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Pair trace trail from Ashland to Grants Pass

JACKSONVILLE — Luke Ruediger and Josh Weber planned to hike from downtown Ashland to the Wagner Glade Gap to end their first leg of an 80-mile bushwhacking tour to raise awareness for building a trail linking Ashland to Grants Pass.

But the pair quickly found themselves hiking through the three phases of denial — rain, sleet and hail.

"By the time we got to the gap, it was a whiteout," says Ruediger, 37, of Applegate. "So we kept going until we only had to sleep in the rain."

The pair persevered and eventually popped out of the brush at the Cathedral Hills trails outside of Grants Pass on a warm Thursday evening, successfully tracing what they hope will one day be the Jack-Ash and Applegate Ridge trails, a future top-drawer backwoods opportunity.

Their six-day scouting mission that was largely on non-trailed lands lasted one day longer than expected because of the time it took to film for a documentary that will be used to drum up support among the public and public-lands officials who will, over time, be asked to sign off on trail building.

Ruediger and Weber are board members of the Applegate Trails Association, which joins the Siskiyou Uplands Trail Association in spearheading the effort.

SUTA is working on the Jack-Ash Trail, which would link Jacksonville to Ashland, while ATA is tackling the Applegate Ridge Trail, from Jacksonville to Grants Pass. Both would have multiple access points, making them prime spots for day-hikers tackling a single section at a time or for a local bucket-list through-hike, like a mini Pacific Crest Trail trek.

The trek came as the Bureau of Land Management was putting the final touches on two separate environmental assessments for the proposals. Those EAs are expected to be released sometime in June, according to the BLM.

Where their journey spit them out at access points, Ruediger and Weber met up with videographer Tim Lewis as well as friends and well-wishers who gave the light-traveling pair food, though they refueled primarily with dried fruit and chocolate.

"It was probably the most social hike I've ever done," Ruediger says.

"We, basically, snacked the whole way across," Ruediger says. "We only made one dinner. Bean soup on day four."

Their travels from Ashland to Sterling Creek Road outside of Jacksonville were largely on trails and a few forest roads as well as some already-flagged portions of the trail, he says. But the final push from there to Grants Pass was trail-less, often across steep faces that caused some slow going at times, he says.

The views, especially in the Applegate part of the hike, were spectacular once the whiteout subsided.

"It was more of a backwoods experience than I envisioned heading into this," Ruediger says. "The farther we got down the trail, the vision became more clear."

The vision of that 80 miles of trails built in sections also became more daunting.

"This could become a multi-generational project," he says.

But they plan on capturing the momentum of the journey and taking it to the people when they begin screening their documentary at community events beginning this fall, he says.

"I think we all came away expecting to pour our hearts into this and make it happen," Ruediger says.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

Josh Weber, left, and Luke Ruediger pose for a photo on a hike on the East Applegate Ridge Trail. Photo courtesy of Luke Ruediger