Adrenaline rush: Jeep owners find AOAA trails 'fantastic'
COAL TOWNSHIP - Metal striking rock. Rubber against stone. Tires snapping fallen tree limbs like toothpicks. What would cause a normal driver to cringe and flee from such obstacles is exactly what gives the participants of the inaugural Coal Mountain Jeep Jamboree their lifeforce.
"It's an adrenaline rush. We're all sort of adrenaline junkies. That's what it does for us," Tammy Kahn, 48, of New Freedom, said Friday afternoon in the eastern portion of the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (AOAA).
Even after a tough climb up a rocky trail that caused damage to several vehicles, the drivers were still in good spirits.
"If you come up here and expect not to break something, you shouldn't come. But that's part of the fun, to build it back up again," Rick Dubois, 50, of Whitman, Mass., said.
"It's the kind of stress you like to have," Kahn said. "It's a release from every day life. It's pretty incredible,"
This weekend's event, which drew 211 riders from 18 states in the 109 vehicles registered, is hosted by Jeep Jamboree USA (JJUSA), a California-based organization, on 6,000 acres of forest and abandoned coal lands just off Route 125 near Burnside. Northumberland County officials hope to build the site into a tourist attraction and economic stimulator. The park is not yet an official entity, but the county has begun hosting events on the land to generate interest and partnerships.
On Friday, the participants were divided into three groups to ride on the east side of the highway, and the other three on the west side. In each case, they traveled on trails marked "green" for beginners and stock vehicles, "blue" for "moderately modified" vehicles and "black" for vehicles that can take just about anything nature can throw at them.
Both Dubois and Kahn were part of a group on the east side that consisted of both blue and black trails. Between 11 a.m. and noon, they were all attempting to scale two parallel paths labeled "Bam Bam" - a trail marked at a nine out of 10 in difficulty - and "Barney Rubble" - a trail marked as a seven.
"The blue group stayed on Barney Rubble and watches the idiots on Bam Bam," volunteer DJ Risk, 28, of Lancaster, joked.
Between 12:30 and 1 p.m., once the whole group was off the difficult trail, drivers rested on a green path before moving onto "Thunder Alley" - a trail marked as an eight.
While eating lunch, Dubois and Kahn discussed their passion for riding.
Dubois has been off-roading for more than 30 years, but recently started getting back into the activity when his son, Alex, 22, started participating six years ago.
"I got tired of sitting in the passenger seat," the elder Dubois said.
Dubois's red 2009 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon is called "Rubitron" in honor of Megatron from the Transformers franchise.
It's his first time in Pennsylvania and the AOAA, and it was well worth the trip, he said.
"These trails are fantastic, especially the trail we just went through. It's the rocks, trying to get over them, and the fact that they move. I don't usually have a problem, but I was amazed at how much I was moving," he said.
Rocks and other obstacles at other courses are often well grounded, Dubois said, but the shifting rocks at AOAA make it more challenging by basically creating a new path each time a new driver uses the trail.
Kahn has been off-roading for seven years and brought her Jeep Wrangler TJ with a window sticker that asks, "Where's YOUR playground?"
"It's here," Kahn said, pointing to the woods, trails and Jeeps around her.
She also noted that when she started years ago, there weren't many women who would drive, but she said that has been changing more lately.
Glenda Gau, adventure consultant for JJUSA, said she was impressed with the "nature, the trails, the people, the locals' pride in their heritage and the trail guides."
After her first day on the trails Friday, she can already see how the yet-to-opened park will compare with others across the nation.
"It will be phenomenal," she said.
She hopes the park and the events to follow will be wildly accepted by surrounding community, especially since they bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars to local businesses.
Events in rural communities such as the coal region can be an economic boom for the area, she said.
One Smart Cookie, of Coal Township, sold 90 bagged lunches during registration Thursday to be eaten this weekend.
A dinner catered by Chef Jeff's Food Food Food of Shamokin was held Friday night at the East Cameron Township Fire Company grounds. Pet Rock, a band from Elysburg, provided entertainment during the meal.
Zimmerman Chrysler Dodge Jeep of Sunbury sponsored the band and other expenses.
Friendship Fire Company of Shamokin served breakfast Friday and today at the launch area.
The weekend will conclude with a dinner for all participants and trail guides from 6 to 7:30 p.m. today at Masser's Wayside Inn in Weigh Scales.
Gau praised Kathy Jeremiah, who serves as co-coordinator for AOAA with county planning department director Pat Mack, and everyone else involved in the planning process and organization of the weekend.
"Everything is going smoothly," Jeremiah said Friday afternoon.
All the participants are grateful to be there and vice versa, she said.
Unlike the first official event five weeks ago called the Valley Forge Trail Riders Anthracite Hare Scrambles, the jamboree is not a spectator sport, she said.
The event continues from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today.