Celebrating a quarter century of getting rad in the Southern Sierra Nevadas
The scenery around Keyesville is simply breathtaking
Keyesville isn’t a town. Hell, Keyesville isn’t even a ville. But for the past 25 years, the Bureau of Land Management-owned property has hosted one of the longest running mountain bike races in our sport’s history. Named after a gold claim discovered by Richard M. Keyes in 1853, Keyesville today is largely unchanged from what it looked like 160 years ago. Positioned at the foot of 4,000 foot tall, boulder-strewn peaks, Keyesville is a gorgeous tract of land decorated with pine trees, rocks as big as houses and some of the most smile-inducing single track in California.
Situated on the banks of the breathtaking yet deadly Kern River – a river notorious for claiming many a drunken Bakersfield knucklehead with more huevos than common sense – Keyesville draws mountain bikers for its recreational beauty just as much as its trails. Equally as interesting as the terrain and trails, early March always brings interesting weather to Keyesville. Some years its 80 degrees with blazing sunshine and choking dust while other years its 25 degrees with ridonkulous winds and snow-capped trails.
A layer of frost covered everything Sunday morning
This year we had conditions that were thankfully right in between. We had a little rain, a little snow, some wind and a full day of glorious, warm sunshine. Although it was cold enough at night to put a layer of frost on everything left outside, including freezing a half-full pint of beer, the weather turned out to be absolutely stellar on Sunday for the cross country race. And the trails? Hero dirt for days.
Even beer was frozen
Festivities started on Friday night at the Kern River Brewing Company in Kernville, an absolute must-visit if you are ever in the area. Along with Master of Brewing, Kyle Smith, KRBC was founded by Eric and Rebecca Giddens based on their love for kayaking and the outdoors. You might recognize Rebecca’s name – she won the 2004 Olympic Silver Medal in kayaking. Her husband Eric is equally as accomplished, with a Ph. D. in Oceanography from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. I’m not sure how credentials like that lead someone to open a brewery, but thank Twain they did.
Start of the Sport Class race
This year’s Keyesville Classic saw a flip-flop in events from years passed for those trying their hand in the All-Mountain category, featuring the Short Track Cross-Country race and the legendary “Snake Pit” downhill on Saturday and the equally legendary Cross-Country race on Sunday. The Keyesville XC course can be summed up in two words: roller coaster. It’s a course loaded with warp-speed ups and downs, bermed corners and holler-inducing single track. You can’t help but smile when riding the Keyesville course. And when you’re not suffering from complete anaerobic misery, you can enjoy stunning views of nearby Lake Isabella and the mighty Kern River a mere 500 feet directly beneath your knobby tires.
Eric Rumpf riding the Snake Pit on his Klein
For those who get their kicks flirting with massive, immovable boulders and other assorted rocks that smash bikes and bones with indifference, the Snake Pit downhill is a timeless classic. Tame enough for fully rigid vintage bikes to handle, yet challenging enough to intimidate riders on modern big-hit rigs, the actual Snake Pit is more like a narrow chute no wider than two feet. With a gigantic 15 foot-high wall of rock to your left and refrigerator-sized boulders to your right, the Snake Pit brings new meaning to the phrase “threading the needle”; unless you’re Graeme Pitts who just bypassed the pit all together.