Thought I'd share my experience with my first ride up Mt. Tam (and my first metric century). First a little background. Originally from Marin I've driven up Mt. Tam regularly, but I didn't get into cycling until last summer/fall after living in San Francisco for a few years. Having ridden in San Francisco, through the Headlands, and various smaller climbs in Marin regularly I thought it was finally time for me to give Mt. Tam a try while I was visiting my Mom and Sisters who still live in Nicasio, (West Marin). Sorry for the essay, you can catch most of the highlights from the hazy pictures - the visibility was kind of poor that day so the pictures didn't turn out that great.
Now the ride report...
I originally planned on doing this ride Saturday, but I proscrastinated and slept in, so by the time I could have gotten out for a longer ride it was a little too late. So I made up my mind to get up at 5:30am on Sunday. It was easier getting up before the sun than I expected. I used to get up at 5:30 everyday for work, but since I've been going to school full time I've slipped a regrettable pattern of into sleeping in until 8:00. I flipped on some cartoons while I munched on a big bowl of oatmeal and granola and sipped some tea. After letting my breakfast settle for a few minutes and watching the weather report on the news, I packed up and got dressed. It couldn't have been colder than 45 F out, so I just needed a short sleeve jersey and arm warmers up top.
I parked my truck down at the Park & Ride carpool lot along Smith Ranch Road at the base of Lucas Valley. The sun had been up for about half an hour and I pulled out of the lot at about 7:30. I took the opportunity to warm-up along the few miles before the Lucas Valley climb to Big Rock, spinning at around 100rpm to get warm in the face of a light breeze coming from the West. This was my first time doing this climb, though I've been down it a few times. Having gone up the hill for most of my life by car I was a little intimidated, but by the time I was more than half way up I found myself thinking this was a piece of cake. I stopped at the top to take a photo and relish the fact that I hadn't seen one car pass by the entire time.
I continued on down through Redwoods and the rollers of Lucas Valley, passing my Mom's driveway and turned southeast on Nicasio Valley Road just before the town square where I'd played baseball for years as a kid. I saw more Turkeys than usual, even a couple with their tail feathers spread.
The wind must have been at my back before the turn because I felt like I was flying through the Redwoods, but as soon as I was headed toward San Geronimo I felt dragging. I got back into my rhythm after a mile or so and made my way up the small climb overlooking the San Geronimo golf course. This was a view I'd seen everday before arriving to class in High School, but I'd never actually stopped going this direction. It's not all that awe-inspiring, but it did give me a sense that everything looks a lot nicer by bike.
Passing by the church, golf course, and Spirit Rock I made my way out of the valley into Fairfax where I refilled on Gatorade and made sure I was all set for the climb up to Mt. Tam. This was my first time going up the Fairfax-Bolinas Road so I didn't have much of gauge for where I was along the route until I got to certain landmarks. I passed Lake Lagunitas and the turn off for Bon Tempe fairly quickly but I kept expecting to see the Alpine Dam well before I actually did.
I was beginning to see more cyclists out on the road by now, at least going my direction. Back in San Geronimo I'd encountered a couple dozen others going the other direction. I'm still a bit of a newbie and I'm definitely no climber. I made some weird shift too once I got to the Meadow Club and I dropped my chain off to the inside. I quickly popped it back on, but the number of guys on much fancier bikes that were flying past me started to make me feel a little anxious. In retrospect I shouldn't have worried about it at all, and normally I don't, but I didn't want my five hour ride to turn into a seven hour ride because I wasnt't pushing myself hard enough.
As I hit the second to last crest before heading down to the Alpine Lake Dam I got passed by a number of friendly-enough CRC guys and managed to keep up on the descent easily and part of the last ascent before the dam, but I got dropped like a rock after less than a mile. I've been looking at clubs to join, and I wanted to see if I was good enough to keep up with the CRC guys in the hope that if I joined up I could actually stay with the group. My first time up Mt. Tam was probably not a good time to test this though.
I arrived at the dam and took a second to marvel at the drop off on the West side and give all the cyclists congregating on the narrow road a short smile and wave before trudging up to the Ridgecrest turn-off. After passing Alpine Lake is where I started to really feel the mountain. For about a mile the road follows a series of pretty gnarly switchbacks. It's not that steep or long, but I couldn't seem to get my self into a good rhythm. I tried to switch off evenly in and out of the saddle but that didn't help so I just hauled myself up to Ridgecrest in my granny gear getting passed by the growing CRC group again, and again, and again...
It didn't take long to get to Ridgecrest and the series of giant rollers that leads to the East Peak. The view along Ridgecrest is nothing short of awesome after it opens up along the ridge looking over Bolinas. I'm just sorry I couldn't do it justice with a good picture.
I stopped to munch on a cliff bar, but I was out of fluids and starting to bonk so I couldn't seem to get my rhythm back on the ridge either, but I finally caught up with the CRC group who had passed me again at the base of the East Peak. They turned off toward Stinson, but I wanted to go to the top, just to say that I did. So I started off following a couple of nice ladies on even nicer bikes, saying "Hi" and passing them initially having gotten my legs back a bit after a short rest. They passed me as I slowed up for a photo of the bay just before the peak.
I reached the peak and rewarded myself with a Gatorade and Kit-Kat from the snackbar. I wanted to hike up to the observation tower, but I didn't trust the field-trip of kids around my bike alone, so I decided to save that for another day and just took another photo of San Francisco from the peak.
After a Kit-Kat, a refill, and a short break I started my descent. From the base of the East Peak I followed Pan Toll back to Panoramic Highway where all the cycling greats had ridden up only a couple weeks earlier. There's still spray paint along the road urging on the various pro teams and riders. I followed a couple and a long string of cars down to Mill Valley and got onto Miller Avenue to make my way back North to Terra Linda.
From Mill Valley I still had a few small climbs to contend with, but nothing I hadn't done many times already. However, I had the feeling that I hadn't hydrated properly during the ride and my legs were starting to cramp up. I had only gone about 40 miles so far, but much of that had been mountain. I got over Camino Alto no problem, I even felt like I was going pretty fast up it. I passed a few riders, and got passed by a few more. From Corte Madera I followed South Eliseo to get to the Irving St. climb that connects to Central San Rafael. This is an even smaller climb, but there's a small section, only a few hundred feet, that is very steep and trying to hammer up it my left hamstring cramped up and I had to stop for a minute mid-climb. I managed to shake it off and get over the hill to San Rafael and then Terra Linda no problem, cooling myself down along the final stretch pass Northgate Mall and back to my truck.
All in all it was a great ride. The views were spectacular and the roads were awesome. I've never had so much fun for so long on a ride and this my longest ride to date. The first 35 miles or so cover part of the Mt. Tam Century which is part of the Marin Century event that I plan on doing this summer. I'd like to do the Mt. Tam Double and earn myself one of those jerseys.
Here's the technical readout for the ride:
Height: 5' 7"
Max HR: 180
Avg HR: 149
Time in Zone (129-169): 4:46:11
Avg Speed: 12.8mph
Max Speed: 36.6mph
Avg Cadence: 79
Max Cadence: 128
Ride Time: 5:09:47
Total Time: 5:23:01