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MailTribune.com
  • Getting there is half the fun (or more)

  • There are two basic ways to tackle a mountain on a bike. You can have someone shuttle you and your machine to the top, or you can start the old-fashioned way — from the bottom.
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  • There are two basic ways to tackle a mountain on a bike. You can have someone shuttle you and your machine to the top, or you can start the old-fashioned way — from the bottom.
    For me, the only way to ride is the latter.
    Last week, I decided to tackle the Ashland Loop Road, which weaves around the Ashland Creek Watershed above 4,000 feet elevation. It's a great summer training ride with its share of rewards.
    From Lithia Park, the road climbs 2,400 feet in five miles to reach Four Corners, a four-way intersection that is accessible by car from Tolman Creek Road in Ashland. The saddle is a popular destination for shuttlers. Downhill mountain bikers who are dropped off here can ride trails all the way down to the park.
    But I'm no shuttler. I'm a cross-country biker, and I only ride down what I can ride up.
    Mountain bikers emphasize downhill thrills, but I think the uphill struggle is just as important.
    A while back, scientists did some tests on monkeys to see how their brains responded in a work-reward scenario. They monitored levels of dopamine, which is the "pleasure chemical" of the brain, as the monkeys performed a series of tasks to receive food.
    Researchers expected the monkeys' dopamine levels to spike after they received the food reward, and, at the beginning of the experiment, they did. But after a while, the monkeys began to associate their tasks with the reward, and dopamine levels began spiking earlier and earlier. Soon, the monkeys were enjoying the work more than the reward.
    These experiments revealed a key mechanism of motivation in us primates. Cross-country mountain bikers often find themselves in a similar work-reward pattern as those monkeys.
    Climbing starts as a physical struggle. If you're not in shape, you will quickly want to turn around.
    If you manage to get past this stage, though, it turns into a psychological struggle. You may begin bargaining with yourself, searching for any excuse to take a break. Don't listen.
    Eventually, though, climbing will put you in the "zone." You reach a point of equilibrium and just go, knowing there is promise of reward. And it's not just the assurance of downhill exhilaration. It's also the promise of beautiful views and natural scenes.
    On the way to Four Corners, there are spectacular views of Mount Ashland and the watershed. Past Four Corners, as the road climbs slowly to its peak of 4,900 feet, the two main forks of Ashland Creek provide a cool riparian respite, perfect to escape the heat even in the heart of the summer.
    Later, if you want to make the ride more interesting, Horn Gap Trail branches off to the right. This short trail connects to Horn Creek Road, which soon returns to Ashland Loop to start your downhill.
    A fast but gravelly descent will put you right back in Lithia Park. Total riding distance: 25 miles. Reward yourself with a meal in Ashland, and you may just want to ride it again.
    Mail Tribune copy editor Forrest Roth can be reached at froth@mailtribune.com
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