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2009 Sierra Trek - From Punk Kid To Tribal Elder

Four Wheelers
Chris Collard | Writer
Posted February 1, 2010

Notes From The 43rd Annual Sierra Trek

Obsidian-black clouds pushed their way up the western escarpment of the Sierra Nevada and a freakish summer storm threatened to wreak havoc on what should have been a heavenly day of wheeling. Drag crew would be my long-time 'wheeling buddy Rich Currie and myself. Our job, as it has been for the past dozen years, is to make sure our paid participants made it to camp for dinner, or at least made it to camp. This was the 43rd Annual Sierra Trek, and our 25th year on the trail together. But as for getting everyone to camp...this day might be the exception.

Back in 1984, I was one of those new punk kids in a rice-burner Toyota 4x4 pickup. Rich and I had joined the Sierra Treasure Hunters 4WD Club (STH) and we were on our first Sierra Trek. How exciting it was. We didn't know dink about 'wheeling (though we thought we knew everything), but we were here on the Fordyce Trail, one of the most demanding trails in California. Navigating our way through a narrow crevasse called Winch Hill No.3, which is barely wide enough for your fenders to squeeze through. Our showroom-clean paint jobs were a hare's hair from the panel-bending granite. I didn't know about Rich, but my clutch foot was shaking like a Nepalanese prayer flag at the Everest Base Camp. I never would have dreamed that 25 years later we'd be the so-called tribal elders on the trail, and responsible for each year's batch of shaky-footed newbies.

"Signal Peak, Uncle Willie calling, over."
"Go ahead, over"
"Be advised the Trail Leader has cleared Winch Hill No.5, our drag crew is at the base of No.2, but they have a problem TJ, they're slow, but still moving, over."

Uncle Willie, that's Jim Harris. He runs point on the Thursday run and was one of the old guys when I was a newbie. The guy up in the clouds on Signal Peak is John Vinal. He's in charge of communications and has been around as long as I can remember. Like the Weatherman at the Baja 1000, John keeps track of everyone on the trail, radios out for parts when needed, and generally oversees things. With hundreds of rigs running the trail over three days, it's probably like herding cats. Andrea Harris is Uncle Willie's daughter and a second generation "Trekkie." She (along with hubby Doug) drives her own CJ-7 and is the only female on the trail crew. The rest of our crew consists of guys we can count on in a pinch. Good with a wrench or winch line, and cool when things go sideways.

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