Every year in August, my Facebook news feed blows up with awesome photos of trails, big-travel bikes, and usually a back flip or two into a crystal clear river. It all meant one thing: The Downieville All Mountain World Championships.
Downieville is an iconic mountain bike race. Strangely, I had never done it. In fact, I had never even ridden out there before – a sin in the eyes of most riders.
This year I was on the East Coast just a week before the race. After some serious bike issues, my options were 1) wait in Vermont and hope parts arrived before the World Cup the following weekend, or 2) pin it back to California, pick up parts on my own, and finally race Downieville. The second option had a much higher probability of bike racing, and so a 3,000-mile, 3-day journey took place.
While the race definitely didn’t go as planned, it was every bit as awesome as I had heard. On top of that, I learned some valuable lessons that I’d like to share with anyone looking to give Downieville a try.
Don’t Drink and Ride
The climb at Downieville is brutal. It’s 8 miles of steep, exposed, rocky gnarliness. I made the wise decision to only take one bottle, since I had heard there were plenty of aid stations along the way with water.
As I neared the top of the climb, I was in great position but completely dying of thirst since I hadn’t found an aid station yet and was trying to conserve my single bottle. There were a few signs just before the top that read “Margaritas ahead!” Surely this was a joke and the first water station was close.
I crested the mountain and saw the water station. Without even thinking, I started grabbing cups while I rode by and dumping them on myself and then gulped down two. Just before I went for my third, I realized none of these cups actually had water in them. Nope… I had just drenched myself in margaritas and took two quick shots of tequila before starting the legendary 18-mile Downieville descent.
Lesson learned, and in 10 miles, when I saw the “Whiskey Ahead” signs, I held back on pouring it all over myself.
Wearing the right rubber
I have an affinity for flat tires. When choosing tires for an event, I don’t ask people if the course is rocky. Rather, I ask if there is a rock, because that’s enough for me to need to thicken-up my tread. Given my crazy circumstances before this race, I hadn’t even thought about tires.
Rolling up to the line on Saturday and seeing the dirt bike tires everyone else had on, I knew I was in trouble. My wimpy XC tires definitely were not built for the minefields that everyone else seemed prepped to ride.
Sure enough, while descending the “baby head” section, I felt the dreaded Stan’s shower all over my legs. I looked down to see how bad the cut was only to lose my front wheel in a hole and yard sale. The crash was so epic, I lost a shoe and a glove in the process. Oh, and my rear tire was completely flat.
After my early flat, I threw a tube into my rear wheel and was good to go. Until about 5 miles from the finish when I pinched it and had to resort to walking the rest of the race.
Unfortunately for me, the last few miles of the race is on a very high speed, rocky single track that runs along the side of a rock cliff. To your right, is vertical rock straight up. To your left, is vertical rock straight down, with the river below.
While I pushed my bike, most of the riders were pretty understanding of my situation and waited for me to find a small outcropping in the rock to hop into so they could go by. Aside from jumping to my death into the river or Spiderman-ing my way up the rock wall, this was my only option to get out of the way.
Still, about every 10 minutes or so somebody would come up behind me and absolutely lose their mind, yelling all kinds of colorful words at me as if I had strategically broken my bike and walked down this trail on purpose just to mess with them.
The lesson here? Not really sure there is one, but haters gon’ hate…
All in all, I loved Downieville. The mountain had chewed me up and spit me out that day, but the trails, festivities, and atmosphere was unlike anything else. As long as my schedule permits, I’ll definitely be back in 2015.
Trevor DeRuisé is a U-23 professional mountain bike racer, riding for Jet Lites, Trainer Road and Specialized. He is also a nutrition expert and one of the owners of GetReal Nutrition. He is lives in Reno, Nev.