Oregon Outdoors: Riddle me this

Oregon Outdoors: Riddle me this (Mark Freeman/Mail Tribune)

Nathan Riddle bombs down the Jabberwocky Trail on his mountain bike with his trademark combination of chaos and control.

The Ashland-based pro racer known as “The Riddler” is a regular to the network of trails crisscrossing the Ashland Watershed, often using his lunch break to zip down Jabberwocky like a blur — and completely focused.

“It maybe doesn’t look like that. It maybe looks like the craziest thing you see in your life,” says Riddle, 43. “But when I’m cruising down these trails, it’s a chance for me to completely let go of everything in my brain. Any worries or stresses. It’s just gone, because it has to be. I have to be 100% focused on what I’m doing.”

Luckily, Riddle doesn’t have to focus on hikers or trail runners on Jabberwocky. They’re on their own adjacent trail.

The ambitious plan to divide the watershed’s 50,000 annual visitors onto dedicated trails for pedestrians and bikers is embarking on its third summer in the Ashland Watershed, and despite continued growing pains it appears to be working.

Hikers and runners are starting to get used to trekking on trails set aside for them, while mountain bikers such as Riddle by and large like the trails dedicated to them so running shoes and handle bars don’t meet like they used to in all-too-frequent fashion.

That was the goal when a coalition of trail users, the city of Ashland, the Ashland Woodlands and Trails Association and the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest rerouted and repurposed miles of what were once multiuse trails into a network of largely bike-only and pedestrian-only thoroughfares — including some former rogue trails that have been made legit.

The result was 25 miles of new trails added to the existing 16 miles of trails, with about 17 miles of the new trails coming from old access trails to locations such as fire lookouts. The project also called for the decommissioning of almost 10 miles of unapproved trails because they created unacceptable impacts to soil, water, plants and wildlife.

In all, the project created 3.8 miles of trails open to all nonmotorized use, 9.4 miles of trails for hikers or hikers and equestrians, and 11.7 miles of trails either exclusively for bikes or for bikes and hikers.

That includes the new Jabberwocky, which became Riddle’s morning playground Tuesday after the recent rains parted.

“It’s the new Jabberwocky, and it seems like most of the mountain bikers have taken to that,” says Brian Long, a recreation manager for the national forest.

The Riddler isn’t questioning the merits of the new trail.

The new-look Jabberwocky is a place Riddle says he can really let it loose.

“These trails are very, very fast,” he says. “A lot of these corners are bermed and you can get a lot of speed going through them.”

But not everyone has been playing nice.

Recently hikers have been using an old stretch of Jabberwocky that has been closed for rehab work, and signs warning of the closure routinely have been stolen, Long says.

“I’m afraid that, if it stays open, the mountain bikers will want to use it, and we’re right back to where we were before,” Long says.

Riddle has been using the trails as a regular training ground for decades.

Before turning pro in 1998, Riddle rode the racing circuit as an “expert” one level under the pro level, even though he was beating pros to the podiums.

He has since garnered several sponsors, including WTB, for whom Riddle designed a multiuse racing tire known as “The Riddler” six years ago.

His riding-on-the-edge approach has taken him throughout the United States, Canada and Europe, but he’s scaled back to about eight races a year and mostly along the West Coast.

Riddle has spent the past dozen years working at United Bicycle Institute in Ashland, where he and other instructors help teach bicycle mechanics and frame-building to anyone from experts to everyday riders looking to learn how to maintain or enhance their bikes.

About three or four days a week, Riddle eschews his lunch and instead jumps on his bike and rides in and around the watershed, doing for an hour what some plan for weeks.

“This is my lunch loop,” Riddle laughs. “It’s an amazing thing it’s the backyard, basically.”

Riddle has turned what once was a passion also into a profession, and that view over the handlebars still cleans out the cobwebs despite the frantic speeds he reaches.

“You get to experience life at a different pace,” Riddle says. “Think about when was your first taste of freedom. It was probably on a bike.”

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

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