Monday, June 25, 2007

Downieville Redux: Why not go for two?

For the second consecutive weekend, I punched out on Thursday and headed for the hills--the Sierras to be exact...destination Downieville.

Once a bustling mining town on the cusp of the Mother Lode, Downieville is now a quaint little berg at the confluence of the Downie and Yuba Rivers. It's one of California's most popular mountain biking destinations and with famed trails that plunge downhill in the neighborhood of 5,000 feet in 15 challenging miles or so, it's no wonder.

Along the way, the trails change in character several times, from the "baby head"rock-riddled Pauley Creek trail to the flowy swoops of Third Divide. The splash-and run-Butcher Ranch trail literally has you riding downstream in rocky riverbeds before it gives way to shaley switchbacks and rock hops. The Second Divide option is an exposed up-and-down challenger that goes through old (ans ometimes still operative) mining claims and has you riding on exposed narrow ledges high above the river. Big Boulder has a grunt of a climb to start that gives way to a super fast and steep brake burner on a trailbed that's frequently no more than three or four tires wide.

For all the Downieville pics, click here.

And while a recent survey determined that mountain biking brings in 80 percent of the town's revenue, it's more than a one trick pony. During the spring there's great rafting here and for most of the year there's superb fishing, hiking, dirt biking and general outdoorsyness. I also find it a great place to just relax--winters here must be sublime and beautiful.

Aside from the riding, recreation and relaxing, there's the towns themselves--Downieville, of course, and Sierra City and Bassetts up the road a piece. Though surely not as glamorous as a TV show, I imagine life in these places like an episode out of Northern Exposure. For the most part, people are friendly, welcoming and outgoing and not without a bit of quirk, which makes them all the more endearing.

This weekend (6/23-24) was Downieville's annual Gold Rush celebration which brought out the costumes and demonstrations of old time machinery and ways. Mock gunfights in the streets, a mining camp set up in the town park and the awsomely brilliant anvil launch.

For this demonstration, a local 'historian' (i.e. a guy from the town bar) places an anvil on the ground with a hole drilled in it. He puts gunpowder in the hole along with a wick and covers it with a couple of playing cards. On top of this, he puts another anvil--one that weighs 70 lbs. and is solid. He lights the wick, walks away and the anvil is launched 60-80 feet straight up and lands only a few feet from where it left the earth. Behold:

Before the launch, people buy steel washers and write their names on them. If the anvil lands on their washer, they win half the pot. I didn't win the money, but I felt like a winner none-the-less.

Mr. Toad's and the fire
Capping our weekend was a jaunt on Sunday to the town of Meyers near South Lake Tahoe for one final bike ride. Descending down from the Tahoe Rim Trail above Meyers is the Saxon Creek Trail, more commonly referred to as Mr. Toad's Wild Ride.

Like the namesake Disneyland ride, Mr. Toad's trail is one of California's most thrilling and challenging downhill runs. After an hour-long, altitudinous, 4.5 mile grunt of a climb on the TRT, the fun begins. About five miles in length, Toad's begins with some super technical rock descents, smooths out and hops a bit, hits a 50 yard waterbar staircase about half way down, rocks some more, and ends up with a pump-track-like toboggan chute of jumps, berms and general mountain bike goodness.

After cleaning most of it, my ride partner Phil and I had perma-grins on our faces as we rolled into the parking lot. "The perfect end to a great weekend," I thought to myself...

...until I looked up and saw the acrid skies and plumes of smoke.

As we had ascended the Rim Trail, we came across a group of hikers who pointed out a small forest fire across the valley. It looked like cotton balls and seemed concerning in a small way, but innocuous in the big scheme of things. It was dry and actually quite windy, we observed. Hmmm.

After an energy bar and a drink, we could see that the fire was growing rapidly, but still it was relatively small. Uanable to render assistance or call for help from our distant and remote location, we rode on, confident that others would see and respond to the fire.

By the time we had finished our descent--maybe 40 minutes later--it was obvious that this was more than a brush fire. Smoke billowed hundreds of feet into the air, a bizarre orangey pall shone through the trees and every few minutes we'd hear loud booms (we would later learn that these were residential propane tanks exploding).

After packing up we joined the roads which had a vague sense of bedlam to them. Traffic was heavy, roads were closing and emergency vehicles came to and fro in every direction.

As we drove south on Highway 50 heading home, I would say at least 50 or 60 fire trucks and emergency vehicles were on their way up to fight the blaze. Here's hoping they stay safe and can help those folks out.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Vid Clip of the Week: Creature Comforts

From the creator of Wallace and Grommit.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Good Riddance Rocks Out

Seminal Santa Cruz punksters Good Riddance bid the rock world goodbye with an aptly incendiary final show at the Catalyst in Santa Cruz on May 27, 2007. Chuck, Luke, Sean and Russ--Thank You.