Ashland Mountain Challenge: A Rich Origin and a Whole Lotta Heart

A look into the history of the 2017 California Enduro Series finale and the couple who brought it to life

By Lars Filson

Nathan Riddle, 2016 AMC champ. Photo: Scott McClain / California Enduro Series.

It’s the eve of the Ashland Mountain Challenge — the 2017 California Enduro Series finale — presented by Ashland Mountain Adventures … and the perfect time to take a look into the origins of the event and learn about the dedicated, hardworking couple that makes the magic happen.

A well known proverb states “necessity is the mother of all invention.” For example, the first installment of the modern bicycle tire came to be after John Boyd Dunlop’s son complained of headaches from riding his tricycle on uneven and rough terrain in the 1800’s, a time when bicycle and tricycle wheels were made of hard materials and offered no cushioning. Similarly Ashland Mountain Adventures was started in May of 2008, after William “Wild Bill” Roussel and his wife Sue O’Daly got tired of having to organize self shuttles every time they rode in the hills surrounding Ashland, Oregon. 

Bill made his first trip to Ashland in the spring of 2005 when he was spurred on by his friend Mark Weir to race the Spring Thaw Downhill. He and a large group of friends spent the weekend taking turns shuttling and riding lap after lap on the lower half of the mountain. Almost immediately, Bill started to fall in love with both the town of Ashland and the network of mountain bike trails Ashland already offered.

Mark pushed him to return to Ashland in the summer to ride the upper half of the mountain and to race the 12 Mile Super D, a local super D that was gaining notoriety. Unfortunately Bill’s second love of motocross would get in the way of him racing the super D for the next two summers, but on his next visits to Ashland for the Spring Thaw he started tossing around the idea of a shuttle company with his friends. Everyone agreed that a shuttle company could certainly have success in Ashland, but Bill wasn’t ready to make the commitment quite yet.

A peek through the trees at the town of Ashland. Photo: Mike Thomas / Santa Cruz Bicycles.

In the summer of 2007, after recovering from a broken collar bone from The Sea Otter Classic, Bill finally managed to organize a trip to Ashland when the upper half of the mountain wasn’t covered in snow. For the first time he had the opportunity to ride impressive ribbons of fast decomposed granite and steep loam. After riding Time Warp, a long, fast descent on the west side of Mt. Ashland and pedaling over to the rest of the west side of the mountain Bill was finally sold on the idea. The following spring he purchased a 12 passenger van, hand built a custom bike trailer out of a fishing boat trailer and started shuttling mountain bikers to the parking lot of the Mt. Ashland ski area.

That first summer Bill and Sue would make the eight hundred mile trek to and from Salinas, California every weekend. While Ashland Mountain Adventures was their dream, it had yet to take off to a level that would allow them to quit their day jobs. So for the time being Bill continued to work as a mechanic, keeping the Salinas school district buses running Monday through Thursday while Sue cut hair out of her salon. On the weekends they would drive to Ashland and take turns driving the 9:0012:00, and 3:00 shuttles while also trying to fit their own rides in-between the shuttles. For the first three years of business Ashland Mountain Adventures also shuttled skiers and boarders up and down the mountain in the winter, but after dismal snow seasons and poor ridership in 2009 and 10 they decided that it was more worth their while to focus on the mountain biking.

Photo: AMA

Photo: AMA

As the shuttle business started to gain traction Bill and Sue decided it was time to move to Ashland full time in 2010. They were now offering shuttles on five days a week, along with special occasions shuttles spread throughout the week. That same year Bill had the opportunity to take over as race director for the Ashland Mountain Challenge, which was still a Super D at the time. The previous year SRAM came on as presenting sponsor, helping support the Super D and a chain less race in the same weekend. With SRAM coming on again in 2010 as title sponsor, racers like Kirt Voreis, Jason Moeschler, Adam Craig, Carl Decker, and Mark Weir who won in 2010, came to race and experience all that Ashland’s trails had to offer. Bill recalls at the time Mark Weir was traveling to Europe often to race ‘Enduro’ which at the time had not yet taken off in the US.

Getting ready to shred 13+ miles of sublime singletrack down to town. Photo: AMA.

Building the new Jabberwocky earlier this year. Photo: Mike Thomas / Santa Cruz Bicycles.

In 2012, after hearing more stories from Weir’s travels and reading a Decline magazine article covering the Tears, Beers, and Fears Enduro in Ely, Nevada Bill decided that it was time for Ashland to follow suite. That year the Ashland Mountain Challenge made its debut as an enduro, with four stages that took riders from the parking lot of Mt. Ashland all the way down to Lithia Park — a descent of over 4,000 feet.  After the AMC’s success in 2012, Bill decided to introduce two new stages on the West Side of the mountain, Hitt Road and Horn Gap in 2013. This required racers to climb just over 3,000 feet to access the two new stages, which made the AMC into more of a true enduro rather than a multi stage Super D.

In 2015 Bill and the California Enduro Series teamed up to present the Ashland Mountain Challenge, making it round four of one of the most prestigious enduro series in North America. This season the Ashland Mountain Challenge plays host for the final race of the California Enduro Series, one of the only stops of the series to sell out in less than twenty four hours. 

2016 Pro Men Podium. Photo: Scott McClain / California Enduro Series.

Ashland Mountain Challenge 2017
At press time, racers are converging in Ashland for this final round of CES. Racers can expect to be treated to 5 stages of fast, flowy descending. The Ashland Mountain Challenge will give racers a tour of both the east and west sides of the mountain. Sport/Beginner racers will kick off their day by attacking Stages 1 and 2 on the west side of the mountain while Pro/Expert riders take on Stages 3, 4 and 5 on the east side. They will switch sides halfway through the day. Sport/Beginner will not race Stage 5, however.

Stage 1 is preceded by a nine mile transfer from Lithia Park that includes 3,200 feet of climbing. Stage 1, Horn Gap, is true Ashland single track — fast and flowy with a few sections of tight trees. Riders will then pedal over to Stage 2, Hitt Road, a fast double track with a few water bars and rocks to keep folks on their toes.

Stages 3, 4 and 5 are accessed by a shuttle up to the top of Mount Ashland, where riders take on the pedally transfer to Stage 3. This stage is will see racers coming down Bull Gap, to Upper and Lower Missing Links, across the Four Corners parking lot and finishing just past the bottom of Catwalk. This run is a real burner, with the fastest pros conquering it in just over 15 minutes. There will be a few punchy little climbs mixed in to test who has been putting in the work late in the season.

Racers will then transfer across Toothpick and up Caterpillar to the start of Stage 4. For this stage, racers will be treated to two trails that have not yet been raced at the Ashland Mountain Challenge: Lizard and Jabberwocky. Both trails are new additions to the water shed trail system and are fast, with big flowy corners and fun tables and doubles. Pro/Expert riders will then transfer to their final stage of the day, an Ashland classic: BTI.

As riders finish up with their final stages, they will converge at the Lithia Park venue where there’s an opportunity to cool off in the river and grab a beverage while waiting for results to come in. It’s a race day that promises to be absolutely epic, with great dirt and good friends.

Adele Mery, winner of the 2016 AMC, rails a corner on BTW. Photo: Scott McClain / California Enduro Series.

Ashland Mountain Adventures’ Dynamic Duo
In between organizing races, renting bikes and shuttling mountain bikers from all over the world, Bill acts President for RVMBA and has had a large hand in the creation and implementation of the master trail plan for the Ashland Woodlands trails association. Bill and Sue also organize at least five to six trail work days a year, that help anywhere from 20 to 40 bikers per day be a part of maintaining Ashland’s watershed. While Ashland Mountain Adventures is their main focus Bill still works in construction during the winters and Sue still cuts hair, if you’re lucky enough to get an appointment with her. What started as a shuttle company has gone on to foster and create one of the strongest mountain bike communities in Oregon and put on one of the single most anticipated races of the season. 

Sue and Bill connecting with volunteers at their shop before heading out to a big trail work day earlier this year. Photo: Mike Thomas / Santa Cruz Bicycles.

“Wild Bill” in his natural element, maintaining the Ashland Watershed trail system. Photo: Mike Thomas / Santa Cruz Bicycles.

Cheers to this powerhouse couple! On behalf of mountain bikers from near and far, thank you Bill and Sue for all you do!

Adventure Sports Journal is proud to be a founding sponsor of the California Enduro Series. Learn more about California Enduro Series here. Learn more information about Ashland Mountain Adventures here.

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