"The Ashland Grind (Pt. 1)"

Transferred here from a blog entry.

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 go.

Ashland Singletrack 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.

Stump on Loop Road 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 drastically impacted.

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 the mtb.

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.  






updated: August 29, 2006






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