big tree trail

“Whipped Cream Clouds Over Cranberry Lake”

It was nice to watch this giant formation of Cumulus congestus clouds rising and falling in different areas as the whole mass slowly floated away, towards the horizon of Cranberry Lake.  
I made this time stack by combining 546 photos into one image.


Last weekend Team AWOL participated in San Francisco Randonneur’s Marin Mountains 200 kilometers mixed surface brevet. SF Randonneur’s informed us:

The Marin Mountains 200K feels more like a mountain bike ride that uses pavement to connect epic stretches of dirt. Most riders will walk once or twice, but the scenery and sense of immersion in nature more than make up for the occasional difficulty.

The distinguishing feature of the Marin Mountains 200K are five long and spectacular unpaved sections.

  1. From Panoramic Highway to the summit of Mount Tam (mile 14). Five miles of well-graded gravel fire roads through mixed conifer forests. On a clear day, you’ll enjoy a commanding perspective on San Francisco Bay. On a foggy day, you’ll break through mist into early morning sun and see the fog roll over the Golden Gate like a giant slow-motion wave.
  2. From Ridgecrest Boulevard to Sky Oaks Road (mile 21). Five miles through mixed forest and mediterranean scrub. Some very steep grades, both uphill and downhill. Mostly gravel and dirt, but also hard-baked clay and challenging rocky sections on aptly-named Rocky Ridge Road. Fine views of San Pablo Bay and the Mount Tam watershed.
  3. From Bolinas-Fairfax Road to San Geronimo (mile 29). Five and a half very tough miles—the most difficult of this ride. Short but steep climbs on Pine Mountain Fire Road precede a long, precipitous descent on Sylvestris Fire Road. Brief sections of loose softball-size rocks are virtually impassable to road bikes. While many cyclists will walk a couple hundred yards of this segment, most will also enjoy a fantastic feeling of wilderness and expansive vistas of northern Marin.
  4. Summit of Mount Vision to Limantour Road (mile 82). Only three miles, but that includes rutted single-track and some difficult rocky stretches. Pause at a sharp right turn in the trail to admire exceptional views of Tomales Bay and west Marin.
  5. Highway 1 to Ridgecrest Boulevard (mile 97). Eleven miles, most of it through wonderful coastal redwoods. One of the prettiest stretches of forest in the Bay Area—a cathedral of big trees. Much of the trail is soft dirt littered with vegetation, and there are only a few short rocky stretches. Two or three short climbs are quite steep: downshift early or you risk walking!

There are also some noteworthy paved climbs, including:

  1. The Marshall Wall (mile 56). 500 feet vertical in a little over a mile, for an average grade of about 9%—but a quarter of that is flat! The road traverses open grassy terrain with hardly a tree in sight, so the wind can make for hard going.
  2. Mount Vision (mile 78). An easy climb (1200ft in 4mi) notable for its remoteness and beauty. In half a dozen pre-rides we’ve only ever seen one car. And on a sunny day the panorama of Point Reyes and Drake’s Estero is superlative.
  3. The “Seven Sisters” on Ridgecrest Boulevard (mile 104). A standard weekend ride for SF roadies, but usually not after a hundred miles and 11,000 feet of climbing. As on Mount Vision, the scenery on a clear day is breathtaking.

The MM 200K is 23% dirt—roughly one mile of trail for every three miles of pavement. The dirt parts are difficult enough that many riders may opt for a mountain bike, but keep in mind that overly knobby tires or excessive suspension will slow you down on pavement. We suggest a suspension-free bike with a low gear close to 1:1 (for example, 50x34 compact chainrings coupled with an 11-32 mountain cassette) and slick to moderately knobby tires in the range of 32-40mm. Also, traditional three-bolt road cleats are not a good idea—bring shoes that are comfortable for walking.

We’re so glad we listened carefully to the advice and brought both wide tires, sufficient gearing, hydraulic brakes, lots of water, walkable shoes etc. The AWOL was the perfect bike for this ride with  a total of 203 kilometers / 126 miles, 4199 m of climbing and an on the bike time of 9:35:20. The shitty pictures above is from a GoPro mounted on the front rack of the AWOL but it gives you an idea of the sometimes disturbingly tough “roads”

More in another post about the gear selection for such a big ride