travelog 67

Mogfest 2005 in Calico

It's pitch-dark when we finally arrive at the quiet campground in Calico. Midnight. The smell of creosote hangs in the air. Everyone's asleep. Only our PocoLoco makes noise. But obviously this doesn't seem to bother the Unimog community. Even at midnight the hum of a Unimog engine is music to their ears. The community tent is empty, the benches abandoned and the BBQ's cold. Only a few Mercedes-Benz and Unimog flags sway in the wind. We're too late. But it's only Friday night and the main event of this Unimog meeting takes place on Saturday. After a cold beer we too go to bed.

Saturday starts a little surprisingly for us because we wake up when we hear whispering people sneak around our Unimog. They have never seen a truck like ours and are obviously very curious. Shortly before sunrise we go on a short photo tour of all the different Unimogs. Julia and I promised our friend Ralf Maile, the editor of the well-known Unimog books, to take pictures of every single Unimog we see on our trip. He will be delighted with this selection. After this we meet all the others in the community tent. There's hot coffee and everybody's chatting. Of course we have to give a full explanation of everything concerning PocoLoco. But we too want to know who's here with what kind of vehicle. Interesting discussions evolve and we meet some very nice people. Kai Serrano, his wife Tina and a few helping hands take care of our well-being and prepare a delicious breakfast. We have pancakes with maple syrup, hash browns and sausages.

Soon Kai gives the signal to leave. All the Unimog drivers who think they're capable and whose vehicles are more manoeuvrable (and much smaller than our rolling house), can decide between a medium and a difficult course. We join in, Julia on the difficult course, I on the easier one - after all, she likes to take more risks than I do. And so we leave in single file for the mountains.

I drive along in Kai Serranos double cab that is painted like a spotted cow. It's not cramped but the legroom is too restricted for me to be really comfortable. But this is not the point of the exercise. We drive into a canyon which gets narrower and narrower. Kai knows how to drive his vehicle and since he has no house part in the back, he makes it through without any scratches. That's not always the case with the following vehicles. We have to stack up some rocks so that the trucks don't tilt too much. No one wants to put his little house at risk. All this needs time and many of the participants line up along the track and give brilliant advice. After Kristin and Blair's Alaskan Camper, the last of the vehicles, passes successfully, the traffic jam eases and the convoy slowly starts to move again. Of course everybody climbs over the larger rocks rather than driving around them. After all it has to be fun! The next big hurdle is a 2 1/2 feet high step in then rock which isn't that easy to deal with. Most of the Unimogs with working differentials have no problems to mastering the obstacle. The others have more difficulties and a few vehicles even have to be winched up and over the step. Many have to try several times to get up. When Kristin and Blair crawl by, I see Ewan, their 8 month old son, sleeping in Kristin's arms. He doesn't seem to be bothered at all by the heavy rocking and the Unimog enthusiasm of his father still leaves him relatively unimpressed. The following smaller vehicles, some Steyr-Puch Pinzgauers, have big problems on this part of the course. One of the drivers almost tips his vehicle over with his impetuous driving style. Next we drive through some easier terrain and finally end up in front of an abandoned mine, our meeting point for lunch.

For the difficult course I, Julia, ride along in Eric's old double cab Unimog. His vehicle obviously has been through a lot of difficult courses already, so Eric is not too upset when he bends and scratches a fender in the first really narrow part and shortly after that catches some more scratches on the other side. He and his friend simply have a lot of fun and this is the main thing. The two of them never miss a rock and if ever possible always take the more difficult and rockier variation of our course. The small canyon we wind through has many curves and it requires a lot of manoeuvrability to curve around every obstacle. At every difficult place we get out to take pictures of the following vehicles. With bad luck, some drivers get confused with too much well-meant advice by too many people. This mostly leads to a helplessly stuck vehicle and every try fails to get it off the rock walls without further damage to the paint. But most of the drivers in our group are experienced enough on such tracks and their vehicles look like it. Soon we have to wait in line behind a group of dolled-up, shiny Jeeps which have problems overcoming some of the obstacles. The Mogs work their way up the canyon over rock stairs until we finally end up far above Calico where we meet the other group for lunch. After lunch the groups split again. We dive down steeply into the next narrow canyon. After a cold beer my two drivers are in a good mood and ready for more huge rocks to climb over. We pass through a narrow slot, the canyon opens up again and there's a small track branching to the left. Of course my two companions want to try this left arm but after exploring it first by foot they decide it's a better idea to stay on the main track. In the meantime we have missed all the action behind us. One of the Unimogs turned over! Now it's lying on its side on a huge rock and everybody is eager to help. This time we have a group of Jeeps behind us and one of the Jeep drivers offers his winch. He brings his vehicle into position and the rest of the Unimog devotees help to rock the truck back onto its four wheels. The whole situation is a bit tense. After all, the pride of every Unimog driver forbids being helped out of an unfortunate situation by a jeep driver! For today everyone seems to have had enough and we slowly drive back to our camp where the second group are already enjoying cold beers, Margaritas or a Bloody Marys.

Towards evening a stiff and cold wind blows and everybody puts on jackets. We enjoy dinner together on long tables and we all have a good time. Of course everybody knows a Unimog story or they simply talk shop. It's almost like a Unimog meeting in Europe, except that everybody speaks English (with one exception, a Swiss expatriate). Slowly people disappear into their tents or trucks until finally at midnight there's only a small group of stalwarts left. Since the wind is now blowing so hard we have to protect our beer glasses against the blowing dust, we too will go to bed.

The next morning greets us with thick gray clouds. It's cold and windy and soon it starts to drizzle. The organizers again prepare a delicious breakfast, this time Mexican, with scrambled eggs, burritos, chorizo, and other delicacies. One last time we all sit together, laughing and chatting. Addresses and phone numbers are exchanged and invitations are given. Then everybody starts to pack and the crowd scatters to the four winds. After all, most of these people drove large distances to get here and have to get back to work on Monday. We are the last to leave Calico, heading toward Mexico. We surely will come back to another great Mogfest if the organizers decide to go on with the great tradition!

October 2005

Julia Etter & Martin Kristen