Solstice Dirt Fondo

Marin County Bicycle Coalition’s (MCBC) 2015 Dirt Fondo season opened yesterday with the Solstice Fondo featuring some of the best trails in Marin including the ones in “my backyard”.

It was a glorious day, especially the weather. From the activity record in Garmin connect the temp averaged 65.4 °F in a range from 57-75 °F here’s the temperature graph plotted against time (starting at 8am) overlayed with the elevation profile:

Temperature ranges for the MCBC Solstice Dirt Fondo
Temperature ranges for the MCBC Solstice Dirt Fondo

This is much improved over last year from what I’ve heard the temps were well above 90 °F at the worst possible times creating the dreaded “sufferfest” type experience most seek to avoid but that was last year! This year? Mid to low 60s at the top of the highest most exposed climb of the day? Yes thank you!

Morning checkin started at 7am with the goal of having everyone on the trail by 8. Some opted to checkin early so they could effectively start when they wanted. I met a few riders that set out at about 6:50 – no doubt to get in as many miles as possible in the cooler morning hours.

My adventure started just after 8am with a 3mile warm up on the road before dropping into the White Hill Grade Fire Road and then the very fun Old Railroad Grade. I caught up to a few riders stopped before the steep drop point. I was happy to get the warning from them because it reminded me that yes there’s a steep drop but just past that drop is an equally steep climb which can be cleaned with sufficient speed – full throttle ahead! Safely cleared both the drop and climb out.

Just past this point I caught up with a sweeper from Mike’s bikes who was only recently alerted to this opportunity, unfortunately for him after his prior day’s epic ride.  We chatted for the first mile or so of the climb up Smith Ridge Fire road about our shared passion for our Santa Cruz 5010 bikes, both orange of course. We separated before the Gunshot fire road intersection and to my surprise we did not cross paths again – he barely seemed to be winded as we chatted and climbed.

After cresting the warm up climb on Smith Ridge you get to the wonderful 680 trail and taking it in the most fun direction of course!  680 is one of the most recent and significant additions to the trail system, the opening of which MCBC played an important role.

680 Trail initial eastbound climb near the crest
680 Trail initial eastbound climb near the crest, still overcast!

Once that fun was over it was time for what most would consider to be the toughest part of the day: Luiz Fire Road climb to the Big Rock Ridge Summit! I know this was a “Ride” and not a “Race” but I’m still impressed that 9 of the top 20 times on that Strava leaderboard occurred during the fondo! Solid field out there for this one! Way to go all!

I may be biased, ok I am biased, but the subsequent descent down from the summit to “Big Rock” on Lucas Valley Road was the gem. My bias stems from both the fact that this is one of the rides I frequent but it’s also up my alley: long flowy stretches of downhill where you can see forever in front of you (see the last 30 seconds or so of the video).  I like my technical exploits too but I’ll never turn down something like this.

Spacing of the riders was great too, you’d see groups at the tops of climbs and most of my passing of riders occurred on fire roads with a couple of exceptions. The obvious location for those exceptions was Tamarancho as it’s all single track and there were many riders in addition to the fondo participants.

To me, the three things that make group rides like this the best and not-to-be-missed experiences are the group dynamic, i.e. meeting other new riders, the aid stations and support during the ride and of course the post ride festivities.  Let’s tackle each one for this event.

Group Dynamic

Along the ride the friendliness and etiquette was wonderful to experience. As I passed those walking up Luiz they encouraged me, as I came toward a dangerous spot they warned me and as mentioned above we had conversations about the ride and other mountain biking pursuits along the way. Everyone went out of their way to get out of the way for other riders and given every hiker I passed was smiling and equally cordial I can only surmise that the riders ahead of me were practicing good trail etiquette too! Thank you all for that!

Maybe this is thunder stealing from the post ride festivities section but after the ride while enjoying my hard-earned meal I met 3 super nice riders. One of which, believe it or not is also registered for the Leadville Trail 100 MTB ride this year!

Aid Stations

During the ride there were 4 aid stations though the last was really just a water station and no where near the level of the first 3, though thank goodness for it as I’m sure I wasn’t the only one that needed one more top off of water!

I stopped at all aid stations though my total stopped time for this ride was about 10 minutes so I didn’t exactly spend a lot of time at any of them.  I was very thankful to enjoy them. Grabbing gu, fruit, PB&J, nuts, bars and most importantly topping off the fluids kept me in great condition all day and with each aid station stop I looked forward even more to the next!

Special thanks goes out to the second aid station which was sponsored by Bicycle Brüstop in Novato. I found out from one of the riders I met after the event that he lost both of his rear brake pads during the ride and upon mentioning this at the aid station the woman servicing that station offered him the pads off of her bike!

Post-Ride Festivities

After that last aid station where I topped off my fluids my mind immediately shifted to the next point of consumption, the cookout after the ride!  Side note: it was about this point where my Garmin indicated I had done the advertised 6400 ft of climb so when I said my goodbyes to the volunteer and commented that all the (climbing) work was done he returned a look that confused me. I quickly found out why – there was nearly 1100 ft left at that point! Well done Strava route builder.

Thankfully, there was still some downhill to be had, right at the end – exactly the way it should be. Gliding into the parking lot I could smell and practically taste the burgers! Before I got to the feasting I was greeted by yet more friendly volunteers. One woman actually hugged me! “YOU DID IT!”, she said.

Now with an even bigger smile on my face I lined up for the grub and cold beverages, ready to enjoy them and meet others who had finished. I sat with Tom (event organizer) and my new acquaintances Andrew, Dan and Marc (fellow Leadville registrant).

The event doesn’t happen without the hard work by the MCBC folks and all the volunteers through the course on race day, those that helped prep and clean up the course and all the roles needed to pull these events off! For me, at least, it was so worth all your efforts, thank you! I was glad to help mark and unmark the big rock ridge loop.

For those who can, I recommend marking your calendar for the Mt. Tam Dirt Fondo on Sunday, August 30th. It’s another great one! And for the ladies, the inaugural Jane Fondo is Sunday, June 26th!