Underexposed is a series dedicated to showcasing trails around North America that fly under the proverbial radar for most riders. PEARL iZUMi athlete Brice Shirbach has seen firsthand what sweat equity can mean among mountain bikers and its impact on the places we call home, and this series will look to help open eyes and shift our attention to some of the brilliant riding that exists in places both unexpected and unheard of.
I’ll proudly plant my flag on that hillside and argue with anyone who suggests otherwise. I don’t mean to start this story in such a combative way. Still, after ending my time in Auburn with a several hour-long sunset session between Auburn Bike Park’s flow and dual slalom tracks, I feel confident saying that a little bit of bike park can go a long way for a community.
Of course, this isn’t only about Auburn’s pump track and jump lines. Still, it is eye-opening to witness the return on investment of these recreation resources firsthand and compare it to other park facilities like a group of tennis courts. I’m not saying that tennis isn’t fun, because it is. But when you see parents and children alike lapping and sessioning lines over and over for hours on end and look across the street at an empty collection of tennis courts that cost considerably more to build, well, you kinda have to wonder. Auburn’s bike park was several years in the making and came from a desire to offer something to riders beyond the often steep and massive opportunities throughout the Auburn State Recreation Area, which is just a few minutes drive from downtown.
Many of the trails throughout the Auburn area are built along the north, and middle forks of the American River, situated on fairly steep canyon walls. The trails slice between forests of buckeye, blue oaks, manzanita, ponderosas, and Douglas-fir trees. Auburn is on California’s registry of Historic Landmarks due to its distinct history with the Gold Rush of the 19th century. While it might not hold the same yields as it did a couple of centuries ago, people still comb through these Sierra foothills and the river itself on the off chance they might happen upon some golden flakes. I, too, came mining for some golden nuggets and managed to find all I could handle aboard two wheels.
I arrived in town in early March and was greeted with sunny skies and warm temperatures. Winters in Auburn are typically cool but not cold, with average daytime highs in the mid-50’s with most of their yearly precipitation occurring between October and April. I seemed to hit it perfectly, threading the needle through the 6-ish week-long thread between early March and mid-April of warm temps and green flora before the heat and dry air transforms the green hills into brown.
I had the opportunity to explore a handful of the trails throughout the recreation area and was immediately struck by its beauty. Next, I was hit by the steep nature of the climbing involved when starting a ride on the shore of the American River. Only to then be struck by the speed and acceleration that comes with most of these descents. With several options and various combinations available for riders, those looking to string trails together for their desired ride have options. For this video, I descended Culvert, a mile-long rip that drops over 600 feet along a south-facing aspect before crossing the road, and riding up and then down another mile-long gem known as Stonewall. Culvert was fast and beautiful, a flowing ribbon of singletrack that winds its way down the mostly open hillside with just a little bit of rock at the end and features about 10 seconds of nearly pitch black, mildly disorienting riding through an actual culvert beneath a road. Stonewall starts with a modest climb up about 320 feet for the first ½ mile before dropping somewhat precipitously down over 500 feet over the last ½ mile, with plenty of technical bits and off-camber sections to play around on. Whatever reserves I had remaining, I made sure to exhaust over the course of a few hours with lap after lap in town at the bike park.
It’s fitting to me that a town like Auburn, which saw a boom nearly 200 years ago as people clamored over the gold found in these hills, is poised for another rush of sorts. There might not be as much actual gold to be mined these days, but the love for and cultivation of trails and mountain bike opportunities may ultimately prove to be even more valuable.
Auburn is well served by the Folsom Auburn Trail Riders Action Coalition, otherwise known as FATRAC. While their organizational name is a mouthful, it’s worth repeating three times as fast as you can because the work they’re putting into the area in and around Auburn is amazing. The bike park alone took eight (!) years to get off of the ground after the local rogue jump lines were bulldozed. Now they’re expanding at a rapid rate. The dedication and stewardship here is real. Formed in 1988 by a contingent of local riders looking to build a relationship with the California Department of Parks and Recreation, the partnership ultimately led to mountain biking within the Auburn State Recreation Area, among other spots. In 2013 FATRAC would officially become an IMBA chapter, and in 2019 joined forces with thousands of other riders throughout the state to generate leverage and momentum among the highest levels of the state. California is notoriously challenging for mountain bikers looking to navigate the various land management systems. Groups like FATRAC have taken it upon themselves to cultivate a sense of stewardship among its riders and develop relationships with agencies based on trust moving forward. Learn more about FATRAC workdays as well as how to support them financially.
Auburn is a part of the Sacramento Metropolitan area, so there are approximately ZERO shortages of lodging options such as hotels, inns, and Airbnb’s. I stayed just 20 minutes down the road in Roseville, which is 20 minutes closer to Sacramento and offers that much more in the way of lodging. East of town, things start to get a little bit quieter. Camping in California is hit or miss at the moment as we slowly and tenuously begin our climb out of COVID-19 restrictions, and for those looking to camp at Auburn State Recreation Area’s Mineral Bar Campground will need reservations to camp. It will no longer be a first-come, first-serve campground. To make reservations, please visit www.ReserveCalifornia.com.
Poison Oak is quite prevalent in this part of the country. If you take a step off of the trail, it’s best to just assume that the oils from the devious leafy greens are on you and your clothes. Your best bet to mitigate the incredibly itchy and occasionally painful rash that develops is to first avoid touching your face or other parts of your body after coming in contact. Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly as soon as possible or once you’re done riding. If you notice a rash or swelling starting to occur, apply cool compresses to the skin and use topical treatments to relieve itching, including calamine lotion, oatmeal baths, Tecnu, Zanfel, or aluminum acetate (Domeboro solution). Oral antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl), can also help relieve itching.