The Downieville edition of FT3 LRP was a success. We arranged a camp in the high country at the foot of the Sierra Buttes on the shuttle route to Packer Saddle. Myself (RG), Jersey Designer and critters (Ruby and Opal) were joined first by Car Owner, then No-Car and B and Booker; the animals are formally mentioned as they became integral to all camp activities. I did a brief scout of the area and discovered my semi-retirement dream occupation - new owner of the Packer Lake Lodge; it’s a gem of a location, walking distance from our camp which had close access to MTB, OHV, bird watching, fishing and a myriad of other activities, with all sporting participants mingling harmoniously.
Since Friday arrival times were not confirmed before leaving the grid, our brief ride-long ride plan changed to one long ride with members on location. After requisite repairs and fueling we were rolling up the Packer Saddle Road for the classic Lavazolla Creek ride. We allotted 5 hours with a leisurely pace. On the steep road section to the saddle we ran into a full kitted BMC rider who turned out to be Gavin Chilcott, business manager for the team and close friend of one of my college racing buddies. Once on the ridge we headed north on the OHV trail toward Deer Lake, either mystic forces of trail riders past or willing confusion soon had us riding some of the best single track the west has to offer. The perfect temperatures were complimented by a nice strong breeze all along the ridge. We were treated to views of the Sierra Buttes, Gold Lakes and Downieville drainage basin at every turn. We came across a few each, friendly, stone faced, and mildly vocal hikers on this awesome trail and said out loud, "this can’t be wrong, it would be a crime not to ride this trail." This logic relieved any lingering guilt and we continued our low impact pace on this stellar single track.
Once we arrived at the A-Tree spring for a well deserved break, rebel ride leader angst was exchanged out for some serious focus to tackle the rocky OHV descent. We gathered at the first creek crossing with one minor scrape (mine). A couple more creek crossings and fun two track brought us to several miles of sweet Lavazolla Creek trail; perched over the creek on our left, a few small rollers rewarded us with several miles of perfectly pitched single track. Thirty minutes later we emerged from the woods to take a break and reflect on the fine terrain. One more short section of single track dropped us on to some super fast two track with nice rounded water bars, air time optional. The fire road then led us past a couple of mountain ranches, both off the grid and heli-pad equipped. More downhill fire road and an obscure right turn dropped us onto the final leg of well traveled First Divide single track.
Our on time arrival in town brought several welcome sites, our shuttle drivers Jersey Designer and Booker, a cold river, store with cold beer, and both of our expected Friday arrivals, Network Peddler from Santa Cruz and our new Placerville residents Newbie and Olive Oil (you know Popeye’s SO) and four legged companion Jackson.
After our shuttle we all settled into camp and attempted to co-mingle our critters, but the skinny one, fast twitch Opal was not comfortable with a longer legged canine camp dweller, Jackson, so we partitioned them to separate camps. B started prepping his 4 course warrior approved MRE, while Debbie prepared her trail warrior a 3-star feast. The requisite beer drinking and camp fire banter ran well into the evening.
Saturday’s route selection required some creative thinking and exploration. Several folks, rightfully, did not want to push a weekend rebel ride. So we broke out the maps and charted a combo single track/OHV route that led us back up the ridge with several options, near and far, back down the Downieville drainage basin. The Deer Lake Trail started right out of camp. Its steep pitches and various sized broken granite proved to be quite a challenge, a qualifier on steroids to say the least. After 1/4 mile Network Peddler chose a b-line route to the ridge while B, Newbie, and No-Car and I tackled rocky pitch after rocky pitch, each of us hitting and sustaining red-line until fail or complete exhaustion. Newbie made some minor adjustments to his pre-ride bacon consumption as we leap frogged up this knarly trail. We reached the Connect Trail for the final sprint up to the ridge. After checking our respected electronic devices for mileage and time we all agreed it was the hardest 3 miles of riding any of us had ridden, so far.
We did not find Network Peddler at the designated trail/OHV junction and assumed he continued on. B, No-Car, Newbie and I then rolled the first section of 4-WD trail, it was a hoot, two sets of lines with many trial features made for a rollicking decent. A few steep pitches and encounters with some amazed and over accommodating 4-wheelers brought us back to a 2nd set of trail junctions. We all agreed that a left turn toward Snake and Hawley Lakes with an A-Tree mid-point destination was the chosen route. A quick scout in the opposite direction to determine the hiking trail/OHV junction led us to Network Peddler and two hikers trying to determine their own location. After a group consultation and map viewing, we continued on our designated routes, NP stuck to the ridge trail with the remainder of us determined to tackle the 4-WD route. Things got interesting rather quickly as the trail pitch steepened and the soil to rock ratio decreased. Newbie impressed us all with his off the back fully committed attack of this hardest ever decent attempt; ‘Taint Scraper’ or ‘Talus King’ are two permanent Taco Handles that came to mind, although the first might not be appropriate since his junk was actually planted on a fully locked rear wheel and technically not ‘scraping’. Not to be out done we all made attempts to duplicate Newbie’s heroics, unfortunately mine ended in a half clipped fail and roll down the rocks; lightly scathed but writhing in pain, I commenced into a fully animated ‘Rocking God’ prayer, searching for a return of large boulder two wheeled karma. Evidently the 4-wheelers assembled at the bottom of the trail mistook the prayer for violent involuntary convulsions and started contemplating medical assistance options. After the flesh wound blood coagulated and we briefly inquired about beers from the wheeler crew, we carried on our scouting journey. A few more steep rocky rollers led us to a junction point at Hawley Lake, B’s GPS assisted evaluation directed us to the low road, I insisted high road, after a quick decent and lake drainage creek crossing, I back tracked on locked in on my designated route, not waiting for my three riding partners; you can see where this is going. I rode on at a steady pace with the map route seared in my memory. The next junction looked familiar via a memory check and I continued descending, 1/2 mile later the 4-WD track ended and the cross country trail skirted around the wrong lake; the Spencer Lakes were no where in sight so I opted for the ride of shame back up to the last trail junction. With an extra mile of Type II trail under the belt I was glad to see my riding partners just starting the same route in search of their wayward rider. With fatigue setting in we continued to ride/push back the ridge. In fairly short order the two track had us back on the ridge at the trail/OHV junction; we were at a familiar spot but were all perplexed at where we missed the intended mapped route. I was tanked and could already taste the A-tree spring and opted for the known single track route, the three remaining trail warriors stuck to the OHV route along the ridge.
We reached A-Tree and a well rested Network Peddler at nearly the same time. Re-grouped and re-fueled we then re-traced the previous day’s route; however, two days and nine hours of trail miles made this version of the descent a bit more challenging. We encountered a group of motorcyclists making their way up trail, about 5 riders back one, then another rider stopped to greet us, it was none other than infamous Oakland Moto-Bros and fellow dual sport riders Jim and Craig. It turns out they have the inside track on the private Hawley Lake retreat we passed during our 4-WD track trail scout. We were all anxious to reach the river, beer and waiting shuttle driver Olive Oil, a no fuss descent down First Divide had us cross paths with the only riders we encountered all day. Six hours of hard core trail time, had me reflecting it as the hardest ride in recent memory. A well deserved river refresh for all found us witnessing low key No-Car’s near hooking by some dim witted fisherman which seemed to be his closest brush with disaster all day. We bolstered the local economy with consumption of liquid and solid calories and eventually got around to our shuttle trip.
Everyone got settled into camp for recovering and refueling, preparing for a camp fire that turned out as outrageous as the trail day. I was anxious try out dinner at our local lodge and restore the DTI in the process, it was well worth the wait as we were treated to a fine meal and spectacular views. Sunday morning we all returned to the lodge for a nice reasonably priced brunch; that is if you exclude the $8 bloody mary.
Saturday's Ride Stats
The late night fire activities and Sunday trail report will be left to the HCF as I wound down early for both. Looking forward to FT3 LRP 3 2012.