Monday, September 10, 2012

MCBC Mount Tam Dirt Fondo

That was the goal ... the top of Mount Tam

Does anyone know an attorney that specializes in Constitutional Law … specifically the Eighth Amendment?  After yesterday’s Mt. Tam Dirt Fondo, I am convinced that the Marin County Bike Coalition is guilty of practicing Cruel and Unusual Punishment on its members.
I love the long, early morning shadows.  Evidence that I wake up before noon on the weekends.

When I saw the advertisement for the Dirt Fondo, I thought it would be a great way to get to know Tam, riding predominantly fire roads over the southern section of the mountain.  My usual mountain bike courses are on the northern side, between Fairfax and Mill Valley.  And the 46 mile, 7,000 foot course seemed manageable given my recent century rides, 126 miler to Aptos and the Tioga Pass.  Sign me up.  And who wants to ride with me, right?!?
Climbing Miwok, view to Pacific Ocean

As I have mentioned in the past, I am not much of a mountain biker.  I tend to crash at high speeds and teeter over at low ones.  The act of riding a bike when either a) the road washes out from below you or b) balancing while moving at less than 2 miles per hour are both challenging.  Furthermore, I have the gift of massive torque and power which, on a gravel trail, is counterproductive.  Unlike on a road bike where I can stand up and hammer through an uphill section, on a mountain bike, every time I stand up to pedal hard, the rear wheel just spins out and I fall on my face.  With all this in mind, I resolved to ride the Fondo in granny gear the whole day, just spinning my way to the top.  And on the downhills, I would take it super easy, making life miserable for anyone unfortunate enough to be stuck behind me.
Evidence that I actually did ride with Britt and Bryan for at least part of the ride

My two buddies, Britt and Bryan, joined me for the ride.  Britt and Bryan are both stronger climbers than I am (weigh 50 pounds less than I do) but I was able to keep up with them for the first two climbs.  I was pushing myself a little harder than I should have been to start such a long day, but I was pleased to be climbing with them only about 30 seconds behind.  At the mile nine mark, after about an hour of climbing, we hit the top of the ridge.  I had been staring at my front wheel and the two feet in front of it for probably ten minutes, happily ignoring everything else and enjoying my pain-place.  As the grade lessened, I looked up to see that there was a huge crowd of guys stopping at the top to catch their breath before the descent.  Unfortunately, my coordination was a lacking and I hit both the front and rear brakes a bit too hard.  At two miles an hour, I did a full endo and landed on my face to an appreciative audience.  I bounced back up immediately and gave a thumbs-up to a thunderous applause.  

Muir Woods.  Relief from the sun
Seeing my performance, Bryan and Britt just shook their heads and bombed down the hill.  As I got back on my bike, there was something obviously wrong with the front wheel.  It had somehow bent into the shape of a crescent moon, with the tire hitting the fork in two places as the wheel rotated.  Uh oh, big trouble.  I pulled out my trusty spoke wrench and started working on the tire.  But this was no ordinary wheel-truing session.  This was a Grade-A taco job.  After about ten minutes, the SAG wagon arrived - a Sunshine Bikes mechanic who was cruising the course helping suckers like me in need – and he got down to business.  The attached video is a small snippet of the job.  But you know you are in trouble when a mechanic says, “Oh, you are screwed.  You need a new wheel.  This is not going to come out, not even in a shop.  Let me see if I can get that into a shape where you can at least finish the ride”.  Needless to say, this was an ominous start to the day.  We are less than a quarter of the way into the ride and my bike was tweaked.  After about 20 minutes, he was able to get me riding again, but the front wheel wobble was bothersome at best for the remainder of the day.

As I descended to the rest stop, I was wondering what Bryan and Britt were thinking.  I had sent them a text to let them know about my troubles.  But the cell reception of Tam is non-existent, so they had no clue what was going on.  When I finally got to the bottom, the quote from Britt was hilarious.  “Dude, what happened?  I thought you might have had some trouble negotiating the switchbacks.  But we passed a runner when we came down the hill.  And when she beat you down, I knew something was wrong.”  Yeah, it took me twenty extra minutes to navigate 5 switchbacks on a descent that took everyone else 4 minutes.  Hilarious.

The next climb was the monster – a 7 mile, 2,500 foot climb up to the East Peak of Tam.  I knew there was this thing called Cardiac Hill somewhere along the way, but I didn’t think it would take me two hours to do the whole thing.  The trail was amazing.  It wound through huge redwood trees and little streams.  The Dipsea Trail (which is a running trail) crossed this climb in several spots.  I laughed as I continued up a straight line as the same woman was kept crossing in front of me on her run up the same hill.  I got dropped by Bryan and Britt early on and just happily suffered in granny gear the whole way.  I wish I would have been in a better place to have been able to take more pictures.  But, unlike on a road bike, it is really hard to take pictures with one hand while maintain the line with the other.  Not to mention the rubbing sounds coming from my front wheel, this climb was a bitch. And to top it all off, the pain-mantra was exacerbated by the Katie Perry song that played over-and-over-and-over in my head.  Not sure where this one came from.  But it got the job done.  When we reached Eldridge Grade at the top of Tam, we took the optional route to the parking lot to add and extra 100 feet of climbing.  God, I love Mount Tam.

Not sure where this is ... I was delirious by this point
The Eldridge descent was fun and I had never done the climb up Hoo-Koo-E-Koo.  After that descent to the final rest stop, my brain was basically mush.  My hamstrings were throbbing and, frankly, my butt was killing me.  Again, on the road bike, I can stand up and pedal for long stretches.  This helps my back and  my butt just by breaking up the ride.  The monotony of sitting and pedaling for hours is truly abusive. 
I hooked back up with the boys and they tried to prepare me for the next climb, Green Gulch.  It sounded pretty enough as it ran through some sort of Zen Center.  Well let me tell you, there was no Zen involved in this route.  This puppy was an 800 foot climb in less than 2 miles, averaging 9% grade with much of it being north of 20%.  To top it all off, the path was newly constructed with major sections of six-inch deep gravel.  This was a surefire recipe for disaster for this FatGuy.  I never actually fell, but I had to clip out multiple times to catch myself.  The traction was simply non-existent with my 300 pounds sinking into the gravel, trying to maintain 3 miles per hour.  And once the momentum was lost, I had to walk the bike to get to a ‘flat’ part just to get the bike started again.  The only saving grace was that there were other people struggling the same way, walking their bikes just as I was.

This woman has evidently found serenity in her cycling.  While this FatGuy was panting, devouring PB&J, and guzzling water, she took the tim eto soak in the sun and meditate.  She is my hero.
I rolled down Green Gulch, back down to the Tennessee valley Trailhead.  I knew that Tennessee Valley was in Mill Valley and there was a big hill between MV and Rodeo Beach where the car was parked.  At one point, I actually thought (prayed) that I was lost and I would have to take the roads back to Rodeo.  Or better yet, I would ride the streets to somewhere where Bryan and Britt could drive to pick me up.  But I caught a trail marker out of the corner of my eye and headed back up the Miwok Trail … shocker, another 800 feet of climbing.  On the descent to Rodeo Beach, I was just praying that Bryan and Britt would be at my car already.  I did not give a rip about the post-rode BBQ or the beer.  I just wanted to throw my bike in the Pacific Ocean and get home to a bath.  But, upon arriving at the car, there was no one to be seen.  Adding insult to injury, I had to ride the final mile and other 250 feet on the paved roads up to the YMCA for the BBQ.  Finding the guys up there, it was a quick celebration of burnt burgers, sloppy mayonnaise with a side of noodles that they claimed was macaroni salad and a really great IPA.  As amazing as that beer tasted, I couldn’t stomach another and, with a few high-fives to some buddies, we were out of there within 15 minutes.

A surprise Klimo signting.  Scott make the trek down from Washington State to ride the Fondo.  I think he passed me twoce going up hills and once going down.  I am not sure how that happened, logistically, but he is one hell of a mountain biker.
All in all, it was an amazing day. MCBC did an outstanding job of coordinating several jurisdictions (State, Federal, County, etc) to allow for such an epic ride.  The other star of the day was Mount Tamalpais itself.  The mountain is unparalleled with its ocean and valley views, sun and shade, redwood trees, flora and fauna alike.  Every single trail was well groomed and it is obvious that MCBC has a lot to do with the maintenance of this mountain.  If I had any recommendations to other beginning riders, it would be that 46 miles on Tam is not a good idea.  There was no single trail that was insurmountable, but the cumulative effect was a shocker.  My 126 mile road ride to Aptos was half the ride compared to this ‘little’ 46 miler.  I am happy that I made the journey, but there is no fu$%ing way that I would attempt the same course ever again.  Parts of it, yes.  But the whole enchilada … no freaking way.

The aftermath. And, surprisingly, no blood. 
In looking at the Strava data, I was not the slowest rider, not even close.  I finished in 6 hours and 3 minutes of riding time.  As of the time of this posting, of the 50 people that recorded their data, I finished 45th out of 50.  But there were two guys under 4 hours and six guys under 5 hours.  Those times are truly amazing.  A super effort and obviously these guys had something to prove.  And, as far as I am concerned, they proved their point.

Happy riding and I’m sticking to the paved stuff.  Once a month up Eldridge is enough for this FatGuy.

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