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2010 Wheelers for the Wounded Rubicon Super Event!

Campground reserved for this group, September 17-19, 2010!

Sierra Nevada Mountains, the Rubicon Trail, September 17-19, 2010...The Rubicon Trail has lured, challenged and transformed  four-wheelers since the 1950s. From 30-inch tires on MB flat-fender models through the CJ and Wrangler eras, many of us schooled on this rugged trail. Despite today's oversized 33" to 40" diameter tires, one thing remains constant: the predictable cameraderie and upbeat spirit, ever present in that High Sierra setting!

     There are three full-length Flash videos on the following pages! For the 2011 'WFTW Rubicon Super Event' in HD video, click here! For the 2012 'WFTW Rubicon Super Event' coverage in HD video, click here!

The easier, early stretches of the Rubicon Trail event.

Both Full-Traction Suspension (FTS) and Rubicon Express each build suspension systems for trails like the Rubicon. These two companies willingly lent support to this event. Here, FTS has a JK Wrangler Rubicon in trail position! Support for WFTW is welcome.

     Each of us has a Rubicon tale or two to share, my first dating to 1967 when I was a month out of high school. Back then, a stone stock Jeep CJ was plenty, and the desolate trail, barely traveled, seemed far tamer than today. The notoriety and commercialization of the trail, spurred by mega-events like the Jeep Jamboree and scores of annual 4WD club runs, has turned this prewar (1920s and '30s) touring car road into a shifting minefield of boulders and extreme 4x4 challenges. A granite substrate, coupled with unchecked erosion, assures that ever bigger boulders will rise to the surface and become the new, untamed "trail."

Portent of the worst trail sections ahead.

Here's a Rubicon tale in progress: We passed this flat-fender Jeep 4WD in tow, sporting three snapped axle shafts: both fronts and one at the rear! The rig, towed by friends, is now near Loon Lake. Fortunately, each of our vehicles made the round trip on its own.

     Given the mix of trail obstacles and a 4x4 rock crawling culture that has emerged in recent decades, the Rubicon became an optimal setting last year for the inaugural Wheelers for the Wounded Rubicon Super Event. Loosely aligned, the WFTW national organization relies upon regional four-wheelers to come up with an outdoor experience for U.S. veterans wounded in our nation's service.

Vintage CJ and trailer ahead.

Earlier sections of trail are teasers. Some rock, picking a safe line—a cake walk compared to the pending sluice boxes and rock piles!

     Two local, diehard four-wheelers, Dan Hiney and Kevin Carey, took on the monumental chore of organizing a run. Intended as a quality outdoor venture, each event must provide accommodation for disabilities, promote an atmosphere of friendliness and express gratitude and deep respect for vets wounded or disabled in the line of duty. On these terms, the Rubicon Super Event has become more than a success. The event is rapidly becoming an institution!

No shortage of exceptional scenery on the Rubicon!

Here's a memorable scene from the trail. The Rubicon Trail crosses the range and Pacific Crest Trail near Desolation Valley, one of the most scenic areas in the Sierra Range. This is a view to the west and Sierra foothills. Take time to see this country!

Rubicon Trail Foundation along the early trail section.

This nonprofit outfit has 'wheelers for  volunteers. They help preserve the trail, keeping it free from the kind of abuse that would otherwise close it. Volunteers count vehicles by the hundreds each day during the weekends of summer and early fall.

So, Who Are These Vets?

     Wheelers for the Wounded is open to any veteran with a service-connected disability. Some disabilities are more apparent, like paralysis with wheelchair needs. Other vets harbor PTSD or the modern concussion damage caused by an IED.

     This year's participants included several returnees from the last Rubicon event. Additional vets represented the Vietnam War, Gulf War, Iraq War and soldiers more recently home from the Afghanistan theater.

Campground after the run...

This participant purchased a WFTW hat that he immediately dedicated to his father, a Yale scholar called upon to serve in the worst WWII island battles of the Pacific Theater. Respectfully honoring all generations, WFTW supports veterans' family members.

     Dan and Kevin diligently recruited the nearly twenty vets who signed up this year. Some were returnees who knew the  benefit of a Wheelers for the Wounded gathering that includes knocking around on the Rubicon Trail. Other vet profiles were as varied and unpredictable as the foreign policies that place soldiers in harm's way.

     Unlike foreign policy, the Wheelers for the Wounded harbors no political agenda. The aim is simple.  Honor wounded veterans who have: 1) given their all on behalf of our nation's calling and 2) paid a steep price in doing so!

Axial radio controlled car goes to a deserving vet.

Roy earned this Axial radio controlled car. A second year WFTW vet, he accompanied Troy, a Pirate of the Rubicon. Roy's heroism at the Little Sluice Box earned major applause and can be seen in the 'Part 2 Video!'

    Injuries range from combat engagement to the more recent and insidious Iraq-Afghanistan IEDs. Some WFTW vets have scarring from exposure to mass mayhem, like the former U.S. Coast Guardsman who helped aid refugees and boat people during the Haitian debacle of 1992-93. Over the three day event, stories flew unbriddled as veterans let it all hang out with other vets.

Who Are the Driver Volunteers?

  Rounding up volunteer drivers, like finding vets willing to attend an unknown event, also has challenges. Fortunately, Kevin Carey and Dan Hiney are each Rubicon Trail runners. Avid four-wheelers have contacts. Kevin is well known among Pirates of the Rubicon and has a roster of rock crawlers in his address book. Likewise, Dan, from nearby Chico, California, has a host of Sierra trail running buddies.

Driver troubleshoots on the trail.

Volunteers take care of veterans and vehicles on the trail. Here, some troubleshooting around a stalled fuel pump will turn up a burned fuse. Two Jeep TJ Wranglers lost fuel pump action, and each got running again with a new fuse. Overall, Jeep 4WD vehicles are very reliable. See the videos to appreciate the challenges of the trail.

     With enough notice, many of us would sign on for this duty. Getting the word out is important. Running kids into Camp Wamp in July, I heard about the Wheelers for the Wounded's Rubicon Super Event from two fellow four-wheelers. I volunteered my time and magazine!

Driver cooks a few hot dogs

Manifold hot dogs! The JK Wrangler's V-6 exhaust manifold has a tin insulator that makes a platform for slow grilling without scorching the hot dogs.

Not bad eight miles into the woods without a cook stove!

Add buns and condiments, and lunch is ready!

     Drivers were as varied as their rigs. Some came with dual-purpose Jeep CJs and Wranglers. There was a contingency of Toyota 4WD pickups and vintage Land Cruiser FJ40s. Then, of course, the Pirates of the Rubicon represented with hybrid Jeep 4x4s and other vehicles designed exclusively to absorb the punishment of the Rubicon Trail.

     On that note, some of the worst sections of trail, like the boulder-laced trough of the Little Sluice Box, have trail by-passes. Some pirates plunged into the trough, living up to their reputation. They provided vast entertainment for vets and the other four-wheelers who watched and cheered from the sidelines. (See video #2.)

Why the 'Wheelers for the Wounded' Event?

     Observers and participants alike appreciate the value of this gathering. One returning vet, Scott, shared that last year's weekend opened him up. After a 38-year avoidance of his Vietnam experience, he not only reentered the "world" with a new outlook, he has since explored effective ways to deal with his former nemesis.

     Note: Hear Scott's personal account in the videos, especially Part 3. It is an honor to know and 'wheel with Scott and the other vets...

   Other vets also shared their unique accounts. Sceptics might think that a weekend of four-wheeling is hardly a substitute for "therapy," but as a witness and far more than casual observer, I can say with certainty that many of the vets found this experience transformative. This is partly because of the Rubicon Trail's nature and the setting. More so, they were in the company of others who could truly relate and share similar experiences.

Coast Guardsman sums it up.

Brian joined the U.S. Coast Guard to serve his country and fellow citizens. Haiti was a social, economic and political nightmare in 1992-93, and the U.S. Government pressed the Coast Guard into service, turning boat people back to Haiti and dealing with a human disaster. Brian, formally trained as an operatic singer, had not sung a note since 1993. On Saturday night, he opened up, and with the mic in hand, sang an Italian aria before the clustered vets. Go for it, Brian! 

     A combination of factors makes the Wheelers for the Wounded's Rubicon Super Event effective. For last year's returning vets, the impact is obviously lasting. Why? First of all, WFTW event participants can relate to each other's experiences. Civilians, including family, who have not trained and acted like committed warriors cannot relate to a wounded one...At the Rubicon event, Wheelers for the Wounded organizers and the guest vets were each combat hardened. Playful chiding and rough-edged, course language were the norm. Yet everyone had respect and support. Isn't that how troops interact in the field? Watching each other's back, the world is keenly real.

Family outing, fresh air and unique surroundings.

The Rubicon works for everyone. Here, a traditional CJ Jeep with trailer in tow brings family fun to the generations. Start them young! The Rubicon becomes a lifetime gift and icon.

     Secondly, the idea of "fun" on the Rubicon is over the top. Respecting disabilities, everyone gets an adrenaline-pumping sense for four-wheeling. Moment to moment trail demands leave little room for flashbacks or dredging up thoughts of life's worst traumas. There's a demanding, front and center focus, innervating each minute on the trail.

Ice cream truck from the Rock Heads!

The Rock Heads 4x4 Club did a knockout dinner, featuring chicken or steak, salad and a phenomenal pot of "club recipe" beans. Capping this, they brought out their 4WD conversion ice cream truck and delivered frozen ice cream to vets and volunteers!

     Lastly, vets meeting vets in a recreational setting is apparently a good thing. The loudspeaker music, laughter and boistrous hollering that took place at camp on Friday and Saturday nights echoed through the surrounding forest. It was obvious that vets know how to have a good time! The food was great, the company genuine—someone always watching your back.

     No political talk, no CNN, no MSNBC and no Fox News. No mortgage payment due or foreclosure worries, just a hoot of a party, music blaring, campfire roaring, way deep in the woods with the 4x4s parked safely and keys tucked away for the night...What a great time out for everyone! Say, that really begs the question: When are we doing this again?

Getting it together at camp near the Rubicon Trail.

One vet (backside) drove all the way from Oklahoma, in part for the Wheelers for the Wounded gathering and also to plant his Jeep 4WD's footprint on the notorious Rubicon Trail. Well worth the trip!

There are three action videos of this event available now at this website—well over an hour of coverage...Enjoy it!

—Moses Ludel

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