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A New Way to Rubicon

The Rubicon Trail is one of those bucket-list Jeep trails. For those who are on their first crossing, it's a new adventure around every corner of the trail. For those on their umpteenth crossing, it still holds surprises. We fall somewhere in between, but every time we go, we are thrilled to be there.

Its terrain changes every year due to runoff from storms and snowmelt, and the trail can even change within a few weeks or days as a result of the constant churning of tires across its length. The Rubicon's steep climbs and descents, drop-offs, large rocks, very large rocks, rock-filled gullies, and tight turns with rocks and trees acting as immovable pylons all present themselves before your tires—for hours on end. The constant rowing of the steering wheel back and forth, mingled with moments of hard pressure on the brake pedal, gentle pressure on the gas, or controlled bursts of power when needed will make you feel like you spent the day working out. Then you'll have a good night's sleep, one of the best of your life, under a million stars.

Originally the trail began in Georgetown, and you can still start there, but the route has been paved all the way through Wentworth Springs to Loon Lake. To cut off all those extra road miles, most people now start at Loon Lake. It's no less than 17 miles from pavement at Loon Lake to pavement in Tahoma (Lake Tahoe), on what can only be described as an extreme off-road trail through the forest-covered and lake-dotted high-mountain landscape of California's Sierra Nevada. Seventeen miles may not seem like much, but in between is a never-ending sequence of some of the most challenging and enjoyable four-wheeling the world has to offer.

Regardless of where you start, the Rubicon Trail is an iconic passage with a history. The trail was known as the Rubicon/McKinney Road and was established in the 1800s as a stagecoach road to resort hotels located at Wentworth Springs and Rubicon Springs between Georgetown and Lake Tahoe. The hotels had long been gone and the trail was badly deteriorated by the time a small group of Georgetown businessmen decided it should be the route of the first Jeepers Jamboree across the Rubicon Trail in 1953.

There are a few ways to do the Rubicon. You can run it solo, which no one would recommend, as that's just asking for trouble. Or you can join one of the large organized runs such as the Jeepers Jamboree, if you're cool with sharing the trail and any campgrounds with 400 or more Jeeps and over a 1,000 people all on the same day. Then there's the way we like to do it it —with a reasonable number of friends. The 2019 Modern Jeeper Adventures Rubicon Trail event was just that, a small group limited to 12 Jeeps, plus about half as many guides and other support personnel (such as a couple of mechanics and a medic) and their Jeeps. Within a few minutes of meeting and checking out each other's rigs, we were all friends.

Our starting point was Modern Jeeper Adventures headquarters in Rancho Cordova, California, for final registration and tech inspection of all vehicles. Next was a brief visit to the nearby Prairie City SVRA so drivers could warm up their skills and make a final all-systems check on their vehicles. Then it was off to Loon Lake Chalet for our first night out. Although most camped in the surrounding parking area, the Chalet offered a kitchen, dining area, and sleeping quarters perched above the southern shoreline of Loon Lake. It also provided us a fresh start at the trailhead the next morning. After a hardy catered breakfast, we hit the trail and made our way to a private camp on Spider Lake by midafternoon; the day was highlighted by crossing the picturesque Granite Bowl and navigating the sometimes-troublesome Little Sluice. Another great breakfast and we were makin' miles, with a quick lunch stop and swim at Buck Island, a slow-motion roller coaster ride down Big Sluice, and then a bonfire and steak dinner that night in Rubicon Springs.

Our last day on the trail was spent climbing out of the gorge via Cadillac Hill, which was as nasty as ever, but before hitting the pavement, Modern Jeeper Adventures had one more surprise under their hat. After getting to the top, our caravan bumped along for a while before turning up to a "secret spot," where one last catered lunch awaited us. From there the spectacular view looking down into the deep valley revealed our three-night Jeep adventure in the landscape below, stretching from Loon Lake to Spider Lake to Rubicon Springs hidden deep in the forest. If this sounds like the way you'd like to do the Rubicon Trail or you are interested in any of their other events, contact Modern Jeeper Adventures at modernjeeper.com.