Fresh off my Alcatraz swim and keen on pursuing life in my un-comfort zone, I agreed to push my limits and ride along with veteran Bay Area cycling enthusiasts on the Alpine Dam Loop. When we departed, I was told that "this ride is going to be epic."
"Epic" is not a word I like to see used casually. To throw around the term inappropriately, when so many suitable descriptors exist for less-than-epic situations, demeans the English language. Continual overuse would "like-ify" the word, and you know, like totally, like, take away from its meaning. The destruction of its worth as an adjective would, dare I say, be a tragedy of epic proportion.
One would think that with this type of self-imposed adjective filter, that prior to classifying the Alpine Dam loop as an epic adventure I would have thought carefully about my word choice... But thinking back on my journey -- overwhelmingly engulfed in Mother Nature, climbing and descending, completely lost in the experience -- there was no other word that ever came to mind. Describing the ride to my friends, "epic" spilled out of my mouth like an upended gallon of milk. Gulk, gulk, gulk... Epic, epic, epic.
As I broke my own rule, new words were invented as even epic no longer seemed to adequately describe the ride. "Oh and then the ride got even epic-er!" "Just wait, I haven't even got to the Epic-est part yet!" And that's when it dawned on me... Referring to the ride as the Alpine Dam Loop was a grave injustice. This is not your usual extraordinary riding through Marin... this is a world class ride up California's Mount Epic-est.
Distance: 60 Miles
Challenge: 4000+ feet of elevation change
What to Bring: Nourishment and water
To begin this ride, bike to Fairfax via Corte Madera and stop for fuel at Good Earth grocery. By then you'll have put in 20 easy miles which is important because you'll be loosened up, ready for a serious series of spins up the western peak of Mount Tamalpais. The first major climb begins abruptly after leaving town and is a doozy. Over the next seven miles you'll ascend 1,100 feet climbing from sea level to the pseudo summit. Even on the weekends, there is hardly any traffic in this neck of the woods so don't be afraid to take the whole lane, lay off the breaks, and rocket down to Alpine Dam. Since nobody is around, let out a few "whoop whoops" as you descend. It feels great to let some of your weird out.
Upon arrival, you'll find there is no dam tour guide, no dam bathroom or dam gift shop. However, I do encourage you to take all the dam pictures you want because it sure is dam gorgeous. Alpine Dam was constructed through the Lagunitas Creek in 1919 and is still utilized by the Marin Municipal Water District providing power to neighboring areas. The blockage created Alpine Lake which is beautifully nestled between tall pines and redwoods and the views are calendar worthy. Resting here is a great idea because when you leave, you're facing another monster 1,500 foot switch backing climb that is guaranteed to wreck you over the 2.5 miles to the 2052 foot summit. So chill out for a minute, soak in the beauty, and enjoy a rare comfortable silence with other lingering cyclists.
The Seven Sisters
After the hour plus of climbing, you have reached the top of Mount Epic-est, but, unfortunately, there are still seven more rolling hills to conquer. Known to locals as the Seven Sisters (known by exhausted riders as the $%^# @#*!), the final bumps along the Panoramic Highway are brutal. Each sister will do her best to suck the remaining energy from your burning quadriceps. Hold on! Conquer the last of the sinister siblings and you've reached the end of the pain. The moment your legs inform your brain gravity is once again one of the good guys, inhale deeply and think about what you've just done... How awesome is work before play?! You deserve what's next.
The tear jerking, jaw dropping, 2,000 foot descent
Don't be shocked if at some point on the way down you find yourself crying. For me, the first tears came minutes after dropping in. I am not an overly emotional guy and was confused by the rush of sensation, but I knew one thing: I was completely in the moment, and I was freaking loving it. Turn after hairpin turn, dip after butterfly inducing dip, the roll goes on and on. Somewhere along the way I realized I had figured out exactly what made my 26-year-old self happiest. Perhaps, you'll come to a similar realization in the midst of all the endorphins.
When it's all over you'll be dazed, but if you are trying this ride then chances are you know your way around Marin by now. Get your bearings, shake out your jelly legs, and pedal your way back across Golden Gate into your bed.
Keep the rubber side down, SF... find your own epic!
Check out the route here.