Author: Jacki Maybin
Here I am, fresh off my 3rd Jeep Jamboree in Big Bear Lake because of the wonderful people involved, time of year, location and my available free time. As a single mom, I need to take moments for more challenging adventures without my kids when they come available. I am grateful to my boys’ dad for always scheduling time off work to make this event possible for me. Without his help, I couldn’t do this.
This tradition began in 2016 with my brand new 2015 stock Jeep Wrangler JKU Sport (nameless at the time). I thought off-roading was just a dirt road, that is a very small part of it. I signed up for the orange group (the easiest stock rated and/or for new off-road drivers) all by myself, not knowing anyone and not having any real trail experience. I had Randy Stockberger, the orange group trail leader, directing me with important information before we even got to the Jamboree.
I had Rock Slide Engineering sliders and off I went. That event set up an impactful year for me in 2017. We had a really awesome group that was able to navigate the trails well. Day 2, they took us on a black diamond trail (it was an easier black diamond trail than the John Bull for sure, but for me, it was a white knuckler). At one point, I froze on a very steep, sharp right turn downhill descent. I pretty much panicked. I was able to get through it with a spotter but was shaky for a long time and even cried a bit trying to get through. That day has stuck with me for the last 2 years.
Last year, 2017 was a "play it safe year" for me. I had more armor and my tires were a bit bigger (skinny 33s). I spent a lot of time working on my Jeep. I had more experience, but honestly, I had a lingering memory of the friends from the prior year on the trails and didn’t even realize it. 2017 was fun, but no real growth opportunities as a Jeeper.
Welcome to 2018, where I now have a very sweet ride Bumble Bee who was named at the 2016 Jamboree before the end of that weekend. She has a Teraflex Alpine CT3 lift kit with Falcon 3.1 shocks that make my ride, oh so smooth and clearance wonderful. She has a wonderful Teraflex front and rear differential covers and EVO armor underneath and a very determined driver (ME). This makes for a perfect combination for adventure. I had no one to answer to this year except myself, to address my fears and naysayers that said BumbleBee can’t do hard trails because she has no lockers and isn't on 35s.
I chose the green group (moderate non-locked rigs) led by the amazing Randall (RD) Davis. He was an awesome guide and took me up every hard line on Gold Mountain with ease. I was blessed to have Rick from the Jeep Jamboree Corporate Office in front of me. He personally took me up the same spot I was towed off of 2 years ago while on the easy side of the trail, as a little stock Jeep. If you ever wondered if corporate people get out of the office and know how to wheel, well Rick can wheel and is a great spotter. As much as I wanted to stay with RD and his team for day 2, I had a mountain to conquer. Knowing my experience from 2016 with him, Randy invited me back onto White Mountain Peak in reverse (the harder way). RD was gracious, understanding what I needed to do and blessed me to go on my day 2 adventure with a different group. I was a different driver this year, with an amazing rig. Yet, I was still nervous. The weather was perfect, I felt good. The first part went so easy I asked Randy if we were on the same trail, he laughed at me saying “yep, different perspective going the other way and with more experience isn’t it?”
When we stopped for lunch, we had a great ride to that point and a perfect day by wheeling standards. After lunch, we made it around a corner, my mind was racing. That looks kind of familiar but not really. Trails change with weather and seasons. I was staring straight up at “THE SPOT” and didn’t even realize it. Randy told the drivers double lockers go to the left if they felt good, otherwise go to the right. I didn’t have one locker let alone two. An unsuspecting passenger needing a ride up to her Jeep hopped in my rig saying I think you are supposed to go right. Me - "let's see which way Randy says" as he gave the thumbs up and pointed which way he wanted me to go. Oh yeah, the left side, the double locker side (he knows me, he knows my rig and he knows I will listen to his direction). Bumble Bee eased right up there with me laughing (yep I have it on video). It wasn’t until I got around the corner, got out and looked down that I realized it was, in fact, the spot that had me shaking and unable to move 2 years before. Even better, Charlene Bower from Ladies Offroad Network was right behind me watching me go up (I hope she got pictures because that felt awesome). Facing your fears head-on with supportive and knowledgeable people around you makes all the difference. I now have an incredible conquer that mountain moment. I’m so glad I took that time to make a new memory.
Our white group day didn’t end there. Randy let me know if the day went well, we may have time to do a couple other really hard trails because this group was doing fantastic. We took a break and were given trail options, we could stay as one group and head back to town or break up into two groups, sending a couple of guides back with those who were content with their wheeling day. Randy would lead the other group to not one, but two more black diamond rated trails one being Holcomb Creek (which was on my bucket list, I had been told over and over again I could not do this trail since I didn't have lockers or 35" tires). A guide I trusted offered to show and take me on this elusive trail was a HUGE smile bringer for me. What do you think I picked? You guessed it, 2N06X - Lower Larga Flat black diamond to get to 2N93 Holcomb Creek black diamond trail.
Part 2 of our white group run, I had Charlene in front of me (we were blessed that she and Matt were on our extra fun run). In front of her was a manual 2dr JK that rocked the trail runs. It got in my head when he popped a tire bead on the 2N06X uphill. In comes Matt, Charlene and Tom Trotter (who also was with us on our E-ticket adventure). Matt and Charlene worked together like a well-oiled machine getting the tools together, Hi-Lift Jack proper and safely in place, then seamlessly got air back into that tire and BAM, off he went. Next, I watched Charlene as she zoomed up with ease. Frankie was all locked up (let’s face it, Frankie can do anything and is a super awesome BFGoodrich rig) and Charlene was great following the spotter and picking lines.
Then it was my turn. I was nervous but now knew what a popped bead sounded like and that it isn’t a big deal with the right crew and right equipment. I was led to the right side as I had no lockers and it was less of a solid wall. I was anxious and a bit jerky on my steering. Being able to navigate two foot driving is a really good skill to have. I’m still getting comfortable with that and feel it has impacted my ease of navigation and ultimately the line Bumble Bee ended up taking.
I had one little mishap on a wheel that was already not perfect. Don’t upgrade until you need it right? One of my wheels had a relationship with rocks before but always served me well. During the climb a rock hit it and cracked it a bit more (now I have a good reason for an upgrade) but it was still totally drivable, the air was solid and Bumble Bee made it up great. Then, I made a HUGE mistake relaxing and thinking the hard part was done. I forgot the basic rules of trail running (regardless of rig brand you are driving). There are 3 parts
- View and pick your line about 20ft out.
- Watch 8 to 10 ft ahead of you for your upcoming path or any other obstacles.
- The obstacle you are navigating that moment is under your wheels.
So, you are driving 3 phases all at once ALL THE TIME. You don’t stop watching because the trail spotter stops spotting you and says "go ahead you made it" - yes, you made that part, but there is still trail to drive. YOU ARE THE ONE DRIVING YOUR RIG, ALWAYS. No spotter is driving it for you.
I was so excited I had made it through the main uphill, that I missed the tire size rock to my right that sheared off my valve stem and BAM air left that tire quickly. I was lucky, Matt saw it happen almost in slow motion and immediately grabbed the rear tire valve stem cover to stop the leak as much as possible. That got me up the remaining portion of the trail allowing to get others through the obstacle and me to flat ground.
Here enters my narrow knowledge of tires and trail running. I had been taught to keep tires aired properly and evenly, don’t go so low you pop a bead, don’t run tires with uneven pressure (knowing I’m in my daily driver, it could wear them out unevenly and I already had a cracked wheel that I wasn’t sure was safe). This is the point where I am again “in my head” and showing it. I was so lucky to have 2 expert tire knowledgeable people on my run with me especially my BFGoodrich tires as Charlene knows everything about BFGoodrich.
I heard what they said, but sadly I had all the “what ifs” stuck in my head, so I didn’t apply the knowledge they were graciously giving me. Let me tell you if an expert tells you “you’ve got this, it’s fine”, I suggest you believe them. My lack of tire knowledge and trail breakdown experience in this situation didn’t serve me well. I had many "what ifs" in my head and we hadn’t even hit my HARD TRAIL yet. I essentially had a low, great traction tire on the front right tire that needed airing up occasionally to keep it from going completely flat and rolling off the bead. Regardless of what was okay to drive, I give major props to Matt and Charlene for stopping, talking to this novice gal, putting me at ease and helping me get the confidence back that I needed to tackle the next trail. They put my anxiety over their knowledge, stopped on the trail and (in record time) showed me how to swap out my tire. Randy had the tire off the back of my Jeep by the time Matt had the tire off the ground in the front. Charlene helped me understand what tools I needed to supply, how to get my bad tire back on the spare tire mount and then had me properly tighten it.
I sincerely thank Matt and Charlene for going the extra mile to help me get calm again. That’s a
huge benefit to not wheeling alone. Later Charlene and I spoke about the tire swap. I functionally didn’t need the tire swap and they knew that, but it would have added time and it's own set of challenges airing it up in intervals. However, at that moment, my confidence was gone and I needed it to be able to keep moving forward so they decided a quick tire change was the right approach. They, along with Randy our trail guide, helped me get through that moment even though it was a pain to do, they helped me get it done like the amazing leaders they are. In hindsight, I know I needed the confidence in my rig for the upcoming trail that I had been so intimidated by, I needed to have confidence, as the driver, to do the trail ahead.
I can honestly say Holcomb Creek was nothing to me compared to that darn uphill on 2N06X. We crossed the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), saw hikers, a running creek, other rigs and lots of beauty. We navigated some intense boulders and even went over a flowing creek. Somehow making it through that experience taught me to take it one wheel, one rock at a time. I highly suggest doing all of the Big Bear Mountain Trails.
After the last obstacle, Charlene pulled me aside while we were waiting on other rigs to recap what we had accomplished that day. Here is my take away:
- I was always terrified of a possible break down on the trail. Well, now I had one, not a super big deal, as long as you aren’t wheeling alone. Got that one behind me.
- I identified the fear of a trail, I got back to it and got it done, owning that mountain.
- I kept blaming myself for not knowing where my tools were. They were in the Jeep, I just couldn't recall which of the 6 totes they were in from a prior trip where tools got moved around. So, take away 3 – always reorganize your tools after any trip that you use them. Know what you have and where it is. Others will be more willing to assist you if you: know your rig, have the tools your rig needs, know exactly where your tools are and know how to use them for your rig. (3.5 by CB - Not every tool bag has to be black. If you are going to use multiple bags, color code them. Know what bag has what in them.)
- Watch your lines and don’t stop driving your rig once through the spotted obstacle. The spotter gets you through a brief moment on the trail. You are the driver ALWAYS. You are responsible for your line picking and path. Don’t stop understanding the line just because you had a spotter for a moment in time. Watch 20ft out to get a general line to know what is coming up, then about 8ft be visualizing your tire placement, all at the same time while driving directly over the obstacle with your wheels. When in doubt, STOP…. Ask if you aren’t sure or if you missed visualizing, like I did. I had people nearby. If I had spoken up, the rock would have been avoided and I’d still have my valve stem.
- If you ask for advice from a trusted, knowledgeable source, take it. I was shown a lot of grace because of my anxiety, they all took time out to help me get my confidence back to keep going. My own insecurities were my biggest obstacle. The best group ever was with me and had my back.
- The next time someone says I can’t do something, I will pause and evaluate the whys. After my adventure, I don’t believe it was my rig or my experience level. It was more likely the pace people were wanting to take on a given day, with a given group, on a given trail. Don’t take it personally. Big groups take a long time to do a run. Now I get it. The day or event simply may not be able to take the extra time needed to get a non-locked smaller tire rig over the tougher areas. It doesn’t mean you can’t, it more likely means their planned timeframe doesn’t allow for the extra time and possible break and failure that could happen because the rig isn't built for the obstacle. Find a smaller, trusted group willing to take the time to spot and make your own adventure of incredible memories. Make sure those around you know you are interested in going on a specific trail when a there is a smaller, less rushed group and be prepared.
- Share your goals, fears and in your head moments with a trusted person or two. Because I did that, I had a trail guide keeping what I needed to conquer in mind and was able to make it happen although I didn’t know that at the time. (That was an extra treat). I had a mentor talk me thru my successes and teachable moments that I believe will make me a better driver and person to wheel with.
- I came into the 2018 Jamboree with a goal to do at least one new trail. I got two new trails in. I came to have fun and challenge myself. Mission success! I conquered four black diamond trails in one weekend because of the heart and passion of the Jeeping community. No one is ever left behind. No one wheels alone and if you wheel with the right people, they will help you tackle and fulfill your bucket list.
Best Jamboree ever (so far). Can’t wait for my next adventure.
Charlene Note: Jacki and Bumble Bee did awesome all weekend at the Jeep Jamboree! She took on her fears and anxieties - not only accomplished them, but learned from them. On the first day I specifically asked her what she wanted to learn and changing her tire came up as something she was very insecure about - she wanted to go through the steps. I said we could do that in the parking lot that night after dinner. As evenings at events go, our time slipped away from us and we didn't get to walk through the process. So it was a bit of a comical moment when the next day we made the decision to switch it out! Matt was doing the tire hustle and I was trying to get him what he needed and keep Jacki focused on the WHY we were doing this and that. It was a FAST tire change, but now she knows and feels much more confident in the process. 🙂 Love it!