Ashland Grind (Pt. 1)"
here from a blog
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 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.
it goin?" I start.
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
goes up to the fire road"
Road?" he looks a tad confused.
Oh crap. I'm not speaking the right dialect.
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.
come you got the uphill duty?" I ask.
making you walk the uphill route." I smile, hoping now that
he'll get that I'm making a minor joke.
No. I just wasn't sure where the trail went, so I thought I'd walk
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.