Dirt Rag Magazine

Ride report: Mt. Tam Dirt Fondo – Saddle time with the greats

By Gary J. Boulanger

Mt. Tamalpais in Marin County, Calif., is the sacred epicenter of modern mountain biking, a 2,572-foot peak overshadowing Mill Valley and Fairfax. Pioneers Gary Fisher, Charlie Kelly, Joe Breeze and Otis Guy not only plied their trade in the mid 1970s, modifying then constructing machines capable of going up the mountains as well as bombing down, they also spent thousands of hours in the saddle.

To celebrate that history, more than 200 riders participated in the first annual Mt. Tam Dirt Fondo in Marin County, CA, on September 9, an event organized by and benefitting the Marin County Bicycle Coalition (MCBC). Four routes were offered (10, 20, 32 and 46 miles), with everyone starting their day at the Point Bonita YMCA Conference Center in the Marin Headlands. Event organizer Tom Boss invited several of the original contributors to our great sport, Fisher, Breeze and Guy clipped in and enjoyed the 46-mile route.

The Dirt Fondo has been in the planning stages for nearly four years, and the casual roll-out meant riders wouldn’t need to worry about excessive traffic on the trails. According to Boss, there are plans to continue the event in 2013, with the possibility of changing the location.

“As soon as I joined MCBC, I noticed the high number of road bike events we were involved with, and I thought we could do something similar off-road in Marin,” Boss said after the event. “A ride, mind you, not a race.

“To do this event, we’re crossing three different parks,” he explained. “We’ve organized smaller off-road events to build up to the Dirt Fondo. We built up confidence and trust with local land managers, and they permitted this ride. The land managers like working with us, and this bodes well for future events. We’ve been partnering with counties and cities for a long time, and this success will hopefully translate to off-road in Marin.

“We hope to change up the location around the county and maintain the same mileage as we did today.”

Sidetracked by pioneers

My plan was to enjoy the 32-mile route, chat up participants and capture the event with several iconic sights as backdrops: the Marin Headlands, Pacific Ocean, Mt. Tam and maybe the San Francisco skyline, easily viewable from several points in the ride. Then Joe Breeze and Otis Guy, pictured below, caught up to me at the first rest stop in Tennessee Valley, so I extended my day with the 46 miler.

I mean, c’mon; how many times does one get the chance to get the chef’s tour of Marin County’s finest trails by two of the men who’ve probably racked up more mileage in these parts since 1973 than any other human beings? Also, Breeze is the designer and cartographer for the MCBC’s Marin Bicycle Map, now in its fourth iteration since 1998, when Breeze compiled 1,400 hours into the original. Who better to enjoy the day with? I followed their line up, down and around every rock, nook and cranny, enjoying myself while listening to their stories from the early days of mountain biking.

The author, at left, with Joe Breeze and Otis Guy.

Both men agreed they miss the days when Mt. Tam was less popular and almost 100 percent available to riders, between 1973 and 1979. The growth of the burgeoning sport and the publicity surround the Repack Race nearly shut down the mountain 100 percent to cyclists. One would think that both men would have grown tired of riding the same trails for nearly 40 years, but they share the same youthful enthusiasm for riding, as well as an age-defying fitness level: both are nearing 60 and aren’t showing any signs of slowing.

Our day in the saddle, courtesy of Joe’s Garmin.

Breeze, a famous dirt evangelist, is now a Strava believer and power user. “This was my first time totaling 300 miles in a week since the 1970s,” he told me as we climbed Deer Park Fire Road to the top of Cardiac Hill. “Actually, I rode 600 miles one week in the Alps with Tom in 1999.” Breeze is partnering with Tom Ritchey, another early pioneer, for a two-man team mountain bike stage race in Brazil September 23-29 called Brasil Ride, with distances and elevation that make the 46-mile route of the Dirt Fondo look like a stroll in the park.

Guy is a former firefighter, current Strava skeptic, and organizer of dirt camps for kids and adults on Mt. Tam in the summer. More than 100 kids enjoyed saddle time with Guy in early August, wrapping up the fourth series of the season. Guy, who apprenticed under Breeze in the early `80s, has built 700 steel frames, once sponsoring Bob Roll with SoftRide in the early `90s. He’s a gracious and loquacious man with a heart for mountain biking in all forms, whose son Marcus appeared in this summer’s Specialized television commercial, “The Chase”:

Onward and upward!

My hamstrings tightened up harder than Stevie Ray Vaughan’s guitar strings on the second ascent of Mt. Tam on Railroad Grade. I told my ride buddies to keep rolling while I stopped to stretch, drink and eat, and caught up with them at our second to last rest stop. The gorgeous singletrack descent down Coastal Trail toward the azure blue Pacific is a sight to behold, with a slight jog on the newly-paved Highway 1 thrown in for good measure. After stopping to snap a few photos, I let Breeze and Guy ride ahead, after I cramped again climbing Middle Green Gulch.

The nice thing about any fondo, road or dirt, is the camaraderie shared by complete strangers. Some more refueling and stretching got me back on the bike, and I enjoyed the Bobcat Fire Road descent to the southern Headlands region. Several of the folks I encountered lived in San Francisco, and many use the Marin Headlands as their regular playground.

Another fine day in paradise.

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