To Enduro™ or not to Enduro™, that is the question. The answer? In Ashland you can do both, provided you can find a hotel room.
Editor’s Note: The Angry Singlespeeder is a collection of mercurial musings from contributing editor Kurt Gensheimer. In no way do his maniacal diatribes about all things bike oriented represent the opinions of Mtbr, RoadBikeReview, or any of their employees, contractors, janitorial staff, family members, household pets, or any other creature, living or dead. You can submit questions or comments to Kurt at [email protected]. And make sure to check out Kurt’s previous columns.
“We’re all sold out,” said a greasy, bespectacled hotel clerk resembling Milton from Office Space. It was the third consecutive hotel I checked in Ashland, Oregon, and I was starting to get pissed.
“What’s going on this weekend?” I asked the hotel clerk.
“Again? I was here three months ago and you guys were sold out for the same reason. How long does this stupid thing go for?”
“February to October.”
I was floored. Nine months? Who can endure that much Shakespeare? “That’s epic,” I muttered.
Milton looked up at me through his inch-thick bifocals with eyes magnified bigger than golf balls, “Don’t say that. I hate that word.”
Nine months out of the year people from around the world flock to Ashland, Oregon for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Since 1935, this grand celebration of Shakespeare has become a phenomenon. Great for aspiring thespians, lousy for everybody else who wants to visit Ashland, including mountain bikers looking for a place to stay.
Why would mountain bikers want to visit Ashland anyway? Well, unlike most parts of Oregon, Ashland actually has halfway decent weather. Located just north of the California border on Interstate 5, Ashland benefits from warm, dry summers and just enough rain to bring out an abundance of color. Ashland is also downright beautiful. Boasting a wide range of flora from Manzanita and Douglas Fir to Poison Oak and Blackberry bushes, Ashland offers a radiant environment for riding.
Founded in 1852 after a gold placer strike, the historically rich town of Ashland sits in the shadows of the towering 7,533 foot tall Mount Ashland. Right from downtown a vast network of trails meander into the mountains, providing miles of fast, flowing singletrack that perfectly blend the terrain of wetter, damper, loamier, coastal Oregon soil at higher altitude with drier, dustier and faster California soil at lower altitude.
Although Downieville has seemingly become the de-facto destination for NorCal shuttle junkies, Ashland offers every bit as much terrain and even more vertical. Yet for some reason this panacea of gravity riding is still relatively off the radar screen of most riders.
In addition to boasting endless amounts of hypnotically flowing singletrack with more dynamics than a Shakespearean sonnet, Ashland actually delivers bigger than Downieville, serving up nearly 5,000 vertical feet of rip-roaring downhill – nearly all of it singletrack. Although many claim there’s nothing like shredding Third Divide in Downieville, Time Warp in Ashland gives it a run for its money, with riders clocking more than 40 mph in sections.
Time Warp also serves up rock gardens, log drops and a full heaping of gnar. Time Warp is Ashland’s premier DH trail, and it’s definitely not for the meek, nor for the unfit with big heavy DH bikes due to numerous sections of pedaling and climbing. In short, Time Warp has Enduro™ written all over it.
This exceptional network of trails has attracted Super D, Downhill and the new-fangled Enduro™ racing scene, with Ashland hosting a number of races including the Oregon Enduro™ Series and the Spring Thaw Mountain Bike Festival.
Owned by Bill and Sue Rousell, for the past six years Ashland Mountain Adventures has been running shuttles from town to the top of Mt. Ashland three times per day. Bill and Sue always have smiles on their faces, and for good reason. One rip down trails like Bull Gap, Catwalk, Toothpick and Caterpillar will get even the angriest of singlespeeders showing off their pearly whites.
After finally finding accommodations in nearby Medford, my riding partner for the weekend, The Ümabomber and I made haste exploring the terrain around Ashland. Like most towns set at the foot of a gigantic mountain, the rule of thumb in Ashland is climb a gripload, then bomb back downhill. A great ride from town takes you about seven miles up a fireroad called Loop Road, then puts you on Hitt Road; a warp-speed singletrack-and-a-half filled with water bars that will launch you into outer orbit. If you like high-speed descents, Hitt Road is a must.
If you want an even bigger climb, ride up Tolman Creek Road until it turns to Road 2080, and follow it all the way to Bull Gap at 5,500 feet elevation. After nearly 3,500 feet of steady fireroad climbing, you’ll climb a short section of singletrack on Lower Bull Gap before being rewarded with nearly 10 miles of singletrack downhill.
Catwalk was a personal favorite, featuring a perfect blend of high-speed bermed corners, jumps and buff singletrack that rolled seamlessly like Shakespearian iambic pentameter. The Ümabomber didn’t even have to tell me which was her favorite trail. Upon emerging from the lower section of Lower Bull Gap full throttle with a roost of dirt in her wake, she exclaimed to the world “that was better than sex!” I didn’t disagree.
For the post-sex cigarette, Alice in Wonderland and BTI trail careen you into town with eye-watering speed, double jumps and sharply banked berms, delivering you through beautiful Lithia Park where throngs of Shakespeare groupies take in some Elizabethan culture. If it’s a particularly hot day, find the rope swing at Lithia Park Reservoir and let the radicality continue.
Although the aforementioned trails can easily be ridden on even a rigid bike, there are a lot of brake bumps in the trail that begin taking its toll on your body halfway into the 12-mile descent. For maximum stoke, a five-inch travel double boinger is choice. Even if you come to town empty-handed, Bill and Sue demo bikes from Kona and GT.
If shuttling isn’t your gig and you want to take a day off from climbing, nearby Emigrant Lake offers some terrific flatter terrain, as does Applegate Lake. Meandering the steep hillsides above Applegate Lake, Payette Trail offers some commanding vistas and hypnotically flowing singletrack with absolutely zero crowds and minimal elevation change. In fact, during our entire 22-mile ride, we didn’t see a single human on the trail.
At the conclusion of our weekend, The Ümabomber proclaimed in a theatrically thespian manner, “Thy ASS, I shall say to thee that Ashland is amazeballs. Hath no idea that rideth a mountain bike in Ashland could giveth such joy.”
“Indeed,” I responded. “Twas epic-eth.”