Smoke Along The Rubicon Trail
Essays, Stories, Adventures, Dreams
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek
Smoke Along The Rubicon Trail
From among the few categories that form the framework of the storyteller’s letterhead of the Footloose Forester: Essays, Stories, Adventure, Dreams, this chronicle and a delicious story is based on an adventure that was recalled in last night’s dream. It brings together some of the most gratifying components of past adventures that were captured for future dreams, and years later were committed to paper in the form of chronicle stories. This chronicle is a reprise of one of the most gratifying adventures, set in a beautiful forest and along one of the most spectacular jeep trails in the United States.
The Rubicon Trail is so spectacular and so challenging to off-roaders that the manufacturers of the Jeep brand of 4 X 4 vehicles named one of their models the Rubicon. That choice of names likely had something to do with the fact that its rugged frame and body construction had been field tested as a prototype model along the Rubicon Trail in California, notably the toughest test of off-road severity of any jeep trail in the United States. The Footloose Forester never read any of the advertising hype about the Rubicon model, but he did see a few of them on the road and intuitively knew that the automotive engineers at Jeep had sought out a suitable “test track” for the model they were going to promote to serious devotees of off-roading adventures.
This is one short stretch of the Rubicon Trail
This chronicle adventure → dream → story will always remain as a favorite memory because it is a mental reprise of the thrilling beauty of the rugged granite strewn uplands of the El Dorado National Forest, decked out in magnificent patches of red and white fir, ponderosa and sugar pine, and Western red cedar. The sight of them brought instant joy into the heart of the Footloose Forester then, and a sense of joy in the re-telling of their splendor today.
The Footloose Forester was privileged to be chosen to join two other U.S. Forest Service employees to seek out a suspicious smoke high along a ridge line overlooking the Rubicon River. The river itself was the dividing line between the Lake Valley District and his own Pacific District of the El Dorado National Forest, so the aerial reconnaissance spotter who had called in the smoke, and our dispatcher at district ranger headquarters had to decide who would be assigned to check it out before it became a larger forest fire. Bob Logan from headquarters was senior and was chosen to lead the hunt. Bob Lewen, another seasoned Forest Service employee who was in the vicinity of the trailhead of the Rubicon Trail was also dispatched by radio to rendezvous at the trail junction with Footloose Forester. It was his territory and although he was nominally a Recreation Patrolman and not usually assigned to firefighting duties, he was driving our solitary, small, rugged 4 X 4 jeep that would be able to negotiate the narrow and treacherous Rubicon Trail. The other guys had larger pick-up trucks that were unsuitable for the task.
Moments like this can be expected along the Rubicon Trail
We all transferred to the pale green Forest Service jeep at the rendezvous point and Footloose Forester proceeded up the Rubicon Trail with the experienced Bob Logan guiding him with the aid of a topographic map that showed the approximate location of the suspected smoke, as described by the aerial recon spotter. The trail is every bit as spectacular as the hobbyist off-roaders have described. As he has already mentioned, the Footloose Forester considered it a privilege to be there—driving up the famous and spectacular Rubicon Trail. And that is where the story changes into something a bit less heroic.
At a point where the trail disappeared and the only passage upward was through a narrow ravine strewn with large boulders, it became clear why only a jeep would be able to crawl forward. We proceeded slowly and haltingly up and over the field of boulders until we came to one that was so large and pitched so steeply that there was a possibility of tipping the jeep over backward. The ravine was very narrow and the sides were so steep that there was no way around it. Although the Footloose Forester was willing to take on the challenge, he demurred out of a sense of foreboding that he would lose his job if he was the one who let the jeep tip over backward. He was a seasonal employee who didn’t earn the loyalty that would be afforded to either of his companions. So, Bob Logan took the wheel and negotiated the jeep over the large boulder. But not before the jeep tipped backward sufficient to squash the exhaust pipe against another boulder and kill the engine. We managed to pry the exhaust pipe open again and by changing the angle of attack up the boulder, Bob got us through the last major obstacle. To say that the rest of the trail was a pleasant drive would be an understatement. Spectacular is the only word that keeps coming to mind.
Among the most precious memories of a somewhat romantic Footloose Forester who seeks out adventure, those short hours on the ridge above the Rubicon River will forever be cherished. The smoke we were seeking happened to be very close to the point where we stopped on a level stretch of the trail at the highest elevation on the ridgeline. And putting out the small spot fire but potential forest fire was one of the easiest in his memory. Oh, there was plenty of smoke wafting into the air above the small patch of smoldering duff, but no large fire. We put it out in less than an hour. More joy in the knowledge of doing what he wanted to do in life, in a place so beautiful that he knew it was a privilege to be there. The experience was like checking off an item on his bucket list.
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