Casey Coffman shares his Ashland Mountain Challenge experience
Ashland Oregon is a pretty unique town. The town's Shakespeare Festival actually lasts nearly all year and brings hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world. There are a lot of drifter types that seem to collect in Lithia Park, near the bottom of some of the most fun singletrack you could ever hope to find. People wearing capes and combat boots, people with dreadlocks down to their knees, and people without consistent access to showers are all common sights as you come off the mountain and venture through town. This all adds a special flavor to the Ashland Mountain Challenge, the third stop of the Oregon Enduro Series.
The trails in Ashland are certainly not known for their rocks, their steeps, or their technical challenges. But that doesn't mean they don't make for some great racing. Wide open, all-out speed sections combined with loose, sandy corners provide plenty of challenge to all who race. These trails are easy to ride, but difficult to ride fast.
Equipment decisions may leave riders second-guessing at Ashland. Tire choices were all over the place, from skinny, fast-rolling types, to tires that would offer more grip in the loose corners. 26, 27.5 and 29ers were all present beneath a race field that neared 300 competitors.
Stage 1 (Horn Gap) starts out as a tight, twisty trail winding its way through the trees. It has a 20-second, punchy climb, and a few really tight sections through Douglas Fir and Madrone trees. The lower half opens up a little and offers places to really put some power down, allowing for speeds up into the 30mph range. Tight sight lines make it hard to commit to opening it up, which gave an advantage for people that had more experience on this trail. I had a good run on stage 1, and was happy to land in the top 5.
Stage 2 (Hitt Road) is pretty much all-out the entire way. A 20-foot huck off a water bar, over a big ditch starts racers on their way down a wide open trail. There are a few very loose, sketchy corners that require a good memory to know where to begin braking in order to make it around the turns cleanly. An over-cooked corner put me on the ground, and cost me a lot of time on stage 2.
With a lunch break between stages 1-2 and stages 3-4, racers were able to chill out and chat with friends about their runs on the first half of the day before heading up to Mt Ashland for the second half of racing. Most riders agreed that stages 3 and 4 would be the deciding factor for the race, as 3 and 4 were much longer, with some crucial pedaling sections.
Stage 3 starts with some meandering singletrack through the woods and enters a wide-open fire road before dropping into the crowd favorite, Catwalk trail. Catwalk is 4 minutes of pumptrack-like trail…but at 25 mph. There are some switchbacks that require careful navigation, and a mean sprint to regain speed on the exit. Stage 3 went well for me as I tried to stay clean after the mistake on stage 2.
Stage 4 was the most painful one of the day. It had two long pedaling sections linking Caterpillar and BTI trails before dropping racers to the finish at the expo. BTI was very dry and loose, and claimed more than a few racers, who tested their luck on the sandy soil. Stage 4 was mentally and physically exhausting, as it was hard to lay the power down after 3 hard stages.
Finish times were extremely tight, as is becoming common in the Oregon Enduro Series with so much talent in the Pro class. My one crash on stage 2 put me out of the top 10 and into 17th place. It's frustrating, but a learning experience for sure.
Times were posted within an hour of the last finisher, and Ninkasi beer was flowing freely. The small reservoir next to the finish offered a great place to cool off after a hard day on the trails. While these trails may not be the roughest or steepest, they still offered great racing for everyone. Congrats to Nathan Riddle and Rosara Joseph on their hard-fought wins!
Casey races in the Pro division for Felt Bicycles.
For Results and race information, visit OregonEnduro.com