W o the toughest four-wheel drive in the world could be better located than in the south-west of the USA? The Rubicon Trail is not an artificially created four-wheel drive course, but an official US road through the El Dorado National Forest in California. Weekend after weekend, thousands of off-road vehicle fans make the pilgrimage to the trail to conquer the challenge for man and machine with the help of reductions, decoupling axles and the use of winches. The Rubicon Trail has a name like Donnerhall; is considered by all-wheel drive fans as the Nordschleife for off-road vehicles; a mythical route that has to be ridden at least once in a lifetime.
Traffic jam on the Rubicon Trail
'Some riders think this is a game - but you're wrong, 'says Tom, one of the guides. Without them, little goes on the trail. If you don't listen to the tour experts, you are out and for some you stop right at the entrance control. Anyone who touches down here with their all-wheel drive vehicle has to watch. 'We somehow get every driver through - nobody had to walk,' says Eric, who has also been a guide in the El Dorado National Forest for years. If you really want to have free travel, come during the week. Because if the weather is right, all hell breaks loose on the Rubicon Trail from Friday to Sunday. On some weekends, thousands are on the road - traffic jams in tricky places are inevitable. Because even though the trail is only 22 miles long in total, you can't move more than 15 meters from the route with your own climbing maxi. The forest authority is watching. You have to know for yourself where the trail is; You usually look for signs in vain.
Centimeters are often decisive
With all the views and the concentration while driving, you forget quickly how hot the sun is beating down from the sky in the Sierra Nevada. 'Drink, drink plenty of water,' calls out trail guide Tom. But thirst is little more than a marginal phenomenon. After a couple of hours the Rubicon Trail shows its ugly side. In a dried-out river bed, it is steeper between huge rocks than on the Streif in Kitzbühel. Centimeters decide whether the Jeep Wrangler can maneuver itself over the obstacles with a crazy axle articulation or if it grinds down. Again and again the metallic crunch of the underbody protection, a scratching on the rims or a dull impact on the bumper -Nobody gets away with it on the Rubicon Trail. With the left foot on the brake and the right foot on the accelerator, you work your way forward inch by inch.
The Rubicon Trail is not an all-wheel drive
The inclination affects man and machine equally. One of the jeeps grinds to a halt. With combined forces, a lot of shaking and pushing, it finally goes on after a quarter of an hour. 'You just have to improvise - if necessary we have a vehicle with a winch. But so far we've somehow got everyone through,' says trail guide Eric. The Rubicon Trail is anything but a four-wheel drive that you would like to cover in your air-conditioned Grand Cherokee. Real fans drive openly and thus expose themselves to the chaos of nature and wilderness almost unprotected. After just a few hundred meters on the tour, the dust had taken hold of everything. You can feel the dark powder between your teeth, on your clothes, in your hair. Your own jeep can only be disengaged anyway.
The eyes are watering, the sun is burning. The off-road vehicle is in the middle of a dry river bed. The front is so steep that you can almost see the floor over the hood, and the car hangs on a frightening angle. It's only a hand's breadth to the boulders to the left and right. Tom, trail guide in a yellow T-shirt, guides you through one of the most difficult parts of the Rubicon Trail, inch by inch, in a calming voice. A little to the right - now left again, slowly rocking forwards with gas and brakes - finally it's done. 'You're doing a great job,' grins Tom and gives a thumbs up. He makes sure with everyone. But it's a great feeling to have achieved something. But the tour has only just begun. There are still more than 15 miles to go.