Monday, 29 June 2015

A Long Day in the Saddle

Its been a while since I did any sort of race or organized bike riding event. I've not really missed it, I've been happy to ride at a decidedly non-race pace and just enjoy good trail times at my own leisure. However my good lady pointed me to the Marin County Bicycle Coalition organized Solstice Fondo event and my interest was piqued. The registration cost was somewhat expensive, and the stats seemed grueling - 38 miles and 6300ft of climbing up and over some of Marin's steepest routes. But it was a good chance to explore new trails and to connect old favorites together in different ways, something I've wanted to do since moving to the area as I tend to only ride the same old loops over and over. Plus riders would receive a sweet t-shirt souvenir. I was sold!

Unlike a race which has a mass start, the fondo had participants register, pick up their wrist bands and head out solo with nothing but a turn by turn guide and a promise that we'd have our route marked and support stations along the way. During the day we'd occasionally see fellow riders and suffer up climbs as roughly assembled packs, but for the most part it was a lonesome day in the dirt, pitching mettle against a long and challenging route. I didn't mind this too much. A chance to see new trails and take in amazing views was what I signed up for. And it was nice not to have the pressure of a race vibe pushing everyone along.

The route covered most of the Marin rides around (but not including) Mt Tam. We started out from San Geronimo onto Porcupine trail and then up to the 680 trail. The day's first climb felt good. The sky was overcast and the temperature cooling. I'd ridden this route before - its the way we normally head to the Solstice trail. But I'd never continued along the 680 trail as the steep rugged fun of Solstice was always too much of a draw. I was suprised and pleased to discover the 680 is awesome fun to ride! Flowey and fast it feels a lot like China Camp's Bay Trail. Already I'd discovered a new riding route to add to our weekend options and the fondo was less than 2 hours in!

The first aid station, at the end of 680, was a welcome chance to rest, fill up on PB&Js and ready ourselves for the next climb. The morning mist was burning off and the heat of the day was making itself known. I topped off my Camel Sack with electrolytes and cracked on.

The Luiz fire road is rutted, steep and seems never ending. I caught up with a few stragglers and we all spent most of the climb pushing our steeds up the face of the hill. After a few false summits we eventually reached the telecom towers which meant the grunt was over (for now.) Our reward was a fun descent to Big Rock where the second aid station awaited us.

By now I was around 3 hours in but still felt pretty good. My plan had been to skip out the upcoming Tamarancho section to save my legs some grief. I knew I wasn't conditioned to do the whole planned route with any amount of prowess, and I know rancho like the back of my hand anyway. This ride was about discovering new adventures, so I felt fine about skipping a familiar chunk of it. But as I climbed Loma Alta heading towards White Hill I started to feel differently. Out there pretty much alone, it felt good to be pitching myself against such vast open space with nothing but my bike, determination and some peanut M&Ms to get me through. I decided to see how I felt once I'd dropped down White Hill trail, hit the third aid station to refuel and made my way to the B-17 extension.

Once I got to 'rancho, my legs were filled with the familiar dull ache of fatigue. My head struggled to stay focussed and I'd pushed up sections I've ridden with ease many times before. I should've played it safe and headed out to the finish, but common sense lost to bravado and I completed a Tamarancho loop in a fog of heat and exhaustion. From the cursory attention I'd paid to the route map, I figured I was almost done anyway. On the home stretch at least. The organizers had put the climbing total to be 63000ft and my Garmin was already pushing 6k. No worries. I headed out of B-17 and continued my way up White Hill.

As fireroad gave way to loose chunky rocks, my addled brain started to feel a twinge of familiarity. This was the route (in reverse) that we do on the Thanks Giving ride....... Realisation of what was to come dawned on me in an awful way. I had a LOT left to do and it was all technical and steep. My Garmin must've been confused as I clearly wasn't close to finishing. But it was too late now. I just had to dig deep and climb (or hike a bike) as best I could and keep fantasizing about finishing and stuffing my face with ice cream and cold sodas.

Eventually, after some sketchy fast descents (undertaken near-blind as my fogged up contact lenses had to be discarded trailside) and one last killer ascent I was spat out onto paved road. Bedraggled, sunburned and utterly fucked I could barely navigate back to Sir Francis Drake Blvd and the finishing line. The MCBC website says the average rider will take 7 hours to complete the Solstice Fondo. I did it with two minutes to spare. My Garmin friend insisted I'd ridden more than 38 miles and climbed over 7500 ft. I could well believe it as every fibre in my legs and ass groaned and grimaced as I finally climbed off the Trance.

I pushed myself too far. I rode more miles than anticipated, but I didn't climb in the saddle as much as I'd like either. Hike a bike became the only choice for much of the last two or three hours of riding. But I'd managed the whole distance and found some new fun trails (and discovered others I'll happily never climb again.) The event was pretty well organized, the aid stations in particular were well stocked and a real morale booster. However the camaraderie and sense of biking community you typically get at race events wasn't there. Even the post ride BBQ seemed to have fizzled out by the time I finished. But I achieved what I set out to do, and hopefully gave my fitness the kick up the arse it needs. Next weekend we hit Northstar for the first time this season. As riding goes, the polar opposite of what I just did. Thats why I love this sport so much..... variety of adventure!

Friday, 26 June 2015


The Marin Museum of Bicycling and Mountain Bike Hall of Fame finally opened its doors earlier this month. Being in the heart of Fairfax, the birthplace of Mountain Biking, it houses a comprehensive collection of steeds that help to document the rise in popularity (and ensuing technical advances) from humble bone shakers and Klunkers to today's sleek, burly and impressive shredding machines.

We took a tour round on the opening day so the museum was somewhat of a zoo. It was hard to read all the good info that takes visitors through our beloved sport's past, however there was plenty of room to admire the bikes. I hope, over time, more resources allows the MMBHOF to display some more modern machines. Maybe some of the awesome downhill world cup steeds that have really pushed the sport into one of the most impressive, challenging feats achieved on two wheels. For now though, it is well worth the price of admission and some quality time spent geeking out over treasures past.