Sometimes, it pays off to be a morning person. Not sautéing yourself in the midday sun while trying to drag yourself, your bike and two liters of water up a barren hill is one perk.
That's what might happen if, like me, you are not a morning person. I braved the noon heat this week, too eager to check out the new Mountain of the Rogue trail in Rogue River.
The rough-hewn trail has been visible from I-5 for a while now, in the form of a couple of deep horizontal cuts in the hills behind the Murphy Plywood mill. Local mountain bikers and trail stewards have been hard at work on the BLM-headed project since last fall, using a trail-building machine to help carve almost seven miles of trails.
MOTR was cut into a fire scar of a hillside, weaving across slopes with plenty of southern and western exposure. The hillside was logged perhaps decades ago, and burned out only a matter of years ago. Madrone and a few oaks are trying to maintain a claim to the hillside, with fresh growth rising around the gray husks of the burned snags. Most vegetation comes in the form of shrubs and grass, creating a sort of post-fire chaparral environment.
As a result, the trail system is almost completely exposed. There is little shade during the climb up and the hillside heats up quickly in the sun. That's right: What is certainly one of Southern Oregon's toastiest rides is here just in time for a summer that looks to deliver record-breaking heat. Be sure to bring plenty of sunscreen and water if you go out any time of day other than the wee hours.
Access to the trail is directly from the road at this point, via an inconspicuous single-track entry point, but BLM promises a 10-vehicle parking lot in its place as part of the first phase of the project.
The trail is designed to be ridden in a counter-clockwise loop. On the right side, a traditional multi-use hiker/biker trail zig-zags its way 1,300 feet to the top of the mountain, while on the left a wider downhill flow trail with bermed — tilted — turns carries bikes back to the starting point. Three different opportunities to cross over to the flow trail give riders three options for loops, each increasing in difficulty and length.
The bottom third of the flow trail is mostly easy, swooping turns that provided me with great practice on how to lean into a berm. The middle third contains some rocky, technical areas and optional jumps. The top third of the flow trail is hand-built and far narrower than the other parts, with a steep drop-off and more rocks, including a gnarly rock-garden drop-in that will force many to get off their bikes. One steep switchback on the upper portion features a 6-foot retaining wall that took 19 volunteers 6 hours to build, according to Adrian Tayne of the Rogue Valley Mountain Biking Association.
Even near the bottom, though, parts of the flow trail still need to be broken in. Some sections are very bumpy, and others have plenty of loose dirt piled up. Once the rain hits and loosens up the dirt later this year, Tayne says, continuous use should help smooth the path out.
MOTR — along with Medford's plans at Prescott Park — is already helping to fill a void between Grants Pass and Ashland of readily accessible mountain bike trail systems.
If you're not a morning person, though, try riding it in the fall.
See more info on the project at the BLM's website: on.doi.gov/1IfK2sR
Forrest Roth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org