The weekend of the Downieville Classic is always one I look forward to with great angst each and every year. It’s like a mountain biker’s family reunion of sorts, where we all meet up deep in the woods (when I say deep I mean deep, seriously if you listen closely enough you’ll hear banjo music playing from somewhere) to not only ride our bikes, but also enjoy the town and the cool Yuba River, swap stories around the campfire, eat as much bacon and beef as one’s stomach can handle, and take turns watching the crazy uncle (Raul I’m looking at you…). This year’s rendition was no exception; with 4 days of bike riding, storytelling, pizza cooking, river jumping, and even some bouts of bear chasing on the menu; it was a weekend I soon won’t forget.
After showing up Thursday morning, my good friend Nathan and I made short work of assembling our humble camp and self-dubbed ‘mega kitchen’, which featured a 3 burner range, 2 burner stove with oven, 3 tables, and even the kitchen sink. We had visions of grandeur for our meals and were looking forward to breaking the paradigm of boring camp food like hot dogs and pancakes. Our menu for the weekend included steaks, bacon-wrapped asparagus (I mean what’s not good wrapped in bacon), handmade pizzas and pasta sauce, cinnamon rolls, and more. It suffices to say we had many people asking us for leftovers.
After a full day of cooking, volunteering at the bike shop, Yuba Expeditions, and swimming in the welcoming cool waters of the Yuba, the night concluded with a DJ’d dance party in front of the shop and a volunteer only Crud game inside the shop. If you’ve experienced a Downieville Crud game before, you know how awesome it was. If not, well, you’ll just have to experience it on the Thursday before the Classic next year (origins of the game come from the Canadian Air Force and regular players include Paul from Paul Components, ASS or The Angry Singlespeeder, all the guys from Yuba, and Mark Weir, it gets pretty rowdy).
After strolling into camp in the wee hours of the morning after many rousing rounds of Crud, we were greeted by quite the scene. A 600 pound Black Bear was rummaging through the end of camp, taking people’s coolers and dispersing their contents throughout the hillside. After discovering this commotion, Nathan and I promptly and wisely decided to chase the bear out of camp, in the dark, up the hill with only one light. After trying to reason with the bear by yelling at it, to no avail, we decided the best course of action would be to get even closer yet and scare it up the hill. After getting 15 ft away from the massive bear and yelling at it with 6 people (half the camp was joining our efforts at this point, awoken by the yell of “Nate, grab the shotgun!”) the bear turned around and begrudgingly made his way up the hill. While keeping an eye on the bear, 3 of us went out and picked up all the garbage, collected the food, and put the ruined Igloo cooler and trash in a safer place away from the bear. After Kurt (aka A.S.S.) had went to check on the status of the man in the affected tent who had slept through this ordeal exclaimed, “you’ll never believe this, there’s a drunk naked man passed out in there!”, we all decided it was time to go to bed and let nature run its course. Turns out we didn’t have to worry as there was an unfortunate camper who chose to sleep in a hammock on the very edge of camp; he stood watch the rest of the night; it was his problem now.
Friday started off with a super fun run down the mountain with the Folsom Breakouts on upper Sunrise Trail, Butcher Ranch, and back down the ‘Downieville Downhill’. It was a blast to ride with friends and just focus on getting down the hill and having a riot. The afternoon was filled with more volunteering at the shop, helping to erect Cozmo’s wild Island and River Jump in the middle of the Yuba-a feat of redneck engineering-, and making the perfect pre-race pizza back at camp. The bear plan for that night was to use a siren on a megaphone to scare away the bear if he decided to show up again. About 1:30 in the morning, I heard the siren but just closed the trailer door and went back to bed, letting hammock man deal with it instead (The bear did a number on camp again, ripping through trash and keeping hammock man awake all night).
After a solid night of sleep (for me anyway), I awoke on race morning ready to suffer for an hour up the hill and enjoy my time as much as possible back down. For this race, I elected to run my Scott Spark RC World Cup paired with some beefy WTB tires and a 9point8 Fall Line 175 mm dropper post. This combination was not only extremely capable, but also very light, weighing in at under 23.5 lbs. After a vigorous start up the pavement, I worked hard to improve my position up the climb to be ready to get into good position for the downhill. The Classic is unique in that it is a 28-mile point-to-point race with a 3500 ft climb right off the bat then almost 5000 ft of wonderful Sierra single-track descending as your reward. After holding my position on the climb and even making up a few spots, I made it to the very top in under an hour, my original goal. I picked my line carefully down Baby Heads, whose child size boulders can unseat even the best picked line, and even cleaned the climb after the creek crossing. I eeked out every ounce of flow and speed I could down Pauley Creek, conserving energy for the final climb up to the top of my favorite trail in the world, Third Divide, whose buff dirt and well-built features have allowed riders to clock speeds in excess of 40 mph (by CHP with a radar gun, no ticket don’t worry) while hooting their elation down the hill. Right as I approached the bridge to the climb, it started raining, and the trails went from dusty to dialed in minutes. At the top of the climb I was greeted by a Kiss air guitar cover band, doing everything they could to call Gene Simmons to the top of the mountain. After doing a double take, I dropped into Third Divide, and was caught by two or three guys on full blown endure bikes who had been chasing me the whole way down. I kept them in sight, and as we hit the fire road that drops you into Lavezzola Creek and First Divide, I attacked and put a gap on them. After catching a few more guys on First Divide by pedaling as fast as I could, I drilled the final .75 mile pavement drag to the finish line and crossed the line in 2:17 and in 27/50 in Pro Men, a result that met my goal timewise and left me stoked and excited for next year. Fellow Scott athlete Geoff Kabush won the Pro All Mountain Event aboard his Spark, putting him back into contention for the Lost Sierra Triple Crown Race Series.
After saying my goodbyes, I reluctantly rolled over the bridge and out of town and headed back for reality. Downieville has something about it that for me and many other mountain bikers just captivates the body, mind, and soul. Whether it’s the kick-ass event, nonstop party in town, laid-back mountain atmosphere, or the awesome people that make Downieville what it is, the Classic remains and will so for a long time the highlight of my racing and camping calendar. Besides talks of how to top this year’s food, I have the date saved for next year and have bear spray in my cart on Amazon, I’m ready to go.