ASS Does Downieville: Bear chasing and more from MTB Mecca

Tales of bear encounters, breakthroughs, Rampage roots, and a little mountain romance

Opinion Travel
Bullet riddled road sign at the top of Packer Saddle.

Bullet riddled road sign at the top of Packer Saddle (click to enlarge).

I must have been going close to 25mph down Big Boulder trail when I rounded a corner and saw a hairy golden brown animal standing on all fours in the rocky singletrack. It glanced up for a second to see me barreling upon on it, turned and took flight down the trail, kicking up a giant roost of dirt. As I chased after it, yelling and whooping like a mad man, I was astounded by its speed and agility over the bowling ball-sized rocks. After about 20 seconds of hot pursuit, I realized chasing a 200-pound bear might not be the wisest idea, so I backed off and waited to tell my co-worker Mason about the awesome encounter. It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life.

After a three-week hiatus from working in Downieville at Yuba Expeditions, I was eager to get back to the Lost Sierra. Per usual around here, with the exception of a guy who crashed a brand new 2015 KTM dirt bike off a ledge on Downie River Trail and left the keys at the general store for a local to go and retrieve for a reward, nothing much happened while I was gone. The recent rains and prime trail conditions made for a particularly busy weekend, clocking nearly 700 shuttle miles driven between a Friday and Monday. During those miles driven I met several new friends, some of whom had fascinating stories.

Todd Barber, founder of the Red Bull Rampage.

Todd Barber, founder of the Red Bull Rampage, showed up in Downieville to ride (click to enlarge).

One such character is Todd Barber, owner of H5 Events and the man behind the Red Bull Rampage, the legendary freeride mountain bike competition held in Virgin, Utah. Barber came up for the weekend with a crew of friends from Marin, staying in the loft above Yuba Expeditions. Of course, I didn’t find out directly from Barber that he was the man behind the Rampage. He was far too modest for that. His friends clued me in.

Out of curiosity, I asked how the Red Bull Rampage came to be, and like most great ideas, it was born while drinking at a bar with friends. As a lifelong skier at Squaw Valley, Barber and his buddies wondered why there wasn’t a mountain bike event that mimicked the style points-based freestyle skiing format that has made the extreme terrain of Squaw one of the world’s most legendary.

A friend knew of such a place for mountain biking outside Virgin, Utah, and the original Rampage ran from 2001 to 2004. After a couple years of hiatus, the Rampage picked back up again in 2008 and the rest is history. Squaw Valley has helped develop the biggest names in extreme snow sports; names like Scot Schmidt, Shane McConkey and Jeremy Jones. The Red Bull Rampage is yet another product of Squaw.

Swan John conquered her first Downieville Downhill run.

Swan John conquered her first Downieville Downhill run (click to enlarge).

For other folks, last weekend was filled with milestones. My girlfriend Elisabeth, aka Swan John, did her very first Downieville Downhill run. Working at Yuba I see it all the time – beginner riders who come to conquer Downieville not knowing what they or their spouse is getting them into. By the time they reach the bottom, they’re either smiling from ear-to-ear or covered head to toe in dirt and blood, ready to kill their significant other. Considering Swan John is still new to mountain biking, I was cautious about sending her solo down the mountain. She had heard all my stories of busted bikes and broken bones, and was a bit intimidated at the prospect of riding off Packer Saddle.

Continue to page 2 for more from Downieville and a photo gallery »

About the author: Kurt Gensheimer

Kurt Gensheimer thinks the bicycle is man’s most perfect invention. He firmly believes ‘singlespeed’ is a compound word. He sometimes wears a disco ball helmet. He is also known as Genshammer. He is a Gemini and sleeps outside in a hammock.


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