Mt. Tam Labor Day ride, riding with the Big Kids (Monday – September 3, 2012)

Coach sez i’m supposed to do this ride on Labor Day…. also, as it turns out, it’s the only listing in the GPC schedule:

“Mon Sep 3   5/TTM/40   Labor Day up Mt Tam
Meet at the Safeway on Miller/Camino Alto in Mill Valley for a prompt 10:00 a.m. departure. We’ll ride out from Mill Valley, climb Panoramic Hwy, Pan Toll Rd and E Ridgecrest Blvd to the summit for lunch. Drop down to Fairfax via Ridgecrest Blvd & Fairfax-Bolinas Rd. Bring lunch or snack. Sweet stop at Fairfax Scoop or Fat Angel Bakery. Directions: Take 101 S, Exit E Blithesdale Ave, right on E Blithesdale, left on Camino Alto. Do not park in the Safeway parking lot. There should be ample street parking on Miller. Faster riders are welcome. Nancy Yu & Michael Edwards”

Well, right off the bat, i acknowledge that TTM is pushing it for this old, slow gal, and the addition that “faster riders are welcome” might also boost the pace that much more, but since it’s the only listing, and it’s a holiday weekend, i am imagining there will be quite a sizable contingent of riders of the more TM- and even T-ish persuasion.  So i’m pretty confident I’ll be in good company.  Anyway, i know how to get up and down the mountain by myself (it’s the big green thing, up there… you just keep going UP), so if i fall too far behind, i’ll be OK.

The evening before, i’m trying to get a carpool together, my pal Ann has offered one in the GPC mailing list, but by the time I reply she is already driving w/ Estella as a passenger.  We kinetically brainstorm and decide that if I drive the three of us, then Ann & Estella can meet me at my house… and i’m just about to send out that note when i think to tell Ben of my plan…..

Unfortunately, although Coach sez i’m supposed to do the ride, turns out that Coach is also planning on appropriating our sole motor vehicle for his own purposes that day…. so I let Ann know i’ll think of some other way to get to Marin, and post my own “carpool wanted” note.

Within about 5 minutes I have 3 offers, the first being from my old pal David K, who is much faster (and actually suited to do the TMM-listed ride than i am), so we arrange a meeting/departure time at my house for the following morning: 9:30, sounds good to me.

I try to link up Kevin & Philippe for their own carpool, hoping to see both of them on the ride also…..

Weather forecast is 87 highs, lows in the 50s, with some light gusts; clear skies in the afternoon.  Meanwhile Eric is offering an impromptu 110-mi Berkeley-Morgan Territory-Mt.Diablo ride for the fasties as a more local, BART-able choice for the day….. and considering the heat we’ve experienced in the East Bay lately, I’m almost thankful I’m too slow to even consider that option.

Sunday i’ve kept my mileage and effort reasonably conservative with leading the Novice Ride and then returning home by BART to Rockridge and then the mostly downhill flats back to Albany, followed by chores: light gardening and a quick trip to Costco for the Almond Milk we like and about $250 worth of “other” items.

I come home and make some dinner….. beef tenderloin sauteed with leeks, pasila pepper, baby bella mushrooms and fresh green beens in a curried coconut sauce served over whole wheat spaghetti noodles. Quick and delicious!

I pack my bike bag for the morning (cleat shoes, helmet, bike glasses, “just in case” extra shirt, sarong, camp towel to clean up with, shorts & shirt for post-ride, V-8 for post-ride refuel.

Ben & I stay up and watch a movie Ben has recorded on our DVR, then hit the hay.

In the morning, I wake up slowly and take my time with my oatmeal and Latte.  Ben is going to go out riding, also, so I make him a sandwich as well….. peanut butter, home-made jam, banana and a whole bunch of arugula.  My favorite combo for a mid-ride break, these days.

Ben takes off on his adventure with the new recumbent around 9 a.m.; i ask where he’s heading, he tells me “up the hill….”


At 9:25 I fill my Camelbak bladder with ice, top it off with water, and pack it up into its jaunty pink pack, then slide in my sandwich and banana inside to keep everything tidy and “refrigerated” til lunch.

Helmet on, I head down to the garage, fetch my bike and wait in the shade for David.  9:37 i start getting edgy.  Call David, reach his house.  Learn he has already left (that’s a good sign), and continue to wait.  I stand in the street looking for cars that look right, but they all turn out to be the wrong one.  David arrives a few minutes later, we load up the bike and we’re on our way around 9:45.

Traffic is smooth sailing, we take the E. Blithedale Road exit and then I somehow mistake the “Whole Foods” shopping center for Safeway…. we end up turning onto Lomita Way and park about mid-block, then decide to bike to the start area in hopes to meet up with the group before they take off.  At Camino Alto and E. Blithedale, we are feeling somehow turned around, and David realizes we should have gone further up to this exit, then turned on Camino Alto to get to the Safeway…. nobody we ask seems to know where either “Safeway” or “Miller” are.  We follow our noses and some other cyclists who are also heading up Mt.Tam, reach the Safeway, no Grizzlies in sight, so we continue on with the two other cyclists up some neighborhood streets and eventually reach signs for Mount Tamalpais and the Panoramic Hwy.  I have actually rather enjoyed our little detour, and the simplicity of just getting on the bike and going, without the added duties of sign-in and such.

As i mentioned, David is a MUCH faster rider than i am…. he’s also about twice my height and generally built like a greyhound.  Long, lean muscles and makes it look absolutely effortless.  It was actually he who originally planted the seed of a cycling bug in my brain about 30 years ago when we were neighbors in Oakland… those days he’d go out for a quick morning ride – about 45-50 miles – and come back happy.   Hmmm, got to try that, i thought.  When looking for my own bike, in the choice between a mountain bike (more for “all-around” activities) and a drop-bar style “racing” road bike, found i enjoyed the feeling of being all hunkered down and zipping along.

I’ve reminded him, in our carpool discussions, that he might end up waiting for me for a bit to get back to the car after the ride, but he says he hasn’t been doing the distances i’m used to…. (although Monday’s ride is going to be relatively short, in that category…. but plenty steep!).

In the middle switches of Panoramic Hwy, I start recognizing GPC jerseys on the roadway way out in front, and i’m elated that we’re not too far behind the group.  I’ve really pushed myself and then David comes up from behind and tells me to “spin” as he whizzes past…. that’s a hard concept for me, because in reality, I had more power in a higher gear, and it’s only when i’ve geared down when my overall speed dropped and he tagged me.  However, I can tell that I need to back off  or my muscles won’t last the day.  A few twitches here and there and i’m not even 1/2-way up the mountain.  It’s not particularly warm, but I try to remind myself to drink sips of cool water from the Camelbak.

I catch and pass Mike and a few more turns come to the 1st junction for Panoramic Hwy (this is the one that Ann and I turned left on to Stinson beach, when the cue sheet was really instructing us to turn right and go up Pantol to the saddle before looping down toward Stinson).  There are a few other Grizzlies there: Dolores, Eddie, Mark among them, standing in the shade of the lower edge of the road.  Eddie gets on his bike, Dolores is going to hang out and wait for Mike… i report he’s just a few hundred yards behind me.  David has long rounded the corner and made the sharp right/left uphill to continue up Panoramic and is soon out of sight.

A while later, I see a tandem… Grizzlies in the old-style purple jerseys.  It’s Chris & Pat…. amazingly, Pat has recognized me in her rear-view mirror and greets me as I approach them to pass.  It’s just a short stretch more to Pantol junction, and some riders are stopped and resting in the shade, but i’m motivated to keep climbing to the top.  Got to get up to where the big kids are.  Got to get there and not dawdle.  Got to sign in, eat my samich, use the restroom and chat it up a bit before the big descent.

gaining on Grizzly tandem riders Chris and Pat

This is the first time I remember going UP Panoramic Hwy the whole way to the junction.  I’ve ridden down it a few times, but never up.  I like the way it feels.  Lots of shade, but without the drama of the twisty, tight turns in the redwoods between Ridgecrest and the Alpine Reservoir.   And also without the extra work of climbing for a while only to descend and then have to climb all over again just to get to Ridgecrest.  So i’ve enjoyed this route immensely.  Feels like the constant climb has a purpose, let’s me imagine I’ll catch the group at the top.

and i do!  On the last mile or so, I debate in my head whether I will take the steep ramp as i normally do, or scoot off to the side on the bicycle/pedestrian trail.  I’m about to stay on the ramp, but at the last moment see a dude in a bright red jersey on a mountain bike on the pathway, and decide to follow.  He is wearing ear-buds and in his own little world… so much for greeting a fellow cyclist!  He also keeps riding like he’s trying to pass me on my right, and every time i get just far enough ahead to almost move to the right to allow him to pass (on my left), he squeezes in from behind, still more on the right.  I finally just move to the left and let him go…. at this point, i decide i’ve pushed enough, and take the last few hundred yards on the path at a very slow pace.

At the top, there is a swarm of Grizzlies and other riders in the picnic area, as well as groups of hikers.  In addition to Nancy and Michael, some of the usual suspects are assembled and look like they’ve been there a while: Micky, Jason, and many others.  David is already there, of course, as well as Ann and Estella, Philippe (but not Kevin, who has remained a mystery no-show for this ride), and two of my carpool and house buddies for the upcoming Grizzly Century, Mark & Eileen, who report that they have been planning my Grizzly weekend for me…. the itinerary is exactly as I have hoped.

biker picnic at the top of Tam

I sign in on Nancy’s rider sign-in sheetSnack bar is closed, so i’m glad i have my trusty PBJ&B&A and banana.  I am done with my lunch and it’s time to roll.  Pat and Chris get to the top and sit on the stone wall in the shade of a big oak.  LisaMac is there, too and it’s heartening to see her back in the saddle so soon after getting whacked by a car (last week?).  Dolores and Eddie, arrive, too.

Ann, Philippe and I all mount up and leave with the bigger part of the group… but this day  the views are simply too fine to head straight down the mountain without a few stops for pictures, and the three of us stop a few times before Ridgecrest and again briefly at the official “Regroup” at the dam.  It’s about as pretty a day on Tam as I’ve ever recalled, with the soft blankets of clouds layered through cityscape peaking through and a clear, cobalt sky above.  I am enjoying the views, and concentrating less on making a hasty descent.  The cloud layers are on both sides of the Ridge, and I never cease to feel turned around, especially this close to Noon when the angle of the sun gives less obvious  clues, really have to LOOK to analyze which is the ocean direction and which is the San Francisco and also East Bay direction.

admiring the view…

…. almost heaven!

High above Mill Valley and Richardson Bay in the foreground, with Tiburon/Belvedere wrapping up the left and Sausalito on the right – SF skyline and Treasure Island in distance

why we live here!

Later, also controlling my speed in the longish, twisty downhill to the dam.  The climb out of Alpine Dam is less punishing than I remember in past rides and the descent after the Golf Course and into Fairfax is not as dicey.  Plenty of pavement hazards, yes, but the traffic seems today at least at a slight lull.

(non-Grizzly) rider heading uphill direction at Alpine Dam

Ann and Philippe, last turns before the golf course

We arrive down on Bolinas Road and the last short stretch to Center Street.  Find the Fairfax Scoop.  A shortish line, long enough for me to decide i’ve earned a “double” which here means “up to 4 flavors in a cup or cone”…. uh huh, double trouble!  Not a problem:  Honey Lavender Vanilla, Ginger, Fruits-of-our-Labors (mostly fresh peaches!), and Coffee.  In a cup.  Paper or waffle?  Huh? – oh, yeah, do i want to eat the cup or throw it away?  Heck, yeah – i’ve worked hard and earned the waffle today…..

We take our time enjoying our ice creams and company, milling about the sidewalk and little bulb-out in front of Fairfax Scoop that offers a surprising amount of space for relaxed loitering.  Then it’s time to do roll for the final leg back to Mill Valley.  Some of the riders are just now arriving from their descent down BoFax Road; Nancy checks in with them to make sure they have cue sheets or know the route back to the start/finish, then we head off.

the home stretch….. obeying the traffic laws in San Anselmo

We’re a fairly closely spaced group for 30-some riders, and we are careful to stop at the designated stop signs through Fairfax, San Anselmo, Kent, Ross, Larkspur and Corte Madera.  We turn onto Chapman, a slightly less steep alternative to Camino Alto proper for the return to Mill Valley.  Eventually it joins Camino Alto for the final descent into Mill Valley.

Our fearless leader, Nancy (no, she’s not fuzzy-focus like this in real life!.. just the only on-the-road shot i got of her…)

At Camino Alto & E. Blithedale, David and I take our leave from the group, and make our way back to the car for the drive home.  I have sipped most of the water in my Camelbak but have almost two full bottles in my bottle cages, so I pop a fizzie into the larger Enel bottle I got as swag from last year’s Maratona dles Dolomites (about 6 oz bigger than a standard Specialized bottle), drink a V-8 and then down the whole fizzie bottle and 1/2 of the plain water on the ride home.

It has been a nice way to spend the day with pals, test my mettle for riding with stronger folks, and enjoy a perfect day in the open air of our beautiful SF Bay Area.

As we have savored the warmth of sunny skies tempered with cool breezes on Tam, I think of our comrades on the East Bay hot hills and think “we chose wisely….”

Thanks to Nancy and Michael for listing this ride.  It was just perfect!

After I got home, it is still early afternoon, and I use the time to stretch out my legs with a walk to REI to stock up on fake-energy/nutrition “food”…. and end up getting about a whole year’s supply of gels and electrolyte fizzies; oh right, and a new pair of light-weight black knickers.  Using the rest of my REI member dividend, the knickers are almost “free.”  At REI, I run into Cliff & Sabine…. both of whom I would have expected to be on today’s ride, but weren’t… So I tell them how beautiful Tam was today, and ask if they went on Eric’s Berkeley-Mr.Morgan loop in the heat instead.

Turns out they did not do Eric’s ride, but were in the City.  Sabine rode – and WON – the SF Criterium today!  Dang, girl!!!  YAHOO!!!  Cliff noted (sorry, i just couldn’t resist…) that the 2nd & 3rd place finishers weren’t even close to Sabine!  Humbling, if i might say so…. and also inspiring!  They were heading off quickly to a reservation at T-Rex to celebrate and refuel.  Sounded like a perfect solution.  Anyway, I hope Sabine writes up something one of these days about the racing experience…. I am one of many fellow GPC club members who would love to hear of it and bask vicariously in the glory…..

My stats (according to my aging cyclometer):
Distance:  37.69 miles
Speed:  10.34 mph avg
Max:  29.8 mph (sort of held it down on the twisty-turns)
Saddle time:  3:38:43
Ambience:  Perfect!!

Here’s the gallery of pics for today, including the total throw-aways i haven’t yet edited out…..

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