ASS Does Downieville: The rider who cried wolf

Don’t diagnose a fatal injury without knowing the facts

Opinion Travel
This ominous reminder of not running out of talent sits at the top of Third Divide trail.

This ominous reminder of not running out of talent sits at the top of Third Divide trail (click to enlarge).

“Dude, you guys need to call the paramedics,” said the guy who just walked into the shop. “There’s a guy up on Pauley who cut his femoral artery.”

As soon as I heard “femoral artery” my head spun around. I was neck deep in repairing a customer’s grenaded rear wheel when this panicked rider walked into Yuba Expeditions and informed us of an alleged seriously injured rider 10 miles above Downieville. I immediately questioned this guy’s assessment of the situation and asked if he was sure it was the femoral artery.

“All I know is that he was passed out by the bridge below where Pauley and Butcher meet, bleeding from the inside of his thigh,” he said.

In my mind I thought, if that’s the case, the guy is already dead. My co-worker Jake, who lives in Downieville full time and knows what to do in emergency situations, swung into action. Within a half hour I heard the sound of rotor blades cutting the air, and looked outside to see a Lifeflight helicopter flying over town.

The last time I saw a helicopter over Downieville was about 10 years ago. It was carrying the dead body of a gold prospector who was hiking up Second Divide trail when he slipped, fell off an exposed cliff and split his head open. Seeing that helicopter flying over town last weekend sent a chill up my spine. Not even a month into the season and we might already have a fatality.

I managed to get out of work with enough daylight to get in a couple hours of pedaling, so I immediately headed up Lavezzola Creek Road to obtain more details on the situation. Halfway up Lavezzola, a Search and Rescue team came rolling past me in the opposite direction, followed by an ambulance and a fire truck. Then I saw Jake on his dirt bike. “What happened,” I asked.

“Nothing dude,” Jake said. “That guy in the shop was full of shit. The guy was fine. He may have had a concussion, but refused medical assistance and rode back to town.”

Perhaps the only thing worse than an emergency situation is an emergency situation that was never an emergency in the first place.

Of course the rider who cried wolf didn’t do it in jest; he was sincerely concerned for his fellow mountain biker. But unless you are qualified medic and know for certain the injured person in question has suffered a potentially fatal injury, don’t go and advertise that the person in question is suffering a potentially fatal injury. Because as taxpayers, we all collectively paid for that empty helicopter ride, and the next time first responders get called, they might not be so quick to respond.

Tom Selleck of Magnum PI fame was the guest shuttle driver on Saturday.

Tom Selleck of Magnum PI fame was the guest shuttle driver on Saturday (click to enlarge).

Aside from the rider who cried wolf, the rest of the weekend in Downieville was filled with hundreds of miles in shuttling riders to the top of Packer Saddle. The outstanding early-season conditions brought out a lot of folks, and on Sunday alone, I personally drove 200 shuttle miles, delivering Lycra-clad crazies to the top of Shredville, USA.

Just another shitty day in Downieville waiting for another ride to the top.

Just another shitty day in Downieville waiting for another ride to the top (click to enlarge).

For me, shuttle driving is always a fun surprise; you never know who’s coming along for the ride. Sometimes they’re a complete band of strangers who’ve never heard of Downieville. Other times they’re Downieville veterans who just want to plug in their iPod and rock some Metallica at full blast before getting radical. Then there are the guys who talk your ear off the entire drive to the top. Regardless of the passenger, I enjoy all kinds. After all, these people are on vacation, escaping from the harsh reality of everyday life.

My “job” is to make sure that escape is as enjoyable as it can be, even if they’re a little obnoxious at times. It’s all good. Just don’t break stuff, smoke weed, or drink booze in the shuttle, and you can behave however you want. Oh, and please, put on some deodorant.

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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  • Michael A says:

    Difficult scenario to say what is the right and wrong thing to do. Its also not entirely advisable to broadcast the notion that only “qualified” people should make a call on whether or not something is an emergency. That is not realistic and far from always being an option. Could the rider have done more due diligence to determine how severe the situation was? Yeah of course. But, if you change the series of events for sake of discussion, I would still argue that the uninformed but concerned individual did the right thing. If the person had severe head trauma, or a truly severe laceration as the person had believed, then his decision to inform someone would not have been questioned. In both scenarios the injured person would appear to be in the same condition to someone unable to entirely diagnose the severity. Given the circumstances, a qualified EMT might have made the same call to play on the safe side. The person was unconscious, unresponsive, and what probably appeared to be bleeding a severe amount. If the concerned individual had heard a whisper in the back of his head saying, “You dont KNOW how severely hurt this stranger is, and cannot confirm one way or the other” so I think I will ignore them for now and go on my merry way and hope for the best. And then come to find out this person had later died and you did Nothing!!?? That is not a good mentality to instill in the community. It happens enough in crowded cities where people will ignore someone who is injured or in danger because they figure someone else is more qualified, or someone else will come along and help and they in turn ignore the situation. I would say it is more advisable to strongly encourage people in the MTB community to go out and get certified in basic wilderness first aid, so they are more prepared and can have at least a little better understanding of what to do in situations like this, and that they are likely to encounter at some point in their lives.

  • Peper says:

    I have to see your single speed propped up in the foreground of these senic shots or I have doubts and shifters might be imagined:) Plus the mtbr faithful would like to see what reviews we’ll be expecting. Nice looking ride, and sounds tough. As for calling the medics…meh “he’ll walk it off” .

  • Angry Singlespeeder says:


    I will fully admit that I am not doing rides like that on a singlespeed. There’s a right tool and a wrong tool for each job, and honestly, when I go off into the backcountry on trails I’ve never seen or ridden, especially in Downieville, I do it on my Ripley with gears. Makes for a much more enjoyable experience. Then if I find trails that are reasonably SSable, I’ll go back with the SS and ride ’em.


  • GeorgeHayduke says:

    Really disagree with the assessment on how the alleged emergency situation should have been handled – basically, better safe than sorry. Better to over-respond to a non-emergency than to under-respond to a real emergency.

    Yes, the helicopter flight cost taxpayers money, but most of those operations fly X hours, emergency or not, to stay sharp. And you think they won’t take the next call as seriously because of this??? If that’s the mindset of any emergency medical professional, it’s time to find a new profession.

  • Scott says:

    Another agreement that it’s better to overcall these situations. I’m an emergency physician and yes I do get annoyed when obvious non emergencies come into my department but I tell all my patients that I’d much rather see them too early and be able to say nothing is wrong then too late and not be able to do anything for them.

  • SteveSteveson says:

    What a silly way to put it. No one cried wolf. Someone was badly hurt after an accident (a concussion is a bad injury) and needed medical attention. The person who called it in feared the worst. As a non medic that is the right thing to do. He probably should have been taken to hospital if he passed out, concussion is not something you should walk off. You can’t force medical treatment on someone, but it was not someone “full of shit”. As others have said, if an emergency responder is thinking like that, or delaying a response because of past call outs they should probably be looking for another job, and if someone is complaining about the cost because the emergency was not as bad as first thought, well, I hope they are never in the situation where they have someone injured as they may not make the right choice and cause someone to die for fear of wasting time or money.

    If you have a crash and pass out ALWAYS go to hospital. Even if you feel fine you may have a serious injury that may not have any symptoms for a few hours. Do you really want that to be in the middle of a sharp corner, or driving at 60mph, or at 2am when your fast asleep?

  • TDI Rex says:

    There is a constant tension in the world of wilderness SAR. On one hand, there are those who believe SAR should always be free; on the other, there are those who feel costs should be borne by the rescued (person’s insurance…) similar to ambulance and emergent care.

    The argument for the former is that if someone feels they will be charged $100K for a backcountry rescue simply because they think they only sprained their ankle or bumped their head, they will delay seeking help and end up in a truly life-threatening situation anyway. The argument for the latter is pretty much the same – discourage people from taking up expensive state or volunteer resources for things they can handle themselves.

    Personally, I feel rescue should always be free except in the case of extreme negligence (someone who perhaps goes out straight into the teeth of a storm) or obvious frivolity (“I’m going to be late…”).

    As someone certified in Wilderness First Aid, a head injury with signs/symptoms of a concussion is ALWAYS an immediate evacuation – because head/spinal injuries are tricky things that don’t always manifest all symptoms right away, and some symptoms may mask evidence of a far worse injury. Some might recall the case of Natasha Richardson who just thought she had a headache after falling on a ski slope in Quebec, and she ended up dying from a major hematoma many hours after the injury. I myself have had to evacuate someone who developed HAPE, who, by the time we met rescuers, was likely within an hour or two of death with an O2 saturation of under 50% – and that was barely above 10,000 feet.

    Now I don’t condone someone exaggerating the extent of the injury when reporting it to make people scramble faster to get to the patient…but untrained people going to get help can’t be faulted if they get a few things wrong when they report an incident.

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