Cascade-Siskiyou: Southern Oregon’s extreme ride

This article originally appeared in Cycle California! Magazine. The article no longer is online.

 

By Dan Shryock

Two riders crested their final climb of the day, pausing for one last drink before a long, high-speed descent back to civilization.

The pair, Californians identifying themselves only as Dave and Ted, came north of the border looking for a challenge. Resting for the final stretch of the Southern Oregon’s Cascade Siskiyou Scenic Bikeway, they were tired yet satisfied.

“Well, Oregon really has its act together,” Ted said as he gazed down that last long stretch of pavement. “This is amazing.”

We first met the Californians earlier in the day. Our group of four had just completed our first big climb, a 2,600-foot grind from Ashland up a series of switchbacks to the Green Springs Mountain summit. After quick introductions, Ted explained how they left California’s Central Valley in search of new roads.

Straddling our bikes at the summit, we could see the Bear Creek Valley spreading out below us. The Pacific Crest Trail, the hikers’ highway from Mexico to the Canadian border, ran under our tires. Dave and Ted were excited about the ride ahead.

The 54-mile Cascade Siskiyou Scenic Bikeway east of Ashland, a city best known for its acclaimed Oregon Shakespeare Festival, is becoming a must-ride destination. The bikeway is part of Oregon’s one-of-a-kind scenic bikeway program, a series of 15 designated routes throughout the state. With more than 5,000 feet of elevation gain, the Cascade Siskiyou route is among the more difficult.

It started easy enough with a rollout from Garfield Park, a neighborhood playground on Ashland’s east side. But by mile 10, we were shifting to lower gears.

When state officials dreamed up the scenic bikeways concept, local bike enthusiasts throughout Oregon worked with city and county officials to establish official routes in their areas. In Ashland, it quickly became clear which route they wanted to promote.

“We had a couple of potential routes based on local input but we knew the Lakes Loop, as it’s known locally, was one of the most popular and scenic routes in the region,” said Jenna Stanke Marmon, Bicycle & Pedestrian Program manager for the local Jackson County Roads & Parks Department. “It also passes by two of our county parks, Emigrant and Howard Prairie.”

Like Dave and Ted, we were first-timers on these roads. We quickly realized scenery would never be in short supply. Before the day was done we’d take in expansive views, pass by lakes, reservoirs and 9,500-foot Mt. McLoughlin. We’d ride through forests with a mix of Douglas firs and ponderosa pines and even relax while riding across a flat stretch of meadow.

“We definitely put the ‘scenic’ in our scenic bikeway,” Jenna said. “It’s a gorgeous route aesthetically.  The roads, although narrow and lacking shoulders, are low-volume and comfortable for cyclists who are willing to take on a route like this.”

The Oregon Scenic Bikeway program, launched in 2009 with the easy-yet-extensive Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway, is a series of vetted routes officially promoted by the state.

“Our program highlights the best route biking in all of Oregon,” says Alexandra Phillips of the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department. The program, under Phillips’s coordination, brings together the state parks, the Oregon Department of Transportation, local government and cycling proponents and Travel Oregon, the state’s tourism bureau.

Alexandra, an avid cyclist herself, has ridden every mile of every route. Each route gets “very serious vetting” to make sure it meets their standards for safety and enjoyment. “Our criteria looks at scenic value, both human-made and natural,” she said. “We also rate road conditions and safety. Some roads do not have shoulders but we consider them safe because they are very low-traffic roads.”

Each route is issued a difficulty rating ranging from mild to moderate, challenging or extreme. On this day, we all wanted extreme.

“Yes, we rated the Cascade Siskiyou route as extreme,” Alexandra said, acknowledging the thousands of feet of climbing and that very fast descent. “There’s also less traffic and the scenic qualities are there every inch of the way. You get the forests, the open views, the lakes and the downhill.”

Traffic was an afterthought for the most part. The opening climb followed up state Highway 66 but the many switchbacks across the 7-mile stretch made vehicles slow down so much they were not an issue. And, despite initial appearances to the contrary, intermediate riders could make it to the top.

Jenna said the degree of difficulty was a concern.

“We were worried about leaving folks out who wouldn’t take on such a challenge,” she said. “But at the end of the day, we felt this route exemplified the criteria of the Scenic Bikeways Program, the best of the best riding in Oregon.”

Once over the Green Springs Mountain summit – at 4,551 feet – it’s an easy ride to the Green Springs Inn. A popular rest stop for riders, the inn is a landmark at the intersection of Highway 66 and Hyatt Lake Road. It’s a great place to refill water bottles, catch your breath and get something to eat. Cyclists like to sit on the outdoor deck and enjoy the inn’s selection of pies.

We took an official routed detour and rode downhill 1.5 miles to the Tub Springs State Wayside. There we filled our bottles with very cold, fresh water from a pure mountain spring. It’s the same spring that supplied both wagon trains 170 years ago and locals today. This water tasted great.

Rested and refreshed, we left the Green Springs Inn and rode north on Hyatt Lake Road for another 3 miles before the route leveled off for 11 miles through the trees. As we neared the end of this stretch, we could look east and see the imposing Mt. McLoughlin.

At about the 35-mile mark with the mountain over our shoulders, we turned left on Dead Indian Memorial Road and rode a flat mile or so before the last grinding uphill to that final summit. Once at the top, we found Dave and Ted. Our hearts were pounding from the effort yet the impending adrenaline rush would keep the heart rates high.

Dave and Ted started first down this final 12-mile, 3,200-foot plunge back to town and as we pushed off, the pair already were out of sight. The speed kept building as we plunged downhill, hitting 30 mph, then 40.

We slowed for an approaching a series of bends. There wasn’t much chance of enjoying the available views as we wound our way down along one creek and then another. We eventually passed the gates to the ornate Belle Fiore Winery before easing back into town.

 

Etc.

Length: 54.8 miles
Difficulty: Extreme
Altitude Gain: 5,085 feet 
Start: Ashland
Attributes: Extended climbs, forest, mountain views

Safety First: Riders have the option of following the route clockwise or counter-clockwise. Officials strongly recommend taking the safer counter-clockwise following Highway 66 first.

Organized event: The second-ever “Up & Down” on the scenic bikeway is scheduled on July 22, 2017. Find more information here - http://bit.ly/2fS3gxg

Details Online: There are plenty of resources available and most display well on phones.

- RideOregonRide.com is a state-sponsored website promoting cycling throughout the state. This link connects to the Cascade Siskiyou Scenic Bikeway. You will find a map, elevation chart and more. http://bit.ly/2eY7eDw

- Oregon promotes its “Bike Friendly Business” program throughout the state. Here’s a list of Southern Oregon businesses who welcome Lycra and cycling shoes. http://bit.ly/2fzA1N3

- Looking for area travel information? Try Travel Southern Oregon’s website. For starters, here’s a link to a lodging directory for the Ashland-Medford-Jacksonville area - http://bit.ly/2fQvEfD

Bike campers can make this a multi-day ride by staying at Hyatt Reservoir (http://on.doi.gov/2fOa4to) or Howard Prairie Lake Resort (http://bit.ly/2eYmiAX).

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