I spent Memorial Day weekend at a beautiful wedding in New York's Catskills and visiting friends in NYC. I hiked, danced, stuffed my face, and had a grand 'ol time, but save for a short run in Central Park on my last day in town, I neglected to put in any work on my whole "One Month to Marathon" plan. Yikes.
Getting back to California was...complicated. Car keys were shipped overnight, flights were delayed, it was a mess. After retrieving keys, heading back to the airport, grabbing the car, and getting a few hours of work in, I decided to regain my sanity via a bit of a detour. To say I took the scenic route back to the Central Valley would be an understatement - I actually veered hours out of the way.
I've wanted to do a run at Mt. Tam (full name: Mt. Tamalpais) for a while. Since I had yet to do any substantial hill work, a 7 mile loop (with a 1,600' elevation gain) seemed like a great idea at the time. (Plus, the drive in to the trailhead involved winding roads and gorgeous views, like the shot above that overlooks Stinson Beach.)
The drive from SF took me over the Golden Gate, through Mill Valley, and onto the winding, eucalyptus scented Highway 1. After a beautiful drive in and a quick pass through Stinson Beach (which is super cute and beachy), I ditched the truck at the park and started out on the Dipsea Trail.
The guide I used wasn't kidding when it said the elevation starts right away - but you get to pass through an awesome thicket of trees (above) before hitting stairs, then hills, and then more stairs, until hopping on the next trail section. The view below is a look back at where I'd just run, still on the Dipsea Trail potion of the loop (it also happens to be the moment I decided that, yep, this was a fantastic idea).
After the Dipsea, the loop transfers to Steep Ravine. I should have known that any trail with the word "steep" (particularly one you're attempting to run) is something to be feared. While the climb for the next few miles was brutal, the scenery was absolutely incredible. Being a weekday (and mid-day at that) I had the place to myself.
The trail is full of awesome features: multiple wooden bridges, trickling streams, tiny waterfalls, giant redwoods, tons of ferns, a 10 foot ladder to scale, and just SO much green.
Just when you think you've had enough of steps, you enter a series of switchbacks - which, despite being gorgeous, made me: 1. realize that I'm still not in marathon shape, and 2. wish I was back on the stairs. That being said, the place was absolutely incredible, and the experience of running it brought me back to Earth and the reality that I still have a lot of work (and miles) to put in before June 14.
After Steep Ravine, the trail spit me out (a sweaty, wheezing, grinning mess) at a park ranger station, where the loop crosses over the Panoramic Highway and onto the Matt Davis Trail. It was there that I saw the first of many signs warning about rattlesnakes, mountain lions, and that perhaps venturing on the trail alone was ill advised.
For the remaining miles in the woods, I was pretty certain a mountain lion was stalking me down. I forgot headphones so I improvised, singing a song about how I might have been unprepared and running alone, but was too young to die by giant cat. It had a hook, key changes and everything. Things were getting kinda weird.
The downhill descent had begun, and the sections of shady forest were interspersed with golden California hills and killer views of the coast. The final miles of the loop were a mix of grassy hillside views and wooden steps through the final stretch of woods. Then somewhat suddenly, you're back on the street in Stinson Beach.
I loved the whole experience, and hope to build up my endurance enough to be able to attempt a longer loop, which apparently has awesome views of San Francisco from the summit of Mt. Tam.
I passed on getting lunch in town, in favor of trying to beat rush hour traffic (spoiler alert: I failed miserably). If I had this day to do again, I would sit for a bit more along the ocean and stop in at one of Stinson Beach's outdoor food spots for a bite.
There were incredible views on the run, and the scenery on the drive back didn't disappoint either. The photo below is just a few miles from the trailhead, heading back on Highway 1.
Interested in trying out the trail?
The Mt. Tam State Park and Watershed page of Trailstompers.com has info on the area in general; scroll down to "Favorite Run #1" for step by step instructions on this entire loop. I found the directions to be really helpful, and would recommend taking a screenshot of the instructions on your phone, as you might lose service in some spots. Happy trails!