Mount Tam Double Century 2010

Saturday, August 7, 2010

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The Mt Tam Double Century is considered one of the more difficult doubles in California and is ranked “extremely high” in terms of total elevation gain. With mostly steep hills and long climbs, you gain approximately 15,000 feet in 200 miles. This double century is run in concurrent with 5 other courses offered by Marin Cyclists Club. That puts a whole lot of cyclists out on the roads of Marin and Sonoma counties for one day.

For a little variety this year, the northern portion of the traditional course is presented in the reverse direction. The Coleman Valley loop remains the same. The route begins in San Rafael and takes you pass Marinwood, San Geronimo and Fairfax to Mt Tam State Park. It then continues on to Pt Reyes Station, Petaluma and Valley and beyond. You return via Hwy 1 through Tomales,
Marshall, Novato and Nicasio
back to the start.

It’s a very challenging route that gives you a bit of everything; lots of ascents, fast descents, flats, rolling terrain, the redwoods, ridges, canyons, ocean views, grasslands, golden hillsides, lakes and bovines. The highlight of this double century is of course, the ascent up Mt Tamalpais. The many other climbs include Coleman Valley Rd, Bay Hill and the west side of Marshall Wall.

There is a mass start for double riders at 5 AM but you can choose to start as early as 4 AM. You have until 10:30 PM to complete the route, that’s 17.5-18.5 hours. You must also meet the cutoff time of 2:30 PM at the Valley Ford checkpoint. No one is allowed to begin the Coleman Valley loop after that time and you will receive a DNF. There are 8 rest stops (RS) with some of them also being check points (CP).

With Michael withdrawing from the MTD due to foot issues, I decide to take a stab at completing this on a tandem. Yes, it’s not the most tandem friendly route but Mark Abrahams and I are both psyched and ready for the challenge!

We arrive at the Vallecito Elementary School at 3 AM. Check-in/registration opens at 3:30 AM. That gives us ample time to get ready and roll out at 4 PM. As we pull into the driveway, the janitor of the school was just starting to open up
the parking areas. Mark parks the van right in front of the school. The
restrooms are already open and the volunteers are ready to check people in. I
get a yellow colored numbered bib and a Tuft-map which is weather proof.

With the tandem loaded and ready to go, we give each other a high-five and roll out early at 3:38 AM. We spot Bill Monson as we exit the parking lot. We make
our way on Las Gallinas
to Lucas Valley Rd. With a Magicshine light mounted on Mark’s helmet, we have enormous visibility of the road ahead. There’s absolutely no wind and the temperature feels great even at 52 degrees. I feel warm enough with a base layer, a short sleeve jersey, a wind vest and arm and knee warmers. I have a light wind jacket and long fingered gloves stuffed inside a tennis canister on one of the bottle cages. The Camelbak also helps me retain quite a bit of heat.

The climb on Lucas Valley to Big Rock is under a mile long with an average gradient of 8-9%. The descent feels just as good in the darkness as it does during the day. It’s actually very peaceful riding this early. We’re the only ones out on the road and no cars have passed us since we left the start. We reach the intersection of Nicasio Valley Rd and see a volunteer sitting in the median pointing us to the left. It’s 4:48 AM. We head south on Nicasio Valley Rd for 3.8 miles to Sir Francis Drake Blvd. Nicasio Valley Rd starts off flattish and increases to about a 2% grade with a short 7% climb to the top. It’s a nice descent down to the golf course. We head east on Sir Francis Drake to Fairfax. On the climb up White’s Hill, I look behind and can see several cyclists coming up on us. They pass us as we near the crest and disappear ahead.

We make an unofficial stop at the Fairfax Town Hall. It’s 5:09 AM. There is a restroom available inside the Police Station and it’s open 24/7. As I step inside the door, the sound of my cleats on the floor startles the clerk behind the window and he literally jumps out of his chair. I apologize and make a motion for the restroom. While I’m outside waiting for Mark, a large group of cyclists rolls on by. As we get ready to leave, Zach Kaplan and Veronica Tunucci pull up behind us on a recumbent tandem. We exchanged greetings and head on out. We continue on Bolinas Rd which eventually becomes Bolinas Fairfax Rd. The climb up to the first rest stop is 3.2 miles with an average gradient of about 5%. It’s foggy and misty as we reach RS#1 at Pine Mtn, mile 24.5. It’s 5:55 AM. Temp 50. The volunteers take down our numbers; I refill my bottle and eat a segment of banana and a piece of PBJ sandwich.

We make the descent heading towards Alpine Lake. It’s a fun section with rolling terrain through the redwoods. The sky starts to lighten up as we approach the dam. The climb up to Ridgecrest is over 2 miles with an average gradient of 7%. While climbing, we’re greeted by a guy wearing a full red Hammer kit. He’s a wobbler and gets way too close for my comfort; I extend my left arm out and tell him to give us more space. He complies and rides away. As we’re rounding the last switchback, the roads are wet and dripping from the fog and early morning condensation. It’s absolutely soaked at the top of Bolinas Fairfax Rd. The sun is peaking through the trees as we head west on Ridgecrest. It’s 6:42 AM. Temp 58.

Zach and Veronica catch up with us on the ridge. Despite the fog, the views are just as spectacular! This road consist of a series of giant rollers/climbs with gradients ranging from 9-13%. The road eases back down to about 6% in between. We pass the East parking lot at 7:06 AM and continue on up 3 miles to the East Peak. The average gradient is about 6% with one section increasing to 9% and maxing out at 15%. We reach the East Peak CP at 7:27 AM, mile 37.9. I’m greeted by a friend, Diane. She is in civilian clothes and I didn’t even recognize her with the baseball cap and shades. We also see Bruce Berg at the top.

It’s sunny and quite warm as we begin the descent. By now, there are lots of cyclists heading towards the top. We spot Debra Sellers, Tara MadsenSteigmeyer, Kirk Hastings, Jack Joseph and Frank Carothers on their way up. We also counted another 3 tandems.

As we reach Pan Toll Rd, the weather changes dramatically. It’s very foggy, misty, damp and a lot colder. Mark takes the descent with caution and safety as a cyclist chooses to blast by us on the left into the opposite lane. We take a
left turn at the stop sign and head east on Panoramic Hwy to Muir Woods Rd. The descents take us to RS#2 at Santos Meadows, mile 50.2. It’s 8:16 AM. I take in some food, refill my
Cbak and was ready to roll. And of course, I never pass up a potty stop.

There is a climb out of Muir Woods on Hwy 1 and it’s actually kind of steep. Once we get to the ridge, it’s nothing but fun rollers and descents. The ocean views are gorgeous even with the light fog. Once again, there is a cyclist who chooses to pass us on the left onto the opposite lane with an oncoming car in the distance. He barely misses the cyclist climbing up whom in turn yells at him. I find myself watching him and see that he’s a surger; he blast by us on all the down hills and slows up on the climbs. He does this repeatedly. This portion of Hwy 1 drops us down to Stinson Beach.

Heading north from Stinson Beach, we’re riding on Hwy 1 for 5 flat miles along the Bolinas Lagoon. With Zach and Veronica behind us, we’re rolling along at a very fast pace to Bolinas.

Just as we approach the first climb, Zach informs us that our rear saddle bag is rubbing against the back tire. We stop to make the adjustments as they continue on. It’s about 15+ miles to our next stop at Pt Reyes Station. Once we’re back in business, we roll on through a grove of Eucalyptus trees for the climb pass Dogtown. It’s a steady grade of 10-11% for the next mile. The second climb comes at you with a 7% grade while the last climb increases back up to about a 9-10% grade for about another mile. Thereafter, it’s nothing but fun rolling terrain all the way to Olema and Point Reyes Station. We catch up with Zach and Veronica and roll in together to RS#3 at Mesa Rd, mile 73.3. It’s 9:49 AM. I spot Lisa McPhate and Gabrielle Friedly here.

There is a short climb out of Pt Reyes Station before we make the turn on Pt Reyes-Petaluma Rd. It’s a fun section of downhill all the way to the colored bridge at Platform Bridge Rd. We take a left to ride along the Nicasio Reservoir before the climb up Rocky Hill. We both hear loud music behind us and I turn around and see that it’s Lee in his red BIKEVAN. We both wave at him as he passes by. He gives us a friendly acknowledgement by flashing his top lights. That’s the first SAG vehicle I’ve seen till now.

To provide and improve rider safety, the CHP was conducting lane closures. It was traffic free for cyclists heading north. South bound cyclists and cars had to share the road. There was a lot of cyclists on both sides of the road with white numbered bibs. This group was the 100k riders. Many of them were already heading back to the start and just as many were heading out to Petaluma. This climb is a little over 1 mile with the average gradient being around 6%. It was here that we passed a cyclist on the left; I just happened to look over to him and noticed that he had a prosthetic right leg. Wow, and here he was just pedaling away. There is no way anyone can complain about anything on this ride, life is great! As we came to the crest, I see a cyclist stopped at the top and looking back down the hill. He was smiling and his face was beaming. I glanced over at him and he had a prosthetic left leg. He was waiting for his friend. What an inspirational sight!

It’s a fast descent heading towards the Cheese Factory. The sun is shining, yeah! We continue on Pt Reyes-Petaluma Rd all the way into Petaluma. The pavement is nice and smooth. There are a few climbs but it’s nothing too steep. We descend Red Hill and make our way to McNear Park.

We reach RS#4 at Petaluma/McNear Park, mile 93 at 11:13 AM. Temp 75. I hear someone call out my name and it’s Dick Ferrer. He’s working as a volunteer at this lunch stop. Ed Wesley is also there. I spot other Grizzlies here. There’s Cree, Barry, Rich, Debra, Veronica and Zach. My apologies if I missed anyone else. This rest stop was packed. I refilled my bottle and Cbak and ate some fruits along with some crackers. I took half a bagel to stuff in my saddle bag for later. I had a few red vines and it just got stuck all over my teeth. Yuck! I took off my arm warmers and stuffed them inside my jersey pocket. The knee warmers were stuffed into the Cbak. The warmth of the sun felt really good.

It’s time to get back on the road. We head out on Windsor and Western and ride 8 miles out of Petaluma on Chileno Valley before taking the right turn heading west. We pass Mick Jordan and he catches us on the turn. There are always head winds here and Mick tucks in behind us as we just roll along. This road is mostly gentle rollers with a small climb just past the farm house. We catch up with Bruce and he tucks in behind us too.

We descend Chileno Valley to Tomales Rd. There’s one climb before we make the turn onto Alexander Rd. We ride pass the shooting range before turning on Fallon-Two Rock Rd to head towards Valley Ford. The sun disappears behind the clouds and the temperature drops. I put my arm warmers back on as we ride into a head wind. We all get hit by a pungent smell in the air. Mick comments that it’s the smell of pigs. We were passing by a few ranches on this road. The climb on Whittaker Bluff drops us to Valley Ford-Franklin School Rd. As we make the fast right turn, we have to holler out our bib number to the volunteers. I recognize one of them to be Denise Primrose from the King Ridge ride I did last weekend. There is another climb ahead of us as we head north to Hwy 1.

We reach RS#5 at Valley Ford, mile 123.6 at 1:29 PM. I refill my bottle and Cbak, grab some fruit and head over to the table that is specially marked for 200k and doubles riders. I get half of a warm chicken burrito and some Cliff Blocks. It’s still a bit cool with overcast skies. I decide to leave my knee warmers off for the Coleman Valley loop. As I exit the RS, I noticed a group of guys talking and one of them happens to be the cyclist who passed us ever so quickly down Pan Toll Rd earlier. He apparently took a spill somewhere along the course. He had road rash on one side of his arm and leg and his shorts had some holes in it.

Now we’re off to do the Coleman Valley loop. Traffic picks up as we head north on Hwy 1. There are 3 climbs up ahead with another small hump before we hit Bay Hill Rd.

We head west for the 1.7 mile climb up Bay Hill Rd. The average gradient here is about 5%. The views atop of the ridge are amazing! The road conditions on the descent are very rough and bumpy. We drop down to Hwy 1 at the edge of Bodega Bay and pass Salmon Creek and ride along the coast for the next few miles to Coleman Valley Rd.

It’s 2:40 PM as we reach Coleman Valley Rd at mile 133. This is the longest steep climb of the day. This road is a series of 3 climbs with several false summits. Mark tells me beforehand that he is willing to walk the tandem if it gets too steep and I have no problem with that. The gradient ranges from 10-13% for the first 1.4 miles. As we’re climbing, I hear someone breathing very heavily behind us. I turn around and there was a woman about 3 feet back riding our wheel. She made the remark that she was pretending that we were pulling her up. Sure we say, whatever works for you. We’re grinding it out and the woman is moaning and groaning about the climb, blah, blah, blah. I then ask her if this was her first time doing this double and her reply was “no”. I instantly tell  her that she can’t be whining about this because she knew exactly what she was getting herself into. Enjoy the views and stop complaining. She was pretty  quiet from then on. As we reach the false summit, she thanks us for pulling her up.

Mark and I made it without getting off the tandem. We did a prep ride the
Sunday before that inlcuded going up Pumphouse to Happy Valley and El Toyonal to Lomas Contadas. It certainly paid off, we survived this climb. The next climb on top of the ridge is much easier; it’s a little over a mile long with
the average gradient being around 5%. The views are stunning; it’s absolutely
beautiful up there! Even better yet, it was sunny again. We get to the Coleman
CP, mile 135.9 at 3:28 PM. Temp 73. Gabrielle is leaving as we arrive. I refill
my Cbak and eat some salted almonds.

The short descent on Coleman takes us pass farm houses and ranches. We then climb for another mile to Joy Rd. Joy Rd is a bit less than 5 miles long. The initial climb takes you through a small community. The road has been recently repaved through this neighborhood. The road narrows for the next little climb and takes us through a grove of redwoods. It’s a very rough descent to Bodega Hwy.

It’s a pretty flat run for the next 5.5 miles on Bodega Hwy to Valley Ford Freestone Rd. We’re back again at Valley Ford, RS#6 at 4:32 PM, mile 152.7. I refill my bottle and take in a bit of fruit. I say hello to Grace Cassel who’s working as a volunteer. I thank her for being out there and supporting all of us. I also run into John Lutterman, Debra and Gabrielle. I get a chance to sit down for a moment to put my knee warmers back on. Big mistake, it felt too comfortable! It’s time to get back on the saddle. We have 48 more miles to go.

We exit the RS and head out on Middle Rd for the next 5 miles. It starts off relatively flat with golden grasslands as far as the eye can see. There are a few climbs on this unsuspecting road. The sun is still up and it feels great! Lee passes by in the BIKEVAN. I take the time to eat the remainder of the burrito I got earlier. I catch a glimpse of Michael’s friend, Bill Stephens driving his car as we’re making our way up the climb. The winds are back! It’s been following us for most of the day. As we near the last climb for the turn on Dillon Beach Rd, we see a couple of guys standing on the side of the road. Initially I though one of them had a flat. We pass by them slowly and Mark asks if they have everything they need. One guy replies” only if you have a spare fork with you”. His fork broke off the bike! Well, I guess we can’t help after all. He has to wait for a SAG vehicle to come by.

Dillon Beach Rd takes us through the town of Tomales and to Hwy 1 heading south. It’s a flat few miles through what I like to call the wind tunnel before we get to the rollers and descents along Tomales Bay. We do see the SRAM support vehicle heading north; maybe they’re going to pick up that stranded cyclist.

We roll up very quickly to the left turn on Marshall-Petaluma Rd. It’s 5:30 PM. At the bottom of the hill, a cyclist is circling around the intersection. He probably couldn’t downshift fast enough for the upcoming hill. We saw him earlier muscling up all the rollers on the big chain ring. It was kind of painful to watch. That being said, with the guy circling, Mark is unable to shift down to the granny gear and we get caught on the uphill and come to an abrupt stop. Luckily both of us clipped out fast enough to prevent a fall. Argh!! Mark apologizes profusely and I’m just thankful we didn’t fall over and hurt ourselves. He turns the tandem around and gets it in the proper gear for us to start up again. Whew! While he was doing that, about a dozen other cyclist come by and all I can hear was the clicking sound of gears as they headed up the immediate hill. Gabrielle comes up right after them.

This is considered the last climb of the day. It’s a little over 1 mile long with an average gradient being around 6%. There were several steep pitches in between. Coming up from the west side seemed a lot easier. Having a tail wind didn’t hurt either. You climb for a bit and get a nice downhill before the next few stair step climbs. The views from the ridge are once again just gorgeous. We reach RS#7, Walker Creek at 6:30 PM, mile 172.2. Temp 59. I’m greeted by Bill whom I saw earlier on Middle Rd. He gives me a big hug and congratulates me for doing this double. Yeah!! I take the chance to wolf down a cup o’noodle soup as Mark is talking with Sean Smith.

Sean rides out with us for the remaining section of Marshall-Petaluma Rd and Hicks Valley. It was at the turn on Hicks that I noticed John was also behind us.

We’re back on Pt Reyes-Petaluma Rd. We ride pass the Fire Station and the Cheese Factory. Sean picks up his pace and leaves us on the climb. Mark stops for a brief moment at the top to put on his glasses as I turn on the tail lights. John descends on ahead of us.

We turn on Nicasio Valley Rd and reach RS#8, Nicasio at 7:15 PM, mile 188.8. Temp 50. We use this stop for Mark to put on the helmet light and for me to exchange the lenses on my glasses.

We’re now ready for the return to San Rafael. Lucas Valley Rd to Big Rock is about 4 miles. It’s a gradient of about 2% and slightly increases as we approach the top. Mark has been steadily giving me jelly beans and gum drops for the last few miles. He’s prepping me for the final push back. I hope the sugar does kick in. The volunteer at the top yells for us to be careful on the descent and said there have been many accidents on this road today. It’s 7:42 PM. We noticed that several pot holes were highlighted with spray paint. This section can be a very fast descent with several tight left turns. I can totally see how someone can get hurt here. We’re rolling nicely on the flats and reach the turn on Las Gallinas back to the school. We reach Vallecito Elementary School at 8:32 PM, mile 200.7.

I’m always hungry at the end of these long rides. I have a little bit of everything
divided amongst 2 plates, there’s BBQ chicken, lasagna, chicken pasta, pizza,
salad, mash potatoes. I also eat a frozen ice cream drumstick. It felt good to
be finally off the bike.

Much thanks to Mark for taking on this challenge and for prepping the tandem for this event. It was a fun day of riding in good company and taking in all that
nature has to offer. The Marin Cyclists Club did an excellent job marking the
route. The road signs were large, at eye level and also marked by a bright
orange flag. Thanks also to the many GPC volunteers who took the time to be out there to support all the DC riders! The food and beverage selection was
actually quite good at all the rest stops. No lines for the use of the porta-potties, I loved that! All in all, it was a great ride, great route with great people!

CONGRATULATIONS to all the other GPC members that I saw at the finish; John, Debra, Tara, Kirk, Jack, Veronica, Zach, Sean, Gabrielle and Bruce!

Tandem Stats:
Miles: 200.7
Elevation: ~15,000′
Avg Speed: 13.37
Ride Time: 15:06
Total Time: 16:54
Non Ride Time: 1:48

Weather: Clear at the start, sunny atop of Tam, cool and foggy at Muir Woods and along the coast, sunny and warm inland, overcast and cool at Valley Ford and Tomales Bay, sunshine on the return on Marshall to Nicasio. Morning low of 52 at the start with a high of 75 at Petaluma and returning to the low 50’s at the finish.

Nutrition: lots of water, maltodextrin mix, 1/2 PBJ, 1/2 chicken burrito, a few salted chips and Ritz crackers, 1/4 plain bagel, cup o’ noodle, a banana, a few
strawberries and slices of nectarine, a handful of salted almonds and peanut
M&Ms, a few jelly beans and gum drops, red licorice and a few rolls of Smarties.

PS: Michael completed the traditional Marin Century.

VDO Stats: 104.24 miles, 6454′ of elevation gain, avg speed 15.9, ride time of

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>KEEP MOVING-KEEP PEDALING!>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

This is the route for Mt Tam Double:


  1. Hi Nancy, I love reading your amazing accounts of these amazing double centuries. Your ability to relate the detalil of the experience is only surpassed by doing them – on a bite or two of food besides!! Thank you for taking the time to write all about it. You are my hero. Best, Alison


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