Mountain Biking Around Applegate Lake

Chad and the Applegate Recreation Area Sign. This is about a quarter of the way around from our starting point.

That which does not kill us makes us stronger.
~Friedrich Nietzsche

These were the words going through my head yesterday as I, for the second time in six months, attempted to ride my Ariel Elite on a 15 mile mostly single track trail around Applegate Lake outside the small rural town of Ruch in southern Oregon.Truly, if you are an adrenaline junkie, mountain biking tops any theme park or horror movie devised.

This is where you enter the trail if you are going to go counterclockwise. It looks harmless enough.

I found out about this trail last winter as I was looking for rides and trails in my area.  I’d happened into my local bike shop to purchase a few necessities, bike pumps and gloves, I believe. (Just an aside, everything cycle I’ve ever read or heard, from amateurs to racing pros, say connect with your local bike shop because they are a valuable source of information and help.  It’s true.  Don’t be shy about this if you’re new to the sport.) Anyway, the mechanic who usually assists me was there and we began talking.  He told us of the New Year’s Day Ride Around Applegate Lake.  Apparently there are trails that wind all the way around the lake which are perfect for mountain biking.  He suggested we start at the parking lot and instead of riding downhill across the dam and starting on the other side, which is the way most cyclists do this route, it might be easiest for us if we rode counterclockwise around the lake. He informed us that there’s a short distance of shale and a bit of a climb at the beginning, but then the rest of the ride is fairly uneventful. (I later found out that this guy rides downhill like a maniac and lives to tell about it.)

It got worse pretty quickly. The shale can be loose and there's no wobble room.

So one cold winter day in December, just after Christmas, Larry, my beau, and I strapped the bikes on the rack and headed to the lake, completely ignorant of the meaning of the term “single track”.  We were so blissfully ignorant of the adventures, thrills and sheer terror that lie ahead. As fate, or if you believe, God, would have it we arrived at the lake and began unloading our bikes at the same time another biker was unloading his. We knew he knew more about this than we did, because, well, it was pretty obvious from the fact that he had the shoes.

Heading into the trees. More shale ahead.

We struck up a conversation, asked him what he knew about the lake and so on.  He told us he was planning to ride clockwise around the lake.  We told him we were beginners and it had been suggested that we start counterclockwise.  “Really?” he seemed surprised. “I wouldn’t do that if you’ve never been on this trail before.”

Looking back, I think this is when we should have been alarmed.

A couple of miles on road. Chad is anxious from some trail. I'm taking pictures. Larry's already sucking on water. That became a problem later on.

Instead, we optimistically ventured ahead.  In the end, we did decide to tackle the trail the traditional way, because our new friend offered to guide us around for a bit and get us onto the correct path. We are to this day grateful he was there at just the right time to help us, because we are convinced that had we ventured out on our own something dire might have happened.  It so happened that day, that we made it completely around the entire lake with the help of our guide who so graciously gave up his day to escort us and teach us a few technical things about riding single track and using our new bikes. It took us six hours.

Spectacular views and we've only just started our journey.

I forgot to get pictures of the entire episode. I just had to go back for the photo op.

So yesterday, this time with the addition of my son and his garage sale pink bike, borrowing his sister’s helmet, we ventured forth again and this time we rode counterclockwise.  We completed the trail in half the time it took us before, this time without a guide.  Our skills have definitely improved, but I’m not sure it is any easier riding this trail this direction even if it was dry weather. For one thing, going counter clockwise you get a big climb and the tricky shale with the steep drop off out of the way early, but then you hit the nasty switchbacks with rock and water while you’re climbing again at the end, when you’re most fatigued.

This is steeper than it appears and it goes on for what seemed eternity. Even the guys had to get off and walk part of this climb.

If you go the other way, you get the switchbacks out of the way, but you have a mile or two long steep climb at the end when you are most tired. As for the dry vs. wet issue, both have their advantages and drawbacks.  Pick your poison. For the intermediate or expert rider, all this is inconsequential, but for the noob like me, this is something to consider.  As it was, I ended up attempting a turn and missing it, taking a spill and landing on my back wheel. The wheel was so badly bent during that episode that I am now without wheels until the shop can order in a new one. (This, by the way, makes a great case for learning some basic bike mechanic skills, because I later found out that I could have done that work myself, or with the help of a friend, for far less than I’m going to pay my shop to do it.  Live and learn.)

This is fairly level. It scared me in December. Not so intimidating yesterday. It was a welcome reprieve after all the climbing.

Considering that last spill was into a bed of thorns and boulders, I’m glad I walked away from it without any broken bones.  “What doesn’t kill you…”

At the end of the day, I have to evaluate the trail this way:  Yes, it is great fun.  It is a beautiful and scenic ride, but parts of it are not for beginners unless they go escorted with a more experienced rider.  There are just some things a person needs to know about climbing, taking switchbacks and gearing that make the difference on a mountain trail, especially if you are in the 45+ category, which Larry and I are.  My son, who has some trail experience, powered through all of this and only came off his bike three times the whole day and more of that is due to his crummy bike than his ability.

After I crested a climb that would have done me in even two weeks ago, I had to stop to take the shot. I am proud of myself for not having to walk this!

At one point during the most demanding part of the trail, I looked back at Larry and he said, “I’m not sure this is worth it. This is so much work.  That road bike is looking awfully good right now.”  I suppose he’s right on some levels, but while I might not be attacking those boulder-laden switchbacks anytime soon, I enjoyed that just a little too much to give up on it now.  I just might be hooked.

Besides, I forgot to get pictures of the rock-strewn switchbacks.

Stopping for a photo op before we head up the mountain.

We started out on the lake shore. Halfway around we are far, far above the lake and catching glimpses through the trees.

About according2cat

Hi, I'm Cat A. Brasseur, @According2Cat on Twitter, or @TheDigitalCat on Instagram, and I write about my cycling adventures. In 2010, after 25 years off the bike, I decided to get a bike and start riding again. In 2012, I was diagnosed with DCIS, an early and completely curable form of breast cancer. In 2013, I decided to get a faster bike. I'm a teacher by day, a cyclist and blogger by night, a single mommy by life. I ride every chance I get. I'm learning that both cycling and life are easier when you're in the right gear.

Posted on June 26, 2011, in Memoirs, Mountain Biking and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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