Words of Wisdom
Brad says I finally "got" the Rubicon this year.
To me, "getting" the Rubicon means coming back with no broken body parts and only minimal bruising. The Rubicon Trail is a legendary road that travels from Loon Lake located southwest of the Rubicon River up and over several ridges, eventually coming out at the western shore of Lake Tahoe. The scenery is breathtaking. So are the boulders.
Traction is exceptional on the Rubicon boulders. Their surface is granite with little bits of quartz and feldspar that seem to grab and stick to your tires. There is an area called the Granite Bowl where long wheelies, strange lean angles, near-vertical climbs, and ledges are to be had. You can see Paul on one of the near-vertical climbs in the C&B archives, and the result of riding off a Granite Bowl ledge in my past column entitled, "Falling with Finesse."
It takes a special technique to ride the Rubicon Trail. The boulders vary in size from the size of a grapefruit to that of a house. The average size seems to be about the size of a motorcycle. When a jeep driver travels the Trail, he progresses at about a constant three mph. Jeeps pretty much ease over all obstacles, hoping not to smash a differential or break a driveshaft. When a motorcyclist travels the Trail, he progresses in a series of fits and starts, bouncing from boulder to boulder, skittering over the smaller stuff. Momentum is key. If you go don't keep your speed up, a rock will roll, and down you go. If you go too fast, you will eventually glance off a boulder and find yourself flying off the Trail into parts unknown. You tend to ride in a series of point-and-shoot maneuvers.
Sometimes in the jumble of boulders, you find that you may have lost the Trail. This year, Brad, Paul, and I were headed to Buck Lake and beyond. Somehow when we got past the Little Sluice we zigged when we should have zagged. Brad, naturally, was in the lead. We were headed down something that could have been called a trail in the Rubicon when Brad turned left. He went over a few large boulders with Paul and me in tow. We could see Buck Lake off in the distance across a ravine.
Paul and I pulled up in the shade of a large pine as it became obvious that we were lost. Brad rode back past us, across the wider trail, and into the rocks on the other side. Paul and I were keen observers as Brad pummeled over a few boulders and through a bush or two. He decided that was not a trail and came back past us. He proceeded cross-country across a series of boulders and drop-offs. Paul and I looked at each other and shrugged. It was obvious that Brad was going, to cop a phrase, where no one had gone before. He finally stopped several hundred yards below us and stood on a ledge looking back up. We sat on our bikes and shrugged some more. After a two-minute staring contest, Brad got back on his bike and rode most of the way back. It was kind of impressive to watch. Some of the boulder jumps were reminicent of the Wagner Trials Cup last year at Donner.
When Brad got to the ledge below us, he began shouting. He asked (shouted) why we hadn't followed him down. Paul and I looked at each other again. Brad yelled some more and then came up with another one of his classics, "If I'm going to lead, you have to follow." Paul and I looked at each other one last time, shrugged, started our bikes, and followed Brad over the ledge. We all rode down to the lower ledge where Brad had stopped earlier. He went on another 50 feet and stopped. That was where he finally figured out we weren't on the Trail. Paul and I shrugged again and proceeded to work our way back up the boulder field. Of course I highsided into a granite rock part way up and had to take a 30-second time out.
(That's manly talk for "grabbing my side and whimpering like a baby.")
We eventually found the Trail and made it to Buck Lake. I called it quits there and hung out with some jeepers while Brad and Paul went down the Big Sluice to Rubicon Springs and beyond. By the time they came back, the sun was getting low over the peaks and we had to bonzai back to camp. I think that was the stretch where I "got it." There is a gnarly rock climb from the Trail to the top of the Little Sluice. A bunch of jeepers were sitting at the bottom telling horror stories as we rode up. Brad made the first run up the climb and crashed at the top. A jeeper came over and asked if riding a bike in the Rubicon was difficult. I told him it wasn't so bad as long as you had balance and kept your speed up. At that moment, Paul launched himself at the climb. He got to a ledge at the top and ran out of momentum. He climbed off his bike, pinned the throttle and proceeded to muscle his bike over the ledge. The jeeper said that was guaranteed to break a four wheeler. I told him it was just Paul's riding style. As it was now my turn I told him to get out his camera because I was expecting to be a good crash & burn spectacle. I gunned it and launched. I went straight up the middle of the gnarliest part, kept my weight forward, pinned it, glanced off a big boulder, caught traction on the next, jumped over a big gap between two more boulders, glanced both wheels off the large boulder on top, pitched 90 degrees sideways in the air, and landed well over the top on both wheels as if it had been planned. Brad only had to run a little to avoid being hit. I was stoked. I nodded to Brad and Paul and said, "Piece of cake."
A little later, as it was getting dark, we came upon the deep water crossing between the Granite Bowl and Wentworth Springs. I have never had a problem there before. Needless to say, I fell over in a shallow part, drowned my bike, and saw little fishies swimming in front of my goggles. It took pumping the bike with it upside down, two new spark plugs, and nearly an hour to get going again. I was soaked and frozen solid as we pulled into camp. Yep, I really "got" the Rubicon this year.