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Top Reasons to Cross the ’Con With Jeep Jamboree USA

Posted in Events on October 6, 2015
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Photographers: Ashley Hill

Rubicon, that funny word, has many definitions. It’s the trail where Jeeping originated. It’s the namesake of the most capable out-of-the-box Jeep to date. And it’s a very special place for off-road enthusiasts of all brands. Wife of Jeep Jamboree USA founder Mark A. Smith muses, “Mark found Shangri-La [when he discovered the Rubicon]. We were honeymooning in Georgetown, California, but we had jobs in Las Vegas. We had to call them and tell them we weren’t coming back.”

A trip over the Rubicon isn’t just a drive down a dirt road; it’s people, a place, and a thing. It’s a day of 4-wheeling ending with everyone leaning a little closer to the campfire and laughing together about that new dent, that awesome maneuver over a tricky obstacle, or that power steering hose busting loose when your gal took the wheel.

You don’t have to be off-road legends like the Smiths to cross the Rubicon. To have a legendary experience, just sign up with Jeep Jamboree USA for the five-star Rubicon adventure. This trail is a great place to drive by yourself (but that’s no fun), with your family, or with your girl (or guy). Ride along as your special someone drives, or even have Dad as a spotter. We’ve seen it all. This past August we went with some Jeepin’ friends. We want to share the top reasons to cross the ’Con with Jeep Jamboree USA and convince you to do the same.

Irene Smith has been the Mother Superior of the Rubicon Trail since 1953. “When the trail would get rough, Mark would get out and help people, and I would drive,” she says. “People would say, ‘Oh my God, it’s a woman driving!’ I was trained on a regular Jeep without power steering. They’d put the windshield down, and I’d be like Grandma Moses leading the way. This year we had 37 kids on the trip. It really brings families together.”
Still wary as to whether you and your Jeep are Rubicon ready? Almost any Jeep model can pass the test (although the ones with the Rubicon parts inside are definitely capable). This year on the trip were six CJs, three YJs, 12 TJs, 11 TJ Rubicons, 13 two-door JKs, 23 four-door JKs, one Cherokee, and 43 modified vehicles. Two hundred and fifty-four adults and 39 kids participated in the 18th annual Jeep Jamboree Rubicon trail ride.
Thuy (pronounced Twee) Davis took her 2015 Rubicon and fiancé Jim Ireland along for the ride. Her rig is outfitted with a Rubicon Express 2 1/2-inch lift, Bilstein monotube shocks, Fuel Maverick wheels, 33-inch tires, Smittybilt rock sliders, a Fox Racing steering stabilizer, Poison Spyder differential covers, and Rock Hard skidplates.
Cody Willis and his father, Bob, are no strangers to the off-road world. Bob works for Rancho Suspension and has had Cody behind the wheel for years. Cody’s take on the toughness of the trail? “The Rubicon is in the middle of the road, great for beginners to intermediate Jeepers,” he says. “We drove through without any damage.” Although, in our experience, even advanced drivers will have plenty of fun on the Rubicon.
From the moment your group makes it to Rubicon Springs, it’s time to relax. You can bring any supplies you’d like, but the team provides everything not mechanically related, including seven meals. Pearse Umlauf, vice president of MASOR/Jeep Jamboree USA, says, “We even fly in beer via helicopter just in case you forgot yours at home.”
The adventure begins in Georgetown, California, at Jeep Jamobree USA headquarters with a 45-minute on-road drive through the Sierras en route to Loon Lake Dam and the 4x4 trailhead. The recreational portion is about 22 miles, in which participants travel from Loon Lake to Rubicon Springs on Friday then from the springs to South Lake Tahoe on Sunday.
Glenda Gau, advisor for Jeep Jamboree USA, says that what makes the jamboree so special is that it is a family-oriented weekend. Irene Smith adds, “For the children, they attend a Rubicon trip with their parents, and then they are inspired to buy a Jeep and become our trail guides.” Saturday evening, after swimming, hiking, and a steak and potato dinner, the event staff builds a large fire for everyone to enjoy. For most of the kids the memory of that fire never fades.
One thing that makes the Rubicon Jamboree a cut above the rest is that it is the only one of their 30 nationwide events where you “rough it” for three nights. What if it rains, you ask? Thuy Davis says, “Our group came prepared with tarps, which we tied to the trees and over our tents. If it rains we’ll be cozy sitting under the tarps enjoying wine with friends.”
Jeep Jamboree rates the trail difficulty at 10, and 4-Lo is a must. Although with over 50 guides and spotters, the trail is maintained and there are bypasses for well-known and challenging obstacles, such as Little Sluice. Thirty-eight percent of patrons of a Jamboree are first-timers, but like Davis, many are repeat offenders—um, attenders. No one is left behind.
Nena Barlow, as seen here, is one girl who doesn’t need a man to lead the way. Owner of Barlow’s Adventures, she guides tours throughout the southwest. She is also a certified drive coach by the International 4WD Trainers’ Association. If you’re not one for setting up camp, Jeep Jamboree USA and Barlow’s Adventures have collaborated to provide an optional Platinum Experience in which one helicopters in from Squaw Creek in Lake Tahoe and jumps in a borrowed vehicle, which they can wheel to an awaiting cot by the river.
Nena Barlow, as seen here, is one girl who doesn’t need a man to lead the way. Owner of Barlow’s Adventures, she guides tours throughout the southwest. She is also a certified drive coach by the International 4WD Trainers’ Association. If you’re not one for setting up camp, Jeep Jamboree USA and Barlow’s Adventures have collaborated to provide an optional Platinum Experience in which one helicopters in from Squaw Creek in Lake Tahoe and jumps in a borrowed vehicle, which they can wheel to an awaiting cot by the river.
Mary Bacon was on her way to another Jamboree when her previous Jeep decided its days on the trail were numbered. She immediately traded her old Jeep for this 2015 Rubicon and christened it on her first trip across the Rubicon Trail. She calls Cadillac Hill (a series of hairpin turns leading to Lake Tahoe from Rubicon Springs driven on the final day) the most challenging aspect of the weekend.
Mary Bacon was on her way to another Jamboree when her previous Jeep decided its days on the trail were numbered. She immediately traded her old Jeep for this 2015 Rubicon and christened it on her first trip across the Rubicon Trail. She calls Cadillac Hill (a series of hairpin turns leading to Lake Tahoe from Rubicon Springs driven on the final day) the most challenging aspect of the weekend.
Traveling through the El Dorado National Forest in a large group such as this has its advantages. Red Group, the first to depart, begins snaking through the entrance to the forest around 7 a.m. and makes it to Spider Lake by midmorning. Lunch is a “stop when you want to” thing. There are plenty of opportunities to jump out and enjoy the view.

Trail Tips for Rookies, Newbies & First-Timers
Thinking of crossing the Rubicon Trail for the first time? Maybe it’s your first time driving off-road ever? Or maybe your significant other needs convincing to go on this iconic trail ride with you? Here’s some advice from those that have successfully conquered the ’Con.

What will we eat?
Mark was a cowboy, and he liked to cook. Now the food is so sophisticated. We try to fly in the best! [Awesome steaks! —Ed.] Mark’s favorite lunch was chicken fingers and brownies. The brownies have become so popular that people can order them year-round. —Irene Smith

Are the obstacles really hard, and will they damage my Jeep?
The obstacles can be exciting, but if you’re properly armored (skidplates and rock sliders) and follow the trail guides’ instructions, you will have little or no damage. The trail left a minor “kiss” in the front [of a] stock bumper. At a fellow Jeeper’s suggestion, I took a silver Sharpie and wrote, ‘I kissed a rock on the Rubicon Trail’ on the bumper. Badge of honor. —Thuy Davis

Is it scary to camp in the woods?
We both had prepared to be camping in the woods. Little did we know Rubicon Springs is like a hidden oasis within the Sierra Nevada, complete with kitchen, stage, bar, and bathrooms! —Bob and Cody Willis

Are there bears?
There are no (small) bears in Rubicon. We think they’re afraid of Big Tom, a retired special operations commando who runs Rubicon Springs Base Camp. —Pearse Umlauf

Why conquer the Rubicon with Jeep Jamboree USA?
The piano was Mark’s idea. It is a special thing that we do, and it has become our tradition to fly a piano into Rubicon Springs for guests to enjoy live music. —Irene Smith

PhotosView Slideshow

Sources

Jeep Jamboree USA
Georgetown, CA 95634
530-333-4777
www.jeepjamboreeusa.com

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