• Rubicon Alaska Cannonball
  • Evening begins over John D. Rockefeller Junior Parkway, Jackson Lake, and the Tetons. 
  • Image Credit: Jonathon Ramsey
  • Rubicon Alaska Cannonball
  • I think the sign refers to buffalo, but... a lotta wild things happened in the old days.
  • Image Credit: Jonathon Ramsey
  • Rubicon Alaska Cannonball
  • After crossing the border in Coutts, Alberta into Sweet Grass, Montana, the I-15 conveyed me to Great Falls. Felt like America. And that felt strange.
  • Image Credit: Jonathon Ramsey
  • Rubicon Alaska Cannonball
  • The Rainboffalo of Great Falls. Half rainbow trout, half buffalo, all weird.
  • Image Credit: Jonathon Ramsey
  • Rubicon Alaska Cannonball
  • After earning my stripes in Cadomin, I applied my stickers. Shout-outs to Rugged Ridge, MudBudz Wheelin, Factor 55, Barlow Adventures and patron saint Nena Barlowe, Lenser, and Leatherman.
  • Image Credit: Jonathon Ramsey
  • Rubicon Alaska Cannonball
  • Ah, Montana. The view from Travis Creek Road in the Helena National Forest.
  • Image Credit: Jonathon Ramsey
  • Rubicon Alaska Cannonball
  • Climbing higher, overlooking Park Lake in the Helena National Forest.
  • Image Credit: Jonathon Ramsey
  • Rubicon Alaska Cannonball
  • Another road closed on the Grand Continental Divide Trail. This happens a lot. America stands still for no one.
  • Image Credit: Jonathon Ramsey
  • Rubicon Alaska Cannonball
  • Early afternoon on Highland Road outside of Butte, MT. I had a feeling this was going to be a fine day at the office.
  • Image Credit: Jonathon Ramsey
  • Rubicon Alaska Cannonball
  • Still on Highland Road, more of Montana's mix of narrow, tree-lined singletrack that opens into broad brown valleys and grazing land.
  • Image Credit: Jonathon Ramsey
  • Rubicon Alaska Cannonball
  • No road names anymore, only GPS points near Mt. Fleecer, MT. Even in the general, omnipresent near-solitude of Montana, I felt like I was a long way from anything. A short rocky stretch atop this ridge led to...
  • Image Credit: Jonathon Ramsey
  • Rubicon Alaska Cannonball
  • This ridiculously slick, steep, rocky section of shale, 27 degrees at its steepest. This was even lonelier than being at the top, until...
  • Image Credit: Jonathon Ramsey
  • Rubicon Alaska Cannonball
  • Cattle emerged from the bushes, followed by cowboys. The vaqueros all had one question: "How did you get down here?! This ain't a road!" If you find a cowboy with homemade blackberry brandy, sip wisely. They need a potent kind of special sauce to live in the Montana woods for weeks at a time. This was a good day at the office.
  • Image Credit: Jonathon Ramsey
  • Rubicon Alaska Cannonball
  • The cows also wanted to know what I was doing there.
  • Image Credit: Jonathon Ramsey
  • Rubicon Alaska Cannonball
  • Just turned onto Montana Hwy 87 from Hwy 287, this is what we call foreshadowing. Nasty things ahead.
  • Image Credit: Jonathon Ramsey
  • Rubicon Alaska Cannonball
  • On the Yellowstone Branch Line Trail on the bank of Henry's Fork (of the Snake River). A web of black-rock trails begged me to explore, but they were only wide enough for ATVs. The sign prohibits crossing to any vehicle wider then 50 inches. These are regular reminders that my route was made by a motorcyclist, for motorcyclists.
  • Image Credit: Jonathon Ramsey
  • Rubicon Alaska Cannonball
  • A good time for a walk, then. Looking upstream of Henry's Fork.
  • Image Credit: Jonathon Ramsey
  • Rubicon Alaska Cannonball
  • Looking downstream of Henry's Fork.
  • Image Credit: Jonathon Ramsey
  • Rubicon Alaska Cannonball
  • I poked the Rubicon's nose as far down a trail as I could, before the passing side-by-side drivers started asking hard questions and calling rangers.
  • Image Credit: Jonathon Ramsey
  • Rubicon Alaska Cannonball
  • Back to something approaching civilization, outside Marysville, ID. The Grand Tetons line the horizon.
  • Image Credit: Jonathon Ramsey
  • Rubicon Alaska Cannonball
  • Fall colors fill the gap between myself and the Tetons on North 4500 East in Idaho.
  • Image Credit: Jonathon Ramsey
  • Rubicon Alaska Cannonball
  • I had to pull off the road to get a hero shot of the Grand Tetons, since tour buses and rental cars filled all the pullouts.
  • Image Credit: Jonathon Ramsey
  • Rubicon Alaska Cannonball
  • A laundromat, public shower service, and car wash in Dubois, WY. This is just up the road from a jackalope as big as a horse that you can sit on.
  • Image Credit: Jonathon Ramsey
  • Rubicon Alaska Cannonball
  • On the way to Moon Lake, a good Wrangler test suggested by Bill Riter, the service manager at Lithia Jeep in Great Falls, WY. Marlboro Man weather.
  • Image Credit: Jonathon Ramsey
  • Rubicon Alaska Cannonball
  • Wyoming is my favorite state. It's beautiful like nowhere else in the world.
  • Image Credit: Jonathon Ramsey
  • Rubicon Alaska Cannonball
  • The last three miles to Moon Lake to an hour. This stretch of boulders doesn't look like much, but it's waiting to ruin the day for any careless driver - on 33s with 800 pounds of cargo - who thinks he's got better things to do than focus.
  • Image Credit: Jonathon Ramsey
  • Rubicon Alaska Cannonball
  • Another boulder field, uphill, covered with more snow that hides the worst traps. So first a walkthrough, then two miles an hour and a lot of rocking.
  • Image Credit: Jonathon Ramsey
  • Rubicon Alaska Cannonball
  • These were the worst boulder fields. I couldn't see anything but snow. The only tracks I saw other than my own were from two horses. Smarter explorers than me.
  • Image Credit: Jonathon Ramsey
  • Rubicon Alaska Cannonball
  • Finally, the hill above Moon Lake.
  • Image Credit: Jonathon Ramsey
  • Rubicon Alaska Cannonball
  • I decided to go down the hill just to see if I could make it back up. Angled down 28 degrees at its steepest, boulders, stumps, and roots didn't skimp on the challenge level.
  • Image Credit: Jonathon Ramsey
  • Rubicon Alaska Cannonball
  • Worth it - because I made it back out alive. I recommend lunch by Moon Lake, even in the snow.
  • Image Credit: Jonathon Ramsey
  • Rubicon Alaska Cannonball
  • Had to get back up the hill, though. The trail split around a giant stump. I thought the right fork would be easiest due to the lack of boulders, but slick roots on the inside of the turn and boulders on the outside killed traction. You can see the brown divot where I spun the front left wheel trying to make it up.
  • Image Credit: Jonathon Ramsey
  • Rubicon Alaska Cannonball
  • So I tried the left fork, which I thought would be too hard because of the boulder steps in the middle of the trail. I was already staring at the sky before the step-up. But, given enough throttle to leave skid marks in the snow, the Wrangler climbed up and over.
  • Image Credit: Jonathon Ramsey
  • Rubicon Alaska Cannonball
  • A final boulder field climbing up the last stretch to the hilltop. Had to spin the wheels a few times to get through, but this was sweetness and light after what came before.
  • Image Credit: Jonathon Ramsey
  • Rubicon Alaska Cannonball
  • Union Pass Road, Wyoming. That is all.
  • Image Credit: Jonathon Ramsey
  • Rubicon Alaska Cannonball
  • Lander Cutoff Road, Wyoming, on the way to Rawlins. This was near the beginning of what would be the longest and most mentally exhausting day of driving on the trip.
  • Image Credit: Jonathon Ramsey
  • Rubicon Alaska Cannonball
  • The abandoned Carissa Mine on South Pass City Rd, South Pass, WY, one of the richest gold rush mines in the 1860s.
  • Image Credit: Jonathon Ramsey
  • Rubicon Alaska Cannonball
  • Before cresting the hill and seeing Atlantic City, I was sure I was in a quiet nowhere. I don't know why 57 people live here, but that's Wyoming. You gotta be a hard unit to endure year-round anywhere in this state, so why not... here?
  • Image Credit: Jonathon Ramsey
  • Rubicon Alaska Cannonball
  • Let the games begin. Riverview Cutoff, not long out of Atlantic City. Between this spot and Atlantic City, there was a stretch of trail that looked like a pleasant, snowless fall day. Then it turned to this. Then it got worse.
  • Image Credit: Jonathon Ramsey
  • Rubicon Alaska Cannonball
  • Wyoming cooks up a blend of mud and ice that's the worst of both substances, the combo splashing onto everything and crusting up. There's more than a quarter-inch of it on the rear fenders, and plenty everywhere else.
  • Image Credit: Jonathon Ramsey
  • Rubicon Alaska Cannonball
  • Early into the adventure, I'd soaked the front with a healthy mud-mâché mask. I had to get out occasionally and beat the crunchy goop off the headlights.
  • Image Credit: Jonathon Ramsey
  • Rubicon Alaska Cannonball
  • The sun long gone, I'm the only dummy still trying to get somewhere on these back roads. The few locals still out had the sense to be on paved roads, the rest were in front of home fires. This was where I checked my GPS to find out how much further to Rawlins. The bad news: 61 miles. Oops.
  • Image Credit: Jonathon Ramsey
  • Rubicon Alaska Cannonball
  • This is me, refusing to stop. Driving through constant rain, snow, and large puddles, there was so much crust outside that I had to bang the driver's door to open it when I reached cattle gates, and had to bang off inches of crust to open the back doors. I still had 40 miles to go.
  • Image Credit: Jonathon Ramsey
  • Rubicon Alaska Cannonball
  • Nasty and unforgettable. But Rawlins. Finally.
  • Image Credit: Jonathon Ramsey
  • Rubicon Alaska Cannonball
  • After the photo I took in the dark, I refused to get out and scrape the front again. This is what I got for it.
  • Image Credit: Jonathon Ramsey
  • Rubicon Alaska Cannonball
  • Back in Utah and Colorado, the front wheels threw dust. In Wyoming, the wheels throw this. If you need to get in the back door, first you must clear the rear fender, then you must excavate the door handle, then pull. Hard.
  • Image Credit: Jonathon Ramsey
  • Rubicon Alaska Cannonball
  • The next day, Wyoming warmed up as if the mud run had never happened. So I took a walk and came across this near my hotel, a Willys Motors Jeep Forward Control, Jeep FC for short. It features what Car and Driver called an "endearing happy face."
  • Image Credit: Jonathon Ramsey
  • Rubicon Alaska Cannonball
  • Made from 1957-1966, this is a short wheelbase version. This was another option for post-war veterans looking for a handy truck around the farm less intense than a Power Wagon, with power takeoffs and implement attachments.
  • Image Credit: Jonathon Ramsey
  • Rubicon Alaska Cannonball
  • The Jeep FC was based on the Jeep CJ-5, but open, roomy, cab-over cockpit stressed efficient use of space. Industrial designer Brooks Stevens penned the FC, as well as the original Willys-Overland Jeepster, the Jeep Wagoneer, and the 1949 Harley-Davidson Hydra-Glide. According to Hemmings, the FC would inspire Ford to create the Econoline pickup, Chevy to create a Corvair pickup, and Dodge to create the A100 pickup. Jeep created a Mighty FC concept for the 2012 Easter Jeep Safari.
  • Image Credit: Jonathon Ramsey
  • Rubicon Alaska Cannonball
  • After a weather-related highway closure, and a micro-fuse incident, I was on my way again down Sage Creek Road toward Colorado. Tests in the high mountains awaited.
  • Image Credit: Jonathon Ramsey
Our man Jonathon Ramsey drove a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon on a 14-week, 14,000-mile journey across North America. Check out his first, second, third, and fourth, fifth, and sixth installments.

FAIRPLAY, Colorado — I crossed the border from Coutts, Alberta, Canada, into Sweet Grass, Montana, headed for Great Falls. The 120 long miles of brown plains under a big, mixed sky didn't feel like home, it felt like a memory. I'd re-familiarize myself on the Great Continental Divide Trail, a 2,767-mile plunge south to Antelope Wells, New Mexico, serving as my highway to wheeling adventures in the states along the route.

Some rubber housekeeping came first. I had a patched tire from my incident on the Dempster Highway and a flat from wheeling with MudBudz in Cadomin. I paid a visit to Lithia Jeep in Great Falls for two new rear tires and had a long chat with service manager Bill Riter. He's a Wyoming native who'd been wrenching and wheeling for decades. I asked if he knew any good trails in Wyoming, he recommended Moon Lake, near Dubois.

When I asked if the trail would truly tax the Jeep, Riter said, "Those last three miles, oh, definitely." And when I asked if it'd be a good place to camp, he asked if I had a rooftop tent. I said I didn't. He advised against camping.

"Bears," he said. "You'll be at snack height."

After the dealer, I celebrated overcoming the trip's first real challenge in Alberta, decorating the Wrangler's windshield with stickers calling out the fine folks at Rugged Ridge, MudBudz Wheelin, Barlow Adventures and patron saint Nena Barlowe, Factor 55, Leatherman, and LED Lenser.

Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

Falcon 55 had given me a closed-loop hitch receiver shackle mount. There's only a single open hook under the Rubicon's rear bumper that points to the right; if you need a second winch point in the back to run a cable to the right of the vehicle, you're hosed. The Falcon 55 hitch shackle mount lets you do what needs to be done on either side, a brilliant piece of insurance. Leatherman gifted me three multitools, which came in handy when fuses started blowing in Wyoming. LED Lenser sent two flashlights and a headlight. These were the biggest surprise. They're made in the U.S., packaged like luxury goods, come with rechargeable batteries and cables, and are fantastic. The first time I turned on the MT18 in Canada I laughed out loud, in shock at the klieg lighting. I shone it into space and saw Starman in his Tesla Roadster 218 million miles away. He waved.

Patched and clean, I hit the highway to the Great Continental Divide Trail in the Helena National Forest. I cut through a corner of Flathead National Forest to Basin, then through wild public lands to reach Bernice and Butte. Between the ripped-up trails, farms, gated grazing lands, and hunting season, Montana was a festival of detours, map checking, and getting out to open and close gates. Cool, rainy, serene weather meant I didn't mind. This part of Montana was long brown valleys, brown hills tufted with stands of dark evergreens, alpine forests and meadows, a nerve system anatomy of creeks, rivers and lakes, and a great big blue sky that represents truth in tourism.

In the Beaverhead National Forest, I took a fork to the right and trundled in drizzle along a short ridge before a lengthy dive downhill. Scruffy trail turned into shale track, slicked by rain, 23 degrees on average, 27 at its steepest. At the bottom, I rounded a few bends that put me into a stand of trees and back onto dirt. A hundred yards down the way, cows emerged from the woods, followed by five mounted cowboys — leather hats, dusters, rifles, the real deal.

Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

One of the cowboys rode back to me like he couldn't believe what he was seeing. I felt the same way. I rolled down my window. He shouted, "How did you get down here?! This ain't a road!" I explained myself, and he asked me to hang back for 15 minutes so the other cowboys could get the cattle down the trail some. While we chatted, he offered me a swig of homemade blackberry brandy from a repurposed, flask-shaped Hennessey bottle. I took a swig. Powerful stuff. We chatted some more, he offered another swig. I took it. "We live up here," he said. "We need this to stay warm." The brandy does its job. I'm still warm.

I crossed the northeastern boot tip of Idaho through more rain, on my way to Dubois. The end-of-season bustle of pickups, RVs, ATVs, and side-by-sides made do with wet fall colors, soggy trails, saturated plains, moody skies. Then came Wyoming, the Grand Tetons standing over Jackson Lake. And hordes of tour buses.

Dubois counts 971 people living at an elevation of 6,946 feet. The climb to Moon Lake starts with a wide dirt road, narrowing to gorgeous, rocky singletrack by the time you reach Moon Lake Trail at 9,800 feet. Dappled light flickered over a meandering, snow-dusted scrub. Three miles from the lake, the trail turned into boulder fields hidden by snow, mud, and water. I trusted the Jeep to get through so long as I picked a decent line and drove smart. Riter hadn't been joking. I'd driven the first 23 miles out of Dubois in a little more than two hours. The final three miles took a solid hour of crawling, pitching, tilting, sliding, and crunching. I said a silent "Thank you" to MudBudz and Spencer again; without the recent snow experience in Cadomin, those three miles would have taken days.

Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

The last pip of trail to Moon Lake was another 23-degree tilt through tress, stumps, roots and rocks, maxing out at 27 degrees according to the Jeep's off-road gauges. I drove down only to see if I could make it back up. I ate a small lunch in the snow next to steel blue waters. After a 38-point turn to get the Jeep pointed up the hill, some walking, false starts, and a lot of throttle and a few BFG trenches, the Jeep got up.

A couple days later, I had to drive from Pinedale to Rawlins using back roads tracing the southeastern edge of the Bridger-Teton National Forest. I neglected to check how far the day's route was. Mistake. Wyoming, my favorite state, ambushes man and beast with violent, volatile weather. I started under livid skies and snow flurries, then came falling slush, turning the dirt into a mash of mud and ice that's the worst of both substances. A few miles beyond snow-dusted Atlantic City, the landscape looked like early autumn — cool, clear skies, umber ground. Then more slush and snow as the sun set somewhere behind the hazy white. Frozen mud soon caked the front and sides of the Jeep. Then darkness.

Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

I hadn't seen a town or a human for more than an hour. Natives had the good sense to be out of this frozen brew, off this goat track. I checked the GPS. 97 miles to go to Rawlins. Oops. I slid off the road once, going too fast into a turn. I drove slower. Rawlins got further away. The Jeep picked up so much mush I had to beat it off the front — it froze on everything except the Mopar five-inchers. When I came to a cattle gate that needed opening, I had to repeatedly shoulder check the driver's door to get out. You gotta be a hard unit to live in Wyoming year-round. I reached Rawlins at 9:30 pm, after nearly 12 hours on the road, the Wrangler coated in a quarter-inch of frozen gunk.

I thawed out in Rawlins for longer than planned. A bad snow closed the I-80, a highway I needed to reach the next point on the trail. When the highway opened, my Garmin stopped working; without that, I couldn't follow the trail. The one-into-three 12V adaptor I used for my GPS, dash cam, and 110V inverter had blown a fuse. If only Jeep saw fit to give its hardest-core adventure vehicle more than one 12V outlet up front. The Wrangler uses a horde of Micro II two-blade fuses, which no nearby auto parts stores stocked. This being a Sunday, the dealer was closed. On Monday I bought a few fuses and headed for Colorado. A new set of alpine adventures awaited.

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