A thousand feet above sea level, maybe, and our thighs are burning, so we pull off the asphalt because we can’t heave our 90-pound* bikes any further up the mountain without fast and heavy calories.
Day one and we’re climbing Mount Tam and it’s just straight on the up and up for four, five ten twenty miles (who knows how long it actually was). Rachel and I vow never to follow beauty over mountains again.*
At the top, a pint-sized public bus pulls up to the ridge and out climb a dad wearing a Bruins cap and a girl who went to Wesleyan. There’s a bus that drops you off at the top? They wish us luck; we give them stickers.
*no accurate weight available
*we’re going to do it again with the Sierras; 11,000 feet of climbing in 3-4 days
Finally, we throw ourselves down the backside of the mountain toward the Pacific (our second meeting that day; our first ended with shoes, socks, cleats, gear sets, drenched in salt water, a Californian baptism before we turn east), the whole word rattling under our wheels, vibrating, buzzing with dissipated potential energy.
At the bottom, Amanda welcomes us with sour cream and onion sun chips and Paul scoops some dairy-free pesto onto a hunka bread while drinking a beer out of an egg carton. We’re just tasting the beginning of being hungry all the time.
After Stinson beach, the road runs along the water for a couple of miles and the seals are laid out like tootsie rolls on the sand bars. The rolling hills feel like wicked mountains.
Then Olema, great, tiny little town, we’re close to camp, and we’re just about out of steam. Paul and Rachel pick up a map and
then the gut-punch that Sky Camp looms 1,000+ feet above us, nestled in the fog. The sun hangs low over the hilltops and the air started to nip. At least, Rachel’s friends had pulled up around the corner ran and they offered to stack our bags in their car and carry them up the mountain.
So for the first mile it feels like our bikes are the finest carbon fiber, weig nothing, and we power up the hill. But I’m down to my lowest gear by the end of it, muscles wasted, inching upwards at 3.5 miles per darkening hour.
At the parking lot, we realize we don’t have permits and two other cars have tickets, so Rachel’s friends leave a note on the dash and we tack a warning to the post to try to catch Thomas and Max. The days’ not over yet – there’s a 1.2 mile hike to camp, and it’s too dark by then to ride on the gravelly. The only option is to lean on the handlebars and shove them up the hill, tires and shoe soles slipping on the rocks. The path is definitely angled somewhere between 60 and 125 degrees, just walkin’ upside down.
Halfway there, Josh, Thomas and Wires caught up with us walking. They make the final stretch bearable, and when we reach camp, it’s dark, foggy and the most welcome sight we’e seen in 12 hours. We hear it was beautiful at sunset.
Hot dogs are grilled hot on charcoal, chicken sausage loaded on, zucchini crisped and buns toasted. We feasted, we made Dionysus proud.
Josh’s Google Fire Thrower, or whatever it was called, lit up the fog to the level of a dim bar bathroom, only it smelled like salt and pines instead of sweat and beer. You could see the little water droplets dip and spin in the air, a billion elegant ballerinas.
I went to bed full, tired, a little fed up, a little cold, and a little confused that this big thing we’d talked into the ground had actually begun.