Category Archives: 2009 Rubicon Off Road Adventure

The first time we made this trip, we had no idea of what we were getting ourselves into. It didn’t take long to figure out what kind of an adventure we were in for.

toyota fj cruisers and toyota fj80 rubicon trail

We’re Big In Japan

Japanese land cruiser magazine indexRemember our Rubicon Trail off-road adventure, the “2009 Metal Tech Invitational”?  I know you do…  Cause I don’t want to hear we do all this for nothing…  Ok maybe not for nothing… We do have a blast!

Well one of the members of the team on that off-road adventure was Yoshi, a photographer and writer for Japanese Land Cruiser Magazine.  Yoshi’s pictures and story hit news stands in Japan and sure enough Hula Betty and the Blue Bunny made the cut.

Turns out Japanese readers love seeing all the great places there are in the USA to drive off-road and reading about the Toyota trucks we build to make take on those off-road adventures.

Now if we only read Japanese…  I hope they spelled Hula Betty correctly.

fj cruiser fj80 rubicon trail

Veni, vidi, vici

metal tech 4x4 toyota fj80 rubicon trailWe came, We saw, We Kick Some Off-Road Ass…

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.

2009 rubicon trail adventure day 2 tumbnails

Surviving Rubicon… Out The Other End

loon lake reflection rubicon trailSo 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.  silver fj cruiser metal tech tube doors metal tech tube bumper rubicon trail rocksNo 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. rubicon trail packed rocks toyota fj cruiser 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.

fj cruisers In rubicon trail treesA 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.

toyota fj cruisers big sluice rubicon trailAll 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.camo fj cruiser climbing rock shelf rubicon trail

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.

fj cruiser roof top tent climbing boulder rubicon trailThe 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.

fj cruiser rubicon trail sign 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.metal tech fj cruiser Big Sluice rubicon trail

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 voodoo blue fj cruiser roof top tent rubicon trail boulders

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 cruisers rubicon trail lookout

We survived the Con…  and that is saying something.

We have way too many photos to publish alongside this story and you can see them all on our Flicker Rubicon Trail Adventure day pictures.

metal tech 4x4 fj 80 land cruiser rubicon trail

Oh My Hell… This Is Rubicon!

fj cruisers fj80 lined up on 4x4 trail100 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.

boulders rocks and tire marks on Rubicon TrailUntil 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 cruiser decending steep rock face rubicon trail

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.

fj cruiser RTT boulders rubicon trailThe 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.

camo fj cruiser tube doors snorkle long travelRunning 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.

FJ80 repair rubicon trailAt 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.silver fj cruiser tube doors tube bumper boulders rubicon trail

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.the slab rubicon trail fj cruisers

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.

buck island lake rubicon trailAs 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.

Want more pictures from day 1…  You’ll find more on 2009 Rubicon Trail off-road adventure day 1 photos on Flickr…  There are a lot of good photos that couldn’t all fit here.


fj cruiser driving ice house road

It All Begins At Loon Lake

head shot profile man hat sunglasses- FrankAfter 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.

man head shot profile - TimBoth 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.

camo wrap fj cruiser

The Gang Is Mostly Here

close up of man face - BerndToday was the day the gang (or at least most of them) came into town.

Bernd is joining the group from Portland along with his son.  I met Bernd a couple of years back in Ouray, Co. at the second annual FJ Summit.  Since then I’ve had a few opportunities to run trails with him including a night 4×4 trails at Browns Camp.  I always like letting Bernd go first.  I know he will pick the hardest, most gnarly line to try out…  And he’ll make it…  I than look at all the rest and pick the easy one.close up man face - Nick

Until today I’d never met Nick, but he and I know each other from the forums.  Nick is a good’ol boy out of south Texas and he doesn’t seem to mind that I have a bit of Okie in me.  After meeting Nick, it turns out he is just as nice in person as he is on the forums.  Nick’s wheeling experience goes back generations starting with his grandfather and an old Willys that came out of the war.  Nick shipped his rig over and flew in…  but there was still a little work to be done on his rig today including the install of new skids and swapping out his doors.  Of course for a bunch of guys hanging out on a Saturday before a big off road adventure on the Rubicon…  this was just what we needed.  This and a some adult beverages.

close up man face sunglasses - LTTravis (LT) is definitely the cool young Turk of the group. You’ll never meet a genuinely nicer guy…  and he’s single girls.  As the other half of Metal Tech, LT runs the production floor and is the guy who has given me an appreciation of some (I did say some) death metal.  I figure, if you’re going to wheel a trail that you could blow apart something on your rig, than LT is the guy to have around to fix it.  It was LT who first ask if I would be interested in joining them on the Rubicon Trail and I still can’t believe I’m here with him.  LT usually wheels his built FJ 40, but for this trip he’s running in the FJ80 as support, just in case one of us need a little pull to get over some obstacle.head shot japanese man - yoshi

Yoshi is our long distance travel winner for this off road adventure.  Yoshi and his family flew in from Japan for a chance to be on the Rubicon Trail.  Turns out he is a freelance photo journalist and editor on assignment for a Japanese 4×4 magazine.  He has traveled to the states write about our off road adventure on the Rubicon Trail and see first hand some of the wheeling capabilities of the Toyota FJ Cruisers.  Yoshi and his family will be riding in the FJ80 with LT.  I have already picked up a few tips on photo shoots just watching him work and can’t wait to see him work on the trail.

Our host Mark has probably forgotten more about Toyota Land Cruisers and wheeling than I will ever know.  Anyone who reads this website knows what a great guy I think Mark is…  He always knows what to say to put you at ease whether you’re 8 or 48, he just knows how to connect with head shot - Mark

It says a lot about a guy who is willing to go through all the trouble it takes to put a trip like this together and do it because he wants everyone to enjoy the sport of off road wheeling as much as he does.

One driver more will be joining the group in the morning at the trail head and I’ll provide proper introductions than.

As I finish repacking the cameras, video equipment and gear for the early morning start, I can’t help but think how lucky I am to have an opportunity like this to wheel with some of the nicest folks, on one of the most famous 4×4 trails the world.  If I pay attention, keep my mouth shut, watch and listen there is a good chance I’ll learn something and maybe, just maybe, escape it without too much carnage.  I really must be living right.

farm land along I5

I-5 All The Way…

FJ Tug in the side mirrorLike a kid on Christmas Eve, I slept about an hour, double and triple checking my mental list of gear for the big Rubicon off-road adventure.  As soon as the clock ticked 9:00 a.m. I was out the door and racing to Metal Tech to meet Mark and caravan down from Portland to Sacramento.

Well the plan was to leave…  and you know the say about the best laid plans…

Turns out Mark got a call from a Three Letter Television Company (Top Gear Bolivia Adventure) to be technical adviser for an up coming shoot for a top secret project where they would be using a Japanese old school 4×4 rig in the middle of no where….  There is certainly no one better to have on your team than the guys from Metal Tech, but that meant Mark was a little busy working the phones, tracking down parts and loading the rig for the Con.

View Larger Map

10:00 a.m., turned into noon, turned into 2:00 p.m. and at 2:47 p.m. we hit the road.  Sacramento, Ca. is 580 miles south of Portland, Or. and requires two turns…  Turn on to I-5, drive straight, turn off I-5.  Thanks to CBs the miles seemed to fly by…  those of you who know Mark, know he is full of great stories and I listened to them all…  I never knew there was Suicide Girls karaoke in Portland…

Leaving late meant we would be avoiding the heat, although cruising by Yreke at 9:30 p.m. the outside temp still read in high 80’s. And by the time Redding, Ca. was in sight, the temp hadn’t dropped much.  But Redding meant In-N-Out Burger and by 10:00 p.m. nothing sounded better than an order of burgers, fries and vanilla shake… Yum!

Midnight, 1:00 a.m. and finally as the clock clicked off 2:00 a.m., the lights of Sacramento sparkled in front of us.  After 580 miles and some 10 hours on the road, the thought of clean, crisp sheets and a soft pillow is racing through my mind as I finish writing this story and look forward to tomorrow’s meetup.

Little Sluice rubicon trail over time

Whooo Hooo! Blue Bunny on the CON!

That was the the message I received back after I let Mark (those of you who remember the tail of the Blue Bunny understand Mark’s affection for the nick name) know I would be able to join him on Metal Tech ‘s Rubicon Trail adventure planned for the end of summer.

As off-road adventures go, the Rubicon Trail (Rubicon Trail Map) is perhaps one of the most well known off-road 4×4 trails in the world. With claim to the birthplace of rock crawling and a rich history that dates back to the 1950’s.   The Con combines breath taking scenery with extreme off-road challenge.   Most of the trail consists of large boulders and rocky terrain. When the rocks abate, the trail go across huge granite slabs which have steep inclines and sharp drop offs. This trail is not for the faint at heart! Did I mention it is rated a ‘Most Difficult’ 10.

Mark’s plan is for the group to meet up in Sacramento and spend the night in a hotel (so far I like his plan)…  Head up the Rubicon Trail on Sunday spending the night under the stars at Buck Island Lake and than Monday wind our way through Rubicon Springs, up to Lake Tahoe and back to Sacramento.

This will be a small group of Toyota FJ Cruisers with folks coming in from Texas, Colorado and now Poulsbo… This trip will put my skills and the rig’s IFS Long Travel to the test.  And while I’m not counting on much help from Hula Betty (although she has a great view from the dash) I know Mark’s experience, patience and ability to fix just about anything I break will make this an adventure to remember….  Curious about the trip?  Keep reading Rubicon Trail the ultimate 4×4 adventure.