The Downieville Classic - From a Volunteer Perspective, by Kurt Gensheimer, the Angry Single Speeder

The Downieville Classic - From a Volunteer Perspective, by Kurt Gensheimer, the Angry Single Speeder


“You're in my line, bro!”

Just after announcing my presence was slowing down his bid for what would probably be 22nd place in his age group, the rider dropped into Butcher Ranch gorge and out the other side. The entrance to the gorge has a fast line, a medium slow line and a very slow line. I decided to do folks a favor and block the medium slow line, but I guess this guy really wanted the medium slow line. So as the guy passed by on the fast line (you're welcome!), I couldn't help but issue a response.

“No, you're in my line, bro!”

Never before had I been scolded by another rider for being in the way, but never before had I ever set up my drum kit along the race course, playing drums for three hours straight to Ozzy's Boneyard, providing inspiration for my fellow riders. After more than a decade of being a participant in the legendary Downieville Classic, this year I decided it would be fun to see the other side of the event from the perspective of a volunteer.


 Motivational drumming at Butcher Ranch gorge


As one of the last point-to-point mountain bike races left in the United States, the Downieville Classic is truly one of the most unique, original and challenging tests of fitness and skill. No other event will push the body and bike harder than the Classic, featuring a 27-mile cross-country event on Saturday with 4,000 feet of climbing and 5,500 feet of high speed, technical descending and a 17-mile downhill event on Sunday with 1,100 feet of climbing and 5,500 feet of descending.


 Hair Band motivation at the top of Third Divide


Those who complete the Classic can feel proud in their accomplishment. They can also feel good about where their entry fee goes, as all proceeds from the event benefit the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship, a non-profit organization dedicated to building and maintaining all the trails in the region using local employment.


 Emma Maaranen leaving her competitors in the dust


I work for the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship and the local bike shop that operates as a fundraiser for the Stewardship, Yuba Expeditions. It's always been fun toeing the line and getting out on the race course to represent the Stewardship tribe at the Classic, but this year I wanted to be a part of the tribe that runs the event, providing support to learn how the Classic is put together and pulled off so seamlessly.

The nucleus of the Classic is Debbie Bonovich, an executive board member of the Stewardship and the volunteer coordinator who's been involved since the beginning, back in the mid-1990s when it was known as the Coyote Classic. It's impossible to overstate how instrumental Debbie is in pulling off a successful event, as she as the very difficult task of “herding cats”, better known as coordinating an army of volunteers while managing communications with dozens more volunteers out on course.


Debbie Bonovich, pictured with her husband Chuck, makes the Classic happen



I was one of those cats, out on course with a HAM radio, a first aid kit and extra tires and tubes that saved the day for a couple folks. Waking up first thing on Saturday morning not having to stress about racing was quite a relief. Instead, my co-pilot Kyle and I effortlessly drove my truck up the “Trail of Tears”, the 3,000 vertical foot climb up from Sierra City to Packer Saddle that has given me more than a few nightmares over the years.


Henry O'Donnell, the SBTS trail boss running lead moto for the race, airs out Baby Heads with style


We rallied out to the bottom of “Baby Heads”, the famed Gold Valley OHV road downhill that provides a perfect mix of speed and rockiness, often resulting in broken bodies or bikes; sometimes both. Thankfully, on an uncharacteristically cool and rainy August morning, there wasn't much of either, but there were some incredibly entertaining passes riders made on each other through the rockiest section of Baby Heads. The only thing that rivals pulling off a high speed pass through a rocky section of trail is watching a dozen high speed passes from the sidelines.




 While watching riders negotiate Baby Heads, activity crackled on the HAM radio. There were more than a dozen checkpoints along the entire course staffed with volunteers, many of them on dirt bikes. The volunteers had a wide range of experience, from first timers like myself to Dr. Rob Bixler, an executive board member of the Stewardship who makes his living as an ER doctor in Auburn. Knowing that we had numerous wilderness first aid and EMT volunteers on course, along with Downieville Search and Rescue and access to CHP and CareFlight helicopters was reassuring. No matter what the crisis, there was a team and a plan to handle it.


Moto-based medical support is a critical element to the Classic


Thankfully there were very few crises to speak of on both Saturday and Sunday, and the handful of injuries were handled quickly and effectively thanks to the outstanding organization and coordination that the Stewardship has honed with its volunteers over 22 years of the event.


The team was even able to easily handle the biggest crisis of the weekend. After jamming out on the drums to Ozzy's Boneyard for three hours, blasting the radio in my truck, when it was time to pack up and head back down to town, the truck wouldn't start; I had completely drained the battery from jamming so hard. There was no cell service at Butcher Ranch gorge, but the HAM radio worked, and I sheepishly radioed to Debbie my situation with everyone able to hear. With utmost expediency, Debbie sent a volunteer named Mike on his moto all the way up from Downieville with a jumper pack. In less than 90 minutes we were mobile, and I was welcomed back to town with laughter, disbelief and some much deserved jeering.


The author tries his hand at the log pull...and snaps one of the ropes on the log


Just like when racing, when volunteering, I go hard until the batteries are completely drained. And I had such a good time volunteering this year that I'm already scheming ways to volunteer even bigger next year. Mark your calendar for the first weekend in August next year and come join the fun!


 Kids love Cozmo's Wild Island Splashdown


1 comment

  • George on

    The way we are gonna make it bigger is to put a full band at the Butcher Canyon! ;-)

    or at least a larger sound system on a 2000watt gene!


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