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Not the Fast Track . . .

Democrat Photo by Ted Waddell

A PARTICIPANT IN the recent Jeep Jamboree maneuvers his vehicle through rough terrain.

. . . It's The
Fun Track

By Ted Waddell
FORESTBURGH — September 3, 2002 – “It’s a Jeep Thing . . . You Wouldn’t Understand.”
Or so a lot of license plate frames and bumper stickers displayed on several 4x4 Jeeps during the 5th Annual Catskill Mountains Jeep Jamboree would have you believe.
But seeing is indeed believing, as about 100 Jeeps and 180 Jeepers showed up recently at Mr. Willy’s Restaurant for the 7th local jamboree (there were two such events in 1998 and ‘99) sponsored by Jeep Jamboree USA (JJUSA), headquartered in Georgetown, Ca.
The jamboree was held on private lands located in the towns of Bethel, Forestburgh and Thompson over a two-day period: Friday-Saturday, August 23 and 24.
According to the JJUSA, for 50 years Jeep owners and their guests have participated in weekend outings across the country during sponsored events called Jeep Jamborees. Now celebrating its golden anniversary in 2002, the JJUSA is holding 34 jamborees nationwide from the Lost Coast of California to the mountains of Maine, and from Idaho’s Silver Valley all the way southward to the Y.O. Ranch in the Panhandle State.
The first Jeep Jamboree was held 50 years ago on 22 miles of extreme off-road driving called the Rubicon Trail in South Lake Tahoe, Ca. A former Indian footpath, it is considered to be the hardest section of off-roading in North America.
(Fittingly, a new Jeep Wrangler named the “Rubicon” is designed for serious off-road use.)
In 1952, Mark A. Smith and a small group of Rotarians and friends came up with the idea of staging an annual Jeep trek across the Sierra Nevada Mountains as a way of reviving the economy of their town in northern California.
The following year, 155 people tackled the Rubicon Trail in 55 Jeep vehicles, and the rest is history.
As leader of the 1979 Expedition de las Americas, Smith led a 20,000-mile, 120-day journey by Jeep from the tip of South America to Prudhoe Bay in northern Alaska. Ten years later, he led the1987 Camel Trophy through the wilds of Madagascar.
Since founding the JJUSA in 1982, Smith has been named “Four-Wheeler of the Decade” by the United 4-Wheel Drive Association.
Somewhat closer to home, with JJUSA trail ratings of 4-8, the most demanding sections of the Catskill Mountains gave participants a taste of the Rubicon’s daunting “10.”
Jeep Jamborees are sponsored by the Jeep Corporation for Jeep enthusiasts in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
Each morning after breakfast at Mr. Willy’s, participants attended a driver’s meeting led by Mike Taylor, co-coordinator of the Catskill Mountains Jeep Jamboree. Adam Rivas served as fellow co-coordinator.
Taylor owns and drives a 1989 Wrangler, and after going to different jamborees around the Northeast, he decided a local event would help promote tourism in the area.
“It’s still pretty rural up here,” he said, adding the national organization believes in the conservationist slogan of 4-wheeling: “Tread Lightly.”
Shay Lawton of Bloomingburg pilots a built-up 1977 CJ5. He got into 4x4s with a “big Ford pickup” followed by his CJ5 after getting into “a real bad motorcycle accident.”
“I decided next time I was going to go through or over whatever it was that I got hit with,” he said defiantly before heading off to the trails in search of some really big rocks and lots of very deep mud.
“It’s a challenge,” Lawton said of 4-wheeling. “When you break something out in the middle of nowhere, you’ve got to make things happen. It’s a challenge all the way around, getting there and back.”
Monticello resident Lori Rivas drove her husband Adam’s 2000 TJ during the jamboree.
“He built it up, and I drive it,” she said. “I just put it in gear and go.”
As the Jeeps – everything from Columbia, Md.-based Mike Boyle’s 1954 M38A1 military-spec classic to a 2002 Grand Cherokee Overland (with a $40,000 sticker tag) from the East Side to some awesome 4x4s running 36-inch-high tires powered by modified V-8s under the hood – tackled one of the boulder fields, Daniel Castell of Summerville, Mass. caught some serious air as he lifted one wheel a long ways off the ground getting over the rocks, giving his intrepid passenger (and girlfriend) Danielle Miller a worm’s-eye view of the rapidly closing terrain.
Jim Rapp, one of the local Jeep Jamboree’s 12 trail watchers (the guys and gals who lend a hand to less experienced drivers) offered a few suggestions to his wife Jessica as she negotiated a rock course.
At one stage of the course, during a break in the action, she rolled down her window, pulled out a recent edition of Cosmopolitan and checked out the articles. There was nothing about 4-wheeling in Jeeps, however.
The Rapps hail from Ringwood, NJ, where he serves the motoring public as a local cop.
Taking a break from the winching action at the top of a steep, muddy incline where a tree at the crest proved to be a panel-beater’s delight, Gregg Hetcher of Wurtsboro talked about “The Joy of Jeep.”
“It’s all about the mud, the dirt and being outdoors,” he said.
Shawn Chapman made it look easy with his highly modified 4x4 Jeep: a 350-cubic-inch, 330-horsepower, fuel-injected Chevy motor hooked up with super heavy-duty gears, axles and Dana 60s front and rear, to power a set of Super Swampers. That’s a really large set of tires designed to get you just about anywhere this side of the Moon and back.
You hope.
“I started out with a stock Jeep about seven years ago having fun in the mud, and it just went up from there,” he said, leaning out of his mud-spattered ride.
Jack Booth, a 1st lieutenant with the Monticello Fire Department, is another guy with a thing for Jeeps, sticky mud and sharp rocks. He’s been “Jeeping” for about five years.
There’s an allure of busting axles, shattering gears or crunching stumps on rock?
“It’s just the mud and the camaraderie, hanging out, getting stuck and unstuck,” he said a few moments after plowing through a deep water-filled mudhole almost up to his doors.
For information about Jeep Jamboree USA (JJUSA), call 530-333-4777 ext. 18, fax 530-333-2844 or visit their website at jeepjamboree Or write them via snail mail at JJUSA, P. O. Box 1601, 2776 Sourdough Flat, Georgetown, CA 95634.
The 6th Annual Catskill Mountains Jeep Jamboree is scheduled for the first weekend in Sept. 2003. For information about next year’s event, call local coordinator Mike Taylor at 794-5445.

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