In two weeks, the Spring Thaw Mountain Biking Festival will be here. This long-standing event, now in its 23rd year, will bring racers and casual riders from near and far to Lithia Park.
The festival spans two days, May 17-18. The cross-country race is on Saturday, and the downhill is on Sunday.
The race this year will feature more variety than ever, according to organizer Bill Roussel of Ashland Mountain Adventures. There will be five separate categories in the cross-country race: Beginner, Novice (a new category), Sport, Expert and Elite.
Experts and Elites will climb a total of nearly 5,000 feet to the Bull Gap Trail, which is normally snowbound this time of year. Eastview Trail will make its debut in the event as the upper limit for Sport riders. Beginners and Novices will ride to Lamb Saddle.
The downhillers will follow two trails, Catwalk and BTI. Catwalk, which starts at Four Corners, has been an Ashland downhill standard for years. BTI was added to the course last year and begins lower down at White Rabbit trailhead. Both trails are technical, winding and bumpy (full suspension recommended).
I rode the cross-country portion of the Spring Thaw several years ago when I was in high school. I remember my climb up Ashland Loop Road, where I rode alongside a boy who couldn't have been more than 11. He kept pace with me a while, and we chatted about how much we love mountain biking. Then he took off ahead, never to be seen again.
I'd never ridden the trails before, and crashed twice on the downhill. The first was a pretty standard tumble, and I don't recall what caused it.
The next crash was caused by something I wasn't expecting: a dropoff right on a switchback. The drop probably wasn't more than 2 feet, but it caught me off guard, sending me over the handlebars.
The number plate that had been zip-tied to my handlebars snapped off and flew into the bushes.
As I tried to stand up, I found that I was manacled to my bike. Incredibly, my foot had become tangled in my brake and shifter cables. As I hopped along like an idiot, a rider coming up behind me stopped and helped free me from my aluminum shackles.
I made great time on the fire-road portion of the descent, and perplexed race officials when I rolled into the finish line as the numberless rider. Afterward, there was food provided and an awards ceremony at the amphitheater, a great chance to lie on the grass and soak up the sun as reward for my hard work.
The most important thing to remember about the Spring Thaw is this: Don't be intimidated. Sure, it's a race. Yes, the riders have numbers. Yes, they are racing for prizes. But the event is about so much more than that. It's a rare chance to experience the breadth of the mountain-biking community in this region. Much like a marathon, the reward comes not in winning, but in accomplishing something you didn't know you could. Mostly, though, it's an opportunity to have a lot of fun.
For a detailed look at the race course and for a registration link ($30 for adult XC), see ashmtnadv.com and click on "Races."
Copy editor Forrest Roth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org