As you can probably imagine, we get a lot of opportunities to hit the trail with new people in new places. One drawback, however, is that we most often reach these destinations via a red-eye plane ride and rental car, and rarely get a chance to test our own vehicle's ability. Left to ride shotgun, we usually end up hiking a good bit and seeking thrills in how close we can get to a charging vehicle to capture the best photograph. Don't get us wrong: It's a great time. But anyone who's ever watched the fun from the sidelines for more than a few trips in a row can certainly concur that being behind the wheel in your own rig is the best way to experience a trail.
Well aware of our yearning to "just go 'wheeling," Jeff Mello of the Contra Costa Jeepers in Northern California insisted that he had just the trip for us. Situated on private land along the Stanislaus River, the site has served as a base camp for CC Jeepers club trips for more than 30 years. In a unique arrangement with the landowners, the club is permitted to camp in the area and travel the many trails that traverse through it. In exchange, the club tends to the area trails, packing out what it packed in and leaving nary a mark of its presence.
We met up with the first volley of CC Jeepers on a Thursday morning, after sleeping in the truck overnight recovering from the lengthy tow up from down south. A steady flow of club members continued to filter in through the following days, providing fresh faces to meet and more tires to kick as we chatted it up around the campfire. With the vast area before us, we traded off playing among the rocks at the edge of a dry creek bed and tackling old cattle routes, often clearing fallen timber from the path. The final evening brought the club pot luck and a few games of glow-stick horseshoes, proving once and for all that the CC Jeepers did in fact have just the event for us.
We hit the road early the following morning, frowning at the prospect of the long drive home, but immensely satisfied with our time out from behind the camera and instead in the driver seat. The TJ had served us well and survived the challenges we threw it. But even as we traveled south on I-5, staring at a smiling Jeep in the rearview mirror, we couldn't help but start to plan for our next trip; even one with the camera, where we'd hike instead of drive, because 'wheeling is 'wheeling, no matter how you cut it. It's just fun like that.
Contra Costa Jeepers
Established in 1966, the Contra Costa Jeepers is a family oriented club, with members throughout Contra Costa County and associate members in Truckee, California; Placerville, California; and Denver. The club runs trails year-round throughout the Sierras, as well as in Johnson Valley, California; Coos Bay, Oregon; Colorado; and Canada. Many club members also compete in rockcrawling competitions. The Contra Costa Jeepers are members of the Blue Ribbon Coalition and California Association of 4 Wheel Drive Clubs.