A winding drive from Sierraville along the “Dead Man's Curves” of Highway 49 will eventually deliver you to the Sierra Buttes, where you can descend down brutally epic, blood-drawing mountain bike trails consisting of singletrack interspersed with fire road, doubletrack and old mining tracks, drop-off risks, banked turns and a recipe most adventurists thirst.
If you make this trip on the second weekend in July, you will stumble into a great grassroots mountain bike event known as the Downieville Classic.
Over the last few years, technological advances in the bicycle industry have led to the pioneering of a new mountain bike class known largely as “all-mountain” riding, where the best competitors across both downhill and cross-country disciplines race the clock for great rewards, laughs, unnerving mechanical dilemmas, bee stings, free beer, free food, a pair of socks, and renown bragging rights for the completion of this triumphant endeavor.
Imagine yourself on Day 1 in Sierra City when someone shouts, “Go,” (no gun, no countdown, just “go”) and the race begins rocketing you from zero to uncomfortably fast in seconds. Your heart is beating, be sure of that, and there are several voices in your head speaking with a couple of tones. Your ego drives you up the hill and as time passes you ascend approximately 3,000 feet over 8 miles to the near top of the Sierra Buttes. The sun-exposed fire road takes your every last hydrated ounce to complete. And it's not over yet.
You quickly gather your mental focus and drop down a technical and oh-so-tight trail. No reprieve yet. You exit the Sunrise Trail cleanly and head toward another lengthy stretch of fire road before hitting the proper trail that this race is so well known for — the descent, where you get to fly through various groves of trees, float over huge rocks and go head first into pulsing water ways. Whatever you do, don't flat. Take this trail all the way down, up, and over again, and you'll eventually roll through the finish line in the heart of Downieville to a cheering crowd wondering what you just went through.
This race attracts the best mountain bikers in the world, tosses them into a heat-induced cramp coma on the first day and then rolls them down a pinball course on the second day in record times. The event sells out every year and is bursting at the seams. Some racers finish on rims without tires, others finish with huge smiles and embrace the festival afterward. Some stand on top of the shiny silver podium and others launch themselves off a wood ramp into the river.
It's a youthful burst of energy that makes the second weekend in July the highlight of annual training. Pair this with amazing spectators and great food located in an exemplary small-town example of vintage Americana and, poof, you've got one of the greatest events of the summer.
Several local mountain bikers made the journey to Downieville and all succeeded in representing the community with cantaloupe-crested grins and a competitive edge that makes the birth right of our local Wolverines as I've come to know.
Congratulations to all Truckee Downieville Classic riders for keepin' the dream live and well.
— Team rider Matt Chappell is the author of this week's Cyclepaths/Wild Cherries Racing column. Cyclepaths/Wild Cherries Racing (www.cwcracing.org) is a Truckee-based cycling team focused on racing and local bike advocacy.