17K in a Day–Adventures in Oakridge, Oregon

Somewhere in the depths of February, my boyfriend suggested we round up a crew, rent a house, and head for Oakridge on Memorial Day weekend for the legendary 17K in a day. We’d done Mountain Bike Oregon the year before, and while we’d had a great time, it had been difficult to get the shuttles we wanted ’cause everyone else wanted them too. So with some help from VRBO we got a house on the river in town, and with some help from Randy and his crew at Oregon Adventures, we got a van, a driver, a guide, lunch, and 45 miles of singletrack sweetness for seven.

Ordinarily when an outrageous number of feet is referenced in the title of a ride–Seventeen Thousand, for example–it is because that’s how many you’re gonna climb. And that is what’s so delicious about this ride–the Seventeen Thousand is how many feet you’ll descend between approximately 9:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. But don’t let that fool you, for while you will indeed drop all that elevation, there’s still 4,000 feet of climbing snaking through your day. The Oregon Adventures website wisely warns away from bringing your downhill rig or your egregiously out-of-shape ass.

Because one cannot drive from the San Francisco Bay Area to Oakridge without an obligatory Mt. Ashland shuttle at the halfway point, shuttle we did. However, driving over the very pass we were set to ride, swirling clouds and pointy rain reduced visibility to about three feet. And this was when the oh-so-helpful “check engine” light blinked to life on my heretofore trustworthy Mini Cooper. By keen powers of observation, we deduced that the engine was, in fact, still there, and so we soldiered on through the gathering gloom.

We sat for an early lunch at the Standing Stone Brewery in downtown Ashland and waited for our three separate loads of pals to arrive. I will admit that I was crabby about the notion of voluntarily entering what looked to be cold, muddy soup at the top of the mountain, especially from the safety of the toasty brew pub, but it was swiftly established that bailing was not an option.  We suited up and got our lift to the top from Ashland Mountain Adventures, a lovely husband-wife team who appear to dig their jobs as much as we dig their service.

Mt Ashland Crop
Mt. Ashland shuttle. Yes, that’s snow.

The weather mostly held, and we enjoyed a rollicking sweep, swoop, and flow down the mountain after picking our way over the snow patches on Time Warp. Partially sated, we packed our muddy bikes and bodies back into our cars for three more hours of driving to Oakridge.

The next morning we arrived at the Oregon Adventures shop with rain looming in our past, present, and future. The Forest Service had asked Randy not to run shuttles on Alpine that day, as the trail was too sloppy to support our slip-slidy ways. We were sad, but he assured us the next day would be A-okay for Alpine. We piled in the van and set off for Hardesty. Then Lawler. Then Larison Rock. Flat Creek. Aubrey Mountain. Each fog-tinged trail was like a Star Wars/Middle Earth mash-up. Furry Ewoks might peek around the ancient redwoods at any given turn, a unicorn might scale the babbling brook in front of you.

Anne Alpine

That the town of Oakridge is still a town at all is due, in part, to mountain bikers. With the logging bust of the 1990s, Oakridge saw hard times that are not entirely behind it. Unemployment remains high, and Main Street still has many shuttered doors and windows.  But GOATS–Greater Oakridge Trail Stewards–through partnership with a more progressive U.S. Forest Service, has helped bring much-needed recreational tourism dollars. Their work to build and maintain trails, two Mountain Bike Oregon festivals, other shuttle services like 17K in a Day, and just plain great riding are putting Oakridge onto the bucket list of many a mountain biker.

On the last trail of the day after eight hours of epic-ness, I heard one of my companions whine, only half-jokingly, “Jeez, how much more awesome, sweet, swoopy single track do we have to ride?”  As promised, we rode Alpine the next day, a most spectacular way to top off a magical weekend of natural beauty and wheeled inspiration.

17K Mud Machines
17K Mud Machines.