Mt Tam Ascent

California Dreaming

by / / 32 posts

I’m in California this week on a family trip, from which I stole a morning and did the classic ride up and around the Marin County’s Mt. Tamalpais. The climb started in the dark forest, eventually opening into the sun-drenched hills that buffer the Pacific Ocean. The metaphor was clear: I was climbing out of the darkness of my northwest hibernation and into the light of a new cycling season. Sure, I’ve been riding all winter, but the majority of those miles have been pushing the flat pedals of my long-tail as I take my son to school. This was a return to cleats, carbon, and the almighty V-kit. It felt good.

The bike I rented from ACME cycles, a Foundry frame with Shimano 105 components, was an odd fit. An insufficient drop, saddle-to-bars, for starters. That didn’t bother me for long though. I passed a deer early in the climb, who looked up at me with those ever-vacant eyes. He seemed to say, slowly “Wha? It’s a bike, fool”. “Fair enough,” I thought, it was a bike indeed.

I reached a viewpoint and looked down on Stinson Beach, where I had surfed the day before, and I felt the full swing of summer. The sun was in every pore now and the pedals were swinging underneath me.

As I neared to top of Mt. Tam, however, my climber’s high fell away to fatigue. I began to lament my meager fitness, and my California dreaming drifted in a darker direction. What if I worked less and rode more? What if I lived in a place like this, where I could ride big climbs right from my back door? What if I could fully realize the innate combination of endurance and arrogance I was seemingly born with? These are the daydreams of a middle-aged man on an expensive rental bike, to be sure.

I crested the summit and looked out to San Francisco Bay, the bridges, and the city. I finished the last of my water and deployed my vest for the chilly decent. I stowed my daydreams in favor of the present. I had my health, and enough fitness to get up here. I was alive. And I was on bike. This was, and is, enough.

// The Rides

  1. Nice one!

    My brother lives in CA, on the beach. I need to get out there at some point, I just can’t stomach the cost of flights these days, especially when I’d like a new wheelset. Or two.

    Working less would be nice, I’m less than a year into being back in the 9-5 world and it takes a big bite out of cycling time. Thankfully with more light in the evenings, I’ve being riding after work some nights. Oh, and I commute daily by bike so I can’t really complain.




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  2. Welcome back Keeper @jim (even though you never left).




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  3. Nice piece! There’s nothing like a nice ride on unfamiliar roads to test your mettle and make some reevaluations of life.




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  4. Looking at that photo, I so want to ride Mt. Tamalpais.




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  5. Yup, it has been a beautiful spring so far. Next time you are here rent a Madone from City Cycle. If you send them your fit numbers and show up with yr helmet, saddle and pedals they will have you out the door in no time. Then drop me a line and you can rip the legs off an old fat guy while you admire the views




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  6. I will be there this summer, am starting to calculate taking my bike along (wife unhappiness, cost, internal wife mortgage for time away…..)…. this is tougher than Rule Nr. 12 discussions.




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  7. My daughter and her husband live in the hills north of Santa Cruz. Took the bike down there (from home on the Olympic Peninsula) on a visit a couple years ago. Blasting down to SC, north along the coast highway, grinding up the steeps back to the high ridgelines…

    The place is magic. I’m a Bay Area native, so the region gets to me. All three of my kids were born and raised in Oregon, but two wound up in NorCal. Go figure.




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  8. Not too rub it in but that ride is in my backyard and as many times as I do it, it never fails to blow my mind. Part of what I love about it is the micro climates you go thru, the primeval forest you climb thru and then there is quite often rain at the top from the Redwoods catching the mist of the Pacific. As you noted, then you come out into the sun and a view of the ocean that is breathtaking. Oh yeah, and it’s a leg breaker of a climb too. Thank you for reminding me how lucky I am to live here in this overpriced County.




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  9. A very good day.




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  10. @ Jim,

    Every ride on a bike is special. However, the solo rides up an unfamiliar climb awaken all the senses. I am sure you wore a wide grin through the suffering. It doesn’t get much better than that.




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  11. @Sparty

    @ Jim,

    Every ride on a bike is special.

    Ride last Friday was extra special. My willingness to ride down dirt/sand road in the rain showed me a house for sale. My parents are wanting to move back (near family) and this house is 3 minutes for us (versus 2.5 hours).




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  12. Wonderful article @Jim. Thanks for sharing.




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  13. Surfing one day and a bike ride the next, that’s my kind of California dreaming. Cheers @Jim.




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  14. Last week I finally heard back that I was offered a teaching position at Dunn High School in the Santa Ynez valley, just north of Santa Barbara. I’m stoked to ride those roads … but I’m also looking forward to visiting my sister in San Francisco, bringing a bike, and riding the roads of Marin county and the Santa Cruz mountains.

    And twenty-plus years after both she and I moved out West, my parents are finally making noises about relocating to be closer to us…




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  15. @Lingduay

    Looking at that photo, I so want to ride Mt. Tamalpais.

    There are several ways up it, including a killer gravel grade. Such an amazing hill to have so close to a city. When I rode down there last Spring, I was confronted with similar moving impulses.




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  16. I live in England but did get over to California a couple of years’ back and realised a long held ambition – to climb the Nacimiento Fergusson road that rises up from the Pacific coast, off Highway 1 between Monterey and San Luis Obispo. This has to be one of the most awesome climbs in Ca. with stunning views back down to the Ocean. Descending back down to the coastal highway requires nerves of steel and very efficient brakes!




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  17. @cognition

    Hey, that’s great news! Sorry to lose your presence up here, but hearty congratulations anyway! When do you think you’ll be relocating?

    If my daughter stays in Santa Cruz, maybe we can meet up there for a ride one of these days.




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  18. I was out there riding a few weeks ago (I made the short drive out of Berkeley towards Mill Valley) and rode over Alpine Dam through to the Seven Sisters, looking over Stinson Beach

    . Absolutely stunning and beautiful weather




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  19. Mt Tamalpais. Sacred ground. Being the birthplace of mountain bikes.




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  20. @PeakInTwoYears

    Thanks! We’re headed down in late July. Tentatively the 25th/26th. I’m still looking to head over your way for some more time on the Olympic Peninsula before leaving.

    If nothing else, I emailed @frank today to see about setting up a graveur Cogal from North Bend up to Snoqualmie Pass and back, a metric century with mostly gravel , a little singletrack, and some crappy pavement. Maybe we can tempt you to come over (close) to the big city…




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  21. Mt Tam is magnificent riding. Can’t believe I haven’t been over there since @frank was here. I need to fix that.

    Bay Area Cogal may need to return to Marin this year…




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  22. One time I had the opportunity to ride from the house of some relatives of the VMH in San Jose. Rode over the hills to Santa Cruz. Couldn’t have asked for a better ride. One forgets that California isn’t all LA sometimes.




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  23. @cognition

    I’m still looking to head over your way for some more time on the Olympic Peninsula before leaving.

    Right on.

    If nothing else, I emailed @frank today to see about setting up a graveur Cogal from North Bend up to Snoqualmie Pass and back, a metric century with mostly gravel , a little singletrack, and some crappy pavement. Maybe we can tempt you to come over (close) to the big city…

    Keep me informed!




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  24. As some of the Seattle Velominati know, I’m temporarily living in Oakland these days. The cycling around here is great. My niece took me up Mt Diablo a few weeks ago. What a magnificent ride. In the next few weeks, we’re planning on doing Mt. Hamilton and Tam as well. In Seattle, a climb is usually measured in hundreds of feet. Around here, climbs are measured in thousands of feet.

    We’ll be here until November or so – what’s the word on a Bay Area Cogal? Are old, fat, slow climbers welcome?




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  25. @Jamie

    As some of the Seattle Velominati know, I’m temporarily living in Oakland these days. The cycling around here is great. My niece took me up Mt Diablo a few weeks ago. What a magnificent ride. In the next few weeks, we’re planning on doing Mt. Hamilton and Tam as well. In Seattle, a climb is usually measured in hundreds of feet. Around here, climbs are measured in thousands of feet.

    We’ll be here until November or so – what’s the word on a Bay Area Cogal? Are old, fat, slow climbers welcome?

    You’re welcome to meet me at Cole Coffee and go do the after-work Redwood-Pinehurst loop any old day, Jamie. I can promise you neither old nor fat, but I can bring the slow like nobody’s business.




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  26. @Jamie

    As noted above, thinking Marin. Usually do it mid July but might be late June. Stay tuned.




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  27. Shawn and Nate – great to hear.

    Shawn, I’m staying near Mills College, so do the Redwood gig regularly. Just love that kicker at the top climbing from Mountain (not). From where and when do you roll? The rest of the week is pretty packed for me, and I’m traveling all of next week. Starting the following week, however, I’ll be in dire need of some miles. Feel free to email me at: jelenbaas(at)duvoice(dot)com




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  28. Oops – reading comprehension on my end. Cole Coffee – (right near Noodle Theory – yes?). Got it .




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  29. @Jamie

    Shawn and Nate – great to hear.

    Shawn, I’m staying near Mills College, so do the Redwood gig regularly. Just love that kicker at the top climbing from Mountain (not). From where and when do you roll? The rest of the week is pretty packed for me, and I’m traveling all of next week. Starting the following week, however, I’ll be in dire need of some miles. Feel free to email me at: jelenbaas(at)duvoice(dot)com

    Oh man, I just go up Butters when I approach low like that. Pinehurst kicker is enough for me later in the loop.
    Will PM you at the addy listed.




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  30. Like it @jim. nice piece




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  31. Thank you for that excellent piece. This makes me realize that I’m really lucky and happy that I am not playing golf like the rest of fat middle aged male America.




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  32. As someone who grew up in the Bay Area, and has since relocated, I’m now just a smidge more homesick…




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