Medford, Oregon

Medford, Oregon
Commitment isn't what it used to be. Each New Year's Day millions commit to lifestyle changes that last, on average, two weeks. Couples vow " 'til death do us part," yet divorce is commonplace. True commitment  -  a parachute jump, for example  -  offers no escape. Like the rockslide I'm stuck in near Galice, Oregon. A narrow, rock-strewn path squirms past huge boulders, hanging over a 10-foot drop to the creek below. I thought I'd be able to squeeze by on the DL650  -  but now the bike is wedged against a boulder the size of a Mini Cooper. One false move and I'll be in the creek with the bike on top of me. There's nowhere to turn around or even back up. I'm truly committed...

Out of the Cascades

Medford, the largest city in southern Oregon, sprawls across a broad valley between the Cascades and the Coast Range. Its inland location and meager elevation (1,300 ft.) mean hot summers and mild winters: the city is often snow-free while routes into the city, including I-5, are covered. And though it's a busy industrial and commercial center, the surrounding valleys and upland offer rare natural beauty and desolate wilderness. I guess that's why I'm here.

Heading south into the city, I swing left off Highway 200 at Eagle Point onto Jackson County Road 821 toward Butte Falls, and immediately the rushing commuter traffic disappears. I'm winding through grassy valleys as the road climbs back toward the Cascades. A neat, one-street, board-front town, Butte Falls slumbers in the late afternoon sun. I fill up at the two-pump gas station and hand my credit card to the young mom running the store, while her two-year-old daughter helpfully rearranges the candy bars on the lower shelves. "Come again," she says. I linger under shade trees and admire the tidy wooden buildings: fire hall, café, and the combined courthouse/police/city hall with its roof-mounted red siren. If I worked in Medford, this is where I'd commute from.

Bone-dry pumps near Jacksonville.

With the sun slipping into the hills behind me, I swing eastward across golden farmland toward Mt. McLoughlin's glacier-patched peak. I'm winding up into more fir forests until the road spits me out on Highway 140 near Fish Lake, just west of the 5,100-foot Lake of the Woods summit. I rejoin the heavy traffic heading to Medford from Klamath Falls, chasing the setting sun.

Coast and California

The next morning I follow Highway 238 south out of Medford toward Jacksonville. It's an idyllic ramble as the morning sun toasts the golden fields under deep blue skies. From 1852 to 1884, Jacksonville was the largest town in the region and the county seat  -  after a gold find in nearby Gulch Creek. Its decline echoed another familiar story: the promised Oregon & California Railroad was routed through Medford instead. Jacksonville's remaining citizens were smart enough, however, to preserve its many affluent-era buildings. The town became a National Historic Landmark in 1966. The grand brick buildings that line California Street (many now antique stores and restaurants) commemorate the town's earlier stature. Jacksonville deserves its destination status.

Bear Camp Rd. in the Siskiyous.

Highway 238 turns west toward Ruch and Applegate, and I'm soon bowling through rolling bucolic valleys draped with rich, green dairy grass and mature fruit orchards. In Murphy, where 238 turns north toward Grants Pass, I turn left on New Hope Road, following a sign for Wilderville, then left again on Fish Hatchery Road. Wilderville, a rustic ramshackle village, sits just off Highway 199, where I turn left for the coast.

Highway 199 is a major truck route connecting 101 in Crescent City with I-5 in Grants Pass, and I've planned to gas up in O'Brien. The owners of the gas station/store/post office there obviously have a great sense of humor: a colossal fiberglass fly squats on the roof of the outhouse, and a 1940's police car and a McCloud River Railroad caboose are parked outside.