I was just a kid the first time I heard of the Rubicon. My dad and I were riding dirt bikes near Auburn, California, and we met a guy who lamented of the most difficult ride in the state, the Rubicon. The year was 1979, armed gunmen had stormed the US embassy in Iran, and things were awry in the world, but not here in Northern California. Mark Smith and his crew had just organized, completed, and returned from their record-breaking Expedition De Las Americas (A trek from Tierra Del Fuego at the southern-most point of South America to Prudhoe Bay Alaska) and a group of four-wheelers from Georgetown were celebrating their 27th Jeepers Jamboree.
Five years later I was holding the keys to an "ultra radical" (yes, I'm dating myself) Toyota 4x4 pickup and had been given a copy of the book Jeepers Jamboree, The First 30 Years. The Rubicon had raised its intriguing head again, and I knew I had to confront it. That summer my buddy, Rich Currie, and I, in our new rice-burner Toyotas, opened a well-worn Delorme map book, found the fabled Rubicon, and turned our wheels into the past, present, and future. We didn't have Jeeps, but we did have "massive" 32-inch tires, 3-inch Rancho Suspensions, and could go anywhere, right? The reality was...we were as lost as the late Dr. Atkins at a vegan convention.
Flash forward 25 years: Rich was behind the wheel of my "Punk Kid" Toyota (it's now jacked up, has puny 35s and a flatbed, half doors, and lots of battle scars), and I was on foot, camera in hand, shooting the 57th Annual Jeepers Jamboree for 4 WHEEL DRIVE & SPORT UTILITY MAGAZINE. Though Rich and I have set tire on the Rubicon at least 50 times since our early days, we still consider ourselves rookies compared to the old timers who have four or five decades under their belts. But this was our first time as participants of the granddaddy of 4x4 events, and rather than tell you about the trail, which is certainly challenging and lies in one of the most beautiful and majestic places on earth (it's called "God's country" for a good reason), we're going to tell you about the people who put it on and...the party!!
It's easy to see why during the past 57 years, tens of thousands of four-wheelers saved their vacation time, blacked out the third weekend in July on the calendar, and headed for the Jambo each year. Why not? All you have to do is show up with your rig and a cooler of your favorite beverage, and they take care of the rest: three squares a day, full no-host watering hole, a live band each night, a vendor show and trailer races on Saturday, and one of the best river parties you could serve up.
During the weekend, we bellied up behind the bar with the crew, crawled under busted Jeeps with the mechanics, walked the trail with the rock rollers, and sneaked into the kitchen to preview the daily grub. What we encountered were people working their tails off, doing it for free, and having a blast. Yep, volunteers.
Back in 1952, the Jamboree, which was created as a fundraiser, or "stimulus package," for the community of Georgetown, incorporated members of the Rotary Club, Boy Scouts, American Legion, and the Georgetown Rifle & Gun Club, to provide meals, tend the bar, and work as trail guides. They showed up, worked for free, and their organization reaped the rewards. The Jamboree has long been privatized, but it hasn't strayed far from its roots. Behind the bar, I met Steve Heuser and his three brothers. Steve was on his 40th-plus Jamboree, and his folks "Happy Harry" and Iva were chalking up their 50th annual Jambo. As members of the American Legion Post 119, they faithfully show up each year and help make the Jeepers Jamboree what it is today. For any event to survive 50 years is spectacular, and to have its unpaid volunteers stick around says volumes for the organization. We found the same multi-generational loyalty with the rock rollers, the mechanics, and the folks at the ice cream stand.
You can do the trail any time, right? People come back to Jamboree for the party. Because everyone runs the trail on Thursday and Friday, Saturday is reserved for hanging out by the river, being recruited for a water-canon or water-balloon battle, checking out the vendor show, canoeing up the Rubicon River, or hiking into the Desolation Wilderness. After a well deserved nap, it's over to main camp for a home-cooked meal, swapping yarns around the bonfire, cutting a rug on the dance floor, or drowning memories of your broken axle at the bar (my case).
Twenty-five years ago, on my inaugural run through the Rubicon, I could have only dreamed of standing on the vast granite slabs of the Devil's Playground with my camera and shooting this iconic event for a magazine. At 57 years young, the Jeepers Jamboree is the longest running 4x4 event we know of. And each year it pushes the historic off-road envelope. This may have been my first Jambo, but definitely not my last. Hopefully, after another 25 years, I'll lose the snot-nosed kid syndrome and be one of the old timers. I've already blacked out the 2010 Jamboree weekend on my calendar. See you there.