The Rubicon Trail is a 22-mile trail in California that is known for some of the toughest terrain for 4-wheeling tests and adventurists looking for a challenge. Starting in Georgetown, CA and traveling to the beaches of Lake Tahoe, the trail provides beautiful scenery and great camping opportunities… if you can make it.
When we heard that our President, Ben Rivera, had a trip to the Rubicon Trail planned – we had to hear more. After returning from the Rubicon Trail we sat down with Ben to ask some questions and learn all about his experience on the Rubicon Trail.
Ben, how long have you been planning this trip?
I’ve been planning this trip for over 24 years as it has been a dream of mine since I first learned about it. I’ve been building my truck for as long as I’ve worked at Leatherman. In fact, I purchased my Land Cruiser (1984 FJ60) using my second ever paycheck from Leatherman. I absolutely love Lake Tahoe; my family and I go on trips there all the time. It’s a beautiful location with lots of camping, hiking, and outdoor adventures. Plus, it’s not too far from Portland.
What kind of planning and prep had to go into this trip?
We started truly planning a year ago. I sat down with a group of buddies and we all agreed we were going to do it. I had to make a list of changes and upgrades (specific to this trip) that I had to make on my truck to even be able to consider doing the Rubicon Trail.
We spent a ton of time on YouTube, watching videos and learning from others who had done the trail. We analyzed the police and rescue cars thinking if our car was comparable with theirs that we would be fine on the trail. It honestly didn’t look too bad. We were wrong; the trail is hard, very hard.
What unexpected things did you come up on?
The internet lies! Or our perception of it was really off; we really underestimated how radical the trail really is and how difficult it would be for me in my Land Cruiser; the length of my truck is too much. I thought there was going to be a difficult trail and then an easy one off to the side in case I needed to, “go around”. It wasn’t like that, you’re on the trail and there is no off-ramp.
There were moments when I was looking at a goal about 200ft in the distance and I didn’t think I could make it or squeeze through the hole between the rocks. It was always small goals and then look ahead to the next one. It’s a huge puzzle to solve and you’re always thinking, okay how do I get across this one? Then before you know it the puzzle becomes, okay why won’t my car start?
What would you have done differently?
I wish my car had a shorter length, more lift and taller tires (I have about 2-1/2” suspension lift and 33” tires). My friend had a ’66 Bronco which had a shorter wheel-base and 35” tires. He did much better than I did. The trail has too many moments when my car was too long to make it through the gap that was in front of us, I would end up high-centered or stuck between boulders.
Would you do it again?
Yes. I have to do it, and I have to make it all the way through the trail. We turned back not too far from the middle of the trail. Travelers coming toward us told us the hardest part was yet to come, I was running out of power steering fluid, running out of luck, and out of time. We got a good idea of what to expect when we go back. We heard from others that it gets easier once you are close the finish line on the Tahoe side, after you get through the middle.
It’s almost like there’s an inside joke going around that no one will tell you how hard the trail really is. You have to dive in and experience it yourself. I talked to a lot of people before the trail, even locals along the way, and no one warned me for the radical trail that I was headed for. YouTube definitely doesn’t give you an idea, either.
Which Leatherman did you take?
Signal! It was great, I used it many times. There was one moment when my power steering cap fell into the engine and it was just dangling in the bottom, seconds from falling onto the very dusty ground. I pulled out my Signal and very carefully went down to use the pliers tip to grab the cap before it fell and was coated in dirt that I didn’t want mixed with power steering fluid. Saved the day, that’s for sure.
There was another moment when the starter gave out. We trouble shot the situation for quite a while after which we narrowed it down to the starter (the battery cables were on and off a lot using the pliers at first…it sure seemed like they were loose). We ended up taking the starter apart to clean the contacts in the built-in solenoid. The Signal screwdriver and diamond file were perfect for the task!
What was your favorite part?
Camping, it gets cool at night and the temperature is just perfect. You wake up and it’s so peaceful and quiet. I spent a few early mornings hiking around and finding viewpoints around the trail.
I also really liked the people. It wasn’t very crowded but everyone is there for the same reason. We love 4-wheeling, we love camping, we love the outdoors, and we love the challenge. Everyone is willing to help each other out and help us solve the puzzle before us. As you travel along the trail and see people stuck, you stop and ask if you can give them a hand. It was great.
You could seriously also consider going back to backpack the trail. It’s only 22 miles, and you can explore beautiful spots near and off the trail. Camping with great people and watching people drive their trucks over amazing obstacles would be as much fun as running your own truck over them.
All in all, it was a good experience?
Oh, absolutely. In total it was a really good time, I got some big scratches and dents on my truck that I’m pretty proud of and it was an awesome vacation outside with friends.
Next time, I plan to make it the whole trail. I want to give myself enough time and a better prepared truck. I’m still working on convincing my son to come with me, too. I’m not sure he understands what is fun about wrecking your truck to accomplish a goal…yet!