Saturday - Sept. 26, 2009
The Downieville Downhill
Rob Bowman on the Downieville Trail, 2003
NOTE: Shuttle start time changed to 9:00 am See below
Downieville Shuttle Situation:
Though it makes sense fuel and time-wise, to drive from Truckee to the top of the trail and catch the shuttles afterward, this makes it impossible to reserve a ride time and be sure you won't be either late, or way too early for it. Since reservations are highly recommended by the shuttle companies, your prepaid shuttle ride, if you register(ed) for it, will be in the morning and we will drive to Downieville first. Both shuttle operators charge $20 per ride, which is not a bad deal when you consider the 4000' of uphill along the way!
The advantage to going this route is that you'll arrive back at your cars when you're done riding, and not have to wait around for a 1/2 hour van ride before you can be free of all your gear. Then you can either hang out and eat in town, or head straight back to Truckee for showers and food!
Option 2, Booking Your Own Shuttle and Starting from the Top:
If you drive straight to the top of the trail (Packer Saddle) you will still need a ride back up at the end. If you plan to use one of the shuttle companies you must reserve your own shuttle in advance! The Downieville shuttle operators, Yuba Expeditions and Downieville Outfitters, cannot guarantee you a seat if you don't reserve ahead of time. They may fill up and each van is not that big. I don't recommend booking an after-ride shuttle, but you can arrange your own if you want.
Option 3, Do-it-yourself Shuttle:
If you're cheap and resourceful you can arrange multiple vehicles and set up your own shuttle by parking a vehicle in Downieville, then driving back up to the top. You can follow one of the shuttle buses up there to start with other riders. The downside of this is the inefficiency of bringing more vehicles, and the need to drive back up to Packer Saddle after the ride.
If you prepaid for your shuttle, you'll leave Truckee at 7:00-7:15 am and proceed to Downieville for the 9:00 am shuttles. We are booked with both companies. The start time above should allow about 1/2 hour of prep time after you arrive in town. Remember, expect the shuttles to leave at the scheduled times; you should be there 15 minutes early to get loaded up.
Getting to the Trailhead:
To meet the 9:00 shuttles at the top (Packer Saddle) you probably don't need to leave Truckee until 8:15 or so. If you're doing your own shuttle, leave at 7:00 with everyone else.
All of this should get us to the trailhead at Packer Saddle around 9:45 or so.
NOTE: There is NO water (or anything else) available along this trail! This is about as remote as it gets. The shortest way to anywhere is along the trail, to Downieville, or along Lavezzola Road, a dirt road that parallels the lower portions and also leads into town. It is essential that you bring food, and plenty to drink for this ride! Electrolytes too. There's nothing like bonking when you still have seven miles to go. I recommend real food, in addition to whatever bars and snacks you might otherwise bring. Your body will need it!
Also, ride prepared. Does your unicycle require any special tools? Mine needs a non-metric allen key to release the bearings/change the tire (thanks a lot, you otherwise-brilliant custom frame builders). Without it I could be stuck walking. Bring patches or a spare tube. I speak from experience! Don't expect someone else to have what you need, unless you've teamed up on who's carrying what.
Finally, the ride itself. If you like riding downhill, you've come to the right place! Your knees may not appreciate you afterward though. If your unicycle has a brake, make sure it's working! Among other things, the Downieville Downhill is famous for its 4000' of elevation loss from start to finish. You start around 7000' and finish in the town of Downieville at around 3000'. The ride is 15-17 miles, depending on the choice of sub-trails you take along the way.
The first half of the ride has plenty of grueling, technical singletrack, where much of the downhilling takes place. The end of that part is marked by a creek crossing with a green truss bridge, which we've commonly used as a lunch or gathering spot on past rides. After the bridge there is one long section containing the major climb of the ride, then it's back to swooping, rolling singletrack that goes on and on. Eventually the trail will lead you either to Lavezzola Road, or right out into the outskirts of Downieville. Just follow the road back into the center of town.