The Lost & Found Gravel Ride starts next to a small campground in Lake Davis, CA, just outside the sleepy town of Portola. Four hours east of San Francisco, two hours from Reno and eight hours from Los Angeles, Lake Davis could easily be considered the middle of nowhere.
My crew has based itself in Truckee—an hour south of Lake Davis—for the weekend. The pre-dawn drive north takes us over a two-lane mountain pass that follows an adjacent river. As the sun peeks over the horizon, the densely forested road eventually gives way to an open valley expanse of ranchland meadows. We drive through several isolated one-street towns with signs indicating populations in the double digits. In the morning sunlight, we try to imagine this area in the 1850s, when it was crowded with 50,000 eager gold-rush miners all clamouring to strike it rich. There’s a reason this area is called the Lost Sierra.
Seeing the success of gravel events like Dirty Kanza, the Sierra ButtesTrail Stewardship (SBTS), an area non-profit, started Lost & Found in 2014. The first year began as a grassroots race with 200 riders there to enjoy the area’s epic climbs, expansive meadows filled with vibrant wildflowers, and unending views. Now in its fifth edition, Lost & Found has doubled in size each year, but has remained true to its authentic roots.
Like the event, the course too has evolved over time. Although it is nearly 80% gravel, this year had a bit more tarmac. The ever-changing route keeps riders coming back. It also forces them to think carefully about the proper bike selection. It’s the kind of ride where a hardtail mountain bike with generous gearing might work as efficiently as a purpose-built gravel or CX bike. Although the layout and many segments have changed, the long course has consistently maintained a profile of 160 km with nearly 2,300 meters of elevation gain. Every year, the organizers have also kept the popular and unpredictable “Vicious Cows” segment and the equally popular and very predictable beer-and-bacon aid stop hosted by Paul Components.
Lost & Found is special not only for the location, but for its purpose. It helps support the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship’s trail development that is vital to the region’s land use and economy. Greg Williams, owner of Yuba Expeditions bike shop in Downieville, started SBTS in 2003. Having a robust trail system was critical to the viability of Williams’ shop, and, as it turns out, to the area. Since then, the organization has developed over 100 km of new trails, maintained nearly 5,000 km of trail, harnessed 72,000 volunteer hours and grown to 40 employees.
The group funds itself through memberships, grants, donations and events. It also has partnerships with both Santa Cruz Bicycles and Ibis Cycles that have raised $170,000. In addition to Lost & Found, SBTS runs the more famous Downieville Classic mountain bike race. More recently, it’s added Grinduro to the event portfolio. These three races make up a triple crown series. All the proceeds from these events, along with bike shop revenues, are reinvested back into Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship initiatives.
SBTS sees its public-private development model as one that can be implemented in other regions around the globe. According to SBTS representative Kurt Gensheimer, the group has created jobs, exposed visitors to someplace uniquely special and put significant revenue back into local communities, all while focusing on developing a sustainable trail network for locals and visitors to the area’s national forest. The group is developing a Trail Summit that will be held in nearby Reno in 2020. Trail organizations from around the world will be invited to share and collaborate with an eye towards creating successful and local best practices for trail stewardship.
For a closer look at the course details, head to this Strava route.
Words & Images: Bryan Yates
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