Trail rides in Ashland, Oregon always start with an uphill slog.
It’s just the way it is, and the trails you find make it well worth
it. But, as I only get up there about once a year, the climb
seems steeper and longer than I remember. The right gear seems to be a
moving point, sometimes just above the granny/three cog and just below
the middle/one cog. My back tightens, both from the discomfort of
keeping the rear wheel tacked down on dry, loose fireroad gravel and
the fact that I hadn’t ridden this bicycle since winter solstice.
It’s go up to get anywhere, here.
Things have changed a bit since I first starting riding up
here. My helmet is off to those folks in the local trail group, as
they’ve taken a largely fireroad-centric approach and developed a
network of challenging and enjoyable singletrack. But, you
still start at the bottom of the climb.
This year, I stopped only a short bit up from where the new,
big houses end. I’m above pavement, looking down into the Rogue River
Valley over the town. The breezes are cool as they move in from the
west, over the still-snow-covered Mount Ashland. There’s palpable
rain in the air on this first ride. I snag the first singletrack
on my right, and it swings around to parrallel the fire road. (Well,
Californians call them “fire roads” - it’s really a wide access road
that has been beefed up for traffic to the trailhead. I guess we
call them “fire roads” because they are dirt, and out our way, they’re
for the wildland fire trucks.) It splits in a way I don’t remember from
my last ride, and I follow the level bit, which quickly turns into a
descent. I know just enough about the topography here to know I
don’t wanna go down yet, and scramble up another spur at an angle that
makes me feel like I’m about to do a chinup on the top tube of my
bike. It’s steep and I’m not ready for it, hoping off to hoof it.
The trail brings me back to the main which I’d left, just in time to
chat a bit with some folks walking their horses down. I greet
them in my smooth and quiet “horse voice” that seems to work. The
horses couldn’t give a whinney about me and they head down, audibly
impressed that I was coming up that section.
Granny gear to regain my breathe for a while, and the legs
feel a bit rubbery. Hope they’ll come back, as there’s still a ways to
The singletrack becomes less arduous, my
breathing more smooth and the trail snakes through the forest.
I’d much rather suffer on steeper singletrack than treadmill it up the
main road. I begin to feel a bit better, though it’s still work, and I
know there’s a bit more to go. Luckily, what used to be short
side trails have been expanded to let someone eliminate the main
road. I swing down, cross the road and find another narrow trail
on the east side. As long as you can keep moving uphill, you’re
heading the right direction. I follow “Caterpiller” as “White Rabbit”
takes you back down to town. Another jump across the main road,
and the singletrack switches back and forth to keep gaining
altitude. When I first rode this, it just went up the fall line
for the most part. I meet a lady and a big standard poodle, who
seems excited by the bicycle. The woman less so, as she tells me
the dog likes to chase bicycles. But, we chat for a moment and (I
think) leave on good terms.
I want to go long today. It has been close to a week since I
got out on a bike, as between packing, work, instructing a new
dogsitter and the menial tasks of cleaning, the days disappeared prior
to leaving. My legs actually feel pretty good, though my low back less
so. I’m toying with the idea of aiming for the peak of Mt
Ashland. I’ve never been up there, a record that may remain
intact again this year. As I look up towards the peak, I see only thick
cloud cover, and the air now seems downright moist. The other
option is the Loop Road, which is really just a level fire (ok -
“access”) road that contours around the Ashland watershed. It’s not
challenging, per se, but you can catch some singletrack on the far end
of it. The Loop road by itself makes for about a 25 mile outing.
But, that decision is in the future. For now, I’m still climbing.
As the singletrack prepares to drop me to the main road for
the final section, I see another rider down below. Dropping down
the singletrack, I come out a bit in front of him. It’s not close
enough to pull up to hail him, and we’re both working pretty steadily
to keep our upward momentum. As it is, I hear his breathing behind me
before too long. He comes alongside and we say hidy. I ask him how he’s
doing and he huffs out, “hurting!”, but continues to pull ahead. I
actually feel pretty good, but know there’s a bit of riding in front of
me. I keep spinning along, occassionally jumping to the middle
ring and stand singlespeed style to ease the tightness in my low
back. It could have something to do with the several pounds of
water and gear which are on my back.
The road curves a bit and he seems to speed up. My back
needs a real stretch so I stop and do it right for a couple
minutes. When I straighten up again, I recognize where I am -
probably only a quarter mile from the “4 corners” area where things
level out and I can pick up the Loop road. Again on the bike, I
find the other ride had stopped where the roads intersect.
We chat a bit and I pump him for information about the
trails. Not too much new, but he does mention that the trail that
headed downhill early on got steep and was kind of a crazy
downhill. We talk about bike bits and rides for a while, then
decide to head our separate ways before we cool down too much.
My choice is for the Loop road. The peak is looking
like it has found an early winter storm, and sure enough, by the time
I’m a mile or so up the road, I’m feeling the odd raindrop or two. But,
I fall into a rhythm and begin to feel pretty good now that the trail
is basically level. It’s perfect riding weather - not quite rainy, but
cool enough to stay comfy and make a decent effort.
Somewhere on the back side, the second of two raging
creeks pass under the roadway. I decide to take a second and give
the bike a rest.
After an hour or so, I come across the singletrack section
which will drop me down to another fire road - Horn Gap. The last
time I rode this it was heavily overgrown and tight. This year it
was reasonably sparse, but a bit slick. It’s always a tricky
business recalibrating reactions after a long time slogging over a wide
dirt roadway. This trail didn’t really have many suprises, but I
have to pull back on the reins once or twice just to get in the flow.
By this time, mist had shifted into separate drops. Luckily, with
the exception of a few slicker sections, the trail hadn’t been
It ends way too soon, spitting me out on the lower service
road. I push a big ring, aided by gravity, and drift through one or two
corners with a little too much velocity. Real rain taps down now.
That road runs into the main loop road again, but rather than
continuing down, I decid to lug upwards a bit and find another
singletrack bit called Hitt Road. Sticking under the trees to get out
of the now disappearring rain, I can’t quite recall how much climbing
stands between me and the final down bits. It can’t be more than a
mile, but I’m growing a bit hungry and realize the ride has gone on for
over a couple hours now. I recognize the trail now, and have
either convinced myself of a trail-mirage or the downhill lies just
ahead. Behind me, the skies still threaten, but here the roadway seems
to have avoided recent moisture.
Hitt Road becomes a bit more technical as it progresses,
moving from service road to narrow service road to single track. One
year, a bunch of jumps had been created to allow the kneepad crowd an
option for fording the worst parts of the washouts. But, now,
there’s really only a couple. As I’m more of a nap of the earth
style rider, I either roll them or practice a clumsy CX dismount
without the aid of a level top tube.
It always amazes me how high you stay above town. The
face of this ridge is fairly steep, and you can look out and down into
town, realizing that you have a heckuva drop to go still. There
are some rock fields and steeper sections, but I move down through it
all pretty easily, starting to feel much more fluid riding trails on
Towards the end of the trail, I come around a corner and see
a hiker working upwards. Then I realize it’s an officer in uniform.
Hmmm. I stop and hover, making sure that he sees me. Then I release the
brakes and roll slowly toward him.
“How’s it goin?” I start.
“Good. Thanks,” he replies. “Do you know where this trail goes?”
I pause. Shouldn’t he know? Maybe it’s a trick question
and this is now private property or some other travesty of
development. Oh well, I’m out of cuff range, so I can probably
ditch him if need be.
“It goes up to the fire road”
“Fire Road?” he looks a tad confused.
Oh crap. I’m not speaking the right dialect.
“The Loop Road. The main access road that goes around the
watershed. I’m not from around here, actually.” Damn, now I’ve
given away my position. I change tactics.
“How come you got the uphill duty?” I ask.
“They’re making you walk the uphill route.” I smile, hoping now that he’ll get that I’m making a minor joke.
“Oh. No. I just wasn’t sure where the trail went, so I thought I’d walk up it.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. I like the fact that the
officer was out of the vehicle and in the woods. But, this was veering
slightly Twin Peaks. I wish him a good walk and we say goodbye,
then I drift down around the next bend. Sure enough, his
Sheriff’s car is parked near the entrance gate.
I drop down the steep paved residential streets that were
loose dirt roads when I first rode this trail. Then I scoot
through town and go find some lunch. Good trails today and just
enough singletrack to shuffle the senses a bit.