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Note: Some of the photos in this trail write-up are not of the usual quality I normally post on my web site. I took about 90 minutes of video using my new digital camcorder during the trip. Some of the "still" images included here are digital grabs from the camcorder. The camera allows me to create still images from any part of the digital tape. The CCD pickup element in the camcorder is not as big (ie., the pixel count is smaller) as my Sony digital still camera, so the picture quality is a bit lower. However, I think you will enjoy them none the less and it should give you some kind of idea what the trip was like. Enjoy!
It all started with an e-mail from Robert Yates, my off-roading buddy from CA. I met Robert through the RAM-JAW newsgroup a couple of years ago. Since then, we have wheeled Death Valley and the Charouleau Gap Trail together. This time the e-mail asked me if I would be interested in a run on the Rubicon Trail in late summer. With the JU Moab 2001 run already in the works, I was not sure if I could make some time for the Rubicon. My wife was taking some time off in mid-summer to go back to Michigan to attend a couple of family weddings and take advantage of the opportunity to visit her relatives during her 3 week car trip. I put Robert on hold with a weak "maybe" and waited to see how things might shape up.
After the Moab event was finished, I gave some serious consideration to running the Rubicon. I had a handful of things I wanted done on Lady before I would consider the trail. I had done some research on the trail, gleaming info and pics from web sites that described the trail. I got some first hand info from a local Jeeper and with all of the facts (and fiction?) in front of me, I made my list of must do items. If I could get these taken care of, I would strongly consider making the run.
I had already acquired a pair of D-44 axle shafts for spares during my Round 2 build-up, but I was lacking spares for the front D-30. I also wanted to beef up the front axle housing and reinforce the lower control arm brackets too. If I could get these major issues resolved, I would be in a much better position to join my friends for a Rubicon adventure.
Robert was able to help me out with the D-30 axle shafts. He was working on a Warn hub conversion for his TJ and agreed to let me have first dibs on the stock D-30 shafts he had been using as spares. He also had a new hub to go along with the complete set of axle shafts. We agreed on a price and I statused that item as done.
After a phone call with O-R Fab, I set up a date to have my D-30 axle housing trussed. While Lady was in the shop, they also beefed up the lower control arm brackets on both axles as well as the frame end lower control arm brackets for the rear end.
With the above items taken care of, I ran a couple of local trails to make sure everything was working as expected. I started up another dialogue with Robert and the other two Jeepers that would be making the trip and the dates and other details solidified. An oil change and chassis lube were done the week before the trip. With a week to go, I was about as ready as I was ever going to be.
I met up with Robert at his house in Chino. We hooked up with a couple of other Southern CA Jeepers for a great dinner (thanks Blaine!) and I finally got to put faces with a couple of names. Robert and I left the following morning to hook up with Bruce and Michael, the other two Jeepers that were part of the group. An hour's drive found us off the freeway and at a McDonald's for a quick breakfast and gas tank top off. The four of us left for a little town NE of Sacramento. Michael had family there who would provide us with some floor space for the night.
About 200 yards from their house, Bruce's CJ-7 dies in the street.....the fault was finally traced to a intermittent crankshaft position sensor connector. A newly purchased Autozone coil resulted in yet more intermittent engine problems (that took the guys a little while to find) as we swapped ignition components in an attempt to get spark at the distributor. The end result....we postponed our Monday morning departure for 24 hours.
Tuesday morning, I was killing a few minutes, doing a final checkout while the guys were getting some coffee at the quickie mart. I grabbed my RE front track bar and was surprised to find it loose. I was even more surprised when I got a close look at the bolt.
Here is a close-up of the grade 8 bolt that holds the RE track bar in place at the frame bracket. Notice anything funny about it? Perhaps it is the stripped (or lack of) threads that are catching your attention? I should have noticed this when doing the oil change and lube the week before. I had been battling a death wobble problem since having the D-30 trussed. I can tell you that once this bolt was replaced with a good one (albeit the carefully drilled 5/8" hole I worked so hard on is now wobbled out somewhat), my front end problems immediately went away. Now I know that I did not cross thread the nut onto the bolt....and I ran it back and forth to Moab after installing the new lift (and track bar). I put it on myself and carefully handed torqued it to 175 ft. lbs. I'll be having a discussion with the folks responsible for this.
52 minutes later and 2 failed attempts at locating grade 8 hardware, we had a new bolt, nut, and lock washer in place (and 2 complete spares for my parts box). ACE Hardware was the 3rd spot we checked and found a great selection of hardware. We hit the highway and headed for the access road that leads to Loon Lake where we would start our run.
We arrived at the trail head and I immediately aired down and disconnected the front sway bar. I set Lady's 35" MT/Rs at 9 PSI and we topped off our gas tanks from my two Jerry cans. We would later find that a half tank (~9 gallons) of gas would get each of us to the end of the trail at Lake Tahoe. Better to be safe than sorry!
Our last surprise for Day 1 would show up at the Gate Keeper, an obstacle you encounter near the Loon Lake trail head. It was here that we discovered that Robert's new Warn hub conversion was not working properly. Somehow, the wrong sized hubs were sent to Robert. I later found out from Robert that Warn had been contacted about this and they assured him it was the proper hub set. Robert's only chance to check out the work was a quick trip up and down the street in 4WD, as he had been working on it just a few days before I arrived in CA. With the tires chirping, all involved assumed the mod to be successful. The problem was that the axle splines would not properly engage the hub splines. So, Robert could not truly "lock in" his hubs.....he had 2 HI and 2LO range. We pulled out his borrowed spare hub which was of the correct type and installed it on the driver's side.
I guess I can mention that between the time that Robert first tried Gate Keeper and when we deduced his hubs were the wrong pair, I managed to kill my right knee while helping to push Robert's TJ off of a rock. I felt my right knee pop while I was pushing (at the wrong angle) on his front bumper. I am pretty sure it actually slipped slightly out of the socket, as the pain was amazingly intense. I thought it was all over right then and there for me. I hopped over to a nearby rock and sat down, pale and sweating (oh yeah.....I was in shock for a couple of minutes). Within about 20 minutes (I was able to limp around a bit but had very limited movement). I was lucky it was my right knee and not the other one, as Lady has a clutch and that would have been nearly impossible for me. As it was, getting in and out of a 6" lifted TJ sitting on 35" tires would prove to be an interesting challenge all in itself for the next 48 hours or so. As I sit here doing this trail write-up, it is 6 days since the accident and the knee is still noticeably swollen.
We had Robert up to 3 wheel drive and it was time to make a decision.....run the Rubicon or abort. Bruce and I were running on 35" tires. Everyone had winches, straps, hi-lifts, and a great crawl ratio. Food and water were not an issue, as we had more than enough should we need to take an extra day or two. Call us crazy, but the decision was made to give it a try. Robert said he was up for the challenge and we all agreed that we would get him through, one way or another.
We cleared Gate Keeper and a stand of tree and started out across the area known as the "Granite Bowl". The bowl is not actually part of the original Rubicon Trail. However, with the road from Georgetown under repair, this is the other route by which the west end Rubicon can be accessed. This is also the route that the Jeep Jamboree takes (which was completed just a couple of days before we started our trip. As you can see in the picture above, the bowl is just that....a very large dish shaped granite slab. Lots of folks come here to play for the day, making it more difficult to actually find and stay on the OHV trail that exits at the north end of the bowl and hooks up with the Rubicon Trail at the Ellis Creek crossing. I had spent the previous weekend with my GPS mapping software (OziExplorer) and a Rubicon Trail guide book, making a GPS track for our trip using my USGS 7.5' CD topo maps. This info was then broken into trail sections and uploaded to my GPS each morning of the trip. I also made an actual GPS track of the trail so I have that for future reference as well. I am proud to say that my expected track was extremely close to our actual track....so close that it made no difference during our run.
More Rubicon 2001
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