Getting Down In Downieville - It’s A “Way Of Life”!!!
Downieville could probably be included in “Tahoe Rides”, but the area has it’s own special vibe. Don’t expect cell service. You may be able to connect to wi-fi at one of the outfitters, restaurants, or hotels in town. But, that’s not what Downieville is about. Downieville is all about outdoor adventures. Whether you’re tackling the terrain in a 4x4, on a horse, straddling a dirtbike, in your hiking boots, wearing your waders, or on a mountain bike, you’ll be in for a treat. On this Halloween morning, I’m thinking back to our last Downieville trip. We had a couple tricks, but we definitely had our fair share of treats.
Everyone tackles Downieville a bit differently. But, one thing is almost always the same. You need to get to the top of Packer Lake Saddle for the real adventure to begin. Packer Lake Saddle is at the top of a steep road, in the shadow of the Sierra Buttes. It’s just above Bassetts, CA, which is at the junction of Gold Lakes Highway and Highway 49. Thankfully, there are two, local, outfitters that offer affordable shuttle services from Downieville to the top. They are Yuba Expeditions (http://www.yubaexpeditions.com) and Downieville Outfitters (http://downievilleoutfitters.com) Always check the weather, as well as the shuttle schedules before your trip. Otherwise, you may be in for a lot more than you bargained for.
Downieville is not for your ultralight, minimalist, approach. You need to be prepared. The rock is very unforgiving and has punctured my downhill tires with ease. The average ride is about 16 miles of self-supported riding. There may be a trail angel to help you in your time of need. But, you also might not see another soul for the entire ride. Here’s a quick list of what I carry:
* Knee pads
* Backpack with 2 liters of water
* Snacks (energy bars, gummies, etc.)
* Bike Pump
* CO2 adapter with 2 cartridges
* Bike tube x 2
* Patch Kit
* Tire Levers
* Extra valve core
* Multi-tool - Bike specific
* Multi-tool - With knife and pliers
* Duct tape
* Zip ties
* Chain link with chain breaker
* Small lube with an old, clean, sock
* Brush for the cassette
* Ski straps
* Backup battery & phone cable
* First aid kit
I actually keep a much more detailed repair kit back at the truck. But, I have used almost everything on this list on one ride or another. I would much rather carry a bit of extra weight than have to deal with complications from a mechanical and risk spending the night on the trail cold, tired, and hungry.
As for riding, the trails have their fair share of obstacles. Between the roots, rocks, ruts, and ravines, expect your high priced mountain bike to take a beating. But, isn’t that what we have them for? Even a $10k bike will eventually fall victim to Downieville’s unforgiving terrain. So, be prepared for whatever the trail may throw at you. My list is only a suggestion. Some people may have extras, like brake pads or a derailleur hanger. I just want enough to be able to limp my bike back to town or patch up my wounds. Enough about being prepared, let’s get to the nitty gritty and the rides.
At the top of Packer Lake Saddle, expect the weather to be a bit cooler and possibly windy. You’re exposed to the elements and at 7000 feet above sea level. Don’t worry, you’ll be working hard shortly. We mix it up here with the trail options. Both of the options are great warmups. Sometimes, we’ll take Sunrise Trail. Other times, we’ll take the Pack Saddle Loop. Both of these lead you to the road and the intersection with Butcher Ranch. This may be where you need to reevaluate your group. And, if someone isn’t comfortable, then this would be a great spot to bail out before the trail gets more technical. For those that are up to the challenge, shift your weight back, hold on to the bars, and let it rip. This is what Downieville is all about.
Butcher Ranch Trail is a mix of challenging trail features. A couple of my favorites are the dry, gorge, crossing and the waterfall. Both of these may see people walking. But, all of this is rideable. So, if you are walking, stay clear of the right of way. Butcher is also good at causing mechanicals. Our last trip had Butcher destroying an Enve wheel, Eagle derailleur, Maxxis Minion DHF Double Down rear tire, and even snapped a spoke. Thankfully, our kit proved it’s worth and kept us going down the trail.
Butcher takes you all the way to Pauley Creek and an awesome bridge crossing. From here, there’s a brief, but grueling climb up to Second Divide or Third Divide. We’ve done both. Expect Third Divide to have more of the “fast & flowy” segments that make up the Downieville Classic. Second Divide rides an up and down contour line on an exposed flank high above the creek below. Do NOT go off trail. It will be a ride that you’ll never forget. Both options eventually lead you to Lavezzola Rd. This is where the trails intersect as they weave their way down the mountain. This is also where our Enve wheel mechanical finally proved too much. We dropped a pin on the GPS and advised our friend to stay put until we could return with the truck. But, that’s an entirely different adventure.
First Divide is the next section of trail and the access point is right between the ends of Second Divide and Third Divide, along Lavezzola Rd. There’s a good camping option here. But, don’t expect privacy. You’ll be camping smack dab along the Downieville Classic downhill route. At this point, the trail isn’t over. But, a lot of the technical features are well behind. Enjoy the ride. And, make your way back to town. Be sure to keep an eye out for an orange truck that learned all too well about gravity where the singletrack meets the doubletrack. It’s a long way down to the river below. So, enjoy the views, but respect the trail.
Pretty soon, the ride ends back in Downieville. Downieville is a “way of life”. The pace is a bit different. But, don’t expect it to be too cavalier. Pay attention to the stop signs, otherwise you’ll soon contribute to the local economy with a fine. As for myself, I’d rather support the economy by paying for another shuttle. But, that’ll be after deciding whether to get a pizza or mexican food to fuel up before the next ride. As always, thank you Downieville!!!