Words by Ambassador Becky Gardner.
They say the only constant in life is change, and the seasons are the perfect reminder of this. Once we get all cozy and comfy with one season the weather quickly rips the rug out from under us reminding us that there’s always something better ahead. For the past few weeks, I have been out in California racing and working, which means hanging out a lot with my brother, Ryan. He conveniently lives in Oakland, CA, and only about 30 minutes from one of my offices, which means a work trip doubles as sibling shred time. Although Fall is right around the corner the last week in Northern CA has been miserably and unusually hot. Typically the Bay area is a steady 75 degrees with pleasant crisp nights. However, all week Oakland was a blistering 95 degrees making us and everyone else in the city feel more than a little cranky. This was highlighted during the three hours we were stuck in the house due to police activity down the block. As the helicopters circled around the neighborhood, it became clear that we needed an escape plan. It seemed like higher ground was required, and the Sierra Nevada mountains were calling. With one of California’s quirkiest races of the year, the Grinduro gravel race, going on in Quincy CA we had our first destination in mind.
While we hoped for a little respite from the heat, little did we know driving up to the mountains we would be saying goodbye to summer and fully embracing winter. About halfway through the Grinduro race, the skies clouded over, cold winds blew in, and sleet and snow started falling on the ground. After a long cold day of winter conditions, Ryan finished his curly bar race aboard his Major Jake a little chilled. While warming up, the topic of the next day’s ride came up.
With the snow starting to fly, it seemed like this might be one of the last opportunities to summit one of the lost sierras most epic peaks, Mt Elwell. The plan was to camp out and get an early start to the epic bike adventure we had plotted out. There would be abundant hike-a-biking followed by one of the most ripping DH’s that still flies under the radar in CA. About halfway through our drive from Quincy to the Lakes Basin, we realized that we had officially lost summer and found winter. It was absolutely dumping snow. The roads were covered, and we could barely see a few feet in front of us. Not only that, but we were surrounded by thunder and lighting. The skies crackled with electricity illuminating the snow-filled skies and increasingly white landscapes. The snow got so bad we ended up split up from our buddy who, being a few minutes behind us, could not make it over the pass. With our cell phones out of service and feeling like we were in the early 90’s, we made a plan to search for him in the AM.
After a night of a pretty epic drive in some two-wheel-drive vans, we woke up the next morning to a frosty winter wonderland. We made some coffee, went and found our friend that was stuck, and re-planned our ride to fit the new weather conditions. Ryan, who rides up in the Downieville area often, put together the best ride I have ever done in Northern California. The trails were rocky, technical, and the snow and mud was the cherry on top for two East Coast-born bikers. We both were riding our Process 153 which over and over again prove to be the best overall bike for these adventures. Easy to climb and fantastic for descending. We know that no matter what the terrain ahead is, these rigs can handle it.
The ride started with a long climb to the shoulder of Elwell. As the terrain goes more vertical, the steep pedal becomes a mandatory hike-a-bike. From the summit, you could look out over many lakes and basins all glistening with its new coat of snow and even as far north as the 14k foot caldera of Mt. Shasta. We then descended for over an hour through every type of terrain. The top was cold and snowy which eventually turned into tacky, loamy, hero dirt. The bottom of the trail was full of bright green trees and ended with loose and steep shoots. We got to experience all of California’s riding in one epic descent.
We couldn’t stop the fun there though. The three of us decided to take our cold and tired hands back up the mountain to do one more lap on Downieville’s iconic DH run. We all have done this trail many times, but this time we had the path to ourselves, and it came equipped with some of the best dirt we have seen in these notoriously dry mountains. After a pinned run down through the snow, mud, and tacky dirt again, we finally called it quits on one epic day. We started driving back to the Bay with high fives and smiles, knowing the summer heat is over, and fall and winter’s crisp air and ideal riding conditions are here to stay.