It feels like it’s time to take a break from all the talk about gear to tell you about one of our favorite rides around here in Marin County. This one is a great ride through the redwoods, over to the coast and back. Unfortunately there’s no shorthand name for it, because people around here usually say something like “I rode over to Stinson and down to Muir.” Basically everyone knows what you're talking about.
For those not from Marin or the Bay Area, our shop in Mill Valley is about five miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge and sits in a perfect ‘U’ shaped depression at the foot of Mount Tamalpais (Mt Tam for short). While the town sits very close to Sausalito and the San Francisco Bay, a 1200-ish foot high southern spur of Mount Tam blocks Mill Valley from the ocean. That spur keeps a good bit of the costal fog that’s responsible for watering the 300-plus foot-tall redwoods within the Muir Woods National Monument out of town and it provides a nice little climb on the way out of town.
There are lots of ways to get out of Mill Valley, including some dirt routes, but it always seems fitting to begin this loop at the four-way intersection of Miller Ave and Montford - home to the landmark 2AM Club. From the Deuce it’s up and up. If you’re pretty good on the bike, you’ll probably spend 30 to 35-minutes making your way up to the high point on this loop at the National Park Service’s Pantoll Ranger Station. If you’re taking your time, maybe 45-minutes. It’s a beautiful, consistent climb with vistas of San Francisco, the Pacific and the East Bay.
At the Pantoll Ranger Station be sure to zip up your jersey as you’re about to drop six or seven miles down to Stinson Beach in just ten minutes. It's perfect descent that begins in the fog drenched protection of native redwood trees and, about half way down, opens for an amazing view of Stinson Beach, Bolinas to the north and, on a perfect day, the Farallon Islands some 30 miles distant.
Only two ways to go from Stinson and, truth be told, either is a winner. To complete this loop, you head south and start climbing yet again. You’ll immediately find yourself on the first in a series of 250 to 500-foot vertical rollers tacked on the coast that make the six mile stretch of Route 1 between Stinson and Muir Beach an absolute ride of a lifetime. Even if you ride it four or five days a week, it’s impossible to tire of this section. If you like natural spring water, take a look on the left-hand side of the road about a mile south of Stinson and you’ll see a little pipe sticking out of the hillside. Perfect water that old timers from all over Marin swear by.
Drop into Muir Beach and its likely you’ll find fog or at the very least cool temperatures. Fortunately you’ll also find the Pelican Inn, a perfect reproduction of a 16th Century English Inn. Before you get any ideas, it has been proven that stopping at the Pelican Inn on a ride results in calls to wives, girlfriends, husbands and/or cabs, usually many hours later, and with a drastically different attitude than when you walked in the door. Good for you, not good for whomever has to pick you up.
A consistent, 10 to 15-minute climb out of Muir Beach takes you back to the ridge above Muir Woods. Lot’s of traffic on weekend days, but, thanks to the endless twists and bends in the road, the cars, busses and motorcycles are usually moving at a reasonable rate of speed. From the top, take a last look and plunge back down toward the bay and where you started in Mill Valley about an hour-and-a-half ago. You may want to pull into the Deuce for a cold one or, just next door, where pretty good Mexican food awaits at Joe’s Taco Lounge.
Note: You can do this ride in the reverse direction. Takes a little bit longer and the final climb is bigger, but the overall effect is pretty similar!