When the death of Ashland mountain biker John Edward Thomas Jr. was first reported late Monday, most locals assumed the 66-year-old suffered a heart attack on a favorite trail. Instead, something went tragically wrong on his ride.
The section of Hitt Road Trail, a popular downhill just west of town where Thomas and his bike were found shortly after noon by a hiker, isn’t particularly steep or technical. But it is smooth, straight and fast. An autopsy by the Jackson County medical examiner found that Thomas died of head injuries sustained in a crash. An experienced mountain biker, Thomas was wearing a helmet at the time of the incident.
The local sheriff’s office concluded that Thomas lost control of his bike while “apparently negotiating a dip in the trail.” A press release from the sheriff’s office did not elaborate on Thomas’ speed at the time. A photo of the section shows a potential gap jump. Conditions were clear and dry, and the trail was tacky hardpan.
Access to the trail normally involves a relentless 5-mile grind up a fire road in the Ashland watershed, which is ribboned with multi-use trails. Another local rider died here three years ago after suffering a heart attack on the climb toward Hitt Road.
Unseasonable summer-like weather has drawn riders from throughout the Northwest to Ashland’s gritty, well-groomed trails in recent weeks. Normally a ski destination this time of year, Mount Ashland closed operations Monday due to lack of snow.
All of us at Mtbr wish to extend our heartfelt condolences to the friends and family of the deceased.