Big Rock Ridge
A tale of two towers
For months now we've been hearing various rumors, by word of mouth and read from different sources,
that now one could not only legally ride to the peak of Big Rock Ridge,
but there was singletrack beyond that returned down to Lucas Valley Road.
Now in Marin County one must always take such an development with a grain of salt,
but casual mentions of vague possibilities are always good enough for us.
At 1900 feet, this is the second tallest peak in Marin County, between Novato and Marinwood,
that is easy to see from the 101 freeway as you head north past San Rafael, with the radio towers at the peak.
The first time we went there, in March of 2002, one could only ride to the Luiz Fireroad,
which is about a mile shy of the summit.
Back then, we didn't even make it that far because my smallest front chainring,
which was worn down to the shape of fishhooks probably from using it way too much,
would chainsuck everytime I shifted into it, and I was totally bonking in the middle ring.
So, having aborted that ride early at the Queenstone turnoff,
we were eager to return and explore the area more fully.
Click to expand
The kindly supervisors of Marin help bikers to ease their way onto the loose, steep, and slippery fireroads
by paving the first couple hundred yards.
It some stiff climbing for just under a mile up to the first plateau,
which then rolls up and down over a contant elevation for maybe a mile.
Then it's some serious climbing for awhile. Remember that plan I told you about, the one for Sierra Azul,
where I tried keeping my heart rate always in the moderate range by maintaining a really slow cadence.
Well, for Big Rock Ridge, that just wasn't going to happen.
There was no way on many of these sudden climbs I could keep my heart rate from
maxing out, try as I might.
But at least there were a few fleeting distractions.
Following the ridgeline all the way to the peak, in the oak forest clearings there were ample views on both sides.
Here's a shot of the tail end San Pablo Ridge and China Camp looking south.
It was really easy to count my heart rate when it's banging back and forth against the chest wall.
Eventually, one reaches a nice view of the eastern face of Big Rock Ridge itself, always green from the chaparall.
Not quite visible here, due to the glare in the photo, are the two radio towers at the summit.
The fireroad continues along the ridgeline, arcing to the left before approaching the peak.
Good thing I stopped to do this panorama... I think my kidney is about to rupture.
This is just beyond the Queenstone turnoff, where we turned around last time.
Just when life could offer a little mercy, you get a glimpse of what
lies ahead, as the trail twists upward along the crest of the ridge.
Now that I had a functioning granny gear,
and two years more conditioning, and a vastly more expensive bike, I don't think I was feeling any better!!
But what choice is there. The first shot is at the junction of the Luiz Fireroad (off the picture to the left),
where you can quite sanely begin a fast downhill to
Lucas Valley road, or, instead, if you've completely lost your wits, you can continue forth climbing up the ridge.
The next shot is at a gate
not far past the Luiz turnoff where, not long ago, one had to turn around.
But today, thanks to proactive efforts of mountain bikers and other trail users,
you can now continue past this gate all the way to the summit. Oh, yippy, that's just swell.
The good news is, elevation-wise, you are within a couple hundred vertical feet of the summit.
But the bad news is, you first descend a few hundred feet before having to climb right back up again.
This is looking backward along the fireroad, having just descended from the gate.
Keep in mind, the lens always flattens things.
Down down down down down... then up up up up up, on barren hillsides, with a stiff wind blowing from the front and the left
side. As my tires skidded in the gravel I would find myself being blown toward the side of the trail.
The wind here is blowing so hard it took quite an effort here to hold the camera steady.
But, I guess, who can really complain with scenery like this.
Oh, for crying out loud, not another downhill!
Once again losing precious, hard-earned vertical feet, only to be made up further down the trail.
That up ahead better be the last climb to the towers, and no more surprises... Okay, here we are, I made it,
and here's a picture just to prove it. Okay, Kenny, now take my cell phone, dial 911, and call in the flight
paramedics to start a nitro drip.
I can't tell you how nice a sight this is. Anyway, we were having a dilemma. While I heard there was a way
down from here, newly open to mountain biking, we didn't think to bring a map or clear directions,
and being about spent of energy
we really didn't want to take any chances of having to backtrack very far.
Going back was a known commodity but would mean returning to the Luiz Fireroad,
with that one very steep grade we were definately NOT looking foward to.
So we went for it, pressing ahead past the towers.
Here's the back side of Big Rock Ridge. More bleak, windy hillsides...
...when suddenly opened before us this paradise vision of Marin, in the middle of nowhere, with pine hills,
oaky meadows, lakes, and ridge after ridge fading into the western sunset.
The wind immediately stopped, and it was like all of the sudden riding from empty,
steep, hurricane hillsides straight into a fantasy realm.
Here the trail narrowed to this fun, fast, and well-constructed singletrack
taking wide switchbacks back and forth down the near-vertical hillsides.
This is where the sun dropped behind the ridges, losing the good photography lighting. But we both agreed
this is about the best trail we've ridden in all of Marin.
Off-hand I can't think of a better one, I'm sure there are harder ones, but none more pleasantly enjoyable than this.
It's not technical, just beautiful singletrack
rolling comfortably down the hillsides, through many different and interesting microecologies as you return to
Lucas Valley Road.
Ever wonder how Big Rock Ridge got it's name? Apparently, this is it. This is Big Rock!
If you ever want to ride up the Big Rock Trail (vs. the Big Rock Ridge Fireroad),
which didn't seem like it would be so bad at all
(although to be fair one never knows for sure until they actually do it) then head up Lucas Valley Road,
and look for this landmark where the trail begins.
Fortunately for us, Lucas Valley Road was a straight shot downhill back to the beginning.
So we coasted quickly down to the city of Marinwood. Although Lucas Valley Road wasn't bad at all in term of traffic,
and had adequate shoulder, we still
turned into the neighborhood on Huckleberry, then followed Appleberry, and then I think Cranberry east to
Miller Creek Road, then
turned left and followed that to the 101 offramp, where the bike path that follows the freeway veers to the left.
It all moved very quickly and we were back to the car in no time.
Fortunately for us, on these late summer days, Red Boy Pizza
in San Rafeal stays open until 11:00 pm. There, on this calm and pleasant evening,
we had all our needs met, hope reigned supreme, luck was our
ally, and every opportunity belonged to us for the taking.
(b. May 22, 2004)
Back to North Marin County.