ASS Does Downieville: Earning good karma points

Helping out stranded vacationers and giving back to the trails

Opinion Travel
Hanging out in front of the Downieville Market after another downhill run.

Hanging out in front of the Downieville Market after another downhill run.

Editor’s Note: The Angry Singlespeeder is a collection of mercurial musings from contributing editor Kurt Gensheimer. In no way do his maniacal diatribes about all things bike oriented represent the opinions of Mtbr, RoadBikeReview, or any of their employees, contractors, janitorial staff, family members, household pets, or any other creature, living or dead. You can submit questions or comments to Kurt at singlespeeder@consumerreview.com. And make sure to check out Kurt’s previous columns.

After a long day of driving nearly 250 shuttle miles from Downieville up to Packer Saddle and back, I was winding things down at the shop when a young couple appeared at the door wearing nothing but bathing suits. They seemed a bit dejected and didn’t look like mountain bikers. I asked them what was up and the guy said, “Uh, we’re in kind of a predicament.”

Turns out the couple just arrived in Downieville to spend a weekend lounging in the cool, clear waters of the North Yuba River, when not two minutes into their relax session, their dry bag containing car keys, smartphones and their wallets floated away. The guy gave chase, but couldn’t catch the bag, and as he quickly approached a section of the North Yuba downstream from Coyoteville complete with rapids, massive boulders and cliffs on either side, he stopped giving chase. While he told me their sob story, the tanned and blond-haired girl stood in her bikini, arms crossed and entirely non-plussed with the entire incident.

“So the bag is stuck in the middle of the river between two cliffs and three rapids,” I asked, trying to assess how hard it would be to retrieve the bag. The guy nodded yes, and said he thought he could probably get it, but didn’t trust himself.

“I’d rather look like the idiot who lost his dry bag than the idiot who tried to retrieve it and ended up drowning,” he said.

At least the guy had common sense enough swallow his pride and ask for help. Although none of us had kayaks, which would have made the retrieval a lot easier, at a minimum, I had to help by assessing whether or not the bag was even recoverable without watercraft. Otherwise, this couple would be stranded in Downieville with nothing more than stylish swimwear.

While the bridge is now gone, this historic photo shows the relative danger of North Yuba River. The dry bag was almost directly under where the bridge used to be.

While the bridge is now gone, this historic photo shows the relative danger of North Yuba River. The lost dry bag was almost directly under where the bridge used to be.

A fellow singlespeeder Dan Jones perked up at the challenge as well, and we headed down Highway 49 to the site of the old Yore Toll Bridge crossing, a notoriously dangerous stretch of the North Yuba River still riddled with abandoned mining equipment. We immediately spotted the bag and thought it would be no problem. But upon trying to access the river, the quandary that prevented the couple from getting their bag emerged; big cliffs upstream made it difficult to get in the river and fast-moving rapids with giant boulders downstream made it dangerous to cross the river and move upstream.

Dan and I decided to divide and conquer, with him going upstream and me downstream. Like a spider monkey, Dan somehow scaled down the cliffs, crossed the river and was on the south side along the edge of a rock face before I could even dip a toe in the water. I slowly negotiated my way through polished and slippery boulders the size of Volkswagens, peppered with numerous holes just waiting to capture a stray leg. One slight misstep on the snot-slick rocks surely meant a broken appendage, so every move was deliberate and slow. My special lady friend Swan John served as lookout, standing up on the highway embankment getting catcalled by passing hillbillies in pickup trucks while watching the operation and thinking to herself how to best report a drowning incident.

The North Yuba looking downstream from where the bag was recovered.

The North Yuba looking downstream from where the bag was recovered.

After estimating the speed of the rapids, I swam across a swift-moving section of river only to find almost no handholds on the other side. I scrambled for grip as the river pushed me downstream towards certain peril. Eventually I found a calm eddy and grabbed hold of a giant boulder. I looked downstream at a five-foot high waterfall riddled with massive rocks and realized why the guy didn’t try to get the bag on his own. Had I not gotten a grip on the boulder, the ride surely would have been filled with bruises and blood. By the time I got to a safe spot, Dan had retrieved the bag, but couldn’t swim upstream with it, so he tossed it downstream to me.

I grabbed the bag and scrambled up a 150-vertical foot scree field back to the highway, hootin’ and hollerin’ like a drunken prospector who just hit pay dirt and waited for Dan to safely backtrack upstream.

“We got the gold,” I exclaimed, swinging the dry bag over my head like a lunatic.

“I’m just glad you’re not dead,” said Swan John with a sign of relief.

Continue to page 2 for more from the ASS Does Downieville »


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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  • m a jones says:

    That’s my boy/man! You can count on him in a pinch to do the deed with a smile. . . . but sheesh! He’s just given me another gray hair! ( Keep peddlin’, son! ) xoMom

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