Climb after climb after climb…repeat

My friend Ken said back in April to register for any route of the Marin Century ride and he’ll sign up for the same one so we could do it together. I’d always wanted to do the Mount Tam Double Century, but didn’t feel like I was ready for that kind of ride (yet). I decided to do the double metric century (200 KM / 124 miles) without looking at the ride profile (as usual). It sounded like a good idea at the time even though part of me was nervous about it for some reason.

I was feeling pretty good and prepared for this ride after the Rando Faultline 200K in June. My muscles weren’t sore after that ride and I surprisingly never got any hot spots in my feet either. I went to load the route onto my Garmin the week of the ride and then I finally saw that the double metric involved 10,631′ of climbing. WTF? Faultline was “only” 8,832′ climbing so this was almost 2000′ more climbing! Holy smokes! I looked up the route finally also to see what looked like hitting almost every single climb in Marin County except Marshall Wall and Coleman Valley Road. I was starting to think that this was a really bad idea, BUT I’d have Ken with me and he wouldn’t let me back out.

The morning of Saturday, 3 August rolled around and Ken picked me up at my friend Kat’s as I was puppysitting her cute labradoodle Gromit for a few days. We set off for San Rafael to get as early a start as possible. Ken said that he made a “dumb decision” on which bike he brought…aka his 51 x 17 fixie. We were discussing the route and he didn’t realize that we were going to the East peak of Tam after Seven Sisters. I’m not sure if he realized either how much climbing this ride was, but he’s also one of the strongest (if not THE strongest) cyclists I know.

Tagged and ready to roll.

We rolled out after Ken stopped talking to everyone he knew around Registration. I hadn’t paid attention that this was actually brand new routes for all of the rides. The air was crisp, but I’d refused to bring any arm / leg warmers knowing that I’d have to rip them off within a couple of hours and then be stuck carrying them around with me the rest of the day. I’d happily freeze for a brief period of time to save that real estate in my jersey pockets. We got a nice warm-up along Lucas Valley and Nicasio Valley Roads. We turned onto Sir Francis Drake Boulevard which I was starting to get a little bored with all this relatively flat road. I knew better though than to wish for more excitement since I knew that there’d be plenty of climbing coming up!

I felt odd rolling into Fairfax at the beginning of a ride instead of seeing this view coming back from a ride. I was more comfortable now 20-ish miles in and knowing that we were going to start getting to work! We starting the hill to Alpine Dam which always seems longer to me than I remember, even though I’d just been here two weeks ago with my NorCal Velo friends for the annual Tam ride. I made a comment to another rider of “almost there” and he started describing the route to Tam to me. I cut him off (just a little) saying that I knew exactly where I was since I was here two weeks ago and that’s just something I say to myself even though I know it’s not true. There was a rest stop before the dam that neither Ken nor I needed to stop at especially since we hadn’t really done anything significant yet. I was expecting the rest stop to be at the top of Tam or at least at the top of some climb section instead of on the way to Alpine Dam still. We roll right past Alpine Dam and everyone who stopped to take photos. I’ve got enough photos from here that I didn’t need any more! Seven Sisters had a better view than when it was heavy wet fog two weeks ago and at least it was dry, sunny, and cool today with (most important) a nice dry road. We finish the Seven Sisters and hang a left to the East Peak of Tam. I see some other cyclists already on their way back from the East Peak which always makes me think that I’m the slowest gazelle. I get to the East Peak a few minutes after Ken. We’re off again after just a minute to take a couple of quick photos. We can rest on the downhill portion of Pantoll Road! I see a bunch of other cyclists who were behind me which always helps reaffirm that I’m not the slow gazelle!

Top of Mount Tam.

I have to wait for Ken on the downhills since he’s on his fixie and I’ve got the route loaded onto my Garmin. We make our way to the 4 corners where there’s some confusion among riders on which way they’re supposed to go for the 3 routes. This is when I realized that it’s not just the double metric route that goes through here. I’m glad that I have the route on my Garmin since there’s not really any clear signage here on which direction. I know though that Ken and I have to turn right onto Muir Woods Road. I’m glad that we’re getting this hard climbing done early on in the ride!

I’m not entirely sure if I’ve ever been on Muir Woods Road and it doesn’t exactly look familiar. It’s still overcast which I’m not minding! My lower back is hurting. I’m starting to wonder if this route was a mistake and doubting if I can make it. Ken is somewhere up ahead of me. I finally pull over to take some ibuprofen and pray that it kicks in soon. I’m hoping this isn’t a bad indication of what the next 70 miles are going to be like. I catch up to Ken right before Muir Beach and we head north along Shoreline Highway. We stop at the rest stop around Stinson Beach where of course Ken runs into more people he knows! Some metric century riders are here and they’re starting to make their way back to Santa Rosa while Ken and I are only halfway through our ride (and we started a good 2+ hours earlier).

I finally get Ken back in the saddle and we head off to Olema. For some reason this stretch of road always makes me think “are we there yet?” It’s a bunch of short climbs and not-long-enough descents. Some pretty scenery and hard to believe that you’re not out in the middle of nowhere as there are long stretches inbetween towns that many local cyclists know and most Bay Area residents have probably never heard of.

Ken and me at the top of Mount Tam.

We turn right out of Olema towards Tocaloma. There’s a quick water stop around one corner that Ken wants to stop at to refill. As usual, there’s at least one person there who sees Ken’s fixie and starts talking to him about it (although I think mostly it’s a combination of “omg you’re crazy!” and “badass!”). I forget the details but Ken usually makes fun of himself being “the old guy” also when he’s talking about this subject. I’m secretly seething with jealousy of the metric riders turning onto Nicasio Valley Road as they’re in the home stretch for their route. Ken and I continue on Point Reyes-Petaluma Road on a very long and boring stretch of road. I groan at the sign for 12 miles to Petaluma as I look down the mostly straight road. I resisted the urge to cut the ride short here because damnit, I’m doing this double metric if it kills me. There’s too many cars going by for Ken and I to really talk much which means that this stretch is about as boring as it can get on a bike!

We turn onto Hicks Valley Road which I can never remember the name of even though I’ve taken it every time except once to get to Marshall Wall (aka the climb on Marshall-Petaluma Road which isn’t that steep or hard of a climb really). I’m hitting my typical mental block at 80-ish miles. At Mile 83, Ken asks to stop for a minute as his feet are hurting. Ironically we’re in front of a house that I actually recognize on this road too as I look at it every time I’m out here for some reason. I take the opportunity to have a quick snack and ask him if he wants to continue. Part of me is hoping that he says he’s in too much pain and wants to go back to Nicasio Valley Road instead of marching onto Petaluma. That part of me whimpers when he says he’s okay and we can continue on.

My legs cry a bit as we start pedaling again towards Wilson Hill Road. It’s now mid-afternoon and definitely getting warm out there. I don’t know where any of the rest stops are (of course) so don’t know there’s one just on the other side of the hill. I’m surprised that I’m feeling pretty good going up Wilson Hill and take a moment to enjoy the view while waiting for Ken. I’m a bit surprised at how long I’m waiting for Ken at the top of the hill. He finally shows up some minutes later saying that he had to pull over again to rest his feet. Ken’s the ultimate badass cyclist as despite his feet hurting this much, he says that he’s fine to continue riding. Remember too that he’s on a fixie for this 200K w/ 10,000′!

Enjoying the view from the top of Wilson Hill.

I take off down Wilson Hill and turn to the rest stop at the hill’s bottom. I run into my friend Kat Browne, who is doing the traditional century (and her first century!). She’s overheating a bit and looking pretty spent. I know her route is a big challenge for her and I’m glad that I got to see her during it! Ken hasn’t shown up yet and I start getting worried as he was right behind me when we went down Wilson Hill.

I give up waiting for Ken and continue on Chileno Valley Road towards Petaluma hoping that I run into him. I keep looking behind me to see if he’s behind me still for some reason. I catch up to a guy we’d talked to at the water stop and tell him that I’m looking for my friend (which the guy knows as “the old dude” of course). I text and call Ken and keep checking my phone to see if I’ve heard back from him. We know we’re in the same area, but it’s hard to say where we are exactly.

I get to Petaluma and still don’t see any sign of Ken. I turn onto D Street to start heading back South to Nicasio Valley Road and stop underneath some trees still trying to figure out where Ken is. I’m worried as he said that he’s out of water and he’s on some big climb. I’m clueless on where he is since I’m unfamiliar with where I am exactly or this way back to Nicasio Valley Road. After waiting for about 15 minutes, I figure I better get moving again. Kat just passed me while I was waiting and I quickly catch up to her. I try to ride with her and notice that she’s going slower than usual. I suspect she’s tired, but she seems okay. I’m also still trying to hunt for Ken so I can’t stay with Kat for too long and I start unintentionally pulling further and further ahead from her. I look back at one point and don’t see her anymore. Later on, I’ll feel bad about this moment as I found out that Kat mentally lost it on the next climb and 2 strangers comforted her. I regret not staying with her and being able to take care of her then. I know that I couldn’t have known that that was going to happen to her.

I start climbing up a hill on Point Reyes-Petaluma Road. I realize after several minutes that this isn’t just some bunny hill. This must be the big climb that Ken said he was on with no water. I’m feeling a bit miserable on this thing also and it’s full on afternoon sun now making it even more uncomfortable. I’m not sure how long this climb is, but it certainly feels like it’s going on for miles and miles. I finally get to the top and start fantasizing about a long descent all the way to Nicasio Valley Road, even though I know that’s not true. I remember there are several miles of just boring flat-ish straight road somewhere ahead too and no Ken to keep me company on it.

Ken and my bikes together again finally!

I do get excited though when I turn onto Nicasio Valley Road knowing that I’m finally on the home stretch. I’m developing hot spots on my feet though so need to pull over to let my toes cool off. I notice that I’m having a bit of trouble unclipping my right shoe, but don’t bother looking at it. I check my phone again and try calling Ken with no luck. We both know that we’re still in the general vicinity of each other, but just not sure where. I got the idea that he’s still in front of me so I get back on my bike and continue on. I turn into what I can safely assume is the last rest stop to refill on water. KEN! He gets there a couple of minutes after I do. Turns out he had stopped at the French Marin Cheese Factory to refill on water and rest so I’d passed him there. I’m SO happy that we’re finally together again! I’d felt so guilty on losing him at the bottom of Wilson Hill Road. He thought he had seen me keep going straight on Chileno Valley Road and never saw the sign or turn for the rest stop there. I get another surprise here too as my friend Angel’s dad walks up to me to say hi! I hadn’t really realized that he was a cyclist let alone liked to do any kind of distance. He’s finishing up the traditional century route. Ken and I get back on the road knowing that we’ve still got what’s really the hardest part of the ride left since you’re so close yet so far from the finish.

We turn onto Lucas Valley Road which always has more climbing than I remember. It’s mostly shaded luckily. We stick with each other on all the climbs, but I lose him on the big curvy descent. I try to pull over to wait for him, but I can’t unclip my right shoe without feeling like I’d really have to crank hard on twisting it. I mentally apologize to Ken as I continue on the finish. I’m afraid to unclip now as I may break something and not be able to clip back in again. My legs are feeling pretty good and we’re almost to the finish.

I turn onto Las Gallinas Avenue and talk to another cyclist about how this always feels like the longest part of the ride. It’s through a residential section and sometimes feels like they just tack it on to add a couple of more miles to the finish as we had to go through here also when the ride started from the Marin County Fairgrounds on the other side of 101.

I broke my cleat!

We turn onto Nova Albion Way to the finish at Terra Linda High School. I ride straight to Ken’s van and finally unclip. I look at my shoe and realize that I’d broken the cleat sometime during the ride! I’d just changed my cleats two months before so wonder why this one broke so quickly. Ken went straight to get food so I walk my bike back over there to join him. We head home after we’ve had our fill.

This was definitely one of my most challenging rides to date as I didn’t know if I could do 10,000′ of climbing in a single ride. I’m glad that I had Ken with me for support though, even if he didn’t realize that I had wanted to quit at Mile 80. My calves, quads, and glutes hurt for a good 3 days afterwards, which at least I know that I was using my entire leg on the pedal strokes. I felt like this was a really good route. I’m glad I picked it though and that Ken was game for doing whichever route I chose! I’ve done two double metric centuries now and Ken has been with me on both of them. I’m glad he encouraged me to push myself further and harder on the bike to see what’s really possible for me to do. I’m already looking forward to my next long ride with him!

Strava post of the ride.

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