Here in Ashland, winter means we ride our bikes in the valley floor, and ski up in the mountains; but as spring begins to take hold, we follow the receding snow up and into the mountains as the roads and trails we love are once again uncovered.

Because the floors of the various valleys around here get hot as summer approaches, rides that tie in both valley and mountains tend to have a short ideal riding window, or need to be done with careful attention paid to when you’ll be in the low, hot areas, and when you’ll be up higher. Right now, the window is good for the red cinder roads to the East of the Cascade Siskiyou Monument, so a friend and I decided to spend the day exploring the roads that link the Iron Gate Reservoir and Copco Lake in California to the Cascade Siskiyou Monument to the North in Oregon.

Following the old road up to and over Siskiyou Summit, we descended down into Hilt, the first town on the California side of the border—noting along the way, and with quite a lot of dismay, that the landowners along the decommissioned section (that has long been a favorite cycling route) had really closed it this time. This probably means that the right-of-way will go away, and the roadway will get grandfathered in to those who live along it. One more piece of beautiful broken pavement gone, and I'd like to allocate some of the water that was blurring my vision as I careened down the interstate at 45 mph to be tears shed in its memory, if that's all right....

Between Hilt and Hornbrook, the only the only connectors are small, rough, and steep, and since we were going to be covering a fair bit of ground, we wanted to take the more efficient route, so we hopped on the interstate. It wasn’t long though before those few miles were over, and we were back on small roads.

My favorite barn in Hornbrook with some of the CORP train's cars behind it

In Hornbrook, we got to see the CORP train sitting with its cars loaded with plywood while mechanics’ backs peeked out from the open doors of one of its locomotive’s engine compartment. I like Hornbrook, but like many of the towns that grew up around the railroad and logging, it seems to be struggling to find its way forward. Last year parts of it got burned in the Klamathon fire, but overall, it’s looking pretty good, I think as we pass through on our way out to the Klamath River, which we’ll follow up to the reservoir.

In another example of the ups and downs of an area with limited economic activity, the Fish Hook Restaurant is closed now. Three years ago, when I last did this ride, I was surprised to find it open and went in to have a piece of pie and hear about how many eagles there were in the area and how the water tasted like soap or hairspray…I can’t quite remember which, but it didn’t sound very tasty. I slowly steer off memory lane and back onto the road as it tilts upward leading to the first summit with a view of the reservoir.

Climbing into the rocky hills around Irongate Reservoir

Iron Gate Reservoir is beautiful this time of year. The grass is green, the water is high, and the Klamath River flowing out of it is cold and gleeful. Later in the summer it will probably be full of toxic algae that gets started in the water that's warmed by its time in the reservoir, but right now it’s beautiful as we roll along beside it.

Cruising along the water
Irongate Reservoir

Around the North side of the reservoir we turn off the main road and climb up onto the higher ground to the North of the lakes, where we meander through a maze of red cinder roads that skirt the Monument. Once our bikes are well-coated with red dirt, we emerge onto the pavement that we’ll take back to Ashland. Whenever I ride in this area, I inevitably find myself thinking that I’m either farther along than I am, or that I have farther to go than I really do because the pines just stretch out in all directions, and the road is undulating, but not enough to really tell you where you are. The climbs aren’t terribly steep, but they seem to go on for ages…so it’s a welcome sight when we finally we make it to the sign that tells us that Tub Springs is only 1/2 mile away, and I’m happy for that because the water at Tub Springs is tasty, and I could really go for a swig of tasty water right about now!

After we stop and talk to a woman who’s filling up jugs with spring water, we set off for the final leg of our ride.

Just a bit more climbing a few more miles, and we’re at the top of the Greensprings Summit. From here it’s all downhill for long enough to give you a neck-cramp! The views on the descent down into the Rogue Valley are lovely, and this time of year the grass is green and the Vetch is spreading out like giant purple paint-splashes across the landscape. It’s times like these that I really love my Chromapops! But it’s not all super-saturated colors and polarized skies: the wind is blowing up the valley and into our faces as we tick off the last miles of the ride so that when we finally pull into town, I’m ready to clean up, make some late lunch, and enjoy the day’s memories from the comfort of my couch.

Rides like these are one of the reasons I love this area, but when I think about it, I’ve found similar ones everywhere I’ve lived. In most places it seems that the trick is looking for the small roads, and spending time poring over maps at home. I’ve found that if I look at maps enough, I just can’t stay home: I have to go out and explore to see what all those twisty lines actually look like on the ground. Getting to see what the unexplored (by me) places on the map really look like is probably one of my favorite things about riding a bike, and every time I get to do some exploring, I end up with even more ideas for other places I want to check out!  So keep an eye out for those little roads because they might just end up being your next favorite ride!

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