Downieville Downhill, July 17 2005

Six riders took on Downieville on the Sunday before their annual big race. There were lots of (fast) bikers there! We were:

Corbin Dunn
Louise Woolen
Bevan Gerber-Siff
Matt Chapman
Steve —
John Foss

Matt and Steve were new to us. One is from Tahoe City and the other from Reno. Lloyd Johnson was going to join us but came down with a stomach flu.

So we had to pay for the shuttle, and rode up in an absolutely full van (15 passengers + driver) and bikes and unicycles stuck all over it! Front rack, rear rack and big top rack!

It was too hot yesterday to ride Downieville. We were really, really beat at about the halfway point (green bridge). Drinking water & Gatorade didn’t seem to change this. Definitely choose a cooler day. We figure it got up to around 95 while we were out on the trail. This is way above normal. The high for Sacramento was 105 yesterday!

Downieville, which was part of the 2003 MUni Weekend, is an awesome ride with 4000’ of descent in either 14 o 17 miles. And there’s plenty of technical riding along the way, to the point of being relentless in some areas. It just keeps going down, with bump after bump after bump!

Equipment notes:

  • You want a brake. You can do the ride, of course, without one, but you’ll be sore for days unless you’re a highly trained downhill monster.
  • You want a beefy, burly wheel. Read on to see what happened to me on my spindly 29er.
  • If it’s as hot as yesterday, ride elsewhere. Otherwise, bring plenty of water, plus food. We were on the trail for six hours!
  • Use a KH seat. I was barely starting to be sore in the crotch at the end of the ride. That was far better than any ride I’ve ever done of similar distance!
  • It’s always good to bring a spare tube. Based on my experience, a significant proportion of trail flats cannot be patched. Tire failures on trails tend to be catastrophic!
  • Along with your tube, make sure you have all the necessary tools to do the actual repair.

I rode my 29er, which has a skinny rim and a tire I’ve hardly ridden. The previous tire was destroyed in a massive blowout when I was riding it last winter. I had to walk out of that one. I thought the 29er would be great for the long miles of this trail, though I knew it wouldn’t be as fun on the technical parts, because I’d have to ride lightly.

WRONG! Every time I do this ride (now 4), I realize it’s more technical than the last time. This trail is fairly technical for at least 2/3 of its distance! Though the 29er was very nice on the smoother parts, it was no fun on the millions of rocks and little drops. My tire was always trying to fold over and pop off the rim.

Until it finally did. WHOP! Uh oh. Remember that scene in Universe 2 where Jacinto’s Trials tire pops out of the rim to huge proportions? Mine did that. I scrambled to let some air out of the presta valve. It didn’t pop! After I’d let a bunch of air out, I stopped to take a picture of this amazing phenomenon. There was this super-fat zig-zag of tube popping out the side of my tire.

Big mistake. I should have kept letting air out. Before the camera could turn on, POP! A 6" rent in my tube. Lucky for me, Steve had a whole 26" tube in his pack. My savior! We weren’t sure if it was going to fit, but I’m sure it went on easier than a 29" tube on a Coker. Without that lifesaving new tube, I would have been facing a walk of up to 10 miles. It would have been the worst walk ever!

So I was able to continue riding, but now even more paranoid about popping my tire off the rim again. At one point I did a little “flat” drop off a root, and somehow landed wrong, felt the tire pop way out to the side, and toss me to the ground. I rolled over on my Camelbak, ending up covered in the moondust dirt the trail is coated in. My Camelbak probably saved my camera, which was in my butt-bag below it. Fortunately the tire had popped back into place.

I had a leak, and had to stop and pump up the tire four times on the remainder of the ride. I was so tired the last time that I was almost willing to just walk instead. But there was another 2 miles or so to the car, so I’m glad I pumped.

Steve and Matt are hardcore mountain bikers, so they have conditioning and skills from that sport. Credit Lloyd Johnson with helping them get into unicycling. This was probably their first epic ride, and they did great.

Except for the part where Matt had to deal with a very dangerous cliffside retrieval. Right after dismounting on a cliff area above some rapids, where his uni surely would have gone into the drink, we were back on safe ground and I was thinking how lucky he was. Then he fell on some tiny little bump, and the unicycle slid over the edge! It was super-steep leafy, junky dirt, going about 120’ or so down to the swift-moving Downie River. The first tree didn’t stop the uni, but the second one did, about halfway down. We really could have used rope for that one, but Matt managed to figure out how to get down there, and worked out a route back up!

At the midpoint of the ride we stopped to dip ourselves into the river, and wash off. Ice cold water! I put my feet in for a few minutes and then they were numb. It felt great! Matt, Corbin and Louise went swimming. Brrr! I thought about it, but that water was way too cold. I know how good it would have felt to get out though, and to lower that core body temp.

All in all it was another great ride, with great people, on one of the greatest hard trails anywhere.

The first time I rode Downieville, I was sore for a whole week. I couldn’t walk down stairs. I had trouble sitting down in a chair! I wanted to get some rides to work in this week, before leaving for NAUCC. Normally my legs would be too messed up for this. So I decided to ride to work this morning, before I got too sore. Now I’m here, and my legs are much more sore and stiff than they were this morning. I think they would have felt about the same with or without the ride.

The question is, should I ride home or bum a ride? It’s supposed to be 106 this afternoon…

I love the Downieville downhill! I will never forget it from CMW03. I would love to go back there some day.
Riding it on a 29er with no brakes had to be a challenge, even without the blowouts. And I can imagine the heat would take some of the fun out of it. It’s been that way here and it really takes it out of me.
I’m glad everyone made it out safely, along with thier munis. I remember what the cliffside retrievals are like there.

Thanks for the report, John. It brought back memories.

So, did you ride home from work, or wimp out?


Damn!! I’m tired of missing the cool rides. (I was in Eugene this weekend).

I think I’d like to organize a Downieville ride before CMW.

Mmmm, that was a fun ride, right up until I felt my camelbak go empty—over 6 miles from the end! Scott, the heat most definitely took something out of it, namely our water! Without water eating wasn’t very tempting, since it’d dry out the mouth. I also was too stupid to bring food on the trail, instead I brought cliff bars. I only ate 5 of them.

Some of the later stuff in the trail is pretty awesome, but with a headache and dehydration it wasn’t very tempting or interesting. I’d like to go back there sometime with a clear mind and fresh muscles, and see what’s possible. I know I wouldn’t’ve been pedalgrabbing that big log were it at mile 12.

I’m happy to do it again, but maybe we should time it for a cooler weekend. How about December :sunglasses: ?

I was decently sore yesterday, but I can sprint up and down my stairs once again. I noticed today that my muni is awfully dusty.

Okay here’s the update. After riding to work on Monday I felt gradually more stiff and sore throughout the day. In the afternoon I found out the high was only supposed to be about 97, so no personal heat record for the ride home. Jacquie had offered me a ride, so I took it!

Meanwhile, I discovered some poison oak on my forearm. Damn that stuff! It seemed to manifest itself in the form of a large patch, about 2 x 4". Usually it starts in little spots, so I think whatever oil got on me got rubbed (or washed) around during Sunday. Maybe my arm rubbing against my body while I held my seat? It’s right in that area.

Very sore, trouble walking. Poison oak starting to bubble up.

Less sore! Able to pretend to walk normaly! Maybe the ride to work on Monday paid off! But the poison oak started bubbling up largely. By the end of the day it was officially very gross and leaky. Based on the really bad case I had two years ago, and the fact that we’re leaving for NAUCC this weekend, it was time to call the doctor.

The doctor’s assistant didn’t take my blood pressure, as she was concerned about spreading some poison oak to her daughter. It’s always great when the medical professionals are afraid of you! The doc gave me a perscription for Prednisone, which I’ll be taking in reducing amounts for the next 20 days. My arm looks disgusting and I have to keep dabbin at the discharge. Yum. So far it’s still confined to a 3 x 5" area on my arm, but a couple of tiny spots are trying to form elsewhere. I hate when that happens.

BTW, my legs are still sore but I can function normally!

I will be bringing my cooties to NAUCC. Hopefully by then the liquid part will be over… Poison oak sucks!