In this world of social media, 24/7 connectedness and content shoved down our throats ad nauseam, it’s no wonder that mental health experts worldwide express grave concern about the stability of our psyches. Disconnecting through a long drive and overnight camping has become my favorite way to deal with the strains of everyday life. To keep my mental health above the threshold of sanity, I prefer being out in nature, listening to the birds singing in the trees and enjoying the sounds and sights of a river flowing nearby, to the constant barrage of pings and rings of online notifications.

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Every year in late August, the Northern California Land Rover (NCLR) club puts on an event we lovingly call Rovicon. The organizing committee of Eric Herbert, Don Happel and Greg Bodene worked tirelessly behind the scenes to create this event, run along the infamous Rubicon Trail. Many off-road enthusiasts consider the Rubicon to be the origin of the 4×4 OHV (Off Highway Vehicles) enthusiasm. Located 80 miles east of Sacramento in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, it consists of 22 miles of scenic and challenging rock crawling and dirt roads, ending near Lake Tahoe. The Rubicon is not for the faint of heart; the likelihood of vehicle body damage and impromptu trail repair is quite high.

In 2021, the Rovicon became known as the Re-Routicon as wildfires swept through much of Northern California, requiring the closure of the Rubicon Trail. 2022 saw our club’s participation bolstered by members of the New Mexico Land Rover Club. As they’re comprised of many members who live outside the “Land of Enchantment,” we enjoyed the company of enthusiasts from both the East and West Coast! The 2023 event provided me with off-roading, camping, camaraderie — and the absence of connectivity — that did wonders for my mental health. Participants drove anywhere from 3.5–12 hours (or 9 time zones) to arrive at our first campsite on Thursday, August 24, on the Loon Lake entrance of the trail. Half of the trail is your standard West Coast off-roading — which essentially means challenging “rock crawling”— navigating over granite boulders and driving through rock gardens; this year even Cadillac Hill featured more torn-up terrain due to the high number of off-road buggies that drove on the trail. The first 11.5 miles present many challenges; you’re home free on last 10.5 miles of dirt roads.

Rovicon V

Unlike some trails I’ve traveled in Colorado, the nice thing about this California trail is that the Sierra Nevada Mountains don’t have many sheer cliffs, so there’s less chance of plummeting to your death. The Rubicon features challenging and very scenic vistas; you even have a few places to take a dip and cool off.

Starting at 7:00 am each morning, groups ranging from 5–8 vehicles began their adventure. The major obstacles — Gatekeeper, Granite Bowl and Walker Hill — on Day 1 provided the perfect introduction to our challenging trek. We would end up at the night’s bivouac, Winter Camp just past Soup Bowl, near Spider Lake and Little Sluice Box. 

Our longest day followed, starting at Winter Camp, and immediately going into obstacles Little Sluice Box and Arnold’s Rock, passing Buck Island Lake and Rubicon Bridge ending at Rubicon Springs to camp for the night. 

Rovicon V

The third and final day saw us leave Rubicon Springs and tackle the challenging Cadillac Hill. We then met at Observation Hill for the obligatory photo-op and ended at the Tahoma staging area in Lake Tahoe. 

I delight in the reality that while every Land Rover model has impressive off-road qualities in their stock form, they lend themselves so well to creative customization – essential if you plan on joining the Rovicon. The potential for significant damage to drivetrain, suspensions and/or bodywork is just too great a risk for stock vehicles. This year’s run included enthusiasts from California, Nevada, Colorado, Texas, and even Italy, with some really impressive builds:

Gustav “Gus” Dow, Katt Min, Fremont, CA, “Livvy,” ’97 NAS Defender 90

  • Engine: 4.6L Land Rover V8
  • LT77 gearbox and upgraded LT230 transfer case
  • Trussed and plated axles with 4.75 rear end, front and rear lockers
  • 37” Maxxis Trepadors, beadlock wheels
  • Wilwood 14” brake rotors and 6-piston calipers

Jesse Coombs, Corvallis, OR, “First Love,” ’97 NAS Defender 90

  • Engine: 300 Tdi
  • R380 gearbox with LT230 with 50% reduction, front and rear ARB lockers
  • Heavy-duty axles
  • Beadlock wheels
  • Custom high clearance front bumper
  • Rockware rear bumper and rock sliders

Don Happel from Walnut Grove, CA “RokRover”, ‘91 LR Discovery I

  • Engine: 4.6 Rover V8
  • Automatic transmission
  • GBR 50% reduction transfer case
  • Wheels and Tires: 15×10 bead lock wheels, 39.50” x 13.50” Interco IROC tires
  • 5” RTE springs, 1” RTE rear control arms, front bumper
  • Adrenaline 4×4 front radius arms
  • Custom alloy Dutchman axles
  • Front ARB locker
  • Rear Ashcroft air locker
  • Ashcroft 300m axle shafts
  • Ashcroft drive flanges
  • Custom rock sliders
  • Three LR3 suspension compressors used in parallel

Lutzi Haas, Grover Beach, CA & Paul Liszewski, Richmond, CA, “The Old Girl,” ‘86 Land Rover 110 HCPU

  • Engine: 200 Tdi
  • Transmission: R380 Underdrive
  • Suspension: Ashcroft Heavy-Duty axles, RTE 3” springs
  • Heavy Duty front and rear control arms
  • ARB air lockers front/rear, 4.12 rear end
  • NV FAB [Nick Valentine -ed.] external roll cage with sliders.

Steve Burt, Josh Ostby, Denver, CO, “Kong,” 2022 Defender 110 L663

  • Lucky 8 sliders, rear control arm skids, hide-a-winch, roof light bar mount, rear tailgate table, cargo bridge
  • Voyager Rack with rack sliders
  • Sarek 1/4 window sliders
  • Roam box for trail parts
  • Rotopax for fuel, water, extra coolant
  • Nemesis prototype front control arm mount skids, bash plate, front skid plate
  • Tredz traction boards
  • Warn Zeon 10s Platinum winch 
  • Wheels and Tires: Black Rhino 20” Alston wheels, 37×12.5 R20 Toyo Open Country MTs

Mike Ganzon, Manteca, CA, ‘04 Discovery II

  • Engine: 4.6L Land Rover V8
  • Stock automatic transmission
  • Suspension, 4” lift
  • Ashcroft front and rear lockers
  • Tires: BF Goodrich KM3

Stefano Watson, Sutter Creek, CA, ‘94 NAS Defender 90

  • Engine and modifications: 3.9 Land Rover V8, Piper cam 270/110, RPI Optimax Chip and RPI pressure booster, Jacob’s Pro-Street ignition
  • Transmission: Replaced manual with a Land Rover ZF 4-speed auto 
  • Transfer case: Land Rover LT230Q  
  • Driveshafts: Safari Gard Front and Rear 
  • Front axle: ARB locker 
  • Rear axle: ARB locker, Summers Brothers 30 spline, Ashcroft 4.11 
  • Steering: Safari Gard tie-rods, Safari Gard 3-link, OME steering stabilizer 
  • Suspension and shocks: Safari Gard Front shock mounts, Bilstein remote 7100 shocks, custom springs, Rockware rear upper shock mounts, Rovertek rear trailing arms
  • Wheels and Tires: American Racing 15×8 wheels, Goodyear Wrangler Kevlar MT/R 35” x 12.5”
  • Bumpers (front/rear): Safari Gard front bumper 
  • Winch: Superwinch Husky 10 
  • Auxiliary lighting: Rigid on the external frame, Hella Rallye 4000 HID on the front, Hella Micro FF backup light, Optilux under carriage lights, IPF head lights 
  • Mantec snorkel
  • Rockware frame sliders
  • Safari Gard front skid plate
  • Bill Burke rock sliders
  • Earls stainless brake lines

Michele Dallorso, Bedonia, Italy, “Dino,” ’70 Series IIA 109” pickup (Timm Cooper loaner)

  • Engine: Chevrolet 6.0L V8
  • Chevrolet SM240 4-speed, Centerforce twin-disc clutch, billet steel flywheel
  • Toyota HF2A transmission with Marlin Crawler 3.12 low range gearing transfer case
  • Custom driveline
  • Land Rover ENV 4.7:1 front and rear axles
  • Detroit No-Spin differential and locker
  • Custom axle shafts
  • Forbyn disc brakes with Wilwood 6-piston caliper front, 4-piston rear
  • Range Rover P38 steering box with PSC hydraulic ram
  • Wheels and Tires: Modified Jackman wheels with 37” 12.50-15 Mazzini Creepy Crawler tires
  • Custom internal roll cage, high clearance wings

Tyler Mattson, Julia Rubalcava, Cooper Mattson (son), with Tripp (three-legged Labrador mix) and Lola (German short-haired pointer), Fernley, NV, ‘69 Series IIA Bugeye

  • Engine: Ford 240cu in straight six-cylinder
  • Borg Warner T18 transmission
  • Dana 20 transfer case
  • Dana 44 axles with front and rear lockers

Whether you are into Land Rovers because of generational interest — like Gustav Dow or Tyler Mattson — or just tried one out because it was available when renting a vehicle — like Stefano Watson — or whether you got into them because of friends — like Mike Ganzon — the consensus is that enthusiasts remain interested because of the community and camaraderie; it’s the like-minded individuals that keep them in it. As stated previously, there’s not a lot of “plug and play” solutions when it comes to Land Rovers and that’s one of the reasons why this community is so tight-knit. They are all going through the same struggles of trying to find solutions to their challenges. This Land Rover community has a wealth of tribal knowledge.

Together, and with the support of sponsors Scully Off-Road, East Brothers Brewing and Voyager Racks, we all returned home ready for Rovicon VI.