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Something Wicked This Way Comes – Two Nights in Ashland

Your first Cycle Oregon is filled with moments you’ll remember forever. It’s a pretty safe bet your first few miles, your last few miles, the big climbs and the moment you cross the finish line will be among them, but there will be others you simply can’t anticipate.

One my favorite Cycle Oregon moments was the instant it occurred to me that Ashland was one of the most magical places on Earth. Frankly, that moment nearly ruined my ride, because I SERIOUSLY considered spending the next few days exploring this glorious oasis of culture, beauty and culinary delight in favor of climbing back on that two-wheeled torture contraption called a bicycle. Luckily for me I resisted temptation, because the next day I learned how much fun it is to latch on to the perfect paceline, and how much stronger your body becomes as the week goes on.

It didn’t take me long to answer Ashland’s call to come back and investigate it properly, and that’s been something I’ve done once or twice a year ever since. I can tell you for sure that one day and two nights isn’t nearly enough time to enjoy its bounty. Pleasure and action make the hours seem short, so careful planning is a must.

Below are a few suggestions:

All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players

Ashland is best known as the home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. During our stay, there will be three opportunities to check out an OSF production. If you have even the slightest bit of interest in the performing arts, you owe it to yourself to see at least one. They are spectacular.

There are three theaters, and each has its own charms. The New Theatre and the Angus Bowmer Theatre are smaller and more intimate. The Elizabethan Stage/Allen Pavilion is an enclosed open-air venue. If you’re only going to see one production, the Elizabethan Stage is your best bet. Watching daylight fade over the stage just as the play begins and whiffing the clean, crisp Ashland air adds tremendously to the experience.

Shakespeare plays are best enjoyed with a bit of preparation. While you might get flashbacks of junior high and high school, one of the best ways to study for an evening of Shakespeare is to read the script line by line, along with notes and definitions. I’ve become partial to the books published by Folger Shakespeare Library based, on the way the information is presented.

If you haven’t bought your tickets yet, you’ll want to get on it ASAP.

Tis an ill cook that cannot lick his own fingers

New Sammy's, a family affair

Ashland is loaded with great restaurants. If you’re in the mood for fine dining, Amuse and Chateaulin are two top choices right downtown. New Sammy’s Cowboy Bistro is a few miles out in Talent. This is an extraordinary restaurant run by a husband and wife with some serious cooking credentials. Reservations are mandatory, and they only seat 6 people per half hour. I don’t consider a trip to Ashland complete without going there.

If you’re looking for something a little less extravagant, Greanleaf, Thai Pepper and Larks are all great choices. There are also a number of other places along North Main Street worth checking out.

For pizza, there’s the Creekside Pizza Bistro, which is in a cool little spot down by Ashland Creek.

The Village Baker is a good spot for breakfast, and if you aren’t afraid to venture a little bit out of downtown, the Breadboard is another breakfast gem.

Good wine is a good familiar creature, if it be well used

Oenophiles will love Ashland. The wine selection at Chateaulin and New Sammy’s is quite nice (particularly New Sammy’s, which has a DEEP cellar and extremely reasonable prices).  Liquid Assets is a fun wine bar that also has a good beer selection and a limited but very respectable food menu.

I would give all my fame for a pot of ale

Caldera is one of the most popular beers made Oregon. It is particularly beloved by the adventuresome, because the beer, though delicious, is sold in cans. They are as portable as they are potable. Caldera’s Tap House is relatively new. It’s located by the creek on Water Street. Unfortunately, it’s pretty small and there won’t be room for everyone at once.

Fortunately there’s another good brew pub right around the corner called Standing Stone Brewing Company. Both are sure to be “hopping” during our stay.

Tell me where is fancy bred, in the heart or in the head

If you prefer shopping to, say, eating, drinking and then drinking some more, Ashland’s got you covered as well. There are endless book, gift and clothing stores as well as bead shops, galleries and all those other things one might expect to find in a town that caters to locals as well as tourists. There’s also a great music shop, a fly-fishing store and skate shop, and a shoe store that focuses mainly on ugly but comfortable footwear.

To climb steep hills requires slow pace at first

Riding your bicycle is another way to spend the layover day, and might be the best way to resist Ashland’s many temptations. Climbers are going to love it. Think Larch Mountain… followed by a long climb. Fun, fun, fun.

If you want to do something mellower involving your bike, Jacksonville is a good destination. When you get there, you’ll find several restaurants, including Los Palmas, which is one of the best Mexican Restaurants EVER.  They’ve got a seafood chimichanga that defies description, and serve very respectable margaritas, the largest option being a 42-ounce megamarg. Two or three of those and you might be taking a cab back to Ashland – or the ICU, depending on how well you hold your liquor.

If you’re willing to add a few more miles to your trip to J-ville, you can swing by the Rogue Creamery, makers of the world-renowned Rogue River Blue and many other cheesy delights. Next door to Rogue Creamery is Lillie Belle Farms, an artisan chocolate maker that’s only really worth visiting if you enjoy having your mind blown.

You can thank me for these great recommendations on the following day’s climb. I’ll be easy to find at the back of the pack. If you hit the Los Palmas/Rogue Creamery/Lillie Belle Farms trifecta correctly, that’s where you’ll be as well.

Have I caught thee, my heavenly jewel?

Truth be told, it would take a whole book to write about every bit of awesomeness that is Ashland. There’s a lot more info at the Chamber of Commerce website, which is has already been modified to welcome us specifically.

Can one desire too much of a good thing? If your first (or 20th) Ashland experience is anything like mine, the answer could well be “yes.” If you do it right, parting will be sweet sorrow. But part we must. Just remember, as tyme hem hurt, a tyme doth hem cure.

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