This weekend, I rode the Donner Lake Rim Trail from Castle Valley west and down the Wendin Way Trail. This is a great route for late in the summer – it’s less dusty than a lot of the trails in the area and is still in good shape. We did it as a shuttle, leaving one car at the PCT trailhead near Boreal Resort and one down at Donner Lake. Doing it that way it’s a fun shuttle with a mellow fire road climb, some chunky granite XC style riding, flowy mellow trails in the trees (with a great stopping point at Summit Lake) and a downhill that has both fast switchbacks and some rocky features.
After talking about it for literally years, Greyson and I took the plunge this summer and bought packrafts! Specifically, we bought the Kokopelli Nirvana Self-Bailing ($1,200). We’ve had them for a few weeks now and taken them out a few times, and I’ve got a good enough feel to give my first impressions.
Kokopelli Packrafts describes the Nirvana Self-bailing as:
The first-ever self-bailing packraft, the Nirvana is engineered to keep you above the water with our industry leading self-bailing packraft design, which allows water in the boat to drain automatically as you crush that rapid. Designed with a narrow trim, aggressive rocker on the bow, and a large-volume stern which the Nirvana performs best in Class 1 – Class 3 and offers excellent stability.
We did a lot of thinking about which specific model we wanted to buy before purchasing the Kokopelli Nirvana Self-Bailing. We knew that we wanted packrafts that could handle a little bit of white water, we wanted bottoms with some padding, and we didn’t want spray skirts. We also were leaning towards Kokopelli as a brand, mainly because REI carries it, and we both have REI rewards credit cards. We narrowed it down to the Kokopelli Nirvana Self-Bailing and the Kokopelli Rogue-Lite. We were initially leaning towards the Rogue-lite, mainly due to the lower weight, cheaper price and the fact that it is supposed to do better in flat water than the Nirvana.
My friend Kristen at Bearfoot Theory has the Kokopelli Rogue (which comes with a removable spray deck), and she mentioned in her packrafting the San Rafael River trip report that when not using the spray deck, they ended up having to frequently bail water. Once we took that into consideration and acknowledged that we probably won’t often do long slogs where we would be carrying them, we decided that the extra weight and cost was worth it for increased durability, the self-bailing ability, and the extra capability in white water. Along with the packrafts, we ordered paddles. We wanted ones that broke down into four pieces, and we purchased the Werner Skagit 4-Piece Kayak Paddle ($144) in size 220 cm, which is the size Kokopelli recommended to us.
So far, we’ve paddled our packrafts on a lake, a mellow stretch of the Truckee River, and a rowdier section of the Truckee River. So far, I’m really happy with our decision to buy the Kokopelli Nirvana Self-bailing. First, it’s easy to get set up and inflate. The inflation system is pretty intuitive and goes much more quickly than I thought. We can get them set up in under ten minutes, and I imagine we’ll only get faster. You first inflate the floor and the raft most of the way using the airbag, then top off using your mouth and a hose attachment. Note: due to asthma, I struggle with this part, so Greyson usually has to do this. If you have breathing problems, you might struggle too.
The seat is attached using straps and double D-rings, which I thought was pretty easy. There are also instructional videos to watch for the set up. One tip that I have is to set the seat much further forward than seems intuitive – you want some bend in your knees when seated. I ended up moving my seat forward several times the first time we took the rafts out.
As long as you’re decently athletic, the rafts are easy to get in and out of . I practiced “falling” out in the lake in water too deep to stand in, and I was able to get back in on my first try. As expected, the Nirvana doesn’t track very well in the flat water, especially with a bit of a headwind. I wouldn’t take this on a long trip on a lake, but it’s still fun to play around on.
Our first river trip, we did the stretch of the Truckee River from the Truckee Regional Park to the Glenshire Bridge. This was maybe not the best choice for a maiden voyage, as it was rowdier than expected. I’m still learning how to paddle in moving water and I hit a lot of rocks, washed up on a lot of sandbars, and we had to get out and portage a particularly rocky section. I even fell out once! The Kokopelli Nirvana handled it like a champ, though. I was VERY glad we had bought packrafts with self bailing capabilities, because I’m sure I would have swamped several times without that. We’ve discovered that it’s important to top off the rafts once we put them in the water, as the air volume decreases when it gets cold. Depending on the length of the float, we have needed to top off again when the rafts start sagging. When I fell out, it was because I’d lost air, hit a rock, and the raft taco-ed.
For the second river trip, we went on the “Booze Cruise” section of the Truckee River, from Tahoe City to River Ranch. Now this section of the river can be floated in a gas station floatie while holding a Coors Light, so this turned out to be a great segment to get more comfortable on our boats. The packrafts tracked well through the moving water, even in sections with really low flow, and I was able to get a lot more comfortable steering. This paddle confirmed that the Kokopelli Nirvana is really stable in moving water – we were able to hop in and out easily when needed, and I hung my feet over the sides when I wanted to cool down.
Once we finished paddling, we were able to easily pull up to shore both times. The packrafts are super easy to deflate and re-roll. The Kokopelli Nirvana Self-Bailing weighs a little over 10 pounds and rolls to about 16″ by 12″, so it’s pretty easy to carry short distances, even with the paddle. So far, I’ve just rolled mine up enough to carry in my arms and strapped it up using the seat straps. It can pack down to 12″ x 9″ x 6″, so for a longer walk, I could get it smaller and put it in a pack. After we got back home, we spread them out to dry before storing in the gear room. I like that you can store them rolled, so they don’t take up much room at all.
So far, I’m very happy with my purchase of the Kokopelli Nirvana Self-Bailing packraft! I really like how easy it is to get out on the water with just the packrafts, paddles, and a dry bag and quickly be having a great time. I think we’re going to purchase PFDs soon, for rougher waters and get the battery powered Kokopelli Feather Pump for front country paddling. While it’s pretty easy to fill the packrafts using the human powered bag system, this will let us inflate them in less than a minute with a cheap, easily charged pump. I’m really excited about this new way to get outside and enjoy the rivers.
If you have any packrafting suggestions – gear, routes, paddling tips, etc., please let me know!
Kokopelli Nirvana Self Bailing Stats:
Outer Length – 90 in
Inner Length – 57 in
Outer Width – 37 in
Inner Width – 15.5 in
Packraft: 8 lb 6 oz
Backband: 6 oz
Inflatable Floor with Integrated Seat: 1 lb 3 oz
Inflation Bag: 3 oz
Inflation Tube: 2 oz
Compression Straps: 2 oz total
Folded- 12 x 9 x 6 in
Rolled Size – 16 x 12 in
Rivers, Creeks, Extreme-Low-Flow (ELFing) – Class 3
Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase, I receive a small percentage of the sale as compensation – at no additional cost to you. I promise to only recommend products that I use and enjoy!
Did you ever want to swim at the top of a waterfall? Well, for a short period of time it’s possible at Webber Falls north of Truckee! I made a short video highlighting this awesome natural spot below.
This is a really cool place, so if you do decide to find it and make a visit, remember to be respectful. No glass, no fires and Leave No Trace!
For years, I struggled finding women’s specific mountain bike shorts that were comfortable, durable, fit well, and had good coverage. Now there are more options than ever, and I’ve found some that I really love. I’ve rounded up and reviewed some of my favorites below.
Sizing Note: I’ve found that women’s mountain bike shorts don’t tend to be “vanity sized” and I wear about a size up from my day to day shorts and pants. I also prefer my baggies (not chamois!) to be a little on the loose side, for comfort during a long ride. I’m 5’11”, 31.5″ waist, 38″ hips for size reference.
Best Overall Shorts
Patagonia Women’s Dirt Craft Bike Shorts ($149)
Patagonia hasn’t been in the mountain biking world for very long, but they got so much right with these shorts! I got them earlier in the summer, and I’ve worn them a bunch. They’re an awesome mix of great fit, comfort while riding, and durability. The legs are fitted enough not to snag, but not overly tight, and they are stretchy enough to have a good range of motion for pedaling, but they don’t stretch out very much over the course of the ride. The waist band goes up in the back, so I don’t have to worry about a gap of skin between the shorts and my jersey and is adjustable. They also come with a very high quality chamois which feels bulky while off the bike, but I don’t even notice once I start riding. Basically, the only downside is the high price, though I think the shorts are totally worth it!
Perfect For: Pretty much any ride you want to do – I recently loved wearing them on the Royal Gorge Rim Trail.
Size: 12, fits great
Most Comfortable Shorts
Shredly MTB Curvy ($105)
The MTB Curvy from Shredly are the first and only thing I’ve ever bought from an Instagram ad, and I’m so glad I did. The idea of putting a comfortable, yoga style waistband on mountain bike shorts is genius! Shredly was founded by a woman, and that show’s in the design of these shorts. They have a bunch of functional, accessible pockets AND come in a variety of colors and pattens from bright and whimsical (the Tina) to more muted (the Denim C). The shorts are long for a lot of coverage and are made of a tough, durable material. While this means they’ll be good in a crash, they’re also pretty hot on warmer days or long climbs. They do have zipper vents on the thighs which help, but aren’t enough for really hot and sweaty rides. The $105 price tag is fairly high, especially since the chamois is sold separately, but the quality is very high and they’re made in the US.
Perfect For: A day in the Mammoth Bike Park or a fall ride in Downieville
Size: 12, could size down
Great Value Shorts
Fox Racing Women’s Ripley ($80, on sale for $33-$62)
These shorts are a great value for bike shorts! Even full priced, they’re on the lower end price-wise for good quality women’s bike shorts. Plus, Fox releases these year after year, so you can frequently find older models on sale for a great price. They’re pretty basic and no frills, and only have one small, rear, zippered pocket. They’re very durable – I’ve crashed in mine and they’ve held up to wear and tear really well. The material is a little stiff and rough, especially compared to the higher priced versions. They’re not very stretchy, which helps them hold up, but also means the range of motion isn’t as good. They’re a tighter fit than, which is nice for not snagging on things, but also affects the range of motion. They also come with a chamois which I really like the fit of.
Perfect For: Riding the Donner Lake Rim Trail & Wendin Way Trail
Size: Large, fits great
These Don’t Look Like Bike Shorts
Club Ride Eden ($100)
While bulky, knee length bike shorts are great for protection from the branches, rocks, and bugs I encounter on the trail, they’re not really my style for wearing to the brewery after my ride. If I want a pair of shorts that goes a little more smoothly from trail to beer, I like the Eden. They’re definitely shorter than the other shorts and don’t scream “bike shorts” quite as hard. The short length makes them lighter for hot days, which is nice, but they lack coverage in the case of a crash. I’ve gotten some gnarly leg scrapes from wearing them on the wrong trails. The material they’re made from is very stretchy, so they’re super comfortable. However, they do tend to stretch out in the waist by the end of the ride due to this fact. They do come with a chamois, but I didn’t like how it fit. These shorts are great for casual rides, and I’m fine with slipping them back on after I change out of my chamois.
Perfect For: Mellow cross country rides like Elizabethtown Meadow Trail or Emmigrant Trail
Size: Large, could probably size down
Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase, I receive a small percentage of the sale as compensation – at no additional cost to you. I promise to only recommend products that I use and enjoy!
I did my first ride on the Royal Gorge trails on Donner Summit in Truckee. I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to ride these trails – they’re so close to home! I rode the Royal Gorge Rim Trail and up Rowton Peak. The views are incredible and the wildflowers are still going off. If you’re looking for a fun climb with payoff views and a fun downhill, check out Royal Gorge.
Last weekend, Greyson and I headed north into the Lost Sierra to ride one of my all time favorite trails, the Downieville Downhill. It just seems to get more fun every time I ride it, and this time was no exception – even though the temps were in the high 90s! Riding such a long trail, far from services, and in the heat requires more preparation than a typical ride. Now that I’ve done the Downieville Downhill a handful of times, I’ve got a packing list down.
Bike & Gear:
I’ve seen people ride the Downieville Downhill on all types of bikes – from modern enduro bikes to old school downhill bikes to full suspension fat bikes to a guy on a single speed hardtail last weekend! However, I think that for maximizing fun, you’ll want a full suspension bike with at least 115 mm of travel. I’ve ridden it multiple times on my 2016 Transition Smuggler, which is a short travel 29er (130/115), and though I would like a little more travel for comfort and confidence, it’s still very doable. Having good flat pedals and real bike shoes has made a huge difference for my comfort levels on some of the Downhill’s trickier sections this year. I’m so happy with my RaceFace Chesters and Five Ten Freerider Pro. The Freerider Pro women’s version isn’t just sized down, it has a women’s specific fit, (which can sometimes be a load of crap) and the narrower heel/wider toe box fits me super well, while the men’s version didn’t.
A hydration pack is a must for this trail (click here for my blog post with hydration packs recommendations), and I like to have one that can fit at least 2 liters of water in addition to all my stuff. This time, because it was so hot, I had ~2 liters of water in my CamelBak Solstice and some Tailwind in the bottle in my frame. I packed a few assorted gels, chews, and bars – I like to have more than I think that I’ll eat just in case. I’ve bonked HARD at Downieville, and I don’t want to repeat that experience. Also in my pack, I bring a tubeless plug kit, 1 or 2 spare tubes (there are quite a few sharp shale sections), multi tool, tire levers, and a pump. Someone in the group should have a first-aid kit as well.
I would highly recommend using a full face helmet, though lots of people don’t. I think a lightweight full face with a removable chin bar, like the Bell Super 3R, is the best of both worlds. The trails of Downieville get dusty pretty much as soon as they melt out, so goggles like the Smith Squad MTB are really nice to have. I also wear elbow pads, knee pads and padded gloves for extra protection.
For clothes, I tend towards more coverage, even when it’s really hot out. I like lightweight long sleeve jerseys, like the Patagonia Nine Trails or the Pearl iZUMi Launch for sun coverage, protection from overgrown trees and bushes, and protection. I’ve recently gotten a couple of pairs of longer baggies that I really like – the Shredly MTB Curvy and Patagonia Dirt Craft, for lightweight protection. Another piece of critical clothing is a very supportive sports bra like the Brooks Juno– the trail is rocky and bumpy!
Downieville is a fun town to hang out in, so we don’t hit the road right away. However, it’s a small town with only a few restaurants and stores, and can be expensive and crowded on a busy weekend. This time, we planned ahead and brought our Yeti Cooler packed with snacks. We pre-made Tailwind Recovery and kept those cold while we were riding and they were perfect to drink right away. We should have packed beers too, but, if you shuttle with Yuba Expeditions, you’ll get a free beer from their shop at the end of your ride!
Before I even got a beer or food though, I rode directly to the confluence of the North Yuba and the Downie in downtown Downieville, stripped down to my chamois & sports bra, and jumped in to the refreshing water. Nothing has ever felt better. I usually pack a swimsuit, but forgot and regretted it – so bring one. After my swim, I changed into comfortable clothes and the Chacos that I’d packed, and I was so glad I didn’t have to change back into sweaty bike clothes or non-breathable shoes. We didn’t see much this trip, but there is often a fair amount of poison oak just off the trail in Downieville as you get closer to town. Since it might be awhile until you get a chance to shower for real, wipes to remove the poison oak residue like these Tecnu ones can be really useful.
The Downieville Downhill is an incredible mountain bike trail and worth a road trip. It’s a classic for a reason, and having the right gear will make it an even better experience. Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase, I receive a small percentage of the sale as compensation – at no additional cost to you. I promise to only recommend products that I use and enjoy!
As much as I love Lake Tahoe, the California coast, Yosemite National Park, etc., they’re often busy with visitors and locals, especially on a nice summer weekend, taking away some of the natural charm. If I’m wanting a less crowded experience, I head north of Truckee on Highway 89 into the “Lost Sierra” of eastern Plumas and Sierra counties.
The Lost Sierra is a gem of a region, dotted with small towns and hundreds of outdoor opportunities. There’s really something for everyone there! Unsurprisingly, my favorite thing about this area is the awesome mountain bike trails – Mt. Hough (Quincy), Mills Peak (Graeagle), and the Downieville Downhill (Downieville) are all in the Lost Sierra. There are lots more great trails in this area, and the Sierra Buttes Trails Stewardship is constantly adding and improving miles of trails.
The Lost Sierra is well known for hiking, and you can get to some incredible destinations on your feet. The hiking the Sierra Buttes trail to the tallest point in the Lakes Basin. There are dozens of other great day hikes in this area – check out this link from Plumas National Forest as a resource. The Pacific Crest Trail goes through the Lost Sierra as well, with Sierra City and Quincy being popular town stops for thru hikers. Day hikes on this section of the PCT will take you to some incredible places and views.
There are quite a few rivers and streams flowing through the Lost Sierra which means there’s great fishing, swimming, rafting and floating. There’s rafting and whitewater kayaking on the Feather River, and it has gentle stretches and tributaries that can be tube floated or canoed. The confluence of the North Yuba River and the Downie River is in downtown Downieville, and it makes basically a perfect swimming hole. Nothing feels better than jumping in after a hot, summer mountain bike ride! For lake recreation, Bucks Lake, southwest of Quincy, and Gold Lake, north of Sierra City are great options. If hot springs are more your style, Sierraville is home to the Sierra Hot Springs, a private, relaxing resort in the Sierra Valley.
The Lost Sierra is also a great place to experience history, art, and culture. Did you know that Downieville was almost the capital of California? Also, it was the most populous city at one point during the gold rush. Located in a building from 1852 in the heart of downtown, the Downieville Museum is small, but worth a visit. There are also a few historic fire lookouts throughout the region. There’s one on top of Mills Peak that you can drive to (via rough road) and one at Calpine that you can reserve and stay at!
The High Sierra Music Festival is an incredible festival that happens in Quincy every year during the first weekend in July. Beyond the music, there is a parade, costume contests, art, comedy, a pool, great food and much more. Much smaller, but just as awesome is the Lost Sierra Hoedown, which takes place in September at the Johnsville Historic Ski Bowl. It’s got a focus on community, music, outdoor recreation, and it’s fundraiser for local groups.
Small rural towns aren’t usually known for their food scenes, but there definitely a few great restaurants in the Lost Sierra. The Brewing Lair (Blairsden) is one of my favorite breweries in all of California. They don’t serve food, but they sometimes have a food truck, and you can always bring your own. If we’re doing that, we usually stop at Graeagle Mountain Frostee to grab greasy, comfort food to go. Also in Blairsden is Bread & Butter, which is an excellent stationary food truck with outdoor seating. Quintopia Brewing in Quincy is fairly new, but already has great beer, delicious food, and reasonable prices. Try the chicken tikka masala fries! My favorite place in Downieville is Two Rivers Cafe. It’s a little on the pricy side, but the food is good and the deck seating overlooks the river confluence. Finally, Los Dos Hermanos is a good Mexican restaurant tucked away in Sierraville.
This is just scratching the surface of all of the great things to do and see in the Lost Sierra region. I hope you’ll plan a trip to the Lost Sierra this summer or fall and that you love it as much as I do.
Last weekend, Greyson and I rode the Tyrolean Downhill with 100 of our closest trail runner friends! We had a great time – get out and ride this trail before it gets too sandy.
This trail is accessed via the Tahoe Rim Trail, and it’s requested that mountain bikers only ride the trail on even numbered days.
There’s a newly completed portion of the Donner Lake Rim Trail! Trailforks is calling it two segments – DLRT Teton and DLRT Skislope, which cover about 5.5 miles and around 950 feet of descent (or climbing, depending which direction you ride it). The trail is pretty dusty and riding slow right now, but it has incredible views and I think it will be amazing once it gets some rain!
There’s a new mountain bike trail in Truckee, the Big Chief Trail, and it is awesome! While mountain bike/keyboard warriors may complain on the internet that the Forest Service only builds boring, easy trails, that’s absolutely not true of the Big Chief Trail. Ridden from the top down, the trail descends about 2,175 feet over ~8.5 miles, but it’s a pain to shuttle and involves a lot of driving. If you’re riding up, you can either ride up the Big Chief trail or up the 06 fire road, which I prefer. The Big Chief trailhead is about 3 miles up the 06 past the Sawtooth Trailhead. If you are shuttling from the top, the Upper Big Chief Trailhead is near the intersection of the Fiberboard Freeway and the 500 road. There’s limited parking, but the drive in is all paved. (Strava route for the shuttle here and Strava route for the fire road ride here.)
Big Chief Trail is split into two main sections, the top third (which was just completed this summer) and the bottom two thirds. Big Chief Upper is the most technical part, earning its advanced rating. At this point there are several large features that I couldn’t ride and didn’t have ride arounds, though I was able to walk them fairly easily. (I’ve heard, though, that eventually all the features will have ride arounds.) This section is pretty rocky overall in addition to the several technical features. After about 2.15 miles and ~850 feet of descent, the upper section crosses the 06 fire road and Big Chief Lower begins.
The lower section of Big Chief begins with a tiny climb that opens into expansive views and impressive rock work. The lower segment is easier overall than the upper section, but there are still challenging sections and lots of features like drops, rock rolls, wall rides and more. There’s also a fair amount of climbing on this section, with about 550 feet of climbing overall. Most of the climbing comes in a half mile section at about 1.3 miles into the lower section.
After the climb, the trail flattens out and gets bumpy with rock rolls, drops, wall rides, wooden features, and more. All the features have ride arounds, and this is a good spot to session and practice. After the techy features, it’s mostly a fun, flowy, downhill ride to the bottom. There are great jumps and berms, and the trail is mostly smooth, though there are a few rock gardens and roots to keep you on your toes.
The Big Chief Trail is a fun, challenging trail that I’d recommend for intermediate or better riders. There are definitely advanced features on the Big Chief Upper and lower sections, but the trail is totally doable as an intermediate rider as long as you’re paying attention and prepared to walk or ride around when available. That said, riding just the Big Chief Lower section is less challenging than doing the whole thing, and a great option for an easier ride.
(from the top of Big Chief Upper down)
Mileage: 7.85 miles
Elevation: 2,178 descent, 675 feet of climbing
Difficulty: Advanced Intermediate