Winter in the Sierras has been mild so far this season, so it would only be appropriate to start the first run of the new year with a storm. On Jan. 18, 2000, this marked the beginning of the 18th Annual Winter Fun Festival. Excitement grew as people started rolling into base camp at the Nevada County Fairgrounds in Grass Valley, California.
After a period of personal organization, groups started heading to the food. It wasn't long before the first run would be underway. At about 9 p.m., the night run departed. It was midnight when the rain started coming down. Even with the poor weather, some people stayed out to play in the weather for a little longer before returning to base for the next day's run.
On Saturday morning, most people were up early; the camp was buzzing with activity. By 7 a.m., most participants had already headed to the hall to eat breakfast, grab lunch for the trail, pick up trail information, and socialize a bit before heading out.
This year, the safety checks were handled by the honor system and worked out fine. The Tundra trail was staging at Nyack, so we loaded up, and headed there. The run was full, all lined up, and ready to 'wheel when we arrived. While there were plenty of Jeeps, there were also a few Blazers, Toyotas, a Samurai, and a newer Chevy pickup. We departed at about 9:45 a.m. from the staging area and headed East on I-80 to Emigrant Gap
The Trail's BeginningWorming through the mountains on a paved road for a few miles, we finally hit the dirt. The trail head was in sight, signaling that it was time to air down and lock up. Lowering the air pressure in your tire gives you a wider tire pattern for traveling over the snow, so everyone paused for a minute to get prepared.
On with our journey to Big Valley Bluff: The scenery was pure splendor. It started to rain harder and patchy snow covered the ground. The trail was slushy, and we were making it muddy as we traveled. By now, we were gaining some altitude, and it was getting rather stormy; there was about 18 inches of snow on the ground.
About halfway to the lunch stop there was about a 45-minute pause while the trail leader and several followers were getting unstuck at the incline heading to the top. To pass the time and rid ourselves of stored energy, naturally, the snow wars began. By the time the rest of us got to the hill, the trail was well-packed, which made traveling up the incline a cinch.
At the top, we parked the rigs and enjoyed our tasty brown bag lunches. A few rigs had kept going to play in deeper snow, but rejoined the main group shortly after determining that the snow was too deep for some of the rigs in the group.
It was incredibly stormy and cold, raining most of the time. We descended the same way we came into the bluff, then continued our journey on another trail. It was a much more rocky adventure and a little more challenging. We traded snow for rock - a fair trade. We continued our crawl up a run-off bed. There were a few tight squeezes along the way(especially for the fullsize pickups), a small ice creek, and a moderate pit of water. Everyone seemed to be enjoying the day and were excited to be back on the trails, 'wheeling in the elements.
We hit the pavement again by the afternoon; it was time to air up and head 'em back. It was around 4:30 p.m. when we rolled into base camp. By this time, everyone was ready to get cleaned up and head over for dinner and a goat's milk.
Dinner was superb thanks to the fabulous cook, Ray De Long. The goat's milk was equally fabulous, as always, thanks to the Capital City Mountain Goats. By now, the masses had gathered and were busy swapping trail stories. There was action and energy in every corner.
After everyone was finished with dinner, it was time to start the raffle. Everyone had a superior time, and, as usual, the list of prizes was long. After about two hours of checking numbers and a few announcements and acknowledgements, it was time for the music. The DJs rocked us through the night. There was definitely dancing and good times. The night began to wind down, and people were starting to retreat to their camps for the night and the next day's adventures
Let the Games BeginAfter a hot Sunday breakfast, we were off. The rain had stopped, and the sun was poking through the clouds. It was time for us to display our talents at the River Bottom Games.
Oh, the games. Those of you who have not had the pleasure to experience the games are missing an awesome event. Whether a spectator or a participant, everyone has fun because they are all out at the river 'wheeling and putting on a great show.
There are three challenging vehicle games, and those with the best times win. Have you ever driven blindfolded? This was where you could get your chance. The driver was blindfolded, and the copilot directed the driver where to go. Sets of cones were strategically placed, and the vehicle had to go between each set without running them over and return to the start. It is rumored that this game has launched a few marital squabbles - or so we hear.
Another game consisted of wood stakes and cones. The course was marked with cones, and the driver and passenger race about 50 feet, then screech to a stop. The passenger jumps out, picks up four wooden stakes that are layed out and puts them in the top of a cone. Then the passenger hops back in the rig, and they swing a three-point turn (within the cones) and return to the start.
The final game starts with racing along a course where poles are placed and are topped with cans. The driver gets as close to the pole as possible without tipping it over while the passenger takes the can. On the way back the driver has to replace them, then head back to the start.
After the hustle, it is time to make your way to the big tent for some famous river bottom soup and hang out by the fire. There is so much action to watch, there is never a dull moment.
The final count for this event was 600 participants and about 237 rigs that made the runs. It is safe to say that the 18th Annual Winter Fun Festival was a complete success. After the river bottom games were complete, everyone packed it up and headed home after a fun-filled weekend of 'wheeling.
For more information about next year's event, contact: California Four Wheel Drive Association, Ray De Long, (530) 432-8952. Hopefully, we'll see you at the Winter Fun Festival next year.