My low back is kinda stiffening up again, and my legs have that quiet buzzing feeling going. Short term goals include trying to figure out what time Ebert and Roeper comes on, taking a stab at the Sunday crossword and whether to have some pretzels or crackers with hummous as a snack. Such is Sunday night post-ride sloth. Wouldn’t have it any other way.
JimG started rattling the bars earlier this week. He emailed a few key players and talked about a MT ride. At first, I misread that as a “Mt Tam” ride, as it was within the context of trails that work their way up the mountain. But, it finally dawned on me that he was thinking about a “Mixed-Terrain” ride. Things have been steadily drying out around the SF Bay Area for the past few weeks - well since the SFR 300K scheduled date. (The 2008 300K actually was postponed and rescheduled, due to significant wind and storms that weekend). That would mean that trails should be in prime shape and the hills would be tantilizingly green.
It worried me a little as I hadn’t been doing much riding of late. Especially in the previous week, as I’d been harboring whatever bug had really appreciated the combination of worn down and not sleeping which I’d concocted. It had knocked me on my tuckus for a few days, but as the weekdays passed, I was back commuting on the bike and feeling at least comfortable once more. I ante’d up and took a look at my cards again. I was in.
In fact, I began to realize I was really looking forward to it. So, even when the weekend forecast began to degrade, it didn’t seem too bad. The temps dropped a bit by Friday and there were a few showers during the day, making it clear it wouldn’t be a knee warmer ride. Still, a little rain woudn’t hurt, and there were plenty of ways to bail out of the route if things got really bad. Also for the past few weeks on the SFRandon list, Carlos had been fine-tuning his proposal for LRLR - “La Ruta Loca Randonnee” - an epic (and I do not use that term lightly) mixed-terrain ride inspired by the D2R2. As I went through the cue sheet for the LRLR proposed route, it seemed that I’d better start getting some miles in, if I had any hope of finishing that ride… (tentative date - July 21st)
And I started the day by leaving late - drat! Juggling dogs with unusual morning habits, baking a batch of bring-along cornbread and guessing on the right combination of clothing, the minute hand of the kitchen clock kept jumping forward until it slid past the “yeah-if-I-leave-now-and-press-it-I-should-get-there-a-hair-late” time. Somehow, the dogs got wrangled and I finally managed to get out the door.
The roadways were wet from a goodly shower that had woken me up around 3 am. But, in the east the skies were clear as the sun edged upwards. The clouds to the west didn’t hold too much immediate menace. My legs felt a little mushy on the small climbs that stood between me and the MV meeting spot, but hoped that would disappear once we got riding. Zipped down Camino Alto and caught the light just right, headed down the bike path and found Carlos and Greg at the meeting spot. Carlos had just been calling me to see if I was enroute, and then shared the news that JimG had opted out of the early start. After a short greeting, we headed out towards downtown Mill Valley, seeking the entrance to Railroad Grade.
Once on the trail, we began to ease upwards. This was actually the route of an early 1900’s railway to the top of the mountain, so the grade is nominally 6%. Of course, it isn’t graded or leveled, so certain sections in the first mile or so are reasonably rocky and there’s usually a thin but smooth “good” line. For some reason, I seemed particularly prone to finding the bumpy and tricky sections, until Greg finally announced he was going to follow Carlos from now on. Can’t say I blamed him, and in fact, I dug in behind them both for a few more sections.
After a while, we seemed to hit a decent rhythm - trading leads and lines over the topography, talking about the tragic accident that took place down the peninsula, amazment and frustrations with traffic in general and sharing odd interludes with drivers that had - conservatively - “issues”. It all succeeded in passing the time relatively quickly until we suddenly realized we’d reached the West Point Inn.
They’d certainly done a lot of work since the last time I’d been there - replacing the rotted old picnic tables and building up really nice level pads for the new rest areas. This is one of the prime spots to pause and reflect on one of the mountain’s most travelled trails. It looked good. I broke out the first ration of cornbread and we toasted JimG’s absence. (Actually, Greg had held out a piece as well, but I managed to cut him off in the photo - sorry!)
Though the sun continued to break through the clouds, the wind from the northwest was pretty chilly, and we all dug around for warmer layers. As we were following the latter portion of the Mixed Terrain 101 Route, the next part would be down - first via the fire road of Old Stage, then onto Panoramic - the main route between Stinson Beach and Mill Valley. The paved portion is a ripper of a descent, and I got a good chance to feel how the Hilsen handled when the road tilted downward. No suprises really, just rock solid and predictable, with the feeling that you had a lot more to go before you were in any kind of trouble. Big tires and low bb’s absolutely rock. Unfortunately, with the dampness hidden in the corners, I didn’t feel quite confident enough to snap photos on the way down. It was only later, after we’d worked our way back onto dirt again, that the camera came out.
I was still feeling pretty good. The descent had been well within my comfort zone, and even though my legs argued a little when the pitch eased up again on Miwok trail, I found a gear that kept me happy. The last time I’d ridden this stretch had been the previous July, and I’d been on the Quickbeam. (And I think that was the ride when my calf first went “poing”…) We worked our way upward, then dove for the low gear at “Carlos’ Turn” - this is a sharp 180 degree bend which then climbs steeply and briefly, levels out and climbs steeply and less briefly to the crest. I’d planned on spining my way up this bit, dumped to the smallest chainring - yep, Homer has a triple - and then shifted down on the rear. Unfortunately, that combination which I don’t really use that often, wasn’t really up to the task. Hoppin’, skippin’ and in general allowing only a half turn of the pedals before that sickly “clunk-crunch”. Never one to be afraid to walk, I kicked out and hoofed it to the top of the first rise. It seemed like a tight link in the chain, but I couldn’t see one easily evident.
By the time I got back into a usable gear, the boys had continued up out of sight. Pedaling upwards, the force of gravity overcame the force of friction in the bigger gear I had, and the tires slipped a bit. Rather than risk chewing up the drivetrain, I again opted for the unglamorous pushing pose until I reached the top, then rolled around a couple corners to find Greg and Carlos patiently waiting.
Again we enjoyed the benefit of altitude, rolling downhill to Tennesee Valley, then working our way up the valley to Marincello road. This would have been part of a huge housing development that got nixed by the creation of the GGNRA (Golden Gate Natonal Recreation Area), but the dirt roadbed had been created.
Whether it was the souls of the quelled contractors or other factors, I’m not sure, but this climb ground me down pretty well. It’s longish, has few distracting features and it’s also one of the climbs I’m least familiar with - I always tend to be going down this as I head north. About halfway up, my shoulders started hunching up and I began fidgeting. Probably had something to do with too few calories as well. I got grumpy, decided I was too hot. Stopped. Pulled off my thin wool cap. Started. Ignored my legs requests to stop again. Then heard an earthy clinky-clank and looked back to see my tail light parts spread across the trail behind me. The mount screw must’ve vibrated out on the bouncy bits. Greg and Carlos were out of earshot, so I picked up my scattered pieces and pressed onward again. Again, the boys were patiently waiting my arrival at the crest.
The open descent down Bobcat went easily, reinvigorating me a bit. As we picked our way through a muddy section of trail at the bottom, another rider was walking her bike along. It turns out she’d been out on her inaugural ride on a new Redline Conquest Pro CX bike, but lost the mount bolt for her front derailleur, which now dangled uselessly, but completely in the way. We pooled our parts, but could not come up with anything that worked. We offered to crack the chain and remove the derailleur, so she could at least get home on the small ring. She thanked us but declined as she’d already contacted a friend who was on their way for a pickup.
Underway again, we began ascending Coastal as it climbed up from the old rifle range, my gearing did its little snap-crackle-pop and after stopping Greg’s momentum, encouraged them to head onward. I backspun the cranks but counldn’t find the bad link. The only conclusion I was left with is that either the chain was on the edge or that it was a couple links too long to begin with. (My working theory is the latter, but that’s a tough diagnosis, especially with a wider range cogset. I’ll have to work that out this week.) But, a bigger gear and some grunting later, I could at least see Carlos and Greg up the trail. We collected ourselves back on the pavement, swooped down past oblivious tourists and slightly less confident descenders. At the bridge, we split up for the day, Carlos and Greg continuing south while I turned northward.
And danged if that chilly wind wasn’t in my face.
Things went OK into Sausalito, as it was mostly downhill. But, I realized my water was gone, so I found a spot I know to refuel, defuel and enjoy a bit of protection from the wind. Checked in with home and nibbled the couple pieces of cornbread that were still onboard, then headed out once more.
The push across the Richardson bay flats felt slow - small chainring and in the drops, working for every foot while glaring at those folks who passed the other direction (thank goodness for dark glasses or I would’ve been seen as seriously anti-social…). Made it to the end of the path and then just felt all the sand leak out as the Camino Alto climb began. I’m pretty sure that I got passed by a recumbent towing a Burley trail while pushing a bakfiet. Regardless. Folks that went past kind of looked at me and then didn’t say anything. Not a good sign. I kept repeating the Kent P mantra, “keep pedaling, it will get better”. I probably also should’ve taken his not-a-nutritional-role-model guidance to heart and stopped at the deli for anything that looked good.
Marshmallows came to mind. Unfortunately, this was with respect to the pressure I was putting on the pedals. The wind continued and I kept going. At one point I actually pulled off the road and leaned over the bike, until some fellow walking his dogs asked if I was alright. “Yeah, I’m fine,” I said. “Just resting.”
From my perspective of a day later, I think that response probably seemed reasonably bizarre. Most folks probably don’t rest while straddling their bike, hanging their helmeted head over the bars in a slump.
Onward, and thankfully, the topography let me tack a bit into the wind and pick up a bit of a push from it. It was a relief. Blessed relief. Finally made it home, though it felt like I was just grinding out a huge gear at about 3 rpms. Shower. Food. Begin to read only to wake up on the couch two hours later. Day’s workload - 7:15 am to 1:45 pm - maybe 55 miles. A bit north of 6,000 ft climbing.