Taking advantage of the free dispersed camping available via the Bureau of Land Management is pretty easy in a high clearance vehicle like a truck or SUV, but what about a passenger car? And what if that car is lowered on Eibach springs? Ridiculous or genius? Well I was determined to find out as I headed North along the gorgeous Highway 395 from Los Angeles to Reno in my Civic hatchback. I was set to explore the snow covered terrain in the Tahoe National Forest with Sean in his big blue Power Wagon but I still wanted to have some fun getting there.
If you do a little homework you can find BLM land that contains maintained dirt roads that don’t require 4WD or high clearance and one of those spots is the ever popular Alabama Hills area near Lone Pine, California. In the shadow of Mt. Whitney and home to some magnificent rock formations, this spot has been used as a Hollywood filming location many times over the years and is an excellent place to camp, hike, bike, and star gaze. It can get crazy windy though so check the forecast and be prepared to rig up all the guy lines on your tent if you’re using one. I opted to sleep in the back of the hatch since I wasn’t staying long but luckily Mother Nature gifted me with a calm clear night regardless.
As far as getting to my camp spot, the toughest issue was finding a proper speed to handle the occasional washboard sections of the dirt road and of course swerving around any larger rocks in my path. With a drop of roughly an inch and a half from the Eibach Sportline springs, and a hatch full of gear and firewood, my ground clearance sits roughly around 4 inches. Anything more than 5-7 mph gets pretty bouncy so I had to gently modulate the throttle to find that sweet spot. After about 25 minutes of crawling along I found a vacant camp site nestled in between two hills and with a fantastic view of the valley and setting sun. With a fire to keep me company and a sky full of stars it was a much preferred alternative to a hotel.
Onward to Reno, I connected with Sean, transferred my gear to the Ram and we headed out to explore one of the many lakes and reservoirs that dot the area near Lake Tahoe. Now it was time to test a different limit… How far into the deep snow covered trails could we get the heavy full sized truck? Not far apparently! After descending downhill on a thoroughly blanketed road we took a turn to head deeper into the woods and moments later the entire truck sank all the way up to the frame in compact snow cover. With no cell reception to call for help, and pointing in the wrong direction to use the winch, it was time to start digging. Two hours later we removed enough snow so that the differentials and engine had room to move backwards on our makeshift traction boards consisting of rocks and branches. After a few attempts we were set free and headed back to safer trails… so we thought.
Traveling uphill on the trail was much more hairy than having gravity on our side. The truck was a little squirrely at times and we feared getting stuck again or sliding off the side of the mountain. In much the same manner as the Civic on the washboards, Sean had to finesse the throttle to find a happy medium between crawling on top of the snow and going so fast that we got dug too far into the slush. Some white knuckling later, and with the sun setting soon, it was time to set up camp for the night and explore the magnificent frozen lake on foot.
With a little bit of caution and some luck we were able to push our vehicles into uncharted territory and get more familiar with their true capabilities. The trail therapy provided us with a healthy break from our daily routines and there’s no better place to co-work than out in nature. Under Sean’s suggestion I decided to take the long way home via South Lake Tahoe. The twisty canyon carving road back to the 395 was an absolute blast with the added handling prowess from the lowering springs. Alabama Hills treated me with another peaceful fireside night of solitude and then it was back to the LA grind.