Day 1: Downieville

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On July 5th I headed up to Downieville to camp and ride with Dirty and friends for a few days. Since moving to the bay area several years ago Dirty and The Dr. have spent the weekend after the 4th of July riding around Downieville. I joined them for the first time last year. The riding was so incredible that on the way home I was planning this year’s trip.

I had planned out the trip for the last few weeks. Having been let down a bit by the GPS on our trip to Kings Canyon I mapped out my route on just that — a map. I learned early on how to navigate by maps and still prefer them over a GPS device. The one thing a GPS can tell you is how much longer your butt will be numb in the driver’s seat.

I had gotten off to a late start and pulled out of the driveway at 10:30. I had wanted to leave by 8:00. Several detours along the way and I found myself in Fresno around 5:00. This is where my lonesome insanity, reluctance to use the GPS, my glossy-eyed stare at my map, or combination of the 3 led to the development of pressure sores on my backside. “Look, HWY 41 is scenic and is a straight shot north. Why stay on the 99?” I thought. First rule of solo travel is stay on the main freeway. HWY 41 tricks you outside of Fresno as it represents itself as an 8-lane freeway that promises high speeds and long straights. However, just like a tranny in Hollywood, by the time you realize its true nature you’re too far in to turn back without regret.

After 10 miles or so the 41 narrowed to 2 lanes but remained relatively straight and fast. Once I came to the turnoff for HWY 49 near Yosemite I saw the horror of my decision to follow that tranny’s temptation. The next 5,6,7 hours, I don’t remember as I was near comatose, were comprised of twisting 2-lane roads climbing up ridgelines and dropping into historic mining towns that time has passed by. The drive was scenic until nightfall. Then all I saw were shadows as my headlights pierced the trees and danced off the hillsides. Finally, Odysseus reached Ithaca and I reached the campground. At least I had a few hundred songs on my Droid. I pulled into Rocky Rest campground at 11:00 to find everyone had bedded down for the night. I quietly pitched my tent and collapsed into slumberdom.

Priorities in setting up a good basecamp.

The morning came and I loaded the French press [I knew from last year I would be the only one drinking coffee. Savages], filled my Camelback, and prepared my bike; mostly. . In our haste to eat, load up our gear, and hit the road in time to make our shuttle, I forgot to grab my bike’s GPS and the mount for my helmetcam. We got on the 9:00 am shuttle and decided we would hit up Sunrise Trail, then Pauley Creek, lower Butcher, Third Divide, and First Divide. I told Dirty his GPS would have to be my record of the day as well. So what happens? He loses it as we bomb down Babyheads. I have always wondered how people can lose their Garmins on a ride. Now I know why. After scouring about for 20 minutes we found it and continued on. I suffered 2 pinch flats on the way down Butcher. I would find out why later (day 3). It’s a short climb up to 3rd Divide then one helluva fast shot down. Regroup and we hit 1st Divide. Cruise through town, grab lunch, head back to camp, grab a beer, hop in the Yuba River, grab a beer, eat, grab a beer, trade stories, insults, and jokes around the fire, grab a beer, go to sleep, repeat tomorrow.

Sunrise is just under 2 miles and 10 minutes of bliss. Most people see it as a primer for better riding to come. I like it more than most. It is all singletrack under a pine canopy that twists through the trees with multiple switchbacks and little exposure. We hit this trail all three days.

Sunrise dumps out onto a fireroad. You can take the singletrack straight ahead to Butcher. Butcher is such an awesome trail Santa Cruz named a bike after it. Or, as we did this morning, follow the fireroad for 2 miles to Pauley Creek. Pauley starts off with fast, flowy doubletrack. Then you hit Babyheads — a rock section that begs to be ridden at speed. Just be sure to pick the right line. Or, if you ride with Dirty, pick the line opposite of his. From there it funnels you into singletrack that follows the creek with the occasional water crossing. It is fast and a bit more technical than Sunrise.

Hard to admire the beauty as you fly by.

The progression continues. As you exit Pauley you join up midway into Butcher. The lower half of Butcher adds more speed, more exposure, more technicalosity gnar-gnar. And for me, more pinch flats.

Switchback, also good place to replace a tube.

Once you hit the bridge there is a short climb that is the bane of all those full-faced, long-traveled gravity assassins. Second Divide splits off to the left and 3rd Divide rewards those who climb just a bit more. Third Divide starts as an all-out 2 mile singletrack dragstrip. The trees open up to rocky exposure along the river. Although not as much as before, speed still abounds.

You finish up with 1st Divide. Still singletrack, there are fast descents intermixed with short climbs. It dumps you out into town where you are high on the stoke and ready to take the van back up.

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