I shared "My Lessons Learned on the Rubicon Trail" on the Jeep Talk Show Podcast where I am a co-host. You can go listen there as well in my segment "The Jeep Life with Jeep Momma". Also check out my Rubicon Trail Videos on my YouTube Channel.
Lesson Number 1: Off Road Etiquette
The Rubicon Trail is located in the Sierra Nevadas east of Sacramento and west of Lake Tahoe. A 22 mile trail that offers beauty, history, adventure, and a challenge for the off road enthusiast. It is a fun and exciting trail, but can be very stressful and dangerous. Here is some Off Road Etiquette for the Rubicon Trail (some I knew and some I didn't). These tips can be adapted to other off-roading trails as well. Always stay on the trail, you don’t want to drive thru the meadows or over vegetation. You want to do your best to straddle gullies, ruts, and washouts and only cross streams at designated points. You will want to minimize wheel spin as this destroys the trails and your Jeep. Some parts of the Rubicon Trail are private property so make sure you stick to the trail. Keep an eye out for trail markers and follow them. There are some parts on the granite that have trail markers like light reflectors. Don’t attempt the Rubicon trail alone. Carry a spill kit, and you might want a ham radio or satellite phone for communication as there is no cell service. Something very important to know. There are pictures on social media of Jeeps flexing and posing on the Rubicon Trail. Some of these pictures are a big NO NO. Just because you have seen another person post a picture flexing doesn’t mean it right. On a rock sure, but on those man made bridges NO. DO NOT POSE your Jeep with your tires on the frames of these bridges. If you want more information about what to bring and winter on the trail. go to www.edcgov.us/government/Rubicon
Lesson Number 2: Exhaust trail damage is no joke.
A while back when I was wheeling in Kingman, Arizona I remember coming down hard on my exhaust pipe. I put a little dent in it. That little dent made the pipe just a tad smaller in circumference. I thought no big deal. Well, fast forward to the Rubicon Trail. Again I came down on the exhaust pipe squeezing it together just a little bit more. During the trip my check engine light came on. Then if would go off. Then come on again. When we got back to Colorado we checked it with a code reader. It read misfire on cylinder 6. We cut off the damaged part of the exhaust pipe and the check engine light went away. UNTIL… I was eating my lunch of tacos in a fast food parking lot while idling my engine so I could have AC. We changed the spark plugs. I was told it was a good thing I cut the pipe. If I hadn’t I could of really messed up the heads. The check engine light went back on. We changed the injector and it was fine. Then it went back on again. Still trying to fix the problem.
Lesson Number 3: Know Your Group
This is something I hadn’t experienced on the level I did when we wheeled the Rubicon Trail. Now this isn’t just for newbies either. It’s a good reminder for all levels of off Roaders. When you go off road, whether it’s your trail ride or you are going with others Know Your Group. There are so many aspects of Know Your Group. This is vitally important on the Rubicon Trail. Sometimes this isn't just a one or two day trail ride. This can be 4 to 5 day ride. Possibly even longer.
--- A side note. I highly suggest i when you wheel the Rubicon Trail keep the Jeep group to 5 or less. Especially if you go with inexperienced rock crawlers. It will be much more enjoyable for the whole group with 5 or less vehicles. There won’t be a lot of waiting around for others to make it through the obstacles. --
Just because you are wheeling the Rubicon Trail don’t assume all the folks in your group know the level of difficulty the trail is or how long it can take. Make sure all Jeepers know what to expect, like there will be body damage and most likely other trail damage while you are on the trail or damage you may not notice for days off the trail. Make sure you know what kind of previous wheeling they have done. Just because they have a badass looking Jeep don’t assume they have the skills to match. Some of those obstacles on the Rubicon are exceedingly difficult. Your group should have an experienced spotter, someone experienced in recovery and trail fixes. The Rubicon Trail is no joke mainly because of the length of the trail, 22 miles, and there are no places in the middle of the trail to jump off. Unless you have a Ham Radio there is no cell service to call out for help. Make sure you discuss expectation before you even hit the trail like what to bring, how long it will take, what happens if someone breaks, food and water prep, Jeep prep, off roading levels etc. This is vitally important especially if folks are coming from all over. It is so important to have these discussions so everyone knows what to expect, so you can avoid issues and enjoy your time on the trail. For some people this is a once in a lifetime trip. And some folks come from a long ways to wheel this trail so expectations are so important to know to avoid any issues on the trail.
Lesson Number 4: Prepare Your Jeep
Make sure your Jeep is Trail Ready. This not only means the mechanical part of your Jeep, but the items to keep your Jeep moving forward on the trail. We were using metal gas cans we got from a friend. We assumed they were good to go. Unfortunately, they weren’t and were full of debris which clogged up our whole fuel system which was the big contributing factor to having to leave the CJ5. Making sure all your equipment and Jeep is trail ready is so important especially on a trail like the Rubicon. Once you go in thru the trailhead you either go the full 22 miles or turn around and go out the in. Performing Pre-Trip maintenance on your Jeep and equipment is vital. Even those little things like checking your tool bag to make sure all your tools are still there, your gas cans & water jugs for leaks, and to make sure they are free of debris. Check your winch, you may even want to pull the line and respool, double check all your recovery gear, pull it all out to inspect it. Check your engine and transmission fluid, your brakes and fluids, radiator coolant, secure your battery, check your belts and hoses for cracks and leaks, your power steering system If you even have power steering. Check for loose nuts and bolts, and lug nuts. I notice one of mine was loose. Grease all your fittings, and check those seat belts. Double check you have all your items needed to keep your Jeep moving forward like extra parts, ratchet straps or bailing wire, extra bolts and spare parts, make yourself a leak kit. If you have something on your Jeep that is leaking fix it or leave it at home. One item that is a must on the Rubicon Trail is a spill kit. While we were on the trail near Little Sluice we ran across a Friends of the Rubicon representative. Super nice guy. He gave us a spill kit for our Jeeps. They actually provide them at the Loon Lake Kiosk.
If you experience a leak on the Rubicon trail, actually any trail.
- Control the leak.
- Contain what has spilled using an absorbent spill pad. Which the Rubicon spill kit has or you can buy them online.
- Make sure you carry out those absorbents in a plastic ziploc bag or trash bag. If the spill soaks into the soil take that out too.
- Treat the spill area with Bio-Response which is included in the Rubicon Spill kit or you can search on google for a bio detergent.
Just remember to Tread lightly, what you bring in you must bring back out.
Lesson Number 5: Plan Vs. Prepare
This is a lesson I first learned when I took my first off road trip across the country. It’s knowing the difference between Plan and Prepare. A plan is always good to have, but something off roaders / overlanders / Jeepers need to know is a plan can disappoint you. A plan can prevent you from seeing or doing something amazing. We had a very detailed plan for our Across America Adventure. However, we had to deviate from it from the moment I left my driveway. That was really hard for me. I am a planner. I plan all the details. When a plan doesn’t go as planned I get upset. It will ruin my adventure. After a few days on that trip I learned to let the Adventure lead me. Because of that attitude, we saw things we wouldn’t have seen. We did things we hadn’t planned, and we met so many amazing people we never would have met. When you are flexible on your adventure it opens up your ability to take that side road. I worked really hard to remember that when we were getting ready for the Rubicon Trail. One Jeeper who was going to go with us kept asking us what our Plan was. She wanted a detailed day by day where we were planning on wheeling and camping. We shared the meet up time and gave a list of things to Prepare for and a couple of possible “leave the trail” days. She wasn’t up for that and needed a more detailed Plan. This is where Planning and Preparing differ and being Prepared as an off roader / overlander is way more important. Planning can disappoint. Being Prepared makes the trip so much more fun. Preparing for all possible outcomes makes for a better trip. When we headed up Icehouse Road to the trail head it took longer than I expected, and I had to keep reminding myself to chill. I was going to be okay if we were going slower than I thought. I kept remembering my trip from this past fall. It’s okay to have a plan but you need to be flexible to deviate from that plan. It is much more important to be prepared. Extra food, extra water, recovery gear, warm clothes, extra gas etc. Be prepared for breaking down, Be prepared for bad weather, Be prepared to help others on the trail. Prepare your mind mentally to expect the unexpected. It is a really good idea to discuss all the possible preparations needed. This will make your experience so much better.