday vendor show and most importantly, food! I cant stop ranting and raving about how lovely it was that every meal was prepared for you; breakfast, lunch and dinner.
A “bell” would siren through the entire camp to notify all campers that it was time to enjoy a delicious, hearty meal and socialize with whomever ended up next to you. There was no need to worry about when to eat, what to eat, if there was going to be enough to eat or if the collective group would be in good company.
Above and beyond the stage was the helipad where choppers were casually flying in and out for supplies, emergencies, and scenic rides over the Rubicon. A level of security came into play knowing that if an urgent situation arose, rather than a 7.5 mile gnarly drive back to get help, the helicopters were there to assist.
Continuing on the trail (still in 4WD) through the campground, people were setting up their weekend home in every possible place imaginable. On the rocks, in the forest, next to the water; if that spot was calling your name, it was yours to claim. Once the sleeping bags unrolled, the water floaties were inflated and swim suits tied on for playtime down at the water… where most afternoons were enjoyed. If the rope swing or swimming hole didn’t sound appealing, there was plenty of wheeling, hiking, fishing and relaxing to be done. Live music played for entertaining evenings full of fellowship, cocktails and dancing. The party scene was prominent from sunrise to sunrise, yet never to the point of sleepless nights or uptight days… unless it was self-inflicted.
Three days of debauchery did not slow down the final get together on Saturday night for the massive prize drawing and costume party. While grilling big juicy steaks for dinner, the Jeeper’s volunteers were dressed up like “Trailer Trash” sporting funny tattoos and fake tooths (teeth). The WFO Crew has an annual open invitation theme as well, this year, “Candy!”.
Babes in candy striped outfits walking around a mix of big foam M&M’s, mullets and overalls during the massive prize giveaway was quite a site to see. All the attendees were present with their chairs set up around the dance floor hoping that their number would get pulled for the drawing. If the digits on your bracelet matched the numbers of the tab pulled out of the box (after you showed me your boobs), you were a winner, everything from parts to gift certificates and t-shirts to tools. The “Rock Rollers” played live music until the crowd became scarce as most wanted to try and get at least a few good hours of sleep before the long day of wheeling home.
Rise and shine Sunday morning and people were packing up their camps or already on the road with their breakfast burrito in hand. No matter how much it sucks to load up, it was even more difficult to accept the fact that the last day of Jeeper’s Jamboree had come. Most of the rigs continue on the trail and head out on the 9.5 miles full of more ravishing views and obstacles like Cadillac Hill and the lead up to Observation Point where you can look back at what you’ve accomplished and take a break before the long dirt road drops you off at exquisite Lake Tahoe.
Plain and simple, the main goal for everyone at Jeeper’s Jamboree is for each person to have a damn good time. Leave your worries at home and unwind from reality. No TVs, no cell service, no Internet. Be one with nature. Spend quality time with your friends and family. Challenge your driving skills in an epic environment. Party your ass off. Get to know people from all walks of life. Hear the stories about past years and make new ones. For me, I will always have an unforgettable tale to tell and journey to share. I fell in love with everything the Jamboree has to offer and wish I could fast forward to next year, the 60th anniversary. Hope to see you there!
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