Covering all aspects of car culture for Speedhunters means shooting off-road action as much as I shoot on-road stuff. If you follow the site religiously, then it will come as no surprise to you that over the past few years I’ve been diving deeper and deeper into off-the-beaten-path car culture.
The last time I hung out with Casey Currie and his family was when Louis and I checked out the Moab Easter Jeep Safari for the first time last year.
Casey has become a lot like Vaughn Gittin, Jr.: They are both fun-havers, they are both very lucky to do drive what they want where they want, and are both champions in their respective disciplines.
Of course, Vaughn dabbles in everything including off-road, while Casey has become more focused on driving over dirt and rocks.
So when Casey invited me, his video guy, and a couple of Monster girls to ride with him on the Rubicon Trail during Jeepers Jamboree, I couldn’t accept his offer fast enough.
The Rubicon Trail used to be the quickest trade route used by native Americans, and was the easiest way to cross the Rubicon river.
In the 1800s, many people flocked to the area with the prospect of gold in the hills, the route providing the fastest way to get from Georgetown to Lake Tahoe.
But it was only after World War II that it became popular as an off-road trail, something brought upon by a surplus of decommissioned military Jeeps.
Owners would attempt to cross the trail in their Jeeps, and in the process one of the world’s first natural off-road adventure parks was born.
In 1952, the Jeepers Jamboree was created as an event for people from all around the world to drive through the amazing Sierra Nevada mountains together.
Casey and his family have been coming here since he was a little boy, and this year being the Jeepers Jamboree’s 65th anniversary event, made it that much more special. That is Casey’s dad, Ray.
Casey brought his latest build, which is a Jeep JK four-door converted into a truck for overlanding duties.
The frame was extended allowing the bed to be stretched, and all of the other one-off parts were made by Bruiser Jeep Conversions in Florida.
It’s rumored that Jeep will eventually come out with a production truck, but until then this is the next best thing.
Casey’s family and friends brought out a variety of builds, including the two-door Jeep that I had a chance to drive in Moab.
The more places I get to while chasing car culture, the more I’ve come to realize just how much Norwegians love traveling. I swear I see more Norwegians in more places around the world than any other nationality.
Due to the sheer size and weight of this JK truck, it was actually more difficult to off-road. The two-door and four-door machines had an easier time squeezing through trees and tight rock obstacles.
On this particular morning I woke up at 4:00am in order to make it onto the trail by around 3:00pm.
The trip itself through the Rubican Trail took four days – three days of wheeling and one day of relaxing.
Not that far into the trail, our friends from X-Comp encountered a serious problem: They had fitted some prototype front axles before the event, but those failed leaving the Jeep in rear-wheel drive. Welding on the spot, the guys were able to fix things up, or at least they thought they did. More on this shortly.
The sun was going down quickly, so we had to get a move on in order to make it to camp (which was located on private land), while there was still daylight.
Home sweet home for the night.
I brought along a crude tent, while Casey and some of the other crew guys glamped in style.
The Monster girls, sisters Caitlin and Chelsea Nordby are used to roughing it for days at a time – they are actually a Class 1 Buggy racing driver and co-driver team.
Some of the crew, including Ray Currie, opted for a more simple approach.
This was my setup for the next three nights – bathing in lakes and using the great outdoors as your toilet. The last time I roughed it like this was on my first ever King of the Hammers event.
The camp itself was quite impressive with structures brought in by helicopter.
The spread on this night was incredible; we dined like kings in the middle of nowhere.
That’s Chef Currie serving up a salty bathed steak, while my buddy Kyle Chandler films him in slow motion.
One of our friends, Matt Chapman, started on the trail a few hours behind us, but he got lost along the way. We could talk to him on the radio, but it was already dark and he had no idea where he was. He sent through his GPS coordinates, but they showed him nowhere near a trail, and to complicate matters even further his Jeep Cherokee was stuck on a rock and he was worried it was going to flip over if he tried to move it with spotting assistance.
I jumped in the two-door Jeep with Casey’s head mechanic Justin, and we headed towards the location coordinates that Matt had provided.
On our way there, we occasionally radioed over to him to make sure he was still doing alright. With no cellphone reception on the trail, it made communicating a little tougher than what we’re all used.
Shortly after, Matt radioed through to tell us that he had successfully made it off the rock when someone in a Suzuki came by to spot for him. We soon caught up to the Samurai, and then Matt.
It was a relief that Matt was safe, but he burned up way more gas than he had counted on and there was no way he would make it through the entire trail without more fuel.
His Cherokee was undamaged though, so at least we could rest for the remainder of the night.
It was one of those nights where you think you’ve barely closed your eyes before you need to wake up. At 5:00am we packed up and headed for Rubicon Springs, which is the biggest campground on the trail and where the Jeepers Jamboree festivities are held. Yes, Matt watched movies as he was wheeling.
The radiator cap on the Cherokee kept leaking, but sometimes a trail fix with a rock is all you need to keep going.
With large clearings, the trail itself was completely different to what I experienced at Moab. The biggest difference though was the amount of trees and plant life.
Along the trail there were teams of people helping spot the less experienced drivers.
The morning light through the trees and dust was absolutely amazing. This was my favorite shot from the entire trip.
Before we had even got on the trail, we stopped at a store in Georgetown for breakfast burritos with the intention of sticking them in the engine bays of the Jeeps for a warm meal in the morning. I was looking forward to this moment as soon as I heard that this was a thing.
After an hour of wheeling and the Jeep oven at full tilt, it was time to check out my glorious breakfast.
This was without a doubt the best breakfast burrito I’ve ever had, and I had a pretty good view while I ate it.
I’ve shot cars in many different situations, but nothing is like rock crawling. You have to drive the Rubicon Trail so slow – at a snail’s pace sometimes – but often you can be on the absolute limit.
The lines you take are everything, and most of it has to do with how much experience you have on the rocks.
Outside help from spotters is invaluable and can often mean the difference between getting stuck on the trail with a broken truck or making it through unscathed.
Since we were in group of around 15 Jeeps, it was priority to ensure everyone got through each major rock obstacle safely and with the least amount of damage.
As we got deeper into the trail we came across a number of smaller camps and all manner of overland and rock-crawling rigs.
With the rainy weather this season there were also few water crossings to negotiate, but nothing too crazy.
It seemed like every few meters I needed to step out of the cars to get some shots of the amazing backgrounds.
We were about halfway to our campsite when we came across a mobile service and repair center for those unfortunate enough to break things on the trail. Thankfully, we could just continue on past.
When you kind of get into the groove of things you forget that you haven’t had cellphone reception for the past few days. I can honestly say this was the longest time I’ve been disconnected from the outside world.
The tables turned, as Casey got behind the lens.
Kyle made the most of it by jumping off a dam.
As we got closer to Rubicon Springs, which is near the center of the trail, the obstacles got tougher and the path became narrower.
Many of the spots were only wide enough for a single car to pass through.
It was especially tough for Casey given the width of his Jeep.
Just check out that tuck!
Due to the heavy snowfall in this area, the rocks actually move quite a bit. So an obstacle that is easy to navigate one year can be so much harder the next, or vice versa.
Since the Cherokee is much narrower, it can take the hard lines with ease.
Which is also why it’s possible to pass through the Rubicon Trail in a Jeep that’s only upgraded with wheels and tires.
Why is Casey doing squats? It’s because the crew played a pretty evil game, where if anyone said the word “rock” while on the trail, 10 push-ups or 10 squats was the punishment.
I love the Toyota FJ40, but in recent years these things have appreciated in value like air-cooled Porsches.
At this point there was just a couple miles left to go, but first we had to cross this rickety, single lane bridge.
I gladly walked across on foot.
There was just one last obstacle to tackle before our next campsite at Rubicon Springs. This was a very tight squeeze for the wider Jeeps, and a few of the guys sustained a bit of roof damage to their rigs while going through it.
Casey’s Jeep truck was so wide that there was no way he would even attempt the pinch, so he just went around.
That is what you do when you have a monster of a Jeep.
We got into Rubicon Springs after a little stream crossing to find many people already settled in for a relaxing weekend. Some view, eh?
There is just something so cool about driving through bodies of water.
It was time to set up camp, which for some was a lot easier than others.
This is what we had worked hard to get to. Rubicon Springs is like an oasis of sorts with many natural swimming pools and nice hiking trails. There’s even a natural shower, making it everything an outdoorsman could dream of.
In the middle of it all was a tiny village, the buildings of which were new after the existing structures were destroyed by snow last winter. Breakfast, lunch and dinner was all served in the village for each Jeepers Jamboree attendee, which by the end of the weekend was estimated at around 1000 people travelling in 500 vehicles.
Of course, everything including the food and supplies was brought in by Jeeps.
As to be expected with so many vehicles, there were a huge number of machines and cool builds that I was super jealous of.
Check out how cool this FJ40 campsite was. You have everything you need, including a shower.
It was all about having fun without contact to the outside world.
I nearly had a heart attack every time we needed to cross this stream with all my camera gear.
Caitlin and Chelsea made it look super easy though.
The next day was all about relaxing; the Currie family always brings a huge river raft to just float around on all day.
There were so many natural pools and the water was quite warm.
Rope swings provided a little entertainment; these guys even brought along their own questionable flotation device.
Slipping and falling was on my mind whenever we came across a challenging piece of terrain.
We hiked a few miles to this cliff jumping spot that seemed a little bit sketchy to me.
It was basically a small pocket of water that was deep enough to dive into.
Too short of a jump and too far to the left or right equaled certain death, or at least broken limbs. My buddy Kyle jumped in straightaway.
Fearless Caitlin jumped in as well.
Most of the Jeepers would be returning to civilisation the following day, so a party of epic proportions went down at night.
I took the opportunity to reset myself as traveling has been pretty insane recently. Just slowing down for a weekend and hiking around in the mountains helped a lot.
The next morning we left early for Lake Tahoe. I thought the trail to get into Rubicon Springs was hard enough, but getting out was even tougher. Here’s Matt pushing off a rock as he went through this pinch. Even though it’s a quick way to lose your arms, it seems like the natural thing to do.
He got through with ease since his Cherokee is far narrower than a JK Jeep.
They are not pictured here, but the X-Comp guys that were with us from earlier in the trip broke their front axles yet again. This time it was much more serious though, and they would have to do the rest of the trail with two-wheel drive only.
Casey had a bit of a trouble getting through this tight section and used his winch for the first time on the trail, but mostly because he didn’t want to damage the truck.
The trees didn’t help either and it was tough at times to clear the massive roof tent.
Casey’s dad got through this obstacle with no issues, but there was no way to predict what would happen next.
The X-Comp Jeep made it surprisingly far in two-wheel drive with foot-to-the-floor driving, but its transmission broke trying to get over this rock.
Just as everyone feared, it would have to be pulled the rest of the way through the trail, which still had many miles to go. On top of that, Matt eventually ran out of gas as he suspected would happen, so we syphoned fuel from the broken down Jeep. Everything happens for a reason on the trail it seems.
Ray Currie daisy-chained to another Jeep and hooked onto the disabled rig for a seriously rough ride all the way through to Lake Tahoe.
Not a quarter of a mile had gone by when everyone had to stop again though. One of the tow ropes had gotten snagged on the brake lines of the middle Jeep, so now one Jeep could only steer and brake, while the other had steering and power but not brakes. Sounds about right.
Ray floored it and tugged on both Jeeps to get everyone up the hill.
It was a wild ride for all three, as stopping would lose momentum. I didn’t see them again till we hit Lake Tahoe.
Hitting the finish line was bittersweet. As the floods of text messages, missed calls and emails popped up on my phone, I was immediately brought back to the real world. Despite being a city kid, I can still enjoy bathing in a waterfall and sleeping in a tent for a few days, and I am already looking forward to revisiting the Rubicon Trail for Jeepers Jamboree again. Next time, I think I will have to bring my own off-roading vehicle though.