Rookies on the Rubicon, Part 4 • WCXC
Photos: Caleb Knight and Jeremy Knight. Story editing: Nik Schulz

This is an multi-part post written by Jeremy Knight about his 2013 adventure on the Rubicon as a first-timer.

Rookies on the Rubicon, Part 4

Buck Island Lake to Martini Tree

So far we had stuck to the plan we had agreed to before the trip:

  1. We will always discuss the safest way to accomplish the task and not act impulsively.
  2. We will walk ANY questionable trail and discuss the best line.
  3. We will stack rocks, discuss other recovery options—and rehearse them prior to execution—whenever there is a question of vehicle damage.
  4. We will bypass riskier sections whenever possible.
  5. We will not succumb to pressure, personal or outside.
  6. We will not rush the trail.

This is our first time on the Rubicon we can come back later and take the toughest line, but only if we are successful this time—there is no honor in stupid luck!

Preserve our people—protect our rigs. Good driving makes all the difference, and good driving is the result of good planning, and executing that plan.

This will be fun, we will take our time and the outcome will be awesome!

(Sorry for the repeat, but this became very important as we progressed—it kept getting tougher.)

And our plan was working. We’d had no major incidents. Heck—we hadn’t even gotten stuck! But the trail kept coming at us, like it wanted us to make a mistake. With so many obstacles, it became hard to differentiate between them—they all became a blur. One after the other, after the other, in a continuous stream. We had to avoid becoming sloppy.

Rookies on the Rubicon, Part 4 • WCXC
Things were a bit iffy at times. Guided by the steady trail-call of my son Josh.

Fortunately, we had our boys, Josh and Caleb, along; they constantly woke us up from our trail-jaded stupor and suggested alternates that were often much better than the lines Erik and I had fallen for. Trail overload was beginning to set in.

Rookies on the Rubicon, Part 4 • WCXC
The trail was relentless. Everywhere we turned, we saw something just like this.

At our camp, in the morning, we had met a Trailkeeper. His name was Merlin, and he had his dog Sierra with him. In a very nice way, over the course of our conversation, he vetted us for our level of preparedness for the trail:

Did we have tools and spares?
Did we need a map?
Did we have a porta-pottie? (required on the Rubicon)
Did we have a fire permit for our stove? (also required)
Did we have a good first-aid kit?
How would we call for help if someone was severely injured? (I have a DeLorme InReach that I can use to call for help via satellite, but Merlin suggested having a HAM radio in the future. The local clubs have surrounded the trail with repeaters and the reception is excellent)

“The last cell phone signal is at the top of Walker Hill,” he said finally. That was where he was headed to call his wife—it was her birthday.

We were glad that Merlin and others were out there, ultimately they are protecting our freedom to drive the Rubicon and enjoy challenges that may not be available at all in the future. Access to the trail is now being challenged by the local water companies who are blaming a trail that you can barely see on Google Earth, for silt problems they are having in their reservoirs. So now the Rubicon Trail Foundation (Friends of the Rubicon) is building bridges over water crossings and paying for solar toilets to lessen our impact. I am not currently a member, but I will join.

Rookies on the Rubicon, Part 4 • WCXC
The water of Buck Island lake looked so good and so close (only three hours away).

We thought that by the time we reached Buck Island Lake, we would be home free for the day. We would drive its level shores, find a shady spot to make camp and have a swim to wash off two day’s worth of accumulated anxiety. We had watched the lake, off in the distance, come closer all day, thinking it would mark the end of our mental beating. But that wasn’t going to happen. All of the choice campsites were taken—we had to keep driving.

Rookies on the Rubicon, Part 4 • WCXC
"So, I guess we gotta stack some more."

Making our way around the lake to our final stop for the day was equivalent to doing Hells Revenge in Moab. We were in for a surprise.

Rookies on the Rubicon, Part 4 • WCXC
I began to realize that 285s were a bit too small for these obstacles...

There was no “flat lake shore.” Instead, it resembled a dry cascade. One that we would have to drive before we could enjoy the lake’s refreshment. But we kept it light and joked and hassled. The gnawing in our guts was not going to spoil our fun.

Rookies on the Rubicon, Part 4 • WCXC
This was a tough spot, a nasty shelf in the middle of a nasty turn.
Rookies on the Rubicon, Part 4 • WCXC
It just kept coming. "Are we ever going to get to camp?"

We shook our heads at the constant onslaught of challenges and stacked rocks like Roman slaves to make up for the lack of rubber on my rig. Slowly we climbed up that staircase, past one occupied campsite after another, until they all ran out. It looked like we were out of luck as we turned away from the lake, until we crested the hill and found a beautiful spot we later found out was called “Martini Tree.” I don’t know why, but once we got there, I wished I had one.

Rookies on the Rubicon, Part 4 • WCXC
The view from our campsite

We quickly made camp and then bushwacked our way down to the lake, worried about rattlesnakes. One worry had replaced another. Typical.

Rookies on the Rubicon, Part 4 • WCXC
Rookies on the Rubicon, Part 4 • WCXC

Next, Part 5 -> Midnight Buggies at Martini Tree

Rookies on the Rubicon, Part 1, The Ground Rules
Rookies on the Rubicon, Part 2, Loon Lake Trailhead
Rookies on the Rubicon, Part 3, Little Sluice
Rookies on the Rubicon, Part 4, Buck Island Lake to Martini Tree
Rookies on the Rubicon, Part 5, Midnight Buggies at Martini Tree
Rookies on the Rubicon, Part 6, The Big Sluice
Rookies on the Rubicon, Part 7, Cadillac Hill

Expedition Portal: Rookies on the Rubicon