A New Year's Day trail ride around Applegate Lake has become a tradition for local mountain bikers, and this year, encouraged by sunshine and temperatures hovering around 40, more than 100 riders took to the woods.
The Hart-tish boat ramp parking lot served as the start/finish for the informal ride, which drew riders from as far away as Redding and San Francisco. About two-thirds of the riders completed the full 18-mile loop around the lake, while the remainder rode out-and-back segments of varying lengths.
Recent windstorms contributed plenty of fallen trees for an added challenge, as did patches of rain and ice in the sheltered forested sections.
The event has grown since a handful of friends came out in 2003 for a winter celebration, says the event's founder, Dave "Fish" Patterson.
"On the first ride there were six of us; diehards," Patterson recalls. "We thought it would be cool to go somewhere and lay down the first tracks of the year, kind of like skiers do."
In the intervening years, the New Year's Day weather has been anything but consistent.
"We've had some miserable years, but only one year we couldn't get out here. Four people showed up the big snow year," Patterson adds.
The ride is the first official event of 2013 for the Rogue Valley Mountain Bike Association — RVMBA — a nonprofit group that reformed less than two years ago from the former Southern Oregon Freeride Association, a more general bicycling group. Because this new group is focused on mountain biking, they have also pulled in many members from the defunct Southern Oregon Mountain Bike Association.
"SOMBA was mainly downhillers," says incoming RVMBA president Mike Bronze. "We've taken the cliques of cyclecross, downhillers, cross-country riders and brought them together. You've got a mish-mash now; people are building more relationships."
In addition to holding trail-riding events, RVMBA is a key player in trail maintenance and advocating for new trails.
"We try to ... create new trail opportunities in Jacksonville, Ashland, the city of Medford," says Bronze.
Most popular mountain biking trails are on public land. With shrinking federal budgets, volunteer groups such as RVMBA have stepped in to keep their favorite trails groomed.
"Most of those governing bodies (BLM, U.S. Forest Service) don't have the manpower and resources to maintain the trails, and that's really where we've been coming in," says outgoing RVMBA president Chad Rogers. "This (past) year we've gotten over 1,000 hours of qualified trail hours in, documented, on Forest Service trails mainly in Ashland and Applegate, and some out in Jacksonville."
RVMBA is working with the Ashland Woodlands & Trails Association on new trails planned for the Ashland Watershed, and is working with the city of Medford on a trails plan for Prescott Park.
"We're looking at 10 miles of trail development out there," says Rogers. "The master plan's already been approved, it just needs funding and the final mapping."
Riders at the New Year's event were treated to plenty of food, much of it donated. Sponsors included Ray's Food Place in Jacksonville, Bad Ass Coffee, Great Harvest Bread Co., Unreal Cycles and REI. For information on the Rogue Valley Mountain Bike Association, see rvmba.org. RVMBA holds trail rides each Wednesday at 6 p.m. Riders leave from Cycle Analysis in Jacksonville.
Daniel Newberry is a freelance writer living in the Applegate Valley. You can reach him at email@example.com