The last time I had ridden the Downieville Downhill course was in 1993 with Nate. There was no Downieville Classic at that time, I think Ferrentino had mentioned how sweet it was in a Bike Mag article so we made the trip. At the time I was on a Klein Pinnacle with a Manitou 1 fork. It’s changed a LOT in the last 21 years…
I started in town and rode up 1st Divide to Lavezolla, up to 3rd Divide Trail and up and over to Pauley Creek. At the intersection with Butcher Ranch I took a left and headed up to Four Hills Mine. This is a pretty big climb of 18 miles at 5,700ft of climbing but that doesn’t bother me much. I loved the Pauley Creek trail, especially above the Butcher intersection. It turns to 4×4 but winds through Gold Valley with a ton of wildflowers, water crossings, and great views all around. Once up on top of the Sierra Crest I rode by the Pacific Crest Trail and found my way to the Jamison Creek Trail stopping by Wade’s Lake for a water filter. This trail drops about 1,700ft in 4 miles to the Smith Lake connector north of Grass Lake. The difference in geology and trail types couldn’t be more apparent from one side of the Sierra Crest to the other. Downieville is developed dirt, Lakes Basin is backcountry rocks. I love both but prefer the Lakes Basin side even if it’s a bit of hiking at times. The 29+ purred over it all.
Once i hiked over to Smith Lake (the connector trail is pretty primitive and lots is unrideable on the uphill), I started up towards Mt. Elwell and camped at Hidden Lake. I brought my uber-light setup to test since it has been damn hot and hasn’t rained in months. It consisted of a TiGoat bivy with the bug net (needed the bug net badly), a Marmot Pounder sleeping bag (I only do synthetic, i like geese with their feathers), Klymit Inertia X-lite “sleeping pad”, and a Oware TeenyTarp as a ground cloth (or tarp if it somehow rained). I slept at about 7,000ft elevation (max in this particular area is just over 7800 atop Mt. Elwell) and stayed warm except for a tad chilly legs. Probably didn’t drop below 45F so I’m blaming the 3/4 length Klymit pad and I sleep cold.
To a lot who get out and camp more than me, this will be obvious…but it’s been awhile since I camped alone, the last time being 2009 on my tour to SSWC in Durango. Each time I do get out there I feel like I pressed the “reset” button on my brain. To get almost completely disconnected from those screens that capture your focus even outside of work – the Facebooks, the Instagrams, the emails, it’s endless. All have a place but I didn’t realize how overwhelming it was until it was not available. Instead of looking at that screen I was able to stare at the lake’s reflections and check out the critters waking up around me as i sipped coffee. Nowhere to be, nothing to do except ride. Some use meditation to reset each day focusing on their breath or a phrase to keep them centered and not get distracted by the stresses of their life. Waking up to the sun rising and birds talking amongst themselves felt like another form of meditation. All cares dissolved as I became entranced in this little lake and the habitat it supports. Getting out like this is rejuvenating to my core.
After a leisurely start to the day (i’d suck at bikepack races) I packed up camp and began the little climb up to the top of Mt. Elwell where i took way too many photos and ran into a group from Bend, OR and Golden, CO. Small-world stories began, not surprisingly when you run into someone on a mountain top miles from nowhere since in cycling it’s more like 3 degrees of separation. I descended into the Lakes Basin, went around Long Lake, Helgramite Lake, Little Bear Lake, Big Bear, up past Round Lake and up out of the basin to Deer Creek Road crossing the PCT again. I headed down paralleling the PCT (no i didn’t poach) to Packer Saddle where I picked up Sunrise trail to Butcher Creek to Pauley Creek to 2nd Divide. It became damn hot the farther down i went and the creek was calling me to take a swim. Second Divide is such an awesome trail, if you’ve never made a trip here you need to. The Graegle, Downieville, Truckee, South Lake Tahoe area…so many great places to ride singletrack for days. Back out to 1st Divide and back to town, I stopped in for a burrito at La Cocina De Oro and a cold Horchata before heading home. Day 2 the GPS claimed 27 miles with 5500ft of climbing and 9500ft of descending. I was toasted but in a good way.
This two day one night trip felt like a week to me. So simple. So worth it.