2013 Marin Mountains 200K Brevet

Marin Mountains was my first real ride (other than commuting within SF) since London-Edinburgh-London in late July. LEL left me with swollen feet and sore Achilles' tendons, and family commitments allowed little time for riding.

As soon as the climbing started on Highway 1, I knew I would not be able to hold the pace of Bret, Carl, and Patrick, and I settled into a slightly slower rhythm, with Jon just behind me. But to my surprise we all regrouped near the Mountain Home Inn, and it wasn't until well into the first dirt section that Jon and I lost contact with the lead trio. Not much later we found Patrick sitting by the side of the road. He complained of feeling faint, and we stopped in case he needed help. After a minute or two he waved us on and we continued our climb.

It was raining hard as we summited East Ridgecrest Boulevard and tackled the second dirt section. My choice of 32mm slicks (which I had actually recommended to registered riders in a pre-ride email!) proved to be very poor: my tires kept sliding in wet mud on steep uphill sections, and I walked more than I ever have on this course.

Rocky Ridge Trail was more of a creek than a trail. Rain blew sideways from the west, and rows of wooded ridges receded into the distance behind veils of mist. At one point I heard a crash and turned to see Jon on his back in the mud. His handlebars had turned, but the front wheel, comfortable in its muddy rut, had refused to follow along. A swollen knee from this fall would have made a solid excuse to call it quits in Fairfax, but Jon decided to soldier on with me over Pine Mountain. "We'll see how I feel at Sir Francis Drake [on the far side of Pine Mountain]", but I was confident he'd make it to the finish.

San Geronimo Ridge was the hardest section for me. Wet clay built up under my fork until the front wheel refused to turn, and the rear wheel dug so deep that the derailleur scraped the mud in places. We portaged our bikes through the sloppy gunk and I promised to never again offer anyone advice about what tires they should use.

Eventually the mud eased up, but the rocks were wet and sharp, and my front tire blew out with a bang. I waved Jon onward and set about fixing the flat. Between my cold hands and the mud all over everything, almost 20 minutes elapsed before I was moving again, but no riders passed me.

I descended Sylvestris Road gingerly, afraid of another blow out, and I'm glad I did. Back on pavement on the far side of San Geronimo, I noticed a fat black cyst protruding from the left side of my front tire: torn sidewall! I was lucky that it had not failed on the steep Sylvestris descent. What turned out to be the remainder of the field—two Erics, Steffen, and Patrick—stopped briefly to offer encouragement as I fumbled with tire boots in the rain. I resumed my journey after an almost 15-minute stop, aware that I was probably the last rider still on the course.

I passed Eric L., who was riding an unreasonably heavy mountain bike, near Nicasio, but the others were nowhere to be seen. I felt strangely lethargic and struggled into a moderate headwind towards Marshall. A couple guys on an organized century passed me and commented on my grimy appearance. But the rain had stopped by now, and large patches of blue appeared through the clouds. From the top of the Marshall Wall, Tomales Bay looked blue and inviting.

I found Jon, Eric W., Steffen, and Patrick at the Marshall Store. I considered joining them for sandwiches and clam chowder, but I was frustrated by my slow progress so far, and stopped only long enough to refill my water bottles and buy a couple bags of peanut M&Ms.

I made good time down the coast to Point Reyes Station. The sun shone brightly, and the air smelled fragrant after the rain. A seemingly endless stream of cyclists with ride numbers headed in the opposite direction.

In sharp contrast, Mount Vision Road was a solitary experience: 4 miles uphill with not a single car or bike. Magnificent views of the Point Reyes headlands and Drake's Bay opened to the west. A white sliver of surf separated ocean and land, the blues and greens and yellows saturated after the rain storm. From the summit, I could see a patchwork of light and shadow across west Marin farm country. A low cumulus cast a striking pall over Black Mountain.

A coyote lazed in the sun near the top of Inverness Ridge. It seemed startled and ran down the road ahead of me for a hundred meters or so before veering into the bushes.

Back on pavement, I was thankful for the long, fast descent to Olema. At the liquor store in town I made quick work of a cup of coffee and a home-made "magic" bar: I was eager to cover the last few miles of pavement to the Randall trailhead. After all the rain, I dreaded that dirt climb to Bolinas Ridge. But to my relief, trail conditions were fine. The sand and gravel had drained well, and I only put my foot down twice, both times due to clumsiness rather than any special rain-induced difficulty.

The ridge itself, by contrast, had some exciting spots, including possibly the deepest puddle I've ever ridden through. It was unavoidable—it occupied the whole trail—and I passed right through its middle, and my right foot got soaked at the top of the pedal stroke.

At Bolinas-Fairfax Road mist rose through the redwoods on a warm breeze and shone in shafts of afternoon sunlight. I slowed to absorb this fantastic scene. That same golden light bathed Bolinas Lagoon and wispy clouds below me as I climbed the west ridge of Mount Tam, alone save for a few hikers and a couple watching the scene from their parked car.

The descent to Sausalito was fast and exhilarating, and in minutes I found myself back on the Golden Gate Bridge. Both the bridge and the city looked like they had been scrubbed clean, and the light was even more spectacular than it had been on Mount Tam. I was tired, and a bit sore, and not particularly happy with my performance, but also immensely grateful to have experienced such a day.

I arrived at the finish at 6:20pm (12:20 elapsed), to a warm welcome from Angela and my wife Kara and older daughter Marilisa. Bret and Carl had finished about 45 minutes earlier. I dug into the bread I'd baked the night before and waited for others to arrive. We sat around and ate and drank and talked until well after 8pm, when Eric L. rolled in on his unsuitably heavy velocipede.