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Route beckons beginning mountain bikers

When avid mountain bikers want to introduce novices to the sport, their thinking often goes something like this: "I love sweating my way up hills, plummeting down mountain sides, flying over jumps and zigzagging through tight switchbacks, so of course my newbie friend will enjoy that, too."

But after being exposed to such white-knuckle mountain biking, the bruised and exhausted novice could very well swear off the sport forever.

For a gentler introduction, try mountain biking Forest Road 20, which connects the back of the Mt. Ashland Ski Area parking lot to the Grouse Gap shelter.

The dirt road is wide enough to accommodate cars, so there's no need to navigate tricky single-track trails. Think of it as a hybrid between a paved road and a dirt trail.

I recently threw my mountain bike and my kids' BMX bikes into the back of our truck, packed a picnic lunch and drove all of us to the Mt. Ashland Ski Area exit, and then up the mountain. We drove west through the ski area parking lot until we reached Forest Road 20, which starts out paved and then turns to dirt.

You could start your mountain biking adventure from the parking lot, but we drove a short distance on the road to the Mount Ashland Campground and unloaded there.

The site has picnic tables, an outhouse and views of Mount Shasta in the distance.

After eating, we started biking toward the Grouse Gap shelter a few miles away.

Since I had been comparing the road in my mind to steep mountain stretches, I had oversold my 9-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter on how flat the road would be. There is a long, gradual uphill portion, followed by a long, gradual downhill portion to reach the shelter.

They were expecting flatter terrain and weren't used to how traveling on dirt is slower than on paved surfaces. With BMX bikes, they also didn't have gears to make the going easier.

But after some uphill biking, one minor crash, the application of a Band-Aid and a pep talk, we reached a crest before the long downhill section. I could see glimpses of the Grouse Gap Shelter far ahead.

The road forked, and we took the left route to the shelter, avoiding the route to the right onto Forest Road 300 that climbs steeply to Mount Ashland's summit.

The kids coasted and pedaled happily along, while I admired the views of wildflowers, trees, meadows, Mount Ashland's flanks and Mount Shasta, and tried not to worry about how the kids would fare on the return uphill climb.

At the Grouse Gap shelter, which is marked by signs, we rested and the kids garnered words of praise from some picnickers, who gave me looks that said, "You do know they have to bike out of here, right?"

To prepare the kids mentally, I told them the long uphill climb to leave the shelter would be similar to mountain hikes they had been on. I don't know if it was that talk or just the fact that they were getting used to minor hills and a dirt road, but they pedaled their bikes — with a bit of walking and pushing — up the incline with few complaints.

Then we were at the crest again, and got to enjoy mostly downhill riding as the grand finale before reaching our truck.

With the kids' pronouncement that the adventure had been both challenging and fun, I see more mountain biking in our family's future.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.