Coming Down the Mountain.

I remember marveling at the irony that it took me thirty years to hop on a mountain bike all the way across the world when I had grown up with the neo-sport having been invented in my backyard. The severe fire roads in the wilds of Marin County were the proving ground of Tom Ritchey and Gary Fisher in the 1970s, where Mt. Tamalpais looms above the brown and green hazy hills of Northern California, spread out until eaten up by the vast blue of the Pacific. More people seem to have bikes than cars in this county, and the weekend pastime of most of them – singles and couples alike – still involves getting suited up in bright, tight colors and dulling them with tan trail dust kicked up by the frantic friction of knobby tires.

I had never taken part, and in more recent years, I found those pesky mountain bikers rather maddening in their insistence to challenge the superior mass and velocity of my car when on roads and drives, regardless of the actual laws of right-of-way. Endlessly-entitled Marinites zipping to and fro like lawsuit buzzards, watching each other’s taut buttocks out of the corners of their streamlined helmets. Watch the road, you fools!

I was fortunate during that northward year, however, to be treated to a handful of bike excursions within the wilds of the Scottish Highlands, in the deft care of gingiber and anonymouseth and their beast of an extra Cannondale. We hit a number of awe-inspiring locales, and they were very patient with me as I puffed hard, many yards behind, and also as I slowed down the trail by my incessant photo-snapping while my legs used every second to recover in between bouts of apoplectic pedaling. By the end of it, I thought I had conquered the world, even though the courses we had chosen were quite mild.


So it was with some self-indulgent derision that I scoffed at Jeffy and Lori’s offer to take me on a Fairfax cream-puff trail to the Tam Watershed this past weekend. I could handle it. I took the Scottish Highlands with nary but a bruised arse. Boy, did I miscalculate.


Now I understand just how crazy those bastards were when they first took to the roads here in our corner of California. It’s no wonder that Lance Armstrong and many of the other American Tour de France competitors train in West Marin, able to choose a course with ease, all of them within a day’s ride of each other. Whether traversing the salt-flecked ribbon of Highway 1, blasting out to Point Reyes and back through a very different Inverness, or spiraling up Tamalpais to the Mountain Home Inn, that Teutonic respite from further sweat and ache, every path will be a path well chosen.




Me, I wasn’t so lucky, especially after going so long without so much as even thinking about those certain, vital muscle groups. The paths here are different from Ben Lawers and Glentress: severe inclines covered in fist-sized rocks, bending through low-hanging eucalyptus and slippery sand-holes created by the intermittent fire trucks that sometimes patrol these old roads. The heat is a major factor here, distinct from the damp coolness of Perthshire and the usual barrages of rain that muddy the C-roads and waymarked trails there. We had bumblebees riding shotgun in the beating California sun, shadowing us like Spitfires in escort as we tackled thigh-rending hillocks and blazed along the causeway that separates Bon Tempe and Lake Lagunitas. Pictish and Gaidhlig toponomastics are replaced by Spanish and Native Miwok.


Jeffy and Lori demonstrate their good humor and boundless reserves of energy as they indulge me in a rest at the top of Four Corners.

A couple of hours later, I limped home a few pedals behind them, and somehow I climbed the many steps to the Treehouse for a reward of roast chicken, greek olives, and a bottle of the best Pinot of 2004 in the Tandem Silver Pines. As an extreme gesture of kindness, they sent me home with the Jamis I scraped up and down the mountain so I might acquaint myself with the girl a bit better. I’ve been threatening to purchase a bike of my own for some time, and this will go some way in helping me decide what elements I like and don’t before committing to a final choice. And when I finally heal, I’ll be ready to zip around Golden Gate Park for a while, smugly content that the entirety of the green contains perhaps an eighth of one percent of the incline that the less-than-civilized fire roads of Marin County threaten to impose.

Hey Seth and Lara – think I’ll be ready for a *real* challenge over your way by this summer? 🙂


27 Responses to “Coming Down the Mountain.”

  1. avalokita Says:
    March 22nd, 2007 at 3:34 am

    Wow looks beautiful. I haven't seen green since October (minus my weekend in Miami).
    I'll trade you all the piles of snow and ice outside for a little bit o' that.

  2. FunkyPlaid Says:
    March 23rd, 2007 at 12:47 am

    I can cut you a piece, but shipping is a mite expensive.

  3. eskimolimon Says:
    March 22nd, 2007 at 5:57 am

    Great pics. I need to dump these kids and get some fresh air.

  4. FunkyPlaid Says:
    March 23rd, 2007 at 12:49 am

    I actually saw some really brave (and fit) parents with two-part bikes who were towing their wee ones behind them. UP THE HILL. Can't believe it. You ready for that?

  5. podle Says:
    March 22nd, 2007 at 7:46 am

    Wonderful stuff! One of my plans for the summer is to take the ferry over to SF and ride up to (and through) Golden Gate Park (and to ride through the Presidio, and to ride across the bridge and then take the ferry back, and to ride up to Tilden Park and to ride ride ride). I've been scooting around Alameda tons and have been taking 2-3 spin classes a week and want to get out into the "real" world.
    In my utopian dream existence we get a bike rack for the car and I persuade vegasjohnny to scoop me up at the end of long rides so I can go all out….:) Its shameless the way I try to take advantage of that man.

  6. FunkyPlaid Says:
    March 23rd, 2007 at 12:51 am

    That's not taking advantage, my dear – it's part of the marriage deal thing. You both benefit from your *ahem* extended endurance and flexibility. He should be happy to tote you around after the workout!

  7. angledge Says:
    March 22nd, 2007 at 7:47 am

    They loaned you a Jamis!? Those are good friends! Valentina is a Jamis BTW – a more delicate, roads-only cousin of whatever rockhopper you are riding.
    Lovely photos as always.

  8. FunkyPlaid Says:
    March 23rd, 2007 at 12:52 am

    Our Jamises are going to fall in love and make little Jamilets. Just you wait and see.

  9. kittynitro Says:
    March 22nd, 2007 at 10:18 am

    Beautiful! It is days like the one you've described here that make me so utterly thrilled to live in this place. Fairbs and I have been running in the park lately and it's been fantastic.
    Now, where are you taking spinning classes, and do you want company sometime? I used to take them when I had a membership at Crunch. It's one of the only things I miss about being part of a gym.

  10. kittynitro Says:
    March 22nd, 2007 at 10:20 am

    Oh, damn. I just realized that the spinning bit I scrolled up to read was in someone else's comment. Oops. No spinning for you and me, unless you have some scads of free time you're hiding somewhere.

  11. FunkyPlaid Says:
    March 23rd, 2007 at 12:55 am

    We can still spin together, love, but it's going to be the kind we do at the pub after one cocktail too many. And then we can ride bikes and burn it all off, only to do it again the very next day! What a wonderful pattern!

  12. hermiston Says:
    March 22nd, 2007 at 11:25 am

    lung-pumping fun! Having read this this morning I duly dragged my bag from the shed and rode, rather than walked, about my daily business.

  13. FunkyPlaid Says:
    March 23rd, 2007 at 12:57 am

    Most excellent. We shall have to find some wheels for me when I'm next over and you can drag us through the cobbles on a rolling tour of deeper Aberdeen streets.

  14. dirtbaby Says:
    March 22nd, 2007 at 11:45 am

    Invite me.

  15. FunkyPlaid Says:
    March 23rd, 2007 at 12:58 am

    Goes without saying. You've had far more experience than me, so I figure I'd be not much of a wheeled companion for you. But you could show me a thing or two!

  16. dirtbaby Says:
    March 23rd, 2007 at 9:18 am

    The past four years have only allowed me a couple of chances to ride, and at this point, it has been at least 2 since I have even looked at one of my bicycles.

  17. scothen_krau Says:
    March 22nd, 2007 at 2:26 pm

    Thank you for suffering to take these wonderful pictures, while I sit here on my ass.

  18. FunkyPlaid Says:
    March 23rd, 2007 at 1:00 am

    Hahaha! You know that my ass lives to entertain yours. Um…well, never mind.

  19. anonymouseth Says:
    March 22nd, 2007 at 5:25 pm

    you might be ready, but fuck knows if we will be 🙂
    we could try the corrieyairack pass if you want a real middle-of-nowhere lungbuster, or there are some more bits of glentress that you haven't seen. or mabie. or kirroughtree. or innerliethen. or … <a href="… /> <a href=";… /> <a href="… /> <a href="… /> <a href="… /> <a href="<b… /> <a href="… /> <a href="” target=”_blank”>
    come prepared for the weather, though…
    if you do decide to go shopping, the specs of the beast are here for comparison (although it's about 6 yrs old now)
    make sure you try out some specialized bikes, too…

  20. FunkyPlaid Says:
    March 23rd, 2007 at 1:12 am

    Holy shit! That Macdonald guy is absolutely mental. Great shots, especially the causeway and boardwalk panoramas. I had wanted to try 7stanes when I was over but wasn't sure if I could handle it. Kirroughtree or Innerliethen would be great for where I'm at just now, from what I can see, but pictures can be deceiving.
    But, as ever, anywhere you drag me along I'll be more than pleased to try.
    Thanks for the specs on The Beast. What are your thoughts on steel versus aluminum frames?

  21. hermiston Says:
    March 23rd, 2007 at 4:33 am

    Kirroughtree, near Newton Stewart, near Dumfries near nasty waters where all sorts of things surface…

  22. anonymouseth Says:
    March 23rd, 2007 at 5:00 am

    innerleithen is nuts – it's where the downhill course is (think 6ft drop-offs). the red route isn't that mental, but it does just go Up the hill and then DOWN the hill. we haven't worked up the courage to try it yet 🙂
    as for steel vs alu – both have advantages and disadvantages. steel is more bendy, so can be a comfier ride but aluminium's stiffness means that more of your pedalling energy gets tranmitted to the back wheel, so you can go for longer without getting knackered / achey. i used to be concerned about the fragility of aluminium frames, but my bikes have taken some fairly severe punishment, and have come through it all ok 🙂
    i'd try bikes from a few different manufacturers – even if you just take em for a spin round the block, and try to find something that 'feels right'. think more about your general riding position than your arse – you want something that doesn't stretch you out too much, but doesn't make you sit up like mary poppins either. narrow it down to a couple of bikes and then see if you can arrange to take em out for a longer ride. doesn't have to be anything too gnarly – just try riding them for an hour or more and see which one feels bestest.

  23. FunkyPlaid Says:
    March 23rd, 2007 at 8:14 am

    innerleithen is nuts
    I figured the pictures could be deceiving. 🙂 I'm not out to die or anything, so maybe I can wear a full-body balloon and you can just push me down the hill, then.
    as for steel vs alu
    These are precisely the issues I'd hoped you would mention. It seems that a dent would kill an aluminum frame, but that never stopped The Beast. The 'softness' of the steel frame I'm using now is totally identifiable, but I'd appreciate the lightness and the energy transfer of aluminum.
    i'd try bikes from a few different manufacturers
    Bike places will let you test-ride for an hour?

  24. anonymouseth Says:
    March 23rd, 2007 at 8:30 am

    maybe I can wear a full-body balloon and you can just push me down the hill, then.
    The 'softness' of the steel frame I'm using now is totally identifiable, but I'd appreciate the lightness and the energy transfer of aluminum.
    you also have the options of titanium, scandium or carbon (if you wanna spend cRaZY dOlLarS). there's a big long read here…
    and a longer one here 🙂
    Bike places will let you test-ride for an hour?
    places over here will allow you to take demo bikes all weekend, but you usually have to pay a few quid for that. ask nice and leave a credit card and they should be ok with an extended test ride. if not, tell them you'll take your custom elsewhere (and fart in their general direction)…

  25. FunkyPlaid Says:
    March 23rd, 2007 at 8:33 am

    Hey, you're good at this Internets thing. Really useful stuff, thanks.

  26. dirtbaby Says:
    March 23rd, 2007 at 9:32 am

    Befriend a few bike fenatics, they abound in the bay area. Let them know you are interested in a used bike of some kind. They will find you, or sell you a sled that is in great condition and only a few years old. The joneses for bikes is just as bad as the joneses for computers, and many riders will buy a new bike ever 2-3 years around here. Really amazing rides are available for reasonable prices. Pick a price point and go from there.
    Also – <a href="” target=”_blank”>
    I can't actually look at the site above, as I can feel the CALL of the pretty, lighter bike parts…
    Just go buy a pair of $90 trail running shoes and run the same trails. You will pass most of the riders going up (although they will continuously narrowly miss you as they screem passed you on the downhills).

  27. Anonymous Says:
    March 28th, 2007 at 12:08 am

    Don't worry, you were simply a victim of cross-cultural confusion: just because it's called "Tam" doesn't mean it's soft and fluffy! Not on this side the water.
    I love the photos of Marin, BTW. Lovely as usual (your pictures, not the landscape, though that too).
    P.S. Thanks again for the loan of your hiking stick — I got one of my own soon after!

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