It was recently announced to RUSA members that there would be a (hopefully) temporary suspension of the RUSA Permanents program. I had a strong immediate and emotional reaction to this of dismay, disappointment, even slight panic. RUSA Permanents have been a source of joy, excitement, and sense of achievement for almost seven years for me.
When I recovered from my first reaction, I realized this presented an opportunity to me to explore some routes that weren’t formal perms, yet could be. Or I could ride some routes that weren’t suitable to be RUSA routes, yet were good for just fun riding. In an effort to keep expanding the perms I own, I have been wanting to create longer versions of Mount Tam to Marshall. I have had the route worked out for many months, but due to work and other stuff, I haven’t been able to pre-ride the route before submitting it to RUSA.
Mount Tam to Marshall is not the hardest 200k route I’ve done, but it’s not the easiest either, and the 300k version continues that trend. It starts by climbing Mount Tam all the way to East Peak (kind of the top), then there is a little more climbing on East Ridgecrest Boulevard. If you’re at the top when you get to East Peak, how can there be more climbing? Don’t ask… Anyway, then you drop down on Ridgecrest, all the way down to Alpine Dam, up again and then down to Fairfax. The climbing is definitely front-loaded in this route. The 200k version then goes out to Marshall-Petaluma Road, climbs and descends to Marshall, and goes back to SF via CA-1 and Sir Francis Drake. The 300k version would go up Wilson Hill instead of to Marshall, then through Chileno Valley, Freestone, Occidental, Monte Rio, Moscow Road, and finally to the jewel of the route: Willow Creek trail. Then it goes back to San Francisco via CA-1 (at night, when traffic has calmed down), following the same return as Old Caz through Stinson Beach and Tam Junction. When describing these roads and tiny towns that are not more than a crossroads, a lot of people might say, “There’s nothing out there.” Fine with me! When there is no desirable destination other than the road itself, fewer cars will be there, at least. I prefer the peace of empty roads that go nowhere.
I had been wanting to ride the 300k version for many months, but whenever I started out, I ended up bailing and riding the 200k version instead. It felt like such a huge time commitment to go that much further. Always something else that needs to be done at home. Finally last week I set my mind to completing the 300k. Since perms have been suspended, no randobucks are available anyway, so I might as well do this ride that is not official in any way. Going nowhere, getting nothing.
It may seem punishing to ride the hardest climb of the route first, with not too much opportunity to warm up, but riding up Old Railroad Grade is pretty amazing first thing in the morning. It is really worth waking up for! As I have said before in the blog, Old Railroad Grade is my Trail One. It was the first place I went on New Bike Day when I got my Pelican, and I can almost recreate in my mind every berm, dip, and turn, many of the trees along the way, the streams that rush by the trail in the rainy season, the past and present ruts and slick rocks. Friday’s ride was typical…
At East Peak I finally encountered some people and we mutually commented on how beautiful the day was. I went on my way to East Ridgecrest, the highest paved road in Marin County, then West Ridgecrest.
Then downdowndown to Alpine Dam.
Up a little more, then down to Fairfax for a bite to eat. I always stop at the Coffee Roastery for their fresh beet juice and tasty, filling frittatas, but something was off in frittataland that day. I still ate it, but heading up White’s Hill from Fairfax, I didn’t feel too hot. I started to formulate bailout options. Hmm I could just go to Freestone and get a scone, then turn around, or I could go to Freestone and then do Barnett Valley, or… Okay stop. Just keep going and you don’t have to figure anything out. Easier that way! So I kept going, but in the back of my mind, or more often the front, I kept thinking I would not go the whole way. I just felt really tired, one of those days you are pedaling squares for hours. After being on Hicks Valley for a while I remembered that I hadn’t checked the air in my tires before starting out, and thought maybe the air pressure could be a little higher, so I stopped and added some air, which helped me feel a bit lighter. Chileno Valley Road, once I got there, was gorgeous that day, and I saw even more calves and cows than usual. The swans were mostly on the far side of the lake, but there was one closer to the road that had its head all the way down in the water. I thought it might be a pelican, but it drew its long, graceful neck out of the water and I saw that it sure was a swan! There were also a lot of red tail hawks and peregrine falcons in the air. Although I was struggling, I noticed I was making up time, and since I didn’t have any control closing times to meet, why worry? Rando without boundaries was liberating!
The Valley Ford Market was busy, but not like it was on weekends. There was a steady trickle of customers, mostly local. There was one tall, clean cut guy at the deli counter ordering sandwiches by saying loudly, “Let’s do the turkey etc etc etc…” So weird when people ordering food say they are doing something. Oh well, my sausage roll was excellent, not exactly the kind of thing I would have advised myself to eat at that moment, but I inhaled it and my chocolate milk, and refilled my water. I thanked the cashier on the excellent vittles, and she said yes, they were made in house. I have to say lately I’ve been really impressed with the old Valley Ford Market. In one of my bailout fantasies I had been thinking I would not eat in Valley Ford but instead get a scone in Freestone or one of those wraps they have at the market in Occidental, but I’m glad I made the full stop in Valley Ford. It made it easier to keep riding through to Jenner/Russia House. One nice thing about this route, though, is that it does have several food options along the way.
Zooming along toward Monte Rio, traffic was light on this Friday. I love riding on weekdays, because local traffic is usually much more polite than the weekend out of towners, busy to get to their kayaking or wine tasting adventures. This route uses Moscow Road instead of River Road as well, further reducing encounters with crappy drivers. It did not disappoint.
Russia House #1, the turnaround control, is a pretty interesting place. It used to be an Indian restaurant. It is situated in kind of an odd spot on Highway One, right at the junction of Willow Creek and CA-1. It’s sort of a dead spot though, on a stretch that doesn’t have too many other businesses. I have been wanting to try it out for a long time, since John and I both love Russian food and what seems to be the national beverage of Russia: kvass. Russia House #1 has a porch at the back where you can sit and look at the last bend the Russian River makes before emptying into the Pacific Ocean. On this day, the view was amazing, right at sunset with the light filtering through the clouds.
The food at Russia House #1 consists of a buffet with 4 or 5 items, with a sign saying “Please help yourself and pay according to your WISDOM”. You can pay in cash or with a credit or debit card. Apparently some Russian tourists have reviewed the place: in the original Russian or translated. The restaurant has lots of handmade wooden toys made in Russia, other Russian handicrafts on display, a large chess set and samovar, and an upright piano next to a harp.
There are lots of posters for some kind of spiritual healer up in the bathroom… I wasn’t too interested in that, but the apparent caretaker and I had a scintillating conversation about local Oakland politics, since he said his son lives in Oakland and I do too. I had a lovely bowl of borscht, making two out of three of my meals containing beets today. Can’t go wrong with that. Also got some dark rye bread, a hard boiled egg, and some Russian tea from the samovar. Perfect rando food for a chilly day.
One thing I was happy about in arriving at Russia House #1 was that it was not dark yet. Riding this as I was in December, there was very little daylight to be had that day. I think I made the most of it, but I had a suspicion that I would be riding Willow Creek, and the rest of the route, in the dark.
Riding dirt trails in the dark has become one of my winter passions lately. I’ve been fortunate to find some friends who enjoy it too, and we’ve ridden some trails I never would have thought possible to ride in the dark without crashing. It is a new challenge and made much easier by riding in a group, and it makes me feel rewarded for investing in good lighting for my bike, although when the moon is full, sometimes you don’t even need a light.
There was still some gloam by the time I left Russia House #1, but after the long road to Willow Creek trail, that had faded. I began climbing the soft trail strewn with pine needles. The woods were quiet and completely dark. At sections where the trail opened up, I could see bright stars in a deep blue sky. This was why I wanted to make the route longer, not so I could check a box for RUSA saying “yes, I did a 300k.” A route that includes Mount Tam’s Old Railroad Grade, Chileno Valley, and Willow Creek in one day? Yes or yes??
I got to the top of Willow Creek and paused to put on my jacket and mittens for the descent. There would still be some climbing to get to the top of Joy Road, then the descent down Joy. The rest of the route involved familiar territory: Bodega Highway to Freestone-Valley Ford Rd, then Valley Ford and CA-1 most of the way back to Sausalito. It was a tough slog, quite cold and I was drowsy. I took quite the tour of local post offices to nap along the way.
The post office in Marshall was the best one I found, the warmest and with the added bonus that I was able to access the free wifi of the Marshall Store all the way across the street! I took my phone out of airplane mode, and opened my email. Amazingly, there was an email from the RUSA board advising members that the perms program had been reinstated!
So, did I feel like my route scouting had been a waste? Of course not. The ride had been just what I needed: a way to get back into shape after a forced break due to smoke in the air from the Camp Fire. It was a tough ride, an excellent training opportunity, and my body remembers even if my RUSA stats don’t show it. I felt well rewarded. It was good to know I enjoy randonneuring with or without paperwork, and that I have the discipline to get through a ride of that length without the imposed restrictions of the brevet card.
The Dao that can be trodden
is not the enduring and unchanging Dao.
The name that can be named
is not the enduring and unchanging name.
-Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching