Sunday, March 13, 2011

18 miles of Marin

I have visited the Marin Headlands at least a half dozen times, and I have never, not once, been there when it wasn't encased in fog. I advocated aggressively for a trip to Marin this weekend, so I was thrilled when the famous California sunshine made a showing for our planned Saturday run. Even the insane St. Patrick's Day parade traffic in downtown San Francisco couldn't dampen my spirits for such a momentous occasion.

We met up with Beat's friend Jochen, who lives in the city. Jochen proposed a "little" run of about 18 miles.

Since it was to be only my second run post-Susitna, and following a fairly overactive week of mountain biking, I balked a bit at the distance. But then Jochen promised fantastic scenery — my weakness. OK, legs, guess you're gonna hafta cowboy up.

My Susitna pains still come back a bit when the mileage piles up — sore tendons in the outer sides of both feet, sore IT bands, and general reminders that running is quite hard — a fact that month of "rest" had managed to mask. I slowed up Beat and Jochen a bit, but they were also too busy enjoying the scenery to really notice.

The views were indeed awesome. The Headlands are a mostly tree-free ridge, allowing for sweeping panoramas from all angles. Trails routinely and quickly drop from 1,000 feet to sea level and then climb again.

The weather could not have been better — temperatures in the low 60s, a stiff sea breeze and abundant sunshine.

We dropped down to Pirate's Cove for a snack on the beach ...

Watched waves crash on the rocks ...

And checked out very recent mudslides, likely damage from Friday's tsunami.

On the way back into Tennessee Valley, we watched a bobcat hunt on the hillside.

And ran, ran, ran all the way back to the Golden Gate Bridge just in time for an evening of Thai food and cappuccinos in the city.

A fantastic day ... one much better served by pictures than words. Map and profiles at this link.
Friday, March 11, 2011


First week in a new city always turns into a binge of sorts. I did this in Montana, too — spent nearly every free moment of my first week in town combing the nearby woods for fun new places to ride my bike. (Here in the Bay area, I'm also on the lookout for fun places to run.) If I was floored by my first look at options in Missoula, I'm completely incredulous about the Bay area. There is a lot out there. A LOT. It makes sense — heavily populated areas tend to spur a lot of trail development. Wilderness junkies would turn their noses up, but it is a great playground for bicycles.

For my Friday ride, I took a cue from a commenter (thanks, MattC!) and headed to Woodside to check out the Purisima Creek Redwoods region. It was a pretty simple plan — climb 1,800 feet of redwood-shaded pavement to the Skyline ridge, drop 1,800 feet of steep muddy doubletrack down to the sea side of the peninsula, climb back up to the ridge on insanely-steep-I'm-about-to-tip-over-but-at-least-I'm-maintaining-2.5 mph trail, loop through some of the muddy techy singletrack in the El Corte de Madera Creek area, then race the sunset home because I didn't bring lights and this loop will take a lot longer than I anticipated.

OK, that wasn't really the plan because I didn't even have a plan when I set out under a bright afternoon sun in the town of Woodside. But that is what happened. I had to stop many times to study my map because there were so many intersections and so many trail possibilities. The redwoods were gorgeous, the air smelled strongly of sweet grass and mulch, and I was loving the chunky roller coaster riding on the Madera trails. (The route was more technical than I anticipated, resulting in a couple close calls and one crash where I endoed over a mud puddle and punched a tree as I flew through the air.) But for the most part, it was a Zen ride — strenuous and quiet. After I veered off the Kings Mountain Road, I didn't see a single other person (besides an occasional car on the road) in three hours of riding. Not one. I know it was a Friday afternoon in March, but seriously, this is a region of 7.4 million people. Where are all the bikers? My theory: There are just more than enough trails to go around.

I was home late for dinner and a run, again — late enough (and exhausted enough) that we agreed to cancel the run. Beat has been very sweet about my biking binge this week, but I did feel quite guilty about it (I imagine this is how some spouses feel when they come home late from a night of bar hopping.) But it turned out to be a great ride — 24 miles and 5,000 feet of climbing on highly variable terrain (everything from smooth wide pavement to narrow, root-choked, side-sloping singletrack.) You know it's been a good ride when you come home covered in mud and blood.

There's a map of this ride and elevation info at this link.

Are there any more commenters in the Bay area have some good suggestions for bike and/or running routes? MattC's route turned out fantastic, so I'm hoping to get some more good ideas. Thanks in advance!
Thursday, March 10, 2011

Me and the beast

I know I vowed to buckle down and begin work on writing projects, but I'm in a new place and the urge to explore is just too enticing. I feel I should be able to allot ... let's say three hours ... each day for bikesplorations and/or trail running. That should maybe scratch the itch enough that I can concentrate on my work. And after all, I'm still training for the White Mountains 100, right? Tapering doesn't have to begin until, well ... next week.

Speaking of training, it is now looking like I'll be riding Beat's Fatback in the White Mountains. Since I haven't really ridden the Fatback before, I decided I should take it out for a few good rides beforehand to make sure I'm comfortable with the bike. Beat has adopted my penchant for giving bicycles uninspired pet names, and we've take to calling the Fatback "Fatty." Fatty is a beautiful aluminum fat bike with a carbon fork and 70mm Speedway rims. It weighs substantially less than Pugsley, at least seven pounds less; it also handles better and has vastly newer parts than Pugsley. Only catch is I have to make sure it "fits" me.

I picked a route that looked good on the map. Turns out around here, if something looks good on a map — even if it involves a mixture of singletrack, pavement and fire roads — it's probably an established route. This one is called the "Stevens Creek Loop." From my house, it's about 24 miles and 2,900 feet of climbing. It was the perfect snow-bike training route for California — a long, gradual climb on mixed terrain, including plenty of mud of splashy creek crossings.

A light, misty rain fell for most of my ride up the canyon. Beneath the satin cloud cover, as I passed silver droplets hanging from branches and tree trunks wrapped in green strands of moss, I was hit with another pang of Juneau nostalgia. It's actually been a while since I visited one of these: "Places That Make Me Miss Southeast Alaska." I guess I am back on the Pacific Coast now, even if it is a couple thousand miles too far south.

The final fire road climb to Monte Bello Ridge was a grind, on soft mud at a 10-percent grade. You feel every millimeter of a climb like that on a fat bike, especially when you are maybe not in top biking shape, but I dug in and spun away at it. As I rose, the clouds closed in.

I'm pretty stoked about the Fatback. As I crested Black Mountain, I mulled how I was going to possibly fit all my gear on the bike ... sleeping system on the rear rack, water and food in a backpack, spare clothing hanging off handlebars. Maybe I should just go with my original plan to only carry a down coat, a few spare layers, fire-starting supplies and an emergency bivy. I'm genuinely torn with the decision of gear for this winter race — whether to go light and fast, or safe and secure. I know the terrain and feel fairly certain that, barring major injury, I should have no issues traveling the entire way without the need to bivy, even if it's quite cold. However, my brushes with "too cold and not enough clothing to combat it" during the Susitna 100 have scared the insecurities back into me.

But for now, I'm a chick on a fat bike in coastal California. One construction flagger on the Stevens Creek Road called the Fatback "creepy," and another transient near the freeway yelled "nice motorcycle!" But I was lucky today to otherwise have that entire lush, misty trail to myself, whooping and singing along with my iPod as I wended around tight corners through the woods. I have to admit, it's kind of awesome to be able to get out for rides mid-day during the week. I'm starting to feel like I "own" that Monte Bello trail system, and I'm almost afraid to return on a sunny weekend day.