The start of Day Three of our Rubicon adventure blurs rather fuzzily into the end of Day Two, thanks largely to a feisty little Canadian beverage called “Fireball”. A cinnamon whisky that just keeps on giving, it proves rather too easy to drink and the common sense that suggests an early night is soon consumed by the hot, cinnamony need for “just one more”. The fact that the bar girl is a tall, gorgeous blonde called Savannah has nothing to do with it at all.
The Fireball runs out far earlier than the conversation, however, and that continues into the small hours. Eventually, however, sleep does beckon and far too few hours later the sun is up and we are getting ready to head out for the day.
Rather than continuing through the rest of the trail, we are heading back the way we came the following day. The day-long drive back to where we were staying from the far end of the trail suggests that logistically this is sensible, but the confidence built up over the previous day begs to be tested further on unknown obstacles.
This means we have to miss out on some of the other more legendary features of the Rubicon Trail, like Big Sluice, Little Sluice and the Soup Bowl, but it also means we get a longer run – carrying on towards Georgetown is only another 7km or so, back the way we came is 12km.
Still, heading out the same way we came in proves to be totally different to it was coming in, and the lack of traffic on a Monday is a stark contrast.
For some reason I don’t particularly feel like being a passenger this morning, so spend the first few hours of the day walking alongside taking pictures. This is, rather unsurprisingly, the quicker way to travel the Rubicon Trail, as the vehicles crawl slower than walking pace through the majority of it.
This gives me the opportunity to take in the truly spectacular surroundings properly. The skinny, moss-covered trees are relatively sparse in comparison to New Zealand bush, but make up for it with impressive height. Whereas at home native flora basically just gives up trying to grow at high altitude, the local stuff here has a far more tenacious approach to life.
And it is not just the flora that catches you attention either: the local wildlife is sparse, but undeniably present. From the occasional squirrel scampering past, only to stop at a safe distance and cast a beady, defiant eye over you through to the bears that apparently put in an appearance at our camp last night. Or that may simply have been me trying to find my way back to my tent. I am not sure.
Still, nothing tries to kill me as I walked through the surrounding, the constant drone of low-speed Jeeps off in the distance.
Our ride – that I am currently not riding in – for the trip back out is a red SWB two-door Wrangler Rubicon manual. It is a vehicle that proves to be the true revelation of the trip.
While the four-door auto was a relentless crawler, the manual was on another plane altogether. Simply leaving it in first and not touching the clutch or brakes was pretty much enough to get over anything. Even standing on the brakes relatively hard wouldn’t bring it to a complete halt without increasing the effort significantly. Even then it would blatantly refuse to stall.
If you manage the almost-impossible and actually manage to stall it, just starting it in gear without using the clutch would get it ticking relentless forward again, just like a big, red, unstoppable Energiser Bunny.
Like the Unlimited, the axle articulation of the SWB two-door with the sway bars disconnected its startling (not to mention the vast improvement in the off road ride…) and the short wheelbase makes for a surprisingly different experience. Where the LWB four-door offers a better ride, far less pitching and superior performance over certain obstacles, the shorter wheelbase two-door is vastly more manoeuvrable and nimble.
While certain parts of the Trail and certain obstacles suit one of the other better, the overwhelming feeling at the end of the two days is that our choice would undoubtedly be a SWB two-door manual Wrangler Rubicon.
Walking up Cadillac Hill taking photos of the impossible angles and serious axle articulation being achieved, shows just how much of an accomplishment driving it actually is. Frighteningly vertical in places and intimidating enough on foot, I am again left bewildered at how we squeezed a convoy of large Jeeps down it the previous day.
A stop to regroup and take some group photos at Observation Point sees it my turn to drive again. Having sweated out the last remnants of Fireball in my system several hours ago, I am more than keen to get behind the wheel again, and we are off.
Passing through (and over) obstacles we considered terrifying the day before, yet feel like child’s play now, is illuminating. The Jeep Wrangler Rubicon is so utterly at home here it is simply stunning. The fact that it can do all this straight out of the showroom is utterly amazing and the fact that Jeep simply let us do it shows just how confident they are in the Wrangler Rubicon.
As we head further downwards the trail becomes less challenging and the rocks smaller, indicating we are heading far too rapidly towards the end of our adventure. And what a true adventure it has been.
While it is true that driving remarkable vehicles in stunning locations is something you get regular chances to do it this job, literally nothing I have ever done so far has been as remarkable as driving the Rubicon Trail.
Equal parts thrilling, terrifying and satisfying, the experience of utter terror turning into complete joy after doing something that only moments previously you would have sworn was impossible – possibly even insane – to do in a motor vehicle is simply incomparable.
I now know why everybody we talked to on the way in smiled knowingly when they found out it was our first time in. They knew what we were about to experience and that it would be utterly unlike anything we had ever done before, no matter how much off-roading we had previously done. They knew we were going to experience something very special, for the very first time. And there is very little in this world better than that.