I had just finished taking a shower at the Santa Cruz house and was coasting down Main Street in boardshorts and flipflops with a towel draped over my neck when all hopes of winning the one-speed all-mountain race at the 20th Downieville Classic were almost dashed with an abrupt swing of glass and steel.
Literally the only parked vehicle on the street happened to have someone in it, and just as I approached the rust-colored Ford truck the driver’s side door whipped open. I instinctively juked left, barely avoiding catastrophe by inches. It was so close that I didn’t even look back to see what the driver looked like; I just kept cruising, inhaled a deep breath and erupted the Lord’s name in vain for all to hear.
With the seemingly endless perils and ways to break oneself on a bike riding the trails of the Lost Sierra, to be doored by a Ford in Downieville two days before the Classic would surely have been the most ironic. After the incident, visions of my bare-chested body lying lifelessly on the ground with a giant gash in my shoulder and my head split open sent a chill up my spine. I don’t know if it was catlike reflexes or pure luck that saved me, but either way, I’ll take it.
Earlier that day, I was driving the Yuba Expeditions shuttle adorned with shiny disco garb and happened upon a frantic rider at the top of Packer Saddle. He told me a friend had broken his collarbone on Butcher Ranch and needed to be driven out. I took the van down to the Butcher Ranch/Sunrise Trail intersection and picked up the patient, already wearing a makeshift sling and looking to be in surprisingly good spirits. Turns out he was a fire captain who’s already broken his collarbone once before, so it seemed to be more of an annoying inconvenience to him than a painful injury. He hobbled into the van, looked at my disco getup and chuckled. “I guess you’re my knight in shiny armor,” he said.
That incident was just the start of a string of casualties suffered days before the race weekend even began, including several broken bones, separated shoulders and stitches, culminating with a life flight chopper airlifting a racer off First Divide Trail after reports he took a hard fall and fractured five vertebrae.
ASS rocked the shiny disco getup, helping him secure victory in the downhill (click to enlarge). Photo by “The Metal” Mike Haire
Another source of carnage came in the form of carbon rims. Considering nearly half of visitors to Downieville these days run carbon hoops, the three days leading up to race weekend I personally witnessed five cracked carbon rims from some of the most respected brands in the industry. Despite claims of carbon rims being extremely tough, Downieville still finds a way to destroy even the most worthy equipment.
Aside from the abnormally high casualty rate, the 2015 Downieville Classic was one for the record books thanks to terrific weather all weekend, including a huge thunderstorm on Saturday night that significantly reduced the dust and increased the grip for Sunday’s downhill.
After getting taken out of the competition last year with a slashed tire in the first 50 feet of the downhill, I had a much better go at the Classic this year, managing to be the second place non-dreadlocked singlespeeder in the cross-country race (fourth including dreadlocks), winning the downhill and finishing second in the all-mountain category. But the biggest personal achievement of the weekend was prevailing in an epic game of Crud that started with nearly 25 people.
My special ladyfriend, Swan John, also had a great weekend. Only three weeks after putting the big chainring through her calf muscle, resulting in 37 stitches, in her first mountain bike race ever, she finished second in the beginner class. She would have won had it not been for a sandbagger extraordinaire who’s won the beginner class three years in a row. Time to upgrade, sister.
Of course there were antics galore all weekend including a mechanical bull, pixie bike race and river jump, with the highlight being the raucous Folsom Breakouts crew heckling the Sheriff at two in the morning. The Breakouts and a lot of event volunteers were camped over at the North Yuba Trailhead parking lot, shouting distance from a house that the Sheriff and his family live in. When the shouting started waking his family, the Sheriff emerged from his house in pajamas and told the crew to quiet down.
When Mr. PJs identified himself as the Sheriff, one of the Breakouts responded with drunken zeal and chest puffed out, loudly proclaiming, and I paraphrase here, “Sheriff? Sheriff?! You’re no Sheriff. I’M the Sheriff, boy!” The Sheriff was nonplussed, but had the restraint to not toss the drunk in the lockup, which happened to only be a couple hundred yards from the Sheriff’s house. By unanimous vote, that guy won the illustrious “That Guy” award for 2015 – which is an actual trophy etched each year with the dubious winner’s name.
Aside from the early morning echoes of thunder rumbling through the deep canyon and drunks heckling law enforcement, I was woken a third time to the sounds of a cranky local screaming at a bear that was raiding his garbage dumpster. I looked out the window of my RV to see the silhouette of an old man holding a broom, chasing after a giant ball of fur. “Get outta here you bastard son-of-a-bitch goddamn it!” It would have been funnier if I didn’t have to wake up at 6 that morning.