1. You’ve been riding and working in Downieville for what, 4 years now? Give us a background of what got you there. I recognized your name from some articles in MTB mags but I also hear you wrote a book?
This is my fourth season driving the shuttle van for Yuba Expeditions in Downieville. My first visit to Downieville was in 2003, and like many of us, I instantly fell in love. Upon moving to Reno in 2013, I started getting more involved with Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship events. I was writing my Angry Singlespeeder column for MTBR, and in 2015, to help promote Downieville and SBTS, I pitched Greg Williams and the SBTS board on an idea of writing a summer journal for MTBR about working in Downieville driving the van. One summer has now turned into four, and now I work year round for Yuba and SBTS as a writer and "trail whisperer".
I did write a book back in 2005 under a pseudonym, K.P. Springfield. It's called The 5 Habits of Highly Successful Slackers, Because 7 is too Many. It's a play on Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The book chronicled my four-year stint as a software salesperson in Silicon Valley, and how I quickly realized that by perfecting 5 slacking habits, I could shrug off responsibility, worthless tasks, red tape and corporate politics while still getting pay raises, promotions and more vacation time. The crux of it was I got paid to write a book while at work, when I was actually supposed to be selling software. I actually ended up getting a speaking gig at Creighton University because of the book! That was fun, but man am I glad the corporate days are over. It was a good learning and growing experience, but I'll never work in a cubicle again. Ever.
2. I saw my first blaze at the Lost & Found. Can you give us a brief history and description of these?
In the 1920s the U.S. Forest Service employed an army of woodsmen to inventory every trail on public land, and in order to mark the paths of existing trails, they would cut "blazes" into trees along the trail, which gave birth to the term trailblazer. A blaze is basically a lower case "i" carved into the bark with a small hatchet. Although the practice is no longer accepted, trail blazes can still be found on many older trails across the American west, especially in the Downieville region. Blazes are actually how I hunt for old trails that have long been forgotten. If you want more info and history on blazes, check out the spring edition of Freehub Magazine. I wrote a feature about the Lost Sierra and hunting the old ghost trails.
3. You’ve become probably the most knowledgeable person in the world on the old and new trails in the mountains above Downieville and the Lost Sierra region. Does it frustrate you that 99% of Downieville visitors ride the shuttle and do Butcher and miss out of this rich abundance of trails and their history?
I appreciate the compliment, but there are some old timers in Downieville who know a lot more about the old trails above town than I do, but I try to talk with them and learn everything I can. I guess it's a little frustrating to see repeat customers come to Downieville and never really stray from the same old Sunrise/Butcher/Third/First run, but if they're happy just doing that, then it's all good. Some folks only have a couple days to spend in Downieville, and they ride the classic trails so infrequently that it doesn't make sense for them to explore, because they want to maximize their fun time while being here. Eventually, folks who come here enough start to ask "what else is there?" That's when the true adventure window opens. The folks who want something raw, rugged, new and historical will have so many options they won't know where to start. That's where I step in!
4. Speaking of history. Are you into it? Was it a thing for you before Downieville or just a byproduct of discovering an all new landscape?
I've always been a history buff. I think it all started growing up in New Jersey as a kid. I lived next to a preserve that was a Revolutionary War battleground where George Washington fought the British. I would ride my BMX bike on the trails and check out these amazing old stone walls that lined the forest. Then a few years later my brother and I started building our own little trails. The combination of seeing history and experiencing trails hooked me at a very young age, which is part of the reason why I fell in love with Downieville. It has some of America's richest history, and its trails are absolutely central to that history. I also learned to ride mountain bikes in Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and Downieville reminds me a lot of West Virginia; deep rugged canyons, raging rivers and rocky technical trails.
5. Tell me a little about getting to Verdi, your home base, and the riding there.
I moved to Verdi five years ago. People have a hard time pronouncing it, but because we're in Ne-va-duh, locals pronounce it Verr-die. Verdi is only a 10 minute drive from Reno and 20 minutes from Truckee, so its location can't be beat. I can ride my mountain bike or even my dirt bike right out my back door and hit hundreds of miles of dirt roads and even some rugged single track. One of the best downhill trails in the Reno/Tahoe region is only five miles from my front door, and I can even ride 65 miles of dirt from my house to Downieville along the historic Henness Pass road. As a bonus, I live only 100 yards from the Truckee River, so it's a pretty nice little spot. Unfortunately people have figured it out, and right now Verdi is being swallowed up by the insatiable, ravenous appetite of development thanks to the City of Reno. All I hear nowadays is rock crushers and dump trucks. Kinda sucks, but I guess kind of inevitable. It's just an excuse for me and my lady Swan John to get the hell out Verdi and spend more time in the Lost Sierra!
6. So, ASS, are single speeds dead or do you see a sort of younger generation starting to embrace what us old fogies did to distance ourselves from the yahoos and sameness of mountain bikes?
Adapting a quote from my musical hero Frank Zappa, "Singlespeeds aren't dead, they just smell funny". Singlespeeds were never dead to begin with, their popularity just comes and goes like the tide. They have been around since the beginning of the bicycle and they will continue to be around because of their utter simplicity and Zen they deliver when riding one. I don't ride singlespeeds because they're trendy or the cool thing to do. Just like the one gear on the bike, to me, singlespeeding is a very individualistic experience, completely devoid of what anyone else is doing. But as much as I love to ride my singlespeed, it's just another tool in the toolbox, another arrow in the quiver. It has a place and a purpose, but I am not one of those aggro singlespeeders that only rides 'one on it' and will never touch a geared bike. Although I've raced the Downieville Classic numerous times on a singlespeed (ouch), having only one gear and no rear suspension in Downieville is just dumb. The climbs are simply too massive and too rocky. There's a fine line between stubborn and stupid, and the older I get, the more I learn where that line is.
7. What does it take for you to go full Lycra?
I used to go full Lycra a lot, but then Greg Williams told me a story about how he almost got his ass kicked in the town of Washington by a tweaking redneck because he was wearing tight pants while on a big mountain bike ride, I figured maybe full Lycra ain't the best wardrobe for exploring the Lost Sierra.