Underexposed - Gold Beach, OR

Underexposed - Gold Beach, OR

WORDS, PHOTOGRAPHY, AND VIDEO // BRICE SHIRBACH

I don’t know what Paradise looks like for you, but I have a good idea of what it looks like for me. It includes a beautiful coastline, some rolling and rugged mountains that jut up against the said beach, massive evergreen trees with fuzzy green trunks, and the best dirt on the planet, blanketing the forest floor. But that’s just me. Enter Gold Beach, the coastal community of 2,241 situated along the stunning southern Oregon coast. Gold Beach is flanked to the east by the Oregon Coast Range and the Pacific Ocean to the west. It’s not especially close to any population centers of note. Medford, OR is the closest city and that’s a 3+ hour drive away. The largest city in the state is 6 hours from Gold Beach. The good news is that the drive, from virtually anywhere, is going to be about as scenic as they come. Land and sea collide every second of every day up and down the coastline, the result of which has created a landscape that seems to have been ripped from the pages of your favorite Dr. Suess book, with precipitous cliffs, natural arches, and fuzzy greens trees as far as the eye can see.

 

As magnetic as the Pacific Northwest is, the mountains found just to the east of Gold Beach carry their own gravitational pull. The Siskiyou Mountains are a sub-range of the Klamath Mountains that run for about 100 miles from the Rogue River in the northernmost stretch to the northern California town of Crescent City along the southern terminus. The mountains are relatively young, having formed about 65 million years ago. They’re not especially tall mountains, but they are steep, rugged and receive ample amounts of rain, particularly along the western portion of the range. The pavement ends just a few miles east of town, and as you drive into the mountains along the Rogue River toward the trails, it becomes immediately evident that you are headed somewhere not a whole lot of eyes have seen firsthand. 

The Pine Grove trail ends at the convergence of two Wild and Scenic Rivers, the Illinois and Rogue Rivers. In fact, the southern Oregon Coast is home to more Wild and Scenic Rivers that anywhere else in the country. In 1968, Congress protected rivers with “outstandingly remarkable values (ORVs) in a free-flowing condition for the enjoyment of present and future generations.” The National Park Service oversees this system, with the Rogue River standing as the centerpiece for all of the Wild Rivers Coast as one of the 8 original Wild and Scenic Rivers in 1968.

 

3,000 feet above this convergence lies the summit of Seven Mile Peak, which is also where you’ll find the start of Pine Grove. Pine Grove loses its nearly 3,000 feet of relief over the course of a 6-mile-long backcountry descent through Siskiyou National Forest old growth. The riding itself is brilliant. It’s a pure backcountry descent, meaning that you will absolutely need to do some pedaling. The descent begins as a fast and flowing double-track trail before it tightens up considerably and becomes a bit more technical in nature. There is a stretch during the summer months where you can expect warm temps and dry dirt, but for most of the year, it’s nice and cool, with damp dirt and greasy rocks and roots. Most of the trail is bench-cut, with some downslope exposure from time to time. Occasionally, the trail sweeps down the fall line for short sections of the ride, accented by lovely corner pockets that redirect while allowing you to keep your speed. Earlier this year, Eddie Kessler of Ptarmigan Trails completely rebuilt the lower section of the trail, bringing a purpose-built flavor to the ride. It was still a bit soft while I was there filming, but once it gets through a full freeze-thaw cycle and gets baked in during the spring and summer of 2024, it’ll be absolutely ripping. 

 

The fact that this trail even exists is a bit of a miracle. While 2023 was a disastrously dry one for much of the Pacific Northwest, Curry County saw 3 massive fires breakout during the summer, with the 30,000-acre Flat Fire directly impacting the trail as well as its neighboring communities.

“It hit us really hard this year,” Dave Lacey says of the fire outbreak. “It burned right next to Pine Grove, and it also burned some of these other trails that we have been working to rehab and open back up. The Flat Fire went from zero to 30,000 acres in less than a month, and it shut everything down in the forest for a while.” 

Dave owns South Coast Tours, a fishing, paddling and mountain bike guide service that operates out of Gold Beach and neighboring Port Orford. He’s also on the board of directors for the Wild Rivers Coast Mountain Bike Association, a 501c3 representing the southern Oregon Coast from Coos Bay to Brookings on the California state line. 

“The forest service threw a ton of resources at the fire,” he continued. “Once they realized they weren’t going to stop it outright, they changed their approach and their mitigation efforts were really impressive. It never escaped any of their fire lines. Once we had a chance to go up there and see the damage firsthand, we were actually kind of surprised. The fire never touched Pine Grove, and the sections of forest it did burn handled it ok. It burned a lot of the undergrowth and ladder fuels, but left a good portion of the old growth alone.

“We just kind of always anticipate fires. It wasn’t always this way, but now it is. It’s a part of our reality, and we need to learn to deal with it and manage things as best we can. I find that one of the most important things in my life, aside from my family, is being outside and connecting with nature. Right now, this isn’t really a mountain bike destination. We are working to make it more of one, but what I think makes this such a special area is all of the things you can do while you’re here. We have amazing beaches, the rivers are perfect for paddling, the surfing is world-class, and spending time out on the ocean is everything. I think of this place as a multi-sport paradise, and that’s why I work so hard to do whatever I can to keep it going.” 

The thing about paradise is that it’s a very relative and subjective place. Personally, it is tough to beat those rare corners of the globe where the mountains and the sea coexist, and the convergence found along the southern coastline of Oregon is a perfectly realized embodiment of my love for both. It’s as rough and rugged as it is serene and beautiful, and of course, the amazing trails check off one of my most important boxes.

Underexposed is a self-filmed and produced series by Pivot Cycles athlete Brice Shirbach dedicated to showcasing trail advocacy and stewardship while exploring a variety of trails in places that may be unfamiliar to many. Join Brice as he explores the personal motivations behind the effort that goes into mountain bike advocacy while sampling the trails they work so hard for.


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