SF Cyclotouring

Ride reports and other ramblings from a San Francisco cyclist.


Fat Tire Ramble

West Point Inn
Originally uploaded by jimgskoop
Distance: ~50-55 miles
Bike: Bontrager Race
Time: 1pm - 6pm

Had a slow start to the day, but I finally convinced myself to get outdoors and pedaling... The previous day I'd considered what/where to ride, and decided that a dose of off-road action would be a healthy prescription after the previous weekend's 200k. You know, cross training! Normally I'd saddle up the Fuji CX for this type of ride, but I started having this funny idea that the Bonty might be more fun -- or at least a good way to mix things up. That bike hadn't seen daylight since last October, and its chain was clean and freshly lubed (vs. the Black Grime of Early Death on all the other bikes) -- so a knobbly, fat-tired day seemed in order...

The day before, I'd thought about tackling the traditional mixed-terrain route, but I didn't/couldn't get my gears a-turnin' early enough for that. Besides, I have some (odd?) phobias about riding that far into the boonies alone! I definitely wanted to reach West Point Inn to spend at least a few minutes languishing in the sunshine and chase away some recent mental clouds; I also wanted to pack as much climbing into today's ride as possible. I finished packing my gear, tossing a cold slice of leftover pizza into my Camelbak for a hasty lunch, and rolled out after addressing the flaccid tires.

Those wheels buzzed like a swarm of angry bees as I rolled over the Golden Gate, and I started asking myself "Headlands or Railroad Grade?!?" I'd grossly mis-judged the weather and stopped at the north end of bridge to shed a layer, top and bottom. As I continued and climbed up out of the parking lot, my brain's gauge locked firmly dead center: "Both!" -- so I wheeled left and headed slowly up Conzelman Road. Inspecting the views of the bridge and the mouth of San Francisco Bay to my left, I noticed a large, white blimp drifting about. At any rate, after rounding a couple more curves, I arrived at the Coastal Trail access gate. As I paused to drop the pressure in my tires for better off-road grip, I noticed another MTB rider consulting what I guessed was a trail book.

I made my way down this winding trail, noting that the surface seemed looser and sandier than I'd remember it -- perhaps there'd been some recent trail work done here? I rode the brakes around a particularly nasty off-camber curve, making sure to keep my distance from the sheer ledge a few feet away, and marveling that riding-pal Carlos always flies down this same path. At the bottom, I crossed Bunker Road and rolled through the parking lot towards the opening for Rodeo Valley Trail, but to my surprise the trail was blocked off with a fence and a "Trail Closed" sign. There were confusing detour instructions posted on the fence -- "take Miwok Trail to Bunker Road" or some such. I was trying to get to Miwok Trail, which lay just beyond the blocked trail head! Just at that moment, two riders emerged from behind the fence. I hailed them: "Is the trail open?" "Yeah, only the bridge is closed, don't know why, it's only a few meters..." they replied. So, we both snuck behind the fence, and sure enough, Bobcat Trail was open on the other side. I accelerated down the trail, and that other rider kept pace -- I could spot him in the rear-view. We passed a horse, some hikers, and a couple of other bikers as the trail's pitch increased. My breath grew raspy as I downshifted and strained against the pedals -- still he was there! After winding around a few more bends in the trail, I looked back, and my temporary companion was nowhere to be seen...that gave my ego a mischievous little boost! A couple more climbs brought me to the top of the Headlands, and I started the fast descent down into Tennessee Valley. I slowed for a couple of riders climbing their way up, and then started slowing again for a couple of hikers, a man and a woman. As I approached, the man started pointing exaggeratedly -- I thought perhaps there was a snake sunning itself along the trail. I slowed further, keeping on the lookout, and as I drew near the couple, the man gave the thumbs-up sign and said "Good job!" I replied with my usual "Howdy" (one of the guys in my college bike club, Matt Frey, used this greeting during rides, and I guess it's stuck with me), and the guy quizzically said "Howdy?" in response. In hindsight, I suppose the guy was trying to direct me around them with his pointing ("pass us HERE") -- he might've been previously buzzed by high-speed dual-boingers ripping down the trails. If that's the case, it's unfortunate! I always try to adhere to the IMBA trail guidelines, always yielding to horses and hikers, and any bikes climbing the trail that I'm descending.

I arrived in the parking lot at the base of Tennessee Valley, and then wound down the road towards Sausalito. After a short cruise on the Mill Valley Bike Path, I continued on Miller Ave past Mt Tam High, towards Mill Valley proper. Picking up Blythedale Blvd, I made my way past the opulent residences towards the Old Railroad Grade trail head. Railroad is a long, slow dirt-road climb up the side of Mt. Tam -- it follows a former railway so it's never too steep, but the slope is consistent. My right knee started twinging a bit during this climb, and I remembered that the Bonty's seat was set lower than my other bikes. I stopped near the turn-off for Hoo-Koo-E-Koo and adjusted the saddle upwards about 1cm (the black tape marking the seat post's insertion now stood proud from the seat collar), and then continued on my way up the trail. The saddle height felt significantly better, and I was happy to arrive at West Point Inn to rest in the sunshine and enjoy my simple lunch.

After a short break, I was ready to bomb back down the trail. I think my watch read about 4pm as I started off again, and I figured that it'd take about 30 minutes to roll back down. The gravity I'd fought on the way up paid me back with a swift, uneventful descent back down, releasing its grip on the bike just enough to get some air over the multiple whoop-de-doos (water breaks actually) that span the trail in several places. Back at the trail head and checking my watch, I was amazed that it only took about 20 minutes to fly all the way back down! Tires buzzing once again, I rolled back over the paved roads towards Sausalito, where I climbed up to the Golden Gate, rolled across it in the waning sunlight, and scraped back home just before the orange sky finally faded.

As I carried the bike back inside, I noticed that that strip of black tape on the seat post seemed much closer to the collar clamp than I'd set it. I grabbed the saddle and gave it a twist, and of course it moved! I took out my hex wrench, straightened the saddle, tightened the bolt as tight as I dared, and tested things again. Still it twisted! "Uh-oh" I thought. I dreaded a chronically-slipping seat post! After a shower for myself, I took the bike into the workshop, cleaned off the post and the inside of the seat tube (which was layered with an overzealous application of waxy Frame Saver), degunked the binder collar, lightly re-greased the post and the binder's clamping bolt, and finally reassembled, torquing that little M5 as much as I dared. Twisting the seat again, it did not budge! Hopefully good for now...we'll find out for sure next time!


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