If you follow our off-road adventure and please tell me you do, than you know we recently returned from the Rubicon trail. And I’m sure you read the stories and saw the pictures… Right!
So if a picture is worth a 1,000 words, than video must be priceless. Well here are four (yes count them four) videos that will give you a little better idea of the boulder strewn demilitarized zone hell we traveled just to say we did it.
Off-road adventure video 1 shares the story of Bernd wheeling the Rubicon.
4×4 adventure video 2 shows Nick in all his glory on the 2009 Metal Tech Invitational.
Video 3 gives you a look at Frank and his battle with the Rubicon 4×4 trail.
And finally Blue Bunny shares a different look at the Rubicon trail.
The world has gone from cave drawings to 8mm to VHS (we’ll skip the whole Betamax debacle) to digital to HD to You Tube and who knows where it will go next. The technology may change and videos may fad but the memories we made will last a life time.
So how do you become an internationally recognized off road driving, winching and safety trainer? Well if you are Bill Burke you start with a resume that looks like:
One of 2-person team to represent America in the Camel Trophy, a grueling 1200-mile rally across Africa (1991)
Developed and presented Camp Rover West, now known as “On the Road…”, practical driver training seminars and guided trail rides for 4-wheel drive/SUVs and their owners
4-Wheel Drive Training Editor, 4WD Toyota Owner magazine
Teach 4-wheel drive techniques and environmental awareness to U.S. Forest Service and Department of Interior including U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Inter-agency Fire Response Team, U.S. State Department, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) on an ongoing basis
Instituted Toyota Technical Center 4-wheel drive training program for Toyota Motors’ Worldwide in-house Certification
Provided 4×4 safety training to managers who are responsible for mining exploration and operations in the Andes through Mark One S.A., Lima, Peru
Provide input to Toyota engineers on FJ Cruiser design
What Bill’s 4×4 adventure list doesn’t even begin show is his skills or easy going, no nonsense, hands on approach to training.
Did I mention there is a bit of unconventionality in his methods. Let me explain…
Bill had us drive on a course he laid out that weaved across the trail, down the ditch, squeezing between the log and that big sharp snag on the right, back over the ditch around his rig, over the other log around the other side of the trail, past the bush pile and finally squeezing through the rock and log back onto the trail… BLIND FOLDED!
And when we all made it safely… Bill had us do it again in REVERSE… BLIND FOLDED… Welcome to spotting and trusting your spotter… Use the Force Luke.
A big part of the training involved running the trail without A-track or rear lockers in order to keep us focused on picking the right lines and thinking about traction aids as tools to be used when necessary not crutches for bad line selection.
So you own a hi-lift jack. Any idea how to use it correctly? Do you know how to set it up and use it as a winch? We do now… and a little tip… carry a rolled up magazine so you can shorten a winch rope or tow strap. Once you know how to use a hi-lift jack correctly, they are not so scary and open up a truck load of options for getting yourself unstuck.
We ran a number of winching scenarios in order to practice assessing the situation, working with the driver, coordinating help, setting our rigging, hand signals, and getting the rig through the obstacle.
Bill runs a Land Rover Defender 90, but as part of the initial Toyota FJ Cruiser prototype test drivers he provided feedback to the Toyota engineering design team. His knowledge of the Toyota FJ Cruiser is very deep. Bill effortlessly rattled off FJ Cruiser ring and pinion gearing, electrical schematics, suspension geometry and drive train specs followed by explaining how the components affected our wheeling capabilities.
Whether on the trail, around the camp fire or during a lunch break, Bill shared his knowledge in a way us mere mortals could understand. Over the three days course Bill never seemed to run out of good information to share with all of us.
Done right wheeling can provide a lifetime of learning and Bill Burke’s training was a big step forward in filling the mental rolodex with information that can ensure we get back home safely or avoid trouble all together.
So you want to run the Rubicon Trail… And who wouldn’t… But what does it mean to survive the Con? For us it meant two long hard days on off-road trail with some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. It also meant a little carnage, a lot of fun and an experience we’ll never forget.
One thing to remember about running the Rubicon Trail is that the trail is one rig wide most of the way. No matter how many rigs are in your group, If you get stuck… It is only you, the rig in front of you and the one directly behind that can help. Think about that if only one or two rigs are set up for recovery.
Until the day before this off-road adventure the only skids on our rig were the paper thin factory gravel guards. Luckily Mark saw that and found an old front skid that could be bolted into place. This skid was by no means a thing of beauty, but it was 1/4 inch steel and would protect the engine as well as keep a nice approach angle. Mark made me deal… The skid was free, but each scratch would cost $10… I think that turned out to be a $1,000 skid… But we worked out a fair trade… Remember the 90w we poured into the 80 Series day 1 on the Rubicon… well guess where it came from? The rest of the crew sported full skids and were able to slide over boulders that hung Hula Betty and I up. So yes… You should have a full set of skids.
A big part of negotiating large tight obstacles is to plant your sliders on the rock, give it some gas and pivot around. More often than not I would hear one of the spotters yell, “Ok your slider is working for you… come on around”. Additionally, more than once the sliders were the only thing between our door sills and the granite. Without our Metal Tech sliders, we would be spending time in the body shop, a lot of time. Sliders are another must for the trail.
All the rigs were sporting a winch. And all the rigs used their winch at least once. Ours in fact only had one use in it before giving up the ghost but that one use was what it took to get off a big rock we had high centered on… Without full skids, there is a nice open hole around the transfer case that will sit nicely on a rock. Once you have a boulder wedged in your frame you have all the traction of a turtle on it’s back. The winches and tow straps were a big plus especially when we got to Big Sluice… Boulders, more boulders and a few really big boulders thrown in for fun. Getting high centered is not all it is cracked up to be.
All but one of the rigs were sporting 33″ tires. And when Nick walked over everything with his 35″ tires… We all had tire envy! We made it with 33″ tires but Nick’s extra clearance defiantly gave him an edge. Of course it didn’t hurt that he’s a good driver who knows how to wheel what he brung.
The FJ Cruisers in our group could be divided into two groups. Standard 3″ lifts and those sporting Total Chaos 2″ long travel kits. The long travel certainly gave us the extra reach that allowed our tires to maintain traction and forward momentum when the 3″ lifts fell a little short. The extra travel also gave us a bit more confidence when it came to swinging high without any trouble in the off camber stuff.
The Toyota Trails Team has taken a stock rig through the Rubicon… ONCE… and they also got completely shut down another time… You just don’t know what you will find year to year. We saw plenty of Jeeps with 6″ lifts and 37″ tires… They didn’t have trouble on the big rocks. But than again they didn’t have as much fun as we did playing chess with our lines in the boulders.
You hear about how weak the IFS front end is. And yes if you turn the wheel… punch the gas and start hopping on a rock… you will brake a half shaft. We carefully worked the skinny peddle and picked our lines accordingly… NO ONE broke an axle… Of course we had several spare half shafts… we just didn’t need them. We also were able to use the IFS’ off camber abilities to negotiate the rocks in ways the solid axle guys can’t. Not that IFS is better… it is just different and don’t let anyone tell you an IFS rig wont make it… You will just have to work a line differently than the solid axle guys.
Some in the group did pick up a few body panel dings and the under side of our rig was polished up nicely by the granite. We even managed to shed those self ejecting rear bumper corners coming down off a tall shelf, but all in all everyone of the FJ Cruisers performed well. If you think that is no big deal than let me tell you about the guy we met on Cadillac Hill. He had been waiting on the side of the trail for two days. He blew up his steering box and his partner had gone out for to find another. His Jeep was well built and he was prepared but the Con shows no mercy.
We survived the Rubicon trail. Not because we were the most built rigs out there. Not because we had more experience than the rest. Not even because we better prepared… We survived because we had a good trail boss (Mark and LT) and we kept our heads no matter how crazy the trail got. The best mod for your off-road adventure rig on any trail is a smart calm driver and a good attitude. Everyone in our group had it all together.
We survived the Con… and that is saying something.
100 yards into this off-road adventure and we’re breaking out the hi-lifts… Welcome to the Rubicon Trail! We’d heard tales, read about it on-line and seen pictures… But until you are facing down the Rubicon Trail’s boulders, it is hard to understand the knot that wells up in your stomach as you realize… this is wheeling… on the big stuff.
Until now most of the off-road trails we’d run have their obligatory little rock garden you can play on or easily by-pass. The Rubicon Trial is one giant rock garden… and that is the by pass. Gate Keeper is just that, originally designed to stop tourists and all but the most heavily built rock crawlers. These days, after a little dynamite a while back, its a bit more friendly allowing us to pass in our puny 33″ tires and 3+ inch lift long travel.
We drove 798 miles down from Seattle just to wheel 6 miles of rock and dirt the entire first day. The Rubicon is a giant granite mountain basin, and when I say off-road trail, think some dirt holding boulders in place and a cliff edge thrown in every once in awhile to pit your survival instincts against your desire to keep the body panels off the high side ledges. Never the same, each year the snow and ice of the Eldorados erodes the soft dirt away exposing more of the granite chunks and changing the trail so it is never the same. But the the Rubicon Trail’s history is rich and stead fast with names like Gate Keeper, Little Sluice, Walker Rock, The Slab… marking our progress on day one.
The sound that metal and granite make when they occupy the same space in time can be a bit disheartening… On the one hand there is the KATHUNK as the rig crashes down on the granite bashing skid plates and frame against the boulder below or your diff stopping your forward progress as it fails to clear the rock… The other sound is the scream of metal as sliders rip along the boulders leaving paint and steel behind. Like flesh being scraped from your chin as you slide across the gravelly tarmac face first leaving the faint hint of blood behind the sliders mark your forward progress. All day long these sounds echoed down the canyons and announced our presence on the trail.
Running second in the group was both a blessing and a curse… Following Mark, our trail leader, gave me clear visibility of the lines he skillfully choose as he picked his way through the fields of boulders… However within moments Mark would be around the corner and onto the next line while I was left to focus on where in the mine field I was and how I was going to move on without loosing an appendage. Mark made it look easy… I was just glad to make it.
At the trail head the 80 series, our support rig, was a little low on diff fluid so it was topped off. On the trail the 80 series dropped its differential drain plug spewing out every drop of its 90 weight. Following the blood trail back to the diff plug and sopping up the mess took a little time. Add to that the plug taken a beating on the rocks before coming loose and we were into this repair an hour or so before finally adding more diff fluid and buttoning it all up.
Picking through boulders which opened up onto vast granite slabs and shelves followed by narrow walled passes defined the day. And what a long day… Loon Lake to Buck Island Lake is only six miles, yet it wasn’t until sunset that we pulled onto the granite slab we would call home for the night. Exhilarated and exhausted we pried our hands from the steering wheel and unpacked our gear to set up camp by the light of our headlamps.
Around the camp lantern we ate and chatted… We didn’t talk much about the day’s ordeal, instead sharing what brought each of us to this place in life and comparing mountain biking scars. At 6,700 feet the night falls hard and by 10:00 p.m. we were retiring to our tents to recover from the long day and hide in our sleeping bags from the cold.
As I stared up at the stars from by bag, I was reminded of just how small we are in the universe and how lucky I was to be on this Rubicon Trail off-road adventure. Few people are given the opportunity to chase their dreams and fewer still do… Oh My Hell… I’m on the Rubicon Trail and loving it.
After a night in Sacramento, CA. it was time to get started and that meant driving out to the trail head. This had to be the longest drive ever… Although it only took an hour or so, it seemed like days as we wound past places named Coloma, Georgetown, Placerville, and Ice House up through the last steep twisting bit of road. This was really it… The Rubicon Trail!
Rolling into Loon Lake, the jumping off point for our Rubicon off-road adventure, we met up with the last of our group, Frank and Tim.
As the owner of a custom bike business, Frank doesn’t discriminate between two and four wheels when it comes to off-road adventures. Frank drove in from Colorado in his Voodoo Blue Toyota FJ Cruiser sporting a roof top Shangri-La and outfitted for bear.
When Frank got the invite from Mark, he immediately called Tim who hails from Sacramento. As a local, Tim knows the trail and provides us with an extra set of eyes for spotting through the big rocks. There are a lot of big rocks and tight spaces on the Rubicon Trail, those extra eyes will come in handy.
Both Frank and Tim are the kind of easy going guys you want to hang out with which is good since all of us are going to be spending the next two days together on the Rubicon Trail.
The group is now complete. Seven guys, five Toyota FJ Cruisers and one Toyota 80 series as transportation for Yoshi’s family over the trail and emergency support just in case the trail extracts a toll for our passage.
The Annual Metal Tech Invitational Rubicon Trail off-road adventure was shaping up to be everything we could hope for… We were heading off on one of the most famous trails in the world with a great group of guys. Who could ask for more.
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