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Introductions: A man and his bike

Let's face it. I'm addicted to dirt. On the street, it's variously called mud, earth or soil, but it's the same stuff. When I'm on it, I feel like I'm flying.

No, I'm not talking about the latest "Medford mix" that your kids may have tried during their newfound free time away from school. I'm talking about the very healthy thrill of mountain biking. It's a sport with its highs and lows — ridges and valleys, that is.

I've been riding in this area for the better part of eight years. Mountain biking became a hobby for me in the middle of high school for a typical reason: I had an interest in a girl who did it.

My parents quickly took advantage of my previously absent enthusiasm for anything fitness-related and bought me my first mountain bike. It was a goldenrod-colored Gary Fisher hardtail — a bike that has suspension in the front, but none on the rear. You can 'feel the trail' that way, they said.

I went to Illinois Valley High School in Cave Junction, and was fortunate to be part of an experimental daytime class where, for an hour and a half, three days a week, us 20-or-so teenagers — and our one hapless teacher — would depart from the school to tackle the trails and roads in the area.

We would take sphincter-constricting training rides down Redwood Highway and sketchy runs down rutted quad roads. It was a glorious time of freedom for us students and probably a terrifying minefield of liability for teachers and administrators.

I soon forgot about my initial reason for adopting mountain biking and began to appreciate many aspects of it: The cold, burning sensation that would develop in my chest as my lungs worked overtime on frigid mornings; the payoff of a long climb in the form of spectacular views and thrilling downhills; and the support from my peers — and cool new scars — I got whenever I took a nasty spill and needed help getting back home.

Sure, riding in this area comes with its unique concerns, something I was reminded of a few years ago when in the woods I encountered a shirtless man brandishing a handgun who informed me in a gently intimidating way that I was on private property. I never found out whether he was telling the truth.

But as most people know, Southern Oregon is a terrific place for all sorts of outdoor pursuits, including mountain biking and my twin interest, hiking. The intricacy of BLM, Forest Service and logging roads in the hills here is something truly special.

The value of mountain biking to me is the adventure, being able to cover miles of mountainous terrain, discovering new trail opportunities, taking a different branch off a familiar dirt road to see where I'll end up.

I consider myself an intermediate cross-country rider. I'm neither an accomplished armor-clad downhiller nor a 50-mile marathoner, though I sometimes strive to be the latter. I try not to ride down anything I can't ride up. My drive is a natural human inclination: wanderlust, a desire to see what's over the next ridge or in the valley below.

In the coming months, I hope to share with you some of my favorite and more obscure rides as I discover them. My writing in this column will reflect my singular philosophy of mountain biking: that there are always new paths to explore. I hope you'll join me.

Forrest Roth is a Mail Tribune copy editor and page designer. Reach him at froth@mailtribune.com.

Introductions: A man and his bike