Four-wheelin’ Fordyce Trail
August 17, 2004
[Editors note: This is the second in a two-part series on the 38th Annual Sierra Trek a gathering of four-wheel-drive enthusiasts that took place Aug. 58 at Meadow Lake just northwest of Truckee.To read Part I, visit:https://www.sierrasun.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20040812/COMMUNITY/108120006%5DIve seen them driving around town for years, but where do they come from and why did people have them?Lifted Jeeps, pickup trucks and SUVs sporting huge, knobby tires, winches on the front and spare gas cans on the back. Always a little out of place in the grocery store parking lot; their owners always a little too proud of the dents and paint scratches that tell a story most folks wouldnt understand.It wasnt until I finally got to see these rigs in action on the notoriously challenging Fordyce Creek Trail that I mentally connected the dots and understood why 36-inch tires, locking differentials, roll bars and winches are more than just tough-looking modifications to a perfectly good four-wheel drive vehicle.Still, considering the cost and effort, why do people build and drive four-wheelers?I think the basic answer is because they can do it, said Jack Raudy, a former executive director of the California Association of Four Wheel Drive Clubs. Its that simple.Because they can and because of a desire to access backcountry trails that a stock four-wheel drive would not be able to handle, added Carrol Bryant, the chairman of Sierra Trek 2004, an annual gathering of four-wheel drive enthusiasts that is sponsored each year by the California Association of Four Wheel Drive Clubs.This year more than 900 people made the trek up to Meadow Lake, approximately 15 miles northwest of Truckee, to camp, fish and socialize, but also to drive many of them on the Fordyce Creek Trail.Whats appealing to the veteran four-wheelers is, because of the severe winters, the trail never looks the same, Raudy said. Generally its the same path, but new boulders have fallen, and each year the trail looks different than it did the year before.And when Raudy refers to boulders, he means it. Boulders the size of Volkswagen Beetles litter the trail from start to finish, but with a good deal of skill and some hefty modifications, the four-wheelers running the trail make it over, around and through many tight spaces and impressive rock formations along the 12-mile route.Tim Anderson or Reno was typical of the drivers coming up the final section of the trail, known as Winch Hill #5.I do this because its fun. And it keeps me out of trouble, he said.Anderson was driving what he described as the remains of a 1994 Jeep Cherokee with a host of modifications to the engine, drive train, suspension and pretty much everything else.I built everything except for the front bumper on it, he said of his rig, which he estimated has cost him almost $40,000 to make trail worthy.Throughout the day a number of modified Jeeps, Toyotas and classic Ford Broncos made their way up the trail, but one of the more interesting vehicles was a Lexus SUV driven by Raphal Gernez, a Frenchman who now lives in Los Altos, Calif.Gernez, his wife Jolle and his two teenage daughters almost looked like they could be out for a Sunday drive, except for the six-inch lift and 37-inch tires on the Lexus.It was an experience because we came with a big Lexus SUV, Gernez said. Were almost done now, and we have some little souvenirs on the back, he said, pointing out a few dents they had picked up along the trail, but except for that it was pretty good.Part of the fun in driving the Fordyce Trail during Sierra Trek, according to Gernez, was the additional measure of safety provided by the volunteers watching over the course.Volunteers manned each of the five especially tricky Winch Hills on the route, with spotters giving advice on tire placement and route finding on some of the most challenging sections.There are two things about the Fordyce Trail that stand out, said Jim Bramham, a Sierra Trek volunteer and past chairman of the event. One is just the history of it; that it was a connection road connecting the mines at Summit City with Cisco Grove. And its also just an incredibly tough four-wheel drive trail that has remained an extremely difficult challenge for all the years Ive been there.But while the driving is a big part of the fun, Bryant said that the event also plays an important role in the California Association of Four Wheel Drive Clubs mission to preserve access to four-wheel drive trails throughout the state:With trails being shut down and all that, thats basically what [Sierra Trek] is all about: To raise money to help fight those trails being shut down and to educate people on doing it the right way and not be out there tearing up the terrain and going off the trail.As for me, I came away from the Fordyce Creek Trail with a new appreciation for the ingenuity that goes into building a four wheeler and the men and women who take on the rocks, roots and other obstacles along the trail.
Of all those sport utility vehicles sold in California each year, how many of them are ever driven off the pavement and into the backcountry?Not enough, says Jack Raudy, the former executive director of the California Association of Four Wheel Drive Clubs and a long-time four wheeling advocate.That is why Raudy is excited to see Charles Wells new book Guide to Northern California Backroads & 4-Wheel Drive Trails available this fall from FunTreks, Inc. of Colorado Springs, Colo.Wells, the author of six guidebooks on backcountry driving, has personally driven and photographed each of the 75 trails in his guidebook, with options ranging from an easy loop around the base of Mt. Shasta in the north to a difficult trail near Bakersfield in the south.Wells divides the trails into three categories in terms of difficulty, with something in the book for all SUV owners regardless of their driving ability and vehicle type: Trails rated as easy are suitable for stock four-wheel drive SUVs with high ground clearance and low range.Moderate trails are suitable for most stock four-wheel drive SUVs, though for the toughest moderate trails, factory skid plates, tow points and all-terrain tires are recommended.Difficult trails are those suitable for some aggressive stock four-wheel drive SUVs with very high ground clearance, excellent articulation, tow hooks, a full skid plate package and all-terrain or mud-terrain tires. For these challenging trails, most drivers will want a modified rig with higher ground clearance, oversized tires and heavy duty accessories.Each trail description includes detailed directions on how to get to the trail head, a thorough description of the trail itself with the mileage listed for all turns and especially tricky sections, time estimates and historical highlights along the route.Also included are useful maps of each route which provide additional details on paved sections, alternate routes, camp sites and points of interest.According to Raudy, Wells new book is the best guidebook hes seen for SUV and four wheeling trails in the area.Guided SUV runs are great, Raudy said, because they allow people who are unfamiliar with an area and/or are new to four wheeling the opportunity to get outside with a guide who knows the area well. Wells guidebook is similar, Raudy said, in that he gives so much detail that even novice backcountry drivers can navigate the easier trails in the book with confidence, and four wheeling enthusiasts will learn about more challenging trails all over the state.Local trails described in the book include the Bear Valley Loop and Fordyce Creek trails north of Truckee, the Signal Peak trail to the west of town, a trail up Mt. Watson between Truckee and Tahoe City, and the Blackwood Canyon/Ellis Peak and Rubicon trails on the west shore of Lake Tahoe.In addition to trail descriptions, the book contains information on selecting the right trail for your vehicle; California laws, licensing and fees associated with backcountry driving; ATV and dirt bike specific tips; Off-Highway Vehicle areas; general safety tips for backcountry travel and survival; and guidelines for protecting the natural environment while on the trail and abiding by the Leave No Trace philosophy that four wheeling organizations and land managers across the state are insisting upon in order to keep the trails open.For those with Global Positioning Systems, Wells provides a full set of waypoints for each of the trails in the book along with instructions on GPS basics and what mapping software works well with GPS systems.In all, Wells new guide would make a nice addition to any Truckee-area SUV owners library, from the four-wheel drive newbie looking to take their SUV off the pavement for the first time to the hard core rock crawler looking for a challenge. The Guide to Northern California Backroads & 4-Wheel Drive Trails retails for $19.95 and will be available in California bookstores, map stores and four-wheel drive shops. Books can also be ordered at http://www.funtreks.com.
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