Falling victim to the “I’m only here once, I had better do this ride” mentality again, I threw caution to the snow & decided to ride as much of the classic Downieville rides that I could. Valerie shuttled me to the top & there was so much more snow at 2100m than there was in Tahoe at 2500m. This is the as far up the road as they had cleared & one of the smaller snowbanks at what would normally be the trailhead.
For the first mile or so, everything was still hardpacked snow ranging from one to three metres deep. I expect the trail down is normally a nice gentle traverse to start with, but all the snow has taken any definition out of the slope – leaving it one really steep hill. I slowly made my way down, most of the time walking backwards kicking my toes in (studs in the front of my riding shoes may have been useful). I only had one slip & slid down a few metres & thankfully landed in a nice big tree well without hitting the tree. The first mile took me one hour as I vaguely followed the track on my GPS picking the easiest path I could see across & down the slope.
The next hour I managed to double my speed – I covered two whole miles! The snow had started to thin a bit, so there were brief patches of riding interspersed with more pushing, & wading through very cold & high running streams. I had long been tempted to put the rogue pair of toe-warmers left in my Camelbak from ski season in my shoes, but it wasn’t that bad.
After two hours I was surprised to come across a guy wandering up the trail with a couple of shovels. The local trail care association & some Forestry Service people have been clearing & tidying the trail from below. Apparently I wasn’t the only nutter out doing such things – fifty or sixty people had rode the trail over the weekend. This boded well – it must be a good trail. Apparently the snow is melting fast, just a few days ago I was told there was almost twice as much snow around! I could hardly believe that, considering how much I’d just seen. Shortly after, at around 1700m the snow was pretty much done with & I could get on with riding singletrack.
The trail crew had done a magnificent job & the trail was an absolute delight. Threading through the never-ending North Californian forest on a mostly dirt trail descending at a gentle, but good, rate was pure bliss. It was easily the best groomed trail I’ve been on during this trip, possibly in North America. The setting & the trail condition reminded me so much of the smooth, fun trails back home in Rotorua. Finishing Butcher’s trail (the one I’d supposedly been on from the start) & crossing the river there was a nasty shock of a climb (not bad, but definitely not going downhill) & I found the start of the Third Divide Trail at the top of the ridge.
Third Divide was more of the same – simply sublime riding in beautiful forest.
About halfway down it started to get a little more rocky & technical, but nothing much to slow one down. Although, I was taking it pretty easy after the morning’s snow trials. Near the end of the trail, with a big grin on my face, I met the only other rider I saw that day & we swapped notes of which trails to ride where around the west-USA. A brief stretch on gravel road & I was on First Divide into Downieville itself. This mostly followed the rivers down the valley & was slightly more exposed than the previous trails.
It was also flatter & had more rocks to deal with on the trail. Not quite as fun, it was still a very good trail in the scheme of things to get into town.
Just as I did make it into town the clouds that had been threatening to make my ride more trying started to send a little rain down – but it was none too bad. With the snow, it was the hardest ride of the trip, but with that came the rewards – definitely the best downhill section I’ve done. If you get the chance, ride it – just wait a couple of weeks until there is no snow left. Packing up, eating lunch & noticing more & more July 4 bunting coming out of the closet we headed south towards Sacramento.