Distance: 8.3 miles
Altitude Change: Minimal (maybe 500 feet)
Why Ride it: Riding trail in Marin County—the avowed birthplace of mountain biking—is a beautiful experience. Just don’t touch ANYTHING.
I’m serious. Look over there. See that innocent-looking trail meandering through the grassy hills, past meadows peppered with green shrubbery? That singletrack disappears into stands of redwoods and oaks, until it’s all crowded over with hanging vines and verdant foliage. Beautiful, just beautiful. Oh, and teaming with poison oak.
Okay, it’s not that bad. But for some reason when I ride in Cali, I don’t even have to leave the trail for poison oak to find me. Nature just reaches out its leafy, toxic hand and taps me on the shoulder. And the elbow. And the wrist. (But not my legs this time). I may have been left with a reminder or two of my commune with Nature, but here’s why riding there was so worth it.
Current Conditions (as of Saturday, August 1):
Conditions at the 480-acre Camp Tamarancho (aka Scout Camp, which is operated by the Marin Council, Boy Scouts of America) are perfect for enjoying a swoopy, non-technical, flume-ride of a trail, sans water. It’s hard-pack, with a bit of sharp rock and knotty root to keep it interesting. The singletrack climbs up to sprawling vistas of Marin and plunges back down into shady hollows where you’ll feel like you’re the only one around, even though another rider may be one turn ahead. Just make sure you’re not going so fast that you fail to dodge and weave around the handful of venomous leafy bushes overhanging the trail (see above paragraph).
First, pre-pay online for your trail access. (It’s for trail maintenance, and a day pass is only $5—or buy a half-year pass.) Then take Sir Francis Drake Blvd. from San Rafael or San Anselmo into the small town of Fairfax. Just after St. Rita’s Catholic Church, turn left on Olema Rd., and then left again on Manor Rd. Take a right on Rockridge Rd. and then stay straight onto Iron Springs Rd. (Actually, ditch your car somewhere in Fairfax and ride this part.) The trailhead is just a mile or so up Iron Springs Rd., on the left, where you’ll disappear into an enchanted forest.
The above map is helpful, but riders will appreciate even more the irony of this pretty famous sign:
Gladly follow the rule.
The Ride (highlights below):
From the trailhead, take the Alchemist Trail for a half of mile to the junction with Goldman Trail. Either direction takes you up a fun, twisting climb and allows you to fit in an 8+mile clockwise or counterclockwise loop. I prefer taking the left hand turn up Goldman, connecting in a half mile to Serpentine Trail. Ride the mile up Serpentine’s singletrack to another fire road, where you’ll find the entrance to the Wagon Wheel Trail. For 1.5 miles, take this out into the California hills, traversing bumpy, sometimes jagged, rocky trail. But you can trust your line; there are no loose rocks here. A short fire road connection takes you to B-17 trail and another lovely 1.5 miles of singletrack before you hit the next junction. Here, either head out to the Porcupine Trail open space, or stay inside the camp boundaries and finish your loop on the 2.2 miles of Broken Dam Trail. B-17 and Broken Dam are lovely, forested, mostly smooth trails just begging for a fast descent. And there’s nothing stopping you from finishing the loop, turning around and riding it in the other direction.
- There’s rigid-friendly hard pack.
I’m not usually a fan of pure hard pack, but after riding a borrowed, fully rigid bike from a friend in town and feeling amazingly connected to the trail, I’ve started to shift my thinking. Seriously, as I began working that rigid, responsive bike up the switchbacks, I couldn’t help but recall a bit of marketing writing I did years ago for Ventana Mountain Bikes, USA. Promoting their El Tenedor 29er fork in the lead-up to Interbike. I wrote that their 80mm suspension-adjusted rigid fork for 29” wheels “promises to reunite you with the terrain you used to know.” Though I wasn’t sporting a Tenedor fork (or a 29er bike for that matter) during my Tamarancho ride, I experienced the same primal connection with the terrain that was the inspiration behind my earlier writing. My hands weren’t gripping the bars and my feet weren’t pressing the pedals; they were pawing the earth itself. For rigid-bike purists, Camp Tamarancho, like China Camp (along with those “on-the-down-low” trails in Marin), offers terrain that reminds you why you started riding in the first place.
- It’s Nature-y.
You’ll likely see wildlife—on my descent, I encountered three of Bambi’s kin:
Two appeared on the singletrack in front of me and seemed to have more curiosity than survival instinct. Soon I realized they were teaming up to distract me from their younger companion, hidden in the long grass beside me. (Confidential to Nature: Way to leverage dumb animal curiosity as a strategy for fooling dumber animals who think themselves superior.) If deer are way smarter than we are, I wonder how it’s going to play out when I run into a mountain lion. Or a coyote. Or poison oak.
Nature kind of scares me. . . .
Until next time, ride safe and see you on the trails!