ASS Does Downieville: The rider who cried wolf

Don’t diagnose a fatal injury without knowing the facts

Opinion Travel
The lookout tower at the top of the 6,700-foot high Sadddleback Mountain.

The lookout tower at the top of the 6,700-foot high Sadddleback Mountain (click to enlarge).

After a long weekend of driving, on Monday I went for an extended pedal up to the top of Saddleback Mountain, over to Chimney Rock Trail, down Empire Creek and finished with First Divide. In total it was nearly 30 miles and more than 5,000 feet of climbing – a brutish ride for most locales, but a pretty typical cross-country ride in Downieville.

An unobstructed view of the Sierra Buttes from the top of Saddleback.

An unobstructed view of the Sierra Buttes from the top of Saddleback (click to enlarge).

The unobstructed views of the Sierra Buttes from the watchtower at the top of Saddleback were spectacular, but not as amazing as the views from the top of Chimney Rock. Chimney Rock is an otherworldly singletrack climbing above tree line through scree fields of shale and volcanic rock, peaking out at 7,000 feet, or roughly 4,000 feet directly above Downieville.

The last 10 miles of the ride on Empire Creek to First Divide was a 4,000-foot freefall, starting on primitive, stick-strewn singletrack that opened up into treacherously fast sections with some surprise fall-away corners. It’s not a ride I would do several times a month – maybe not even several times in a year – but it’s a memorable backcountry adventure that must be experienced at least once by Downieville regulars.

Looking down off the top of Chimney Rock Trail at nearly 7,000 feet elevation, 4,000 feet above Downieville.

Looking down off the top of Chimney Rock Trail at nearly 7,000 feet elevation, 4,000 feet above Downieville (click to enlarge).

Like a stubborn idiot, all I took with me on the ride was two water bottles and two Salted Caramel GUs – barely enough to survive a four-hour ride with no mechanicals or other acts of God. Thankfully there weren’t any of those on that day. But in Downieville, you always have to plan for the worst-case scenario. Just don’t press the panic button unless you absolutely know for sure that it needs to be pressed.

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 [email protected]. And make sure to check out Kurt’s previous columns.

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.

Related Articles

NOTE: There are two ways to comment on our articles: Facebook or Wordpress. Facebook uses your real name and can be posted on your wall while Wordpress uses our login system. Feel free to use either one.

Facebook Comments:

Wordpress Comments:

  • 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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *





© Copyright 2019 VerticalScope Inc. All rights reserved.