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The Rubicon
By Bill E. Branscum   ©2003
(Click the Pics to Enlarge)

When Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon in 49 BC, it marked a point of passage where things changed forever. Caesar had everything, and he had those things under control, but he took a great step, and in crossing the Rubicon River, he risked it all for the promise of what might be.

Thus began the Roman Empire.

I suppose that we all have tough decisions to make. I may have been the world's happiest single parent, I enjoyed it, and I came to feel that I had it all under control so the idea of getting married was a big step.

Luz is a wonderful, beautiful, young lady, and it promised to be a step in the right direction - for all of us. The kids adore Luz, just as she loves them, so we chose to risk the stability and security we had built for ourselves to chase rainbows, and pursue our dreams.

For Valentine's Day, Luz bought me a present. Although the irony may have been apparent to nobody but me - I found the "Rubicon" to be amusingly apropos.

Since we first met, Luz always loved the way the kids and I did things together. She poured over the pictures of our trips and she dreamed of seeing other places that she had only seen in books. The Grand Canyon, The Blue Ridge Parkway, Monument Valley, Mount Rushmore, The Appalachian Trail, Jackson's Hole - from Key West to Alaska, our "Luz-y-luz" has always had things she wants to see.

Luz did her homework, she didn't pick the Jeep because of the "Rubicon" name. Dana 44's, air lockers front and rear, serious skid plates, disc brakes, rock crawler gears, sturdy roof racks meant to carry stuff, and jerry cans to get us places a 19 gallon tank won't. I hate to twist the knife guys, but she bought me a better Jeep out-of-the-box than most four-wheelin' enthusiasts ever aspired to build.

I should know, I have been a Jeep lover since "back in the day," and it was my old photo albums that gave Luz the idea. Remember when the Golden Eagle "Limited Edition" Jeep was the rage? I was younger then, and good looking, and tall . . . well, I was younger anyway!
That wasn't the only picture Luz has seen of my Jeepin' days. I've got pictures of when I stuck it, and the only winch that I could afford at that time in my life was no shade of the tool for the job.

I also showed her pictures of my Hi Lift jack, and the way we wrenched my baby out of the mud with it, "when all else failed.

"I recall wondering out loud whether those people were still in business, as that stalwart monster was a truly marvelous tool.

People who don't get into this sort of thing cannot really envision it. When they get stuck, they whip out the cell phone and call Wreckers-R-Us, and a cheerful young man working his way thru college shows up within minutes.

Out here, a cell phone is great - as a calculator, an alarm clock and maybe even for games, but in many cases, it strictly will not function as a phone. In fact, this gives rise to the "four-wheeler's communication principal," which provides that:

For any given location on planet Earth, the likelihood that a communication device will function effectively is inversely proportional to the likelihood that you'll desperately need it.

Luz is a dreamer, but she's serious and she pays attention. If you look close behind the push bar of the Rubicon, you'll see a real winch capable of hoisting this little rascal up into a tree. You'll also see something else.

I don't know exactly how to put this without sounding ungrateful for the winch - Lord knows, I love to be able to do things the easy way these days - but look close, behind that starboard gas can. That, friends and neighbors, is a brand new, genuine Hi Lift jack - a "heavy duty" model that I never even knew that they made.

Naturally, being a mature adult, I was in no hurry to take my new toy to out and try it out. Besides, where in SW Florida would you go to use a Jeep?

Can you say "Everglades?" Sure, I knew you could - and a beautiful day in the neighborhood it was too. For a larger, clearer version of the pictures, click on them.

Although "Luz-y-luz" has added an exciting dimension to our travels and explorations, the fact is, the Rubicon is not going to replace our Suburban as the family car. There is simply no way to pack six people inside this four-seater Jeep.

Click Pics To Enlarge

Of course, there are those days when the kids and I can get out Jeeping by ourselves. In that case, we only have one seat too few.

Lest anyone get too sympathetic, Meggie wasn't forced to ride in the back because she's the baby - she got to ride in the back because she's the meanest, and she put up the toughest fight. (Just ask Jim Parker about that nosehook!)

I suppose it goes without saying but, "Don't try this at home."

Aside from the fact that the kids were only out in the trail racks long enough to snap a few pics calculated to make the grandparents crazy, it would not be a good thing for anyone to get in the habit of taking their family out into this area by themselves - and never without adequate preparations.

Although the pictures may look treacherously hazardous, the fact is we went everywhere without resorting to the air-lockers. The tires they put on this thing have an aggressive tread, and the limited slip was almost all we needed; we wouldn't have needed four-wheel drive but there were times when we wanted to use low range. Unlike the ancient "twin shifter" Jeeps we had in the old days, you cannot use low range these days without engaging 4WD.

We never needed the air-lockers, but some of the slimy, swampy embankments were slick enough that we did get to try them out. They are electronically actuated by depressing a switch - depressing the switch once locks the rear and twice locks front and rear. With the differentials locked, the traction was remarkable so there was no real risk of getting stuck.

Even if we had managed to stick it, the Warn 9500 has the power to hoist the Jeep up into a tree; Lord knows there were plenty of trees.

All that neat, macho go anywhere business not withstanding, it is best to have someone else along in a second vehicle if you intend to go out into the Everglades. As anyone with any swamp experience knows, the risk isn't getting stuck - it's getting the engine stopped! No offense intended to Jeep, or anyone else from Detroit, but nothing mechanical is perfect.

Once that engine quits, you and yours will stay in that vehicle with the windows rolled up for about five minutes before the 100 degree/100 % humidity outside starts to look good. Once you've been out of the Jeep for about five minutes, you'll realize that beautiful though it surely is, the Everglades will eat you and yours for lunch - literally.

Remember that Off commercial years ago where the guy stuck his arm into the glass box full of mosquitoes? That's nothing! Get stuck in this stuff and you'll cheerfully trade your Rolex for a can of bug spray . . . not that ordinary bug spray will help you much out here.

One other thing that I should mention for the benefit of those who elect to "try this at home," that slimey, scummy stuff on swamp water will cling to the undercarriage of your Jeep. If you don't make a diligent effort to wash it off . . . well, imagine driving around for a month with a good sized fish wedged between the body and the exhaust pipe!

Crawling under a slimed Jeep with a water hose is a nasty job - it's the sort of thing where a teenager comes in very handy.

Anyway, after a few hours we were satisfied that the four-wheel drive worked properly, and confidant that the air locking differentials were functioning as they should, so we decided to go leave the swamp and head for a beautiful stretch of beach to watch the sun go down.

Unfortunately, vehicles are not allowed on public beaches, and most of the places where you can drive to the beach are blocked off. As one might imagine, I was never able to drive thru there in my Trans Am.

This is definitely not Trans Am territory - or four-wheel drive territory either, unless you have the right skid plates. It took about three minutes for Jeremy to convince me that those diamond sill plates were not put there just for looks.

Fortunately, and perhaps coincidentally, Jeremy is about to buy his first car, and Luz has got him convinced that he must have a Jeep too. "With two Jeeps we can go anywhere," they say, "With two Jeeps we can take everybody," they echo. "With two Jeeps . . ."

I suspect that my oldest son will desperately need the services of a Chiropractor one day - he's pushing 6' tall now, and that's a lot of boy to be wrapped around Luz' little finger.

Life is good. I feel like a kid again, my son is buying practical transportation with a real frame underneath that can withstand a collision, and my children are devouring travel books with Luz.

What a wonderfully lovely pair of sweet, smiling, innocent faces. It's hard to imagine all the devious, conspiratorial scheming that goes on between these two. Oh well, having women manipulate your life taint necessarily a bad thing.

Of course, I do realize that there may be no real conspiracy going on. It might be that twenty some-odd years of investigating crimes of one kind or another may have carried over into my personal life. Being a cynical, skeptical, suspicious kind of guy by nature, it is entirely possible that I'm imagining things. This feeling that I have that something is going on is probably all in my head.

Anyway, conspiratorial ring-leader or not, Luz certainly has a wonderful knack for making me feel good about things. She's just about got me convinced that I can turn back the clock, try again, and perhaps do things a little better this time.

Maybe if I'm especially good, she'll make me another baby to play with.

All things considered, Luz may be the best thing that ever could have happened to my family, and Lord knows I am grateful for all she's been and done. I know I cannot braid Megan's hair like Luz does, I admit that I don't have a "feminine side," and nobody ever accused me of lighting up any room with a smile - but I can find Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Arizona, Alaska and anywhere else that this young lady dreams of seeing.

Our second Jeep is coming and I'm thinking that life is going to get a bit more interesting around here -- stand by and we'll take you with us.



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