80's on the Rubicon, Trail Report

by Andy Pollock

I know there are many people who are wondering if the 80's were able to finish the Rubicon Trail. I am here to tell you that they did, but for full disclosure, there are a few things to say first. I was driving my 40 series, so my trail impressions are not those of someone piloting an 80 series. I had a way easier time, and I salute all of my friends who went through in their 80 series trucks. Their sheet metal scars tell the "tale of the trail" far better than I ever could. It was an amazing experience, but if you get bored easily with trail talk, read no further. This got really long winded, and I apologize I am also sure that those in attendance will fill in the details that I will leave out.

This was my second trip through the Rubicon, but the first for the rest of the 80 series crew. Jim (Pismo Jim) Brantley was along in "Knuckles" his SOA FJ-60 with mucho trail experience. This was his second trip trough the Rubicon in as many months. He styled the whole way. Christo Slee joined us in the "Short Bus", his freak of an FZJ-80 with most of the body and the rear overhang cut away. What a cool rig. He drove through the whole Little Sluice. That has to be a first for an 80 series. Also from Slee Offroad was Ben in his awesome but Birfield unfriendly minitruck. He too, drove the Little Sluice after breaking his inner axle on the approach. We ate lunch and he repaired his truck. Actually, Ben had a lot of bad luck this trip. He broke his inner axle on Little Sluice, a Birfield on Big Sluice, vomited up his dinner (and some 2 carbon fragments) at Rubicon Springs, and then a bear got into his stuff, ate his power bars and Red Bull, and to top it off, he nearly rolled off Cadillac Hill. He remained poised and calm through all of that. The last representative from Slee Offroad was Robbie Antonson in his FZJ-80 who brought his son Ty age 2 in diapers. Robbie worked harder than any of us all week, and no, he didn't change any head gaskets. Also from Colorado was Nick in his FZJ-80, who had made the trip west with Christo. Sean Staplin drove all the way down from Ferney, BC (that's in Canada doncha know) in his supercharged, 35 inch tired, Lexus LX 450. Also from far away were John and Heather Hocker in their 3FE powered, 35 inch tired, FJ-80. When Heather is driving, get out of the way! Pat Takash also came in from Arizona with his son Zack. His 80 is a monster on 37's, and he had gone through the Rubicon last year with the TLCA. The local boys (and girls) were Alvaro Rodriguez and his wife Monica, who had torn off the flare on DS rear, plus other sheet metal damage, 3 weeks before on Dusy-Ershim. They were back for more on the 'Con. Doug Johnson drove up late in his pristine LX-450, and I think wins the award for the least trail damage due to some good driving and good luck. He may have been strapped more than anyone else, but he did great and brought the Lexus home in style. Derek Lee was there after some initial excitement before the trail even started in his locked and loaded '94. I actually didn't expect to see Derek, but read on if you want the story. I was there in my Rubicon tested FJ-40, but was only allowed to join the group since I own an FZJ-80 and wheeled it at Cruise Moab. My 12-year-old navigator and son Jeff rounded out the crew. On to the trail..

The excitement started early. Derek and I left Sacramento together at 2:30pm on Tuesday, aiming for Wentworth Springs in time for dinner and to set up camp. About 5 miles before Placerville at 65 mph, the absolute top speed of my FJ-40, I'm watching Derek in the rear view mirror. Funny, I thought the front wheels were supposed to stay attached to the truck. Derek's driver side didn't. Yikes-his wheel was going 70 mph down and across the freeway, and he was skidding to a stop and by a miracle didn't flip the heavily loaded truck. I had to go to the next exit and turn around and find a place to park opposite Derek and go hunting for his wheel. It had bounced through the median, over the two traffic lanes, 50 feet down a ravine, then 100 yards into the treeline and caught on a fence. I found it there, but it took 30 minutes to haul it back up to the road. I was filthy for the next 2 days after that. 2 of his wheel studs had sheared off and the lug nuts had been improperly set at the tire dealer (brand new MTR's!) the day before. The lug nuts on the other side were loose also, but hadn't come off. The tow truck arrived and towed Derek to Placerville. Derek was pretty shaken up and was planning to bag the trip, but in true Cruiser style fixed the damage, and arrived in camp in the wee hours. I drove on up to camp, meeting Alvaro and Pat along the way. On our way into camp, we met Christo in the short bus, and soon had camp set up, and dinner started. Christo had never set up his tent and paid Jeff $5 to do it. Robbie arrived with Alvaro's new J springs and soon the Hockers showed up as well. While dinner was cooking, the J springs were installed using a previously unproven but highly effective approach. Alvaro disconnected the rear shock, drove up on a tree until axle articulation was sufficient to get out the old spring and install the new. Same thing on the other side. It was too easy.

Wednesday dawned warm, early and bright, and we were on the trail at 8:30. We took the traditional approach to the Rubicon Trail, which starts in Wentworth Springs. Most people today take the more direct approach through Loon Lake and the Granite Bowl. We followed the course of a dry riverbed, up to the "Devil's Post Pile". There, most of the 80's took a bypass, but Christo, Ben, Robbie, Pat and myself climbed the lower half of the post pile, and only Christo cleared the upper half. Scary steep and off camber stuff everywhere, even on the bypass. Up at the top we got lost in the maze of granite, but finally found the trail and headed toward Walker Hill. It was harder this year with a tricky, off-camber rock in a bad place. Several of the 80's needed several attempts and some spotting to clear this spot, and then a very tippy spot at the top. Right at the top, was a very ugly boulder that hung all of the 80's on 33's and even Jim Brantley had to work to get through. We had a few Jeeps behind us at this point making snide remarks, but everyone cleared it, and we headed for Little Sluice. Last year the path was clear, but this year a rock had fallen into the middle of the trail, which made for some tight maneuvering. This was a spot that I had a pretty easy time given the short wheelbase of the 40, but the 80's had to work. Jim stopped to make a phone call to his honey at the only place with cell service on the entire trail. At the base of Little Sluice, we went into the lower part of the sluice, then hard right up a very steep climb to the slabs overlooking the hard part of the sluice. Christo went through the sluice itself, should have flipped, but didn't, and collected all the style points. Ben thought he had broken a Birfield, but when he tore it down during lunch, his inner axle was broken and required replacement. After lunch we drove to the top of the sluice, and Doug got mired in a hard stick, and required a high lift and a tow strap from Jim to gain his freedom. Next on the list was "million dollar drop" a very narrow, steep and slippery descent back on to the trail proper. The 80's did great here, although Alvaro needed a strap to get off a high center. There were sheet metal eating rocks everywhere but the huge collection of Slee Sliders and bumpers prevented most of the damage. Until we got to the turn off for Old Sluice, the trail was bouldery with one off camber spot that tipped you into a rock wall. I missed Christo and Ben climbing into the "Soup Bowl" since I was the caboose of the 80's train. There was a very tight, twisted, uphill climb, which was easy for the 40 but hard on the 80's. We all got through, then through one of the dried mud lakes, and to the turn to the entrance of Old Sluice. I had been hoping all day to do the Old Sluice, since I hadn't run it last year. However, I hadn't seen my son in 3 hours-he had hiked on ahead with Zack into the granite wilderness- and I elected to lead the group down the slabs, while the hard cores, Christo, Ben, Robbie, Pat, Jim and the Hockers cruised into the Old Sluice.

Thursday morning was leisurely. It wasn't far in miles to the Springs, so everyone relaxed and hit the trail about 9:30am. We crossed a creek, then the concrete dam of Buck Island Lake. Right after that was some very twisty and tight boulder gardens. Again, my ride through here was easy, and I salute the 80's, as it was not easy with a big vehicle. There was a loose rocky hill with a Bronco stalled in the best line to the top. His carb was running so poorly, that his friends had their lawn chairs out while he fixed it. I tried the hill first, and got a good spot from Derek over the pinch rock at the top. The 80's had to take several runs at this hill since it was loose and slippery with good potential for a rollover to the right. Nick's center difflock and airlockers called it a day at the base so we spent some time on repairs. He was able to pressurize his sliders, then activate the lockers and roll for the top. Heather Hocker had the best run of the day-full throttle, tires spinning and zoom, up the hill and through the pinch rock no problem. It was a joy to watch. Christo and Robbie, made it look easy, but of course it wasn't. Alvaro worked a bit here since he didn't have a front locker, but made it through unassisted with good driving. We cruised down the trail to the top of Big Sluice and the upper section where I had had a very tough time the year before. This year I took the far right line and went through clean, then had the 80's come through there as well. It really was too easy. Ben and Christo took the line I had taken at Rubithon 2002. Christo styled, Ben broke. Total bummer, a brand new Longfield had broken clean through at the top of the bell, plus the bell split and was impossible to remove from the knuckle. He drove to the springs in 2-wheel drive. The rock gardens of the Big Sluice were actually the hardest and most fun part of the trail. Jim and I got ahead of the group and drove down to the bridge. I lost some paint from my PS rear fender taking a different line ("Hey guys, watch this.") my only damage for the trip. The 80's had to work through some extremely off camber stuff to avoid the pinch where I lost the paint. Alvaro needed a strap from the Hockers, then Doug needed a strap from Derek. I was walking back from the bridge to the group on the trail a bear crashed across the trail 20 feet in front of me. Very cool. Once over the bridge, we still had to go the half-mile or so into the springs proper. Everyone but me took the good line up the hill, I took the bad line left into the mud and ooze, Derek, Doug and the Hockers followed. Sorry guys.. After sliding around in the mud, Derek popped out, then I got out, and then Doug got out with some serious throttle action. The Hockers got out too, but I hope someone got a picture of their 80 series nose down and almost over in the mud. My tires were too muddy to grab on the rocks, but I finally made it up and over, and into the Springs. John Powers and Jeff Kauffman drove down Cadillac in Jeff's FJ-60 to meet us in the springs.

We found a spectacular campsite in the springs thanks to Jim Brantley, and set up camp while the kids swam, caught crawdads, swung on the rope swing, etc. Christo climbed a 6-foot, tire smoking, frame banging ledge in the Short Bus-the pics should be great. That is one awesome machine. Ben jacked up the front of his mini and got to work on the broken Longfield. The rest of us drank beer, harassed Ben, took a bath in the River, and got ready for dinner. What a great dinner Alvaro and Monica provided. Skirt steaks, sausages, Chimmchurri (possible spelling error) salad and wine, all were delicious. And more wine-14 bottles in fact. After dinner we sat around the campfire, told lies and drank the wine. Someone ended up with my corkscrew. Sean fell down over a rock and wasn't seen until late the next day. We later learned that he crawled off to sleep in his cruiser. Jeff and I went to bed with the party winding down, but woke to the sounds of retching a few hours later-someone was feeling the effects of all that wine and good food. During that night, a bear raided Ben's truck and made off with his Power Bars and Red Bull. That bear probably hasn't slept since.

The next morning, we ate, packed and began the drive out Cadillac Hill. I was in front and got a bit hung at the steep hairpin at the bottom. Monica Rodriguez was riding co-pilot to see what real 4-wheeling is like (Bouncy!) More tippy lurching around, but the 40 wouldn't go without the front locker engaged. Finally, I went through, avoided the steep drop to the outside and went on up the trail. I had had exactly the same problem the year before in the same spot, but didn't need a strap this time, so I guess that's a victory of sorts. I was in front, and so didn't see the 80's clean this spot, but they all made it. Sean collected his only damage of the trip here, with a bent slider, and some scuffed paint. Ben slipped off the trail to the outside and almost went down the long outside drop, but Christo strapped him back onto the trail. It could have been ugly. We then climbed up to observation point for photo's and lunch. There is a little more rocky, ledgey stuff between Observation and Lake Tahoe, but everyone cleared it and completed the run.

So that's the tale of the 80's on the Rubicon. It is impossible to tell all the stories. The people that didn't get mentioned much like Pat and Nick, just did too good a job to create the havoc that makes for a good story. Robbie drove, worked on his truck, took care of Ty and still managed to have a good time. Derek recovered from a near death experience and still completed the Rubicon. The Hockers did some cool damage in Old Sluice and still maintained good attitudes the entire time. Sean failed his trailside drunk test and still got up and went the next day. Alvaro was still modifying his truck the night before departure, and cleaned the trail without a front locker-good job! Jim showed his Rubicon experience and went through with no damage for a clean run. Ben-he had enough bad luck to insure a year of break-free 4 wheeling. Christo's truck is too good. He made everything look easy. I made it through without an engine fire-first time this month.

I'll leave it to others to correct the mistakes, exaggerations and outright lies above. I hope someone post pictures. This was a great group of people and a great trip on a tough trail. I get to do it again in 2 weeks. Cool.

Andrew Pollock
Sacramento, CA