20th Annual Toyota Land Cruiser Association's Rubithon
Hall of Fame Run
Loon Lake to Tahoe on the Rubicon Trail June 18-22
Story and photos by Nolen "The Rock Midget" Grogan
I don't think I had ever heard of the Rubicon Trail before I discovered Pirate4x4.com back in 2001. Lance Clifford designed a website with a bulletin board to talk about hardcore wheeling, mostly in Northern California and often on this famous trail. As the website grew and land issues arose, the Pirates of the Rubicon went from a bunch of wild party guys to some of the top conservationists keeping the Rubicon Trail open. So after all of these years I finally was able to break away and head from Mississippi to California to see what all of the fuss was about.
Originally I had planned on riding shotgun with Mark Hawley of Metaltech4x4.com. As those plans were coming together, I happened to be on the phone with Bruce Wade of Roundeyes.com. Bruce and I go way back as he has provided performance lighting and Alloy USA axles for my last 3 buggies. When I mentioned to Bruce that I would be running the 'Con in June, he offered up his highly capable Toyota mini truck for me to drive to the event. Naturally I was floored, but the next day I called back and took him up on the offer.
Day One.....Getting there
Directions to Bruce's place at Chili Bar which is just outside of Placerville was very easy, but the shock of seeing where Bruce and his beautiful family have set up their home and business was quite stunning. Bruce lives high on a bluff off the south fork of the American river. After the grand tour of Roundeyes.com, Bruce loaded myself and my friend John Kopek up in his Ranger for a full-on getting it tour of the mountain property and, of course, the river.
Four hours later, Bruce had me all squared away and heading north toward Georgetown on the world's curviest road. Along the way, he ran me by to see another old Pirate 4x4 member, Scott Johnson...aka, Cruizilla. Not only is Scott one of the top players in keeping the Rubicon Trail open to vehicle traffic, he is also an extremely gifted machinist. Stacked on every table were prototype aluminum adapters being made for Marlin Crawler.
Scott and his snow wheeling buddy Desmond from Oregon were getting packed up for the Rubicon the next day, so after an hour of "ooh's and ahh's" I finally loaded up and headed for my final destination of the day, Lance Clifford's house in Quintette, California. I gassed and groceried up in the incredible little town of Georgetown (population 980) and then headed up to Lance's house. Upon arrival, Lance and his fiance Renee took great care of me for the night. Camo even graced us with his presence for the evening, broken tooth and all. Lance had already given me a tour of his house which includes a downstairs apartment where Camo currently lives. In typical Camo fashion, look what we found on his bedside table when we looked in on him:
Day Two....Pirate World Headquarters to Buck Island
The next day we were up with the sun and heading back into Georgetown for a big breakfast and a tour of Lance and Camo's adopted home town. Breakfast was Chicken Fried Steak and Eggs all around at the Corner Kitchen. This building used to house the Wells Fargo stage coach stop when Georgetown was a booming gold mining town of over 40,000 people during the California Gold Rush in the 1800s.
Next stop was the deli/grocery/hardware store across the street. Lance picked up his lunch from a beautiful lady who Lance claims makes sandwiches almost as good as his fiance Renee.
No trip to Georgetown is complete without seeing the Georgetown Hotel and Saloon. As luck would have it, the bartender/manager was awake and gave us the grand tour complete with a peek at the third floor that housed the brothel for many, many years. Camo and Lance are already scheming on how to move their offices up there.
After helping the Rock Midget up into Camo's monster truck, we loaded up and headed out of town to the Pirate 4x4 World Headquarters building. This is the place Lance and Camo run the largest 4x4 website in the world. That said, it is also the place they get to keep all of their cool toys!
After a warm, loving Pirate sendoff from Lance, I was off to the trailhead at about 8:00 am.
The road from Quintette to Loon Lake is one of the best drives in the country if you are driving a sport bike or a fast car. Just keeping a Toyota 4x4 with 38" tires going 25mph up the passes and between the yellow lines took a little away from the experience, but overall it was an easy 30 miles to the staging area under the Loon Lake dam.
Rubicon pro Bill Jackson was on hand to get everyone squared away on the do's and don'ts of the Rubicon Trail. Our group was relatively small and consisted of mostly well built FJ-40s, one highly modified FJ-55, one FJ-60, one FJ Cruiser, one FZJ-80 and of course, my rental truck. Everyone introduced themselves and we packed up and hit the trail. Destination for the day was Buck Island.
Across the open slabs and through the woods we went. The group moved very nicely because there were very few inexperienced drivers in the group that required spotting. Mark Hawley of Metaltech had just finished a new FJ Cruiser equipped with a prototype Marlin Crawler crawl box. It is lifted with a Total Chaos suspension and 33" Interco Trxxus tires. The FJ Cruiser really coninues to impress me on the trail. Mark also brought down his venerable FZJ-80 Toyota with 37" Interco Iroks. This wagon is awesome. Toyota Trails Editor Todd Kaderabek managed to get the flexy beast to wave at the camera as we were coming out of the first slabs.
After a short lunch break we were back on the road headed up Walker Hill. The whole gang made easy work of this section and we began our decent into the Little Sluice Box area.
The "Box" was empty as we pulled up on the slabs around it to take a break. Here, Georg Esterer and Ryan pulled up with a small group and passed us. We hung at the Box for an hour or so as I kept talking myself out of driving in there in my rental truck. Just past the box, we found Ryan wielding a hack saw against an old steel trailer on the side of the road. They had busted a rear driveshaft on an FJ-55 and Ryan was using the tubing from the trailer to make a spare driveshaft.
We bypassed the middle/old sluice and carried it on into Buck Island to set up camp. The beauty of this area is unparalleled. Other than the nasty swarms of mosquitoes, the afternoon and evening were very nice as folks cooked and shared their food with bums like myself.
Day 3.......Buck Island to Rubicon Springs
We broke camp early and headed out to the Springs in front of our group so we could get some pictures of them in the Big Sluice. Turns out, we had to do a dual winch save on the FJ Cruiser as I spotted him to the left on Squeeze Rock and took out his taillight. At that point, we were becoming trail plugs so we cleared the obstacle and boogied out ahead of the group, across the famous Rubicon River bridge and into the Springs.
Once we got into camp, it was not long before my hardcore wheeling buddies, Tom Wayes, Jack Rice and Derek Trent found me to give me a different kind of ride. I begrudgingly strapped into "Wild-Man Wayes'" Tfab buggy and we all peeled out for the overlook up Cadillac Hill. Since all of the traffic was in camp, Tom took it upon himself to give me a King of the Hammers type ride through the flat lands through the trees and up Cadillac Hill. It was a bit scary, but Tom really knows his buggy. Derek followed us up Cadillac to the overlook and even let me drive his racer back down into camp. Derek and Chris Ridgeway have not managed to kill the buggy racing it this year, and it felt as good as new.
Back in camp I mooched another meal off Jack Rice and gang before heading off to the Maurader Bar. Jack and Tom were down at the Dirty Dozen campsites so I was able to walk across the slabs back to the Springs and check out all of the folks camping. Along the way, I found 3 rigs broken right in the middle of the road in camp. Chris Hatfield had just gotten his carburator running only to break off all of his studs. Mellonhead had twisted a driveshaft coming to help and finally one poor sap busted his pinion. All of this carnage was IN CAMP!
The Maurauder Bar is a Friday night TLCA traditional open bar. It was fantastic fun. Even Pismo Jim showed up with his 10 shooter of tequila shots. Here we are with the opening toast to Marine John Kopek who just got back from 7 months in Iraq.
Day 4.......Hangovers and Hiking
Having never been to the Rubicon Trail, I had never understood the fascination with driving in and then just hanging out for 2-3 days. When I go wheeling, I want to go wheeling. Well, that was before I got to Rubicon Springs. This place is magical. I had no desire after my hot lap up Cadillac on Friday coupled with too many Pismo Jim encounters at the Marauder Bar to get into a motorized vehicle on Saturday. After a slow start and a HUGE breakfast provided by TLCA, my traveling buddies Todd Kaderabek, Peter Brown and I took off to hike to the stone cabin and the waterfalls near Rubicon Springs. The hike was nice but the scenery was increadible. We spent hours laying around on the granite with our feet in the cold water just taking it all in.
Back in camp, the TLCA crew was hard at it preparing to feed the nearly 400 guests at the event. Tri-Tip, chicken and corn were on the grill. I am simply amazed at the logistics it takes to pull off this event. Although we did have helicopter service for the event, the local Unimog crew was tapped to bring in the tons of gear needed for this size of an event.
I snuck out of camp before Ross Woody tapped me to wash dishes and took a few more shots of the rigs camped out on the slabs and I encountered some talent along the way.
There are all manner of rigs at this event so if you love classic Toyotas, you need to put this event on your calendar for 2009.
After a SUPERB meal, 6 time Event Co-Chairmen, Tony and Cindy Twiddy got the event down to business by thanking all of those folks that made the event happen. This years event was the 20th Rubithon. Also, this was the Hall of Fame run honoring those members that started the Toyota Land Cruiser Association all those years ago. 3 Hall of Famers were present, Marlin C, Bob Garrett and George Rice. It was really cool knowing what these men had done to bring the TLCA together.
Day 5........Rubicon Springs to Loon Lake with the Northern California Dog Walker
We got packed up early to beat the crowds out on Sunday. 90% of the event vehicles, continue along the trail up Cadillac Hill and into Lake Tahoe. Knowing I did not have a flight until Monday, I asked my friend and Pirate's of the Rubicon founding member, Jeff Fretwell if he would lead me out the way we came in back to Loon Lake. The hardest part of the day was not the sluice boxes we encountered, but the hour it took to drag Dog Walker out of bed so we could leave. Once that was accomplished, the two of us hit the trail. Big Sluice was much harder going back up, but in a little less than an hour, we were up and around the corner and into Buck Island.
After Buck, Jeff hung left and took the two rigs up Middle/Old Sluice. This was by far the hardest wheeling on the trail. The rocks were big and wet, but we managed to get Jeff's Cruiser through without cable, yet I shamed Bruce's Toy Truck by getting hung up 1/2 way up. Either way, it was a great section of trail.
Unfortunately, we started running into trail traffic after Spider Lake and the Little Sluice. From there, Dog Walker pulled off some great passes to get us around a lot of very slow traffic. What took us 9 hours to do on Thursday, took just under 5 hours to do on Sunday, even with Jeff running out of gas. We were back at Loon Lake and headed home just past noon.
The 20th Annual TLCA Rubithon was an event of a lifetime for a guy from Mississippi. To be able to pack your gear and spend 4 days on the trail and then pack it all out is something I had never experienced. The comaraderie of the folks and the beauty of the land made it one of the greatest weeks of my life. We are fortunate to have guys like Pirates of the Rubicon and Friends of the Rubicon that are fighting each and every day to keep this trail open. Check them out and see what you can do to donate to these folks that are keeping this trail open for you, me and our children.
Nolen Grogan aka The Rock Midget