Trip Reports » Nevada City to Downieville, An Overnight
This was a trip from Rough and Ready (near Nevada City) to Downieville; off road.
The Sierra Nevada Mountains run roughly north/south and many of the drainages run east /west. As a result any journey through the foothills and low Sierra will involve dropping into and climbing out of these watersheds. One such watershed is the Yuba. It is comprised of three rivers; the north,south and middle Yubas. Each of the rivers is separated by huge forested ridges. The area is crisscrossed with old roads from the gold-rush and logging roads.
This is no greek tragedy. This tale does not end with sorrow but instead begins with it. I had rode a mere ten miles into this journey. The trip from Rough and Ready up to Nevada City had been mostly a road ride, climbing over a thousand feet and rolling for the final few miles. As I coasted past the Tour of Nevada City Bike Shop, I spied a car approaching with a bike on the roof. “Oooh” then “oh” I thought, scoping out an Epic from Specialized, which was perched on the car roof. At the exact moment the car passed me I heard a “pop” and then felt the “vrrrmmm” of my back tire rubbing the chain-stay. A broken spoke. The back wheel badly wobbling. I will always wonder if that guy somehow broke my spoke…I need someone to blame.
But I was right in front of a bike shop.
Which was closed. It was Sunday morning of Memorial Day Weekend.
I examined my wheel and saw it needed some serious help. The spoke had been a drive side spoke and the rim was being pulled powerfully toward the disc brake side of the wheel. So much so that it rubbed badly against the frame, bringing the wheel to a stop. I dug out my spoke wrench and set to work. To no avail. The spoke on the drive side are heavily “dished” to make room for many gears (If I were to have them, instead I ride with one cog). As a result I could only use the nearby spoke with a small effect on the wobble.
Then I heard a voice say “ I’ll be right over to open the shop. Amazingly the shop was going to open soon. I paused and contemplated my options. I weighed my desires against my wisdom and balanced that with knowledge of how engaging it would be to fix my spoke (which also needed a new nipple).
I decide to go home and fix it there. I didn’t want to spend money on a fix I could do myself. Plus my semi-custom tubeless set-up would have annoyed and possibly confounded the shop mechanic.
So I loosened and adjusted my rear wheel to a point where it would not rub. Then I set off for home.
For about 15 seconds. Then I decided that if I could make it home, then I could make it to Downieville.
So I turned around. Again.
I rode past the shop and out of Nevada City with my back wheel doing a crazy wobble.
The first Yuba: In order to make-up for lost time I by-passed the Round Mountain trails. This was a hard pill to swallow because they are fun trails, one of which drops all the way down to the South Yuba River Trail. Instead I took a paved then dirt route down to Purdon Crossing on the South Yuba River.
From here I climbed a dirt road up to “The Ridge” (A.K.A. San Juan Ridge) and joined the paved Tyler-Foote Crossing road. Eventually the road forks. One option climbs into the Sierras and the other drops into a river canyon. The Tyler-Foote road is the descending option. Joyfully this is also where the road turns back into dirt. This gold-rush era road has some parts blasted out of rock cliffs and others are supported by hand built rock walls. Also the canyon is very steep here, providing amazing “straight-down” views of the Middle Yuba River. At times it seemed you could toss a rock into the river which was a thousand feet below.
The second Yuba: Although rarely steep, this was a fun descent, ending at the bridge which crosses the Middle Yuba River. I stopped here for a hot lunch and water filtering. It turns out I can filter water while my water boils for soup and tea. So although I had a hot lunch, barely any time was “wasted”. ( This is a place so wild,so pretty and so remote that you could relax all day and not have any time “wasted”).
The road continues and climbs up the next ridge. Although not steep, it is a long climb with many many false finishes. About a mile from the top I had the classic “you’re almost there” comment from a family sight seeing from a truck. “Almost there” in a truck is entirely different from “almost there” on a bike. When I heard those words, I knew I needed to buckle down for more climbing.
My plan was to follow the road to its terminus at the “town” of Alleghany, but along the way I encountered a Forest Service sign showing an alternate route. Reluctantly I left the main route and followed a muddy steep logging road over towards my next destination, the “town” of Forest City. I rejoined the pavement for a few miles until I reached Forest City. This old mining and timber town still has many cabins and building on its main street. It also has a nice trail rolling right out of town. Also I saw a new trail under construction right nearby. Unfortunately the area was still snowbound, so no trails were taken. After a short break I headed onward and happily I was back dirt.
The third Yuba: The historic Mountain House Road rolls and then endlessly drops down to the North Yuba River at the “town” of Goodyears Bar. Here I picked up the North Yuba Trail and followed it upstream to Downieville. This newly constructed segment of the trail is a jewel. It begins with a climb up above the river and rolls and flows through the forest. All too soon it descends down into town (No quotes here…Downieville has stores, gas and pizza!).
Although I had packed food, it was dinner time and there is a pizzaria in town. So I had a (not so) small pizza and a big beer (or two). When my pie arrived I automatically thought of how I would transport my left-overs. I needn’t have bothered. It all went down and I barely felt full. This was good since I then headed out of town and up along the Downieville river. This part had a few steep walking sections and ever deepening creek crossings. The sun had set and dark was falling when me and my newly wet feet finally reached a riverside campsite I liked. At one creek crossing I dropped my bike into the creek. This is one reason I pack my sleeping bag into a waterproof bag
After a hot cup of tea and a few sips of whiskey I fell asleep to the roar of the river and songs of Bob Dylan.
I slept hard and deep.
I wasn’t on my bike until 7am the next morning. The route back to town was steep and muddy. This vindicated my walking sections the previous night. I retraced my tracks back to Forest City and rode right on through.
It was here I had surly encounter with a guy. As I left town a car stopped and reversed to where I was. So I stopped.
Me: “you lost?”
Them”uh…are you lost?”
Me:”no…just riding along..”
Our communication didn’t improve much from there. My next planned stop was going to be lunch and they were holding me up. I tried my best, but I was annoyed. In the end it turns out that Forest City was having a trail building (first dig snow then dig dirt?) day and he thought I was trying to find the event. I suppose I had eaten my patience on the last climb, because I certainly had none left. My attitude left room for improvement.
Still curious about my original route I sidetracked to the town of Alleghany. This still active gold mining “town” is the true terminus of yesterdays historic Tyler-Foote road. I located the road and descended a bit until I found a waterfall where I could get water and make a hot lunch.
Back on the bike I discovered this was definitely a longer route than yesterdays. Again I felt vindicated. I followed the road down to the Middle Yuba and then back up to the ridge.
Upon rejoining the pavement my plan was to sidetrack to the historic townsite of Bloomfield and then descend Missouri bar trail to the South Yuba Trail. Those 8 miles of trail are truly wonderful. But I was out of time, a consequence of my late start. So just a short hop from the trailhead, I turned away and dropped down Backbone road and Bloomfield road to the South Yuba River. Along the way I finished my last morsels of food. It was a fun, fast and all dirt descent.
I re-crossed the South Yuba at Edwards Crossing and climbed the steep paved road out of the canyon. This section begins with crushingly steep switchbacks which are followed by painfully steep turns and ends with just plain steep climbing. At the top there is access to the fun trails of Round Mountain. Once again a lack of time removed this option from the menu.
The final stretch (15 miles) was all paved. I arrived home only thirty minutes later than I had planned. My wheel had lasted. As put the bike away I found a rear spoke almost entirely loose from its nipple.
One fun aspect of exploring new routes is the unpredictability. Regardless of planning, some decisions will need to be made on the spot. I enjoy knowing that I can handle almost any circumstance. Tough decisions can still remain academic.
Upon returning home I discovered I actually didn’t have any spare spokes of the proper length. If I had returned home the first day, it would have been a total waste of time.
I missed out on too much singletrack trail. I sacrificed fun riding for the sake of getting to my “planned” destination. Surely it is better to “seize the day” than to be able to say ”I went all the way I had planned”.
Then again I did go all the way to Downieville.
P.S. Bikes Belong
Bicycles are a fantastic means of trail travel. Bikes belong in the woods and their impacts can be mitigated. Traveling by bike can remove the car from the equation, and thus bring the environmental impact down below that of foot travel.