Life is always easier if you're in the right gear.

Gold Ray Road/Upper River Road

It’s funny how sometimes you can be grinding away in life, everything’s hard, bumpy, takes all your effort and perseverance just to get through the days. You can be existing like this, then suddenly, something catastrophic or nearly catastrophic occurs, after which life almost instantaneously smooths out, becomes almost easy. Well, that is, if death isn’t the catastrophe. Sometimes, when we give up on the things that we are agonizing and exerting so much effort over, things have a way of smoothing out and healing over. This describes my life, of late. It also describes the ride along Gold Ray/Upper River Road.

I happened along this road last summer, late July, I believe. Mind you, the heat in Southern Oregon can be incredible during the middle of the day, especially if you’re on bike. I’m not exactly a morning person, so getting up and getting my 20+ mile ride in before 9:00 is almost never going to happen for me. Although, I suspect, this summer, I might try to change that trend. This last summer, the greenway was closed at different sections for repair. This forced me to spend the summer looking for alternate routes in the valley.

When I ride, I generally head south from Central Point, because Ashland is a beautiful, fun, and convenient destination spot. There’s just nothing like riding to Ashland, from Central Point, and stopping for lunch on the Plaza at Louie’s creekside. The thought of enjoying a couple of the Caldera Ashland Ambers keeps me pushing until I get there, heat exhaustion be damned. After a nice chicken caesar wrap and the Ambers, the ride back is easy. At least, I’m not thinking it so much.

Due to greenway repairs, I was forced to take the surface streets and figure out different routes to Ashland, and also different destination spots. A cycling friend of mine (he’s also a noob, though a faster and stronger noob than I) was trying to find a route to Gold Hill that didn’t have the killer hills of Old Stage Road, or the long climb of Blackwell Road hill. So, I took that on as a challenge: find a route to Gold Hill, if there is one, that is level…for the most part. (Also, for the record…on my hybrid…I hate the hills of Old Stage Road. I can’t wait to get my road bike. I’m going to kill that route, but not on my Ariel Elite.) So, I started exploring.

On one of my rides in search of the perfect Gold Hill route, I passed by this bar out in the middle of nowhere. Tolo Tavern. Okay. That’s a weird location, I thought, but then again, there are a lot of places like that in this valley. But, Tolo Tavern is located at the intersection of Gold Ray Road and Blackwell Road. On my next ride I headed out Gold Ray Road. It turned out to be the best ride all summer. From my house to Gold Hill, riding the Gold Ray Road which turns into Upper River Road, and then leads to Gold Hill, the ride is about 25 miles round trip. I wasn’t up for that distance today, so I abbreviated the trip by putting my bike rack on my car (that in itself is a story) and carting my bike to Tolo Tavern.

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There’s a space to park across from Tolo, across Gold Ray. From here you can see the first portion of the ride. Hilly, but not Old Stage Road-make-you-throw-up hilly. Not too hard, not too easy, but just right for me.

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By the way, those dips in the road are more pronounced than they appear. Makes for a nice little bit of interval training for the people like me who are not exactly totally fit, but not exactly incapacitated either.

This road, for me, is therapeutic. It provides variety, challenge, solitude, beauty and the right distance. I always finish this ride feeling incredibly good about myself. There’s nothing like successfully handling what you encounter in life. This road is a concrete illustration for me of some truths I’m working through in my life. You’ve see the first part. Hilly paved road, but not a threat or a challenge. About, two miles in, the whole thing changes. You’ll cross railroad tracks. This is significant. Be sure your tires hit them at 90 degree angles and get up out of your seat. They are nasty crossings, and you’ll do it three times on this route. None of them are good.

After the first railroad crossing Gold Ray Road turns into a dirt road. It’s a nice dirt road, though. In fact, it’s the kind of road they build my kind of bike for. On my bike I can move seamlessly from the paved road to the gravel road. Of course, I stop to unlock my suspension to be able to handle the bumpier road. But, just as in life, when things get bumpy, you can often see some of the greatest beauty. Here are some scenes from the “dirty” part of Gold Ray.

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This road changes terrain a third time when it turns into Upper River Road. After an exhilirating descent, the road crosses the railroad tracks again and immediately transforms into the smoothest paved road ever. Further, this is not a heavily traveled road, so it really is like having a very large greenway all to myself.

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From here, it is a quick ride to Gold Hill, and refreshments.

This isn’t a long ride in terms of miles and due to the terrain, and this ride isn’t exactly difficult as far as hills, but the crossings at the railroad tracks are very rough and require some attention. I wouldn’t recommend this as a family friendly ride. My own 11-year-old daughter wiped out pretty good on one of the railroad crossings last year. The gravel and potholes require constant attention to the road and careful control of the bike at times. Going up some of the inclines requires some skill in shifting, it’s easy to lose traction and come off the bike if you’re not careful. There’s also a decent amount of road traffic on the unpaved portion of Gold Ray Rd. Apparently, this is a fishing mecca. When the vehicles need to pass, there are points where one car will have to pull over until the other passes. Adding bikes to the mix can be tricky, and very unsafe for young riders. I also think the unpaved portion of the road might be tiring to them. If you have older teenagers and your bikes are sturdy enough, this would be a fun ride.

I find it therapeutic to ride here, and I always feel like I got the perfect workout. Not too hard. Not too easy. Just right. It also exemplifies so much of life for me. Just when I think I’m going to hit something catastrophic, or I’ve been struggling along and am about to give up, the road smooths out and becomes easy. For me, the end of last year was rough. It was completely bumpy, especially toward the end. Then suddenly, life smoothed out and things are rolling easily along for me right now.This is definitely a ride with some personality.


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Hi, I'm Cat A.Olson, @According2Cat on Twitter, or @TheDigitalCat on Instagram, and I write about my cycling adventures. In 2010, after 25 years off the bike, I decided to get a bike and start riding again. In 2012, I was diagnosed with DCIS, an early and completely curable form of breast cancer. I had five weeks of radiation treatment and I rode my bike to nearly every treatment. In 2013, I decided to get a faster bike. I'm finally getting serious about losing weight, and riding really fast with the cool kids.

I ride every chance I get, as fast as I can, for as long as my body will allow. I'm learning how to embrace challenges like helmet hair, padded pants, clipless shoes, flat tires, bugs in my teeth, and...ugh...hills. I'm learning that both cycling and life are easier and a lot more fun when you're in the right gear.

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