In Retrospect: The Gravel Grinders of 2016

Jacob here with a trip down memory lane. In 2016, I hosted a series of gravel rides in the Rogue Valley, along with Aaron, a Cycle Analysis teammate and fellow 5&9 Crazy Mofo. I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while to recap the series, share the routes, and relive some of the magic. The huge amount of seasonal weather variance enjoyed (or tolerated, or complained about, depending) by Rogue Valley residents made for a series of rides that were all vastly different and enjoyable in their own special way. Each ride contains links to the accompanying Ride With GPS routes to inspire your own adventures. Without further ado, let’s break it down.

The Winter Formal

Long Route (53.8 mi, +8,454 ft) :: Short Route (42.0 mi, +5,242 ft)

Kicking off the series in late January, the Winter Formal began on a cold but sunny morning from Cycle Analysis in Jacksonville. With a nip in the air and a bit of crunchy leftover snow on the ground at higher elevations, it was the perfect morning for a ride.

We started by climbing out of town on Forest Park Road up and over the Jacksonville watershed. The initial climb was long, but only steep in a few spots, and offered occasional reprieve in the form of flat sections. On the other side of the mountain, we descended before turning up the west side of Forest Creek Road to head toward Mount Isabelle and Bunny Meadows, then dropping back down to Highway 238 near Ruch to cross over and climb up Bishop Creek Road toward Woodrat Mountain. After that long climb, we descended Sterling Creek Road and turned near the bottom of the descent to climb up the backside of Anderson Butte — the longest climb of the day. After a bit more gravel, the nice paved descent of Anderson Butte Road was a welcome sight. We continued to meander back to Jacksonville via South Stage Road brought the ride to a close. The short route skipeds the Mount Isabelle / Bunny Meadows tour and the Woodrat Mountain climb, and took paved roads to rejoin the long-route riders at the start of the Anderson Butte climb.

At almost 54 miles and close to 8,500 feet of climbing, this was one of the more challenging routes of the series, but also one of the most rewarding. Cameron was kind enough to offer to drive support for the day, which was a great aid. The deliciousness of a Costco cookie at mile 40 after a long climb can’t be overstated.

Spring Fling

Long Route (59.3 mi, +8,220 ft) :: Short Route (44.8 mi, +4,909 ft)

Mid-April brought warmer temperatures and the Spring Fling. We started in Jacksonville and made our way around a long loop into the upper Applegate valley and near some of the roads traversed at the end of the Winter Formal. On the whole, this ride had a different feel to it — the warmer temperatures and sunlight we enjoyed all day were part of it, and the traversal of the other side of the Anderson ridge brought a whole new set of views (and challenging climbs).

Both the long and short routes began by climbing south out of Jacksonville via Cady Road. The long route added a bit of extra climbing by proceeding up Sterling Creek Road to climb up Poormans Creek Road toward a descent on West Griffin Creek Road. From there, it continued up Griffin Creek Road, through the point where the road changes to Anderson Butte Road, before turning west on 38-2-26 to explore some fun gravel climbs and descents with amazing views of the Sterling Creek watershed below. It then rejoined 39-2-8 for one more little climb before a fast descent to the pavement of Sterling Creek Road and an even faster descent to the ghost town of Buncom.

Meanwhile, the short route followed Cady to Highway 238 for a gentle descent to Ruch, before continuing on Upper Applegate Road. A turn onto Little Applegate Road rejoined the long route at Buncom. From there, both routes continued up the moderate Little Applegate Road climb, which turns from pavement to smooth gravel after three miles or so. The gentle climbing continued until a turn onto Anderson Creek Road, where the real fun began! The end of the climb was in sight after five miles of uphill on the narrow, steep road led to a turn at the Anderson saddle, where a little more climbing brought us to a drop onto 39-2-12 (right before a nice view of a big climb that we got to skip!). This road traverses the face of the mountain and has a few rollers before arriving at a corner where a little hike-a-bike detour took a select few riders to a clearcut with amazing panoramic views of the valley below. Finally, the road began to descend before rejoining Anderson Butte Road for an easy coast back to Griffin Creek Road and eventually South Stage Road, where we were just a soft-pedal spin away from the finish.

The stats for this ride were a little more skewed in favor of distance over climbing compared to the Winter Formal, but not by much. It was another challenging but rewarding day.

Summer Swing

Long Route (52 mi, +6,253 ft) :: Short Route (32.6 mi, +3,618 ft)

Originally, Aaron and I wanted to host the Summer Swing out in the Applegate Valley again and attack the route that ended up becoming part of the Fall Ball. However, concern about early July temperatures nearing the 100s, possible smoke intrusion, and lack of proximity to post-ride milkshakes made us reconsider and instead aim our sights northeast to the seldom-explored (at least by us) Butte Falls hinterlands.

Planning this ride involved several days of exploratory riding by Aaron and I, as well as a couple of trips in and around the route to explore and mark it, first with my buddy Shawn, then with my wife Kelly. Route planning is even more fun when you get to accidentally push your truck’s 4X4 capabilities to the limit after dead-ending on a deeply-rutted logging road, which is what happened when Shawn and I went out. In the end, we had some fun and came up with a doozie of a route.

Starting at Lake Creek General Store in Lake Creek, Oregon, about a mile off of Highway 140 and ten miles from White City, we proceeded back toward the highway. After a four-mile cruise along the wide-shouldered highway, we turned north onto Obenchain Road, which is largely part of a historic wagon route that used to connect Jacksonville to Fort Klamath. The gravel begins right at the turnoff and the road, becomes progressively more narrow, leaving residential terrain and eventually becoming a hike-a-bike section which tested our dry-riverbed-crossing skills. After ascending for a while, the road improves and wends north to eventually turn right onto an old railroad grade road near downtown Butte Falls. A right turn began an extended climb to some clearcut and the beginning of some amazing views. At 23.9 miles, the long route forked from the short route and proceeded north and east to complete a large loop that eventually rejoined the short route a little further down the mountain. After rejoining, both routes proceeded down a very fast, fun, paved (!) descent of Salt Creek Road, which eventually turned back to gravel before emerging on highway 140. Crossing back over the highway brought us back to Lake Creek Road and the bustling downtown of Lake Creek, where a milkshake from the general store had never tasted so good.

Though this route had less climbing than previous routes, I think it felt a little more difficult, due in no small part to the nature of some of the terrain — the gravel out here is a bit looser and gnarlier in spots than what is found outside of Jacksonville. It was also quite hot. However, the great views made it all worthwhile. Kelly was nice enough to drive out and run a support stop (with brownies). Sadly, as of this writing, the Lake Creek General Store is closed. This route and the surrounding area is still worth checking out, though.

Fall Ball

Long Route (51.3 mi, +7,403 ft) :: Short Route (43.4 mi, +4,687 ft)

Officially, the Fall Ball never happened. Unofficially, it did.

The ride was originally slated for mid-October, and was intended to follow a route that we had previously ridden sections of, titled the Seven Kings of Ruch — so named because it traversed the ridges near seven local peaks. However, in the days leading up to the ride, the weather forecast grew increasingly dire and called for a “storm of the century” — a gullywasher like no other that promised high winds, pouring rain and hail, and damnation the likes of which the region only sees every fifty years. Since the route followed several exposed ridgelines and the risk of falling trees sounded like a sincere concern, we opted to officially cancel the ride, albeit with a note that it would still take place and anyone silly and/or intrepid enough to join us would be welcomed. We ended up with around six brave souls ready to earn their Rule 9 badge.

We arrived in Ruch around 9 am and pedaled southeast along Upper Applegate Road. The rain had begun, and with it a bit of wind. We braced ourselves for more and continued on. Upper Applegate Road led to a right turn onto Star Gulch Road, which quickly became a mix of gravel and/or bad pavement. The road climbed for six miles before summitting a ridge that normally has amazing views, but, on this particular occasion, was socked in. By now, the wind and rain had picked up a bit, but not nearly as much as advertised, much to our disappointment. Honestly, we expected more. A long, fast and wet descent came next, followed by a couple “small” (read: not small, but not huge) climbs to arrive near the summit of Thompson Creek Road. Back on the pavement, the road descended gently toward the town of Applegate, where the long route split would have taken us up and over Hinkley Gulch Road, which would have climbed up and over the ridge to meet Cantrall Road for a descent back down to Cantrall Buckley Park and back to Ruch. However, given the conditions, we decided to stick to the short route, which continued down the road to Applegate and returned to Ruch on 238.

Overall, it was another great day on the bike. I was a little disappointed that the weather didn’t worsen to the extreme that was advertised by most meteorologists that day, however; the understanding that it was going to be a Bad Weather Ride left most of us wanting that dial cranked to 11. Bad enough to soak through Lake boots was fine, though, and getting back to the shop for hot chili was just as rewarding.

In Closing

Aaron and I had a great time putting these routes together, and an even better time riding them with friends. Three out of four of them started and finished at or near Cycle Analysis, and having the shop’s support behind each one was a huge help. The strong community of riders in Southern Oregon is a big part of what makes riding in the area so great, and sharing this series of fun, challenging and beautiful events with other riders is what it was all about. Keep on exploring!

Jacob Hammond

Cycle Analysis's resident weirdo and web person, Jacob is known first and foremost for planning difficult rides and attempting to manipulate others into trying them first. He enjoys all kinds of cycling, long walks on the beach, and thick, zesty gravel.

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