The bay area is full of beautiful trails to hike, run, and bike. But for a Cambridge transplant, running and biking on the hills sounds daunting.
But because it’s there, one might as well have a go at it. I have made a list of hills that I wanted to climb by the end of the summer. Number one on the list, the big rock to climb, is Mt. Diablo in East Bay. Like many mountains in East Bay area, Mt. Diablo is sparsely shaded, dusty, and exposed to the unrelenting sun in the summer time. What makes this a spectacular climb is the incessant 11-12 miles of ascent at a steady grade, and the killer heart-in-your-mouth final kicker in the end to reach the parking lot at the summit. To get ready for that ride, I wanted to get some training rides in.
It so happens that my summer practicum coordinator, Dan, who sits in the office next to mine, is an avid cyclist. After getting some ride recommendations and advice from him, I added Mt. Tamalpais and some standard Cal cycling routes in the Berkeley Hills to my list of must-do’s.
According to Dan, Mt. Tam is an “easier” climb, with a more rolling terrain. So with my naive can-do attitude, I loaded up two bottles of water and two energy bars one Saturday, took the BART to Embarcadero and began my ride to Mt. Tam East Peak.
The leg from Embarcadero to Mill Valley was straight forward, albeit the traffic along the waterfront was a tad stressful. I met another cyclist, Richard, who was also heading out of town across the Golden Gate bridge and decided to ride together. Turned out he is a long time cyclist and racer, knows the roads like the back of his palm, and has loads of stories and good tips for a newbie like me.
After parting ways with Richard at Mill Valley, I was in a happy reflection of how friendly people can be in sharing their passion and experiences, when I stumbled into Beerworks and decided to have some lunch. There, my luck with good people continued. Many staffs are either roadies or mountain bikers, who gave me pointers on routes and showered me with encouragement for my first attempt at Tam. Loaded up with a 70% full belly of Frittata and a sour beer called Mesa Verde. I set out again. But I should’ve known, the beer was a very bad idea… Not even 5 minutes into the ascent, still winding through people’s houses, my heart was racing and my breathing was erratic. I took the more cautious approach and returned to the base, and spent the next couple of hours metabolizing that beer and taking short naps in a park with redwood trees, a small creek, family picnics and lots of dogs.
After the beer was out of my system for good, the ascent started in earnest. Very quickly (but still like 30 minutes of huffing and puffing) Panoramic Highway took me out of the residential area and the valley opened up to one side of the road.
For the rest of the ascent (2 hours in total), I passed many more great views that I’m too busy sweating and panting to take in. Taking photos with one hand, while keeping the other on the handle bar on a climb, turned out not to be so easy. So I hopped off for some breaks along the way, took pictures, and stretched out that coder’s lower back.
At close to the end of the 11-mile climb, I started on quite a bit of descent — which took me my surprise and horror – I could see East Peak across the ridge at slight higher elevation than I currently was. The last bit of ascent after the descent may just take every bit of my will power to complete. I didn’t even want to think about going back up this giant hill on the way back down the mountain.
Like Dory, the only option now is to keep pedaling. Sure enough, the sight of the East Peak parking lot was in view soon, but just beyond reach above a hill that must have been 14-16% grade. Grinding the gears until I came to a absolute stand-still, I hopped off and walked the rest of the way up to enjoy the hard earned sun/body heat melted chocolate brownie energy bar and a sweeping view of the bay.
First try at a big mountain, I had some mishaps and learned a great deal about how my mind and body work under prolong stress and pain. The reward in the end was a near white-knuckle descent (I’m very sh*t at going downhill, it turns out) into Stinson beach to meet up with Chris, Marta et al for dinner. Even though going down was unnerving, I got to take in the redwood forest smell and an astounding view of the shoreline, and practice descent and cornering techniques.
It was a real fun and hard day, for sure. Would I do it again?