Roy Sobelson and his Jeep. Weekend events called Jeep Jamborees allow Jeep owners to give their vehicles a workout in the wild. ()
Never been to a Jeep Jamboree? Check out Sobelson’s videos.
Roy Sobelson admits he isn’t mechanical or a “car guy.” A native Atlantan, the Georgia State University law professor and associate dean says he isn’t much of an outdoorsman either.
But to hear Sobelson talk about the hobby he and his wife, Bonnie, discovered 10 years ago throws all those descriptors into question.
What Sobelson stumbled upon was Jeep Jamboree USA, a weekend experience with Jeep owners in which participants enjoy off-road adventures at various outdoor locations across the country. The first Jeep Jamboree was held in 1954 with about 155 people driving the Rubicon Trail. Since that time, Jeep lovers have continued to gather to enjoy “Jeeping” in the woods.
Sobelson sought out Jeep experiences after purchasing a soft-top Jeep Wrangler. He and Bonnie already owned two Jeep Grand Cherokee SUVs and decided it was time to learn how to “Jeep.” In their quest, they found Jeep Jamboree USA.
Among “Jeepers,” Sobelson jokes, the acronym for Jeep is Just Empty Every Pocket, an indication that it is easy to become carried away with the hobby.
Sobelson shared with the Daily Report his experiences with Jeep Jamborees and what he enjoys about a weekend filled with bumpy rides.
Tell me a little about the Jeep Jamborees.
It’s usually about 100 or 150 people. You sign up for different trails to go on Friday and Saturday. The trails that you go on are determined by the equipment you have, the experience that you have, your tolerance for risk, what the weather is like, et cetera.
You’ll go out on a Friday morning. Everybody will have breakfast together. They’ll tell you a little bit about the trails you go on and then there are usually about 20 Jeeps per trail. You have guides at the front and guides at the back who help you navigate your way through natural obstacles. Everybody is connected to one another by CB radios so everybody sort of tells everybody what to expect. When you get to a big, difficult obstacle everybody gets out, looks it over, and decides how to go through it. You follow people and when you get stuck people tow you out.
In what kind of locations are the Jeep Jamborees held?
There’s more variation than you might imagine. Most of these things take place in either state or national parks, or on ranches that have wide-open spaces. A lot of times it’s places like old logging areas and you drive through the old logging road.
In the course of the day, depending on how difficult a run it is, depending on the weather and depending on all sorts of other factors; you may go five miles in a day. You really creep along and it takes a long time to get through everything so you may be going up and down rocks, you may be driving literally through a stream—and I don’t mean across the stream—I mean down the stream, sometimes with water coming up to the floor and all kinds of stuff. It’s crazy.
I’m surprised the parks would let you use their land.
It’s interesting that you raise that because the very first one I went to was in a national park area and, since that time, the national park and some of the others now have started prohibiting us from going through there. The reality is we don’t destroy anything because we’re usually in mud so the only thing you’re doing is moving mud from one place to another. You’re not breaking anything. We’re very careful. …
You can’t leave any trash, you can’t drink any alcohol, and you can’t take any weapons out there or anything like that, so it’s very safe and civilized.
How did you discover Jeep Jamboree USA?
We went to something called Jeep Camp. It was essentially a giant exposition held near Charlottesville, Va.—literally, like 10,000 or 15,000 people—and every single one had come in a Jeep. It was everything you ever wanted to know about Jeeps and a lot of family activity.
One of the activities was going out off-roading in the Jeep in some difficult areas, and we did that one and we were hooked.
So from that point on, we started going on these jamborees that are way smaller. The thing I like about it so much is that the variety of people is amazing. You go out there and you spend the whole time focused on the Jeep and fixing Jeeps because sometimes they get damaged out there. … Nobody talks about work. Nobody talks about what they do for a living. It’s just really, really relaxing.
Have you ever had anything happen that was a little scary?
Sometimes things are a little scary. It’s usually more dangerous to the Jeep than it is to the people. The Jeeps all have roll bars, and everybody has to be belted in. It is way harder, even in the most difficult obstacles, to tip a Jeep over than you might imagine.
Sometimes you go down incredibly steep things and sometimes you don’t have a good sense of what you can do and what you can’t do, even though people are trying to help you. Sometimes you can bang into something and people have to pull you out. I’ve never seen a person hurt, except slipping in the mud and falling on their keister. But I’ve certainly seen plenty of Jeeps get hurt.
Is it hard to clean your Jeep when you’re finished?
It’s impossible! The very first time I did this, I came back and there was mud all over and under and in the Jeep because I’d had the top down and I’d had the doors off. It was just absolutely, disgustingly filthy from top to bottom. I cleaned it as best I could and then I took it to a car wash. The manager came out and said “I have to charge you double what I charge everybody else because there is no way I can clean this thing.”
Even then, we realized after it was cleaned off, there were all kinds of scratches that I hadn’t noticed, but that’s just a part of doing it. That’s part of the fun of it.
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