Camp Tamarancho (PDF)
Mt. Tam Watershed
Repack Road (via Camp Tamarancho)
36% SINGLETRACK40% FIRE ROAD24% ROAD
This ride brings together two of the best things that Marin County has to offer a mountain biker: first-class singletrack and historic significance. The route starts from Fairfax and climbs part of the way up Pine Mountain in order to descend the famous Repack Road while using some of the excellent singletrack in Camp Tamarancho to get there. Fairfax is the cradle of mountain biking and these two highlights rank high among the reasons it's the epicenter of biking in Marin even today. Repack Road is where the Repack Race used to be held in the '70s. For those who don't already know, this race can be considered the origin of mountain biking as we understand it today, and some of the pioneering local kids who started it for fun are among the top entrepreneurs and gurus of the mountain bike industry today.
This ride is what I expect the experienced rider's preferred way of riding Repack Road would be, because it uses the opportunity to include the technical Tamarancho trails on the way up. For greener riders who would also like to try Repack Road but for whom the difficulty level of the Tamarancho singletrack and the amount of climbing might prove a touch too much, I would recommend an alternate route that passes through Deer Park and the Meadow Club golf course instead. Though that option still tackles the tough climb up Pine Mountain Fire Road, it features less elevation gain, is slightly shorter, and includes no technical singletrack.
The ride starts from the center of Fairfax. My first choice for parking there is a lot between Broadway Boulevard and Sir Francis Drake that allows four hours of free parking. (It's the marker labeled "Fairfax Parkade" at the Suggested Parking link on your left.) Finding space there isn't always guaranteed unless you arrive early, though free street parking can be found throughout Fairfax, including along the approach portion of this ride route, but there can be rules such as parking being allowed only on one side of the street, so pay attention to the signs.
At the beginning of the ride, you start from the Fairfax town center and head to Tamarancho. Consequently, the description of roughly the first six miles of this ride will be identical to that of the Camp Tamarancho ride route listed on this site. I will, therefore, not repeat it all here. Please refer to the text of that ride for the portion all the way up to the beginning of Endor Trail. However, I will repeat here that riding in Camp Tamarancho requires the purchase of a permit. A one-day pass costs $5 as of this writing. Alternatively, you can buy an annual pass for $25. You can purchase both types of permits (among others) online. Mountain bikers are required to have one of these passes present on their person any time they are riding on the trails here. If you happen to forget to purchase one online, passes may also be purchased in person from Sunshine Bicycles on the day of your ride, though it's worth double-checking that they still do that. Sunshine Bicycles is in downtown Fairfax, a couple of blocks southeast from the starting point of this ride.
When you diverge from the route of the description of the Camp Tamarancho ride by continuing uphill from the junction at the start of Endor Trail, it will take mere seconds for you to end up on White Hill Fire Road. While your first experience on White Hill Fire Road will be a serious climb, this ends very quickly and, in fact, almost your first mile and a half on this trail sees virtually no net elevation gain. There is one short but steep climb in this portion that is quickly negated by a similarly short and steep descent. Meanwhile, the earliest stretches of White Hill Fire Road that you cover on this route allow some nice views toward the bay. The rest of the trail alternates between sunny segments and tree cover, but the views never really return until after you complete your climb on White Hill Fire Road.
When White Hill Fire Road reaches its junction with Summit Fire Road, it's as if it suddenly decides to gain some elevation before it's too late. The remaining half mile of this trail past this point will have you boosting your total climb by 150 feet. It's not a ground-breaking amount, but the slope repeatedly exceeds 15% grade especially in the first half of this stretch, which will be noticeable to those who might be beginning to get tired by this point.
The trail becomes extra rocky and takes on the characteristic color of serpentine shortly before you reach San Geronimo Ridge Road. Rocky serpentine trail surfaces are pretty much the norm on San Geronimo Ridge Road, which is part of what makes it fun. This is the kind of technical fire road that even a singletrack-loving rider could appreciate, though the most fun portions of the trail are outside the segment that you traverse on this particular ride. Since the portion of this ride on that trail constitutes the highest elevations on the route, the views will be considerably better than they were up to this point as well, thanks to the relative lack of tree cover along this stretch. Because reaching San Geronimo Fire Road represents getting to "the top of the ridge" on this route, you might expect that the climbing will be over as soon as you make it to this trail, but you'd be wrong. The elevation gain actually continues until you get to the beginning of Repack Road (and even a bit after that), but it's too gentle to complain about, with the possible exception of one stretch nearly a quarter mile in length where you flirt with slopes approaching 20% grade one last time.
When you reach the junction with Repack Road, you will notice that the trail sign announces it as "Cascade Canyon Road" instead, which is the road's formal name. Repack Road is a fast fire road. It descends about 1300 feet in less than 2 miles. That's an average grade of about -14% over the entire length of the road. It's a pretty smooth fire road, though there are parts that are (seasonally, I imagine) a little rutty. One thing that's probably worth paying more attention to is the fact that many of the curves along Repack are off-camber. So, make sure you control your speed carefully and don't ride past the grip capability of your tires (or your brake power). There are curves on this road known by nicknames like Breeze Tree (I don't think Joe Breeze merely took a rest stop there...), Vendetti's Face, and Hamburger Helper. That should tell you something.
In order to eliminate any possibility of disappointment, I should stress that Repack Road is not a remarkable fire road by any objective measure. It's true that it's a fast and consistently steep descent of good length that riders craving speed will enjoy (though everyone should use caution, since uphill traffic on this trail is not uncommon), but the chunky segments of the adjoining San Geronimo Ridge Road and Pine Mountain Road would provide a more fun technical descent challenge. It's also true that its upper reaches are nicely scenic as you have the views of the bay in front of you as you head down, but not more so than many other such scenic fire roads. The primary draw of this trail is only its historic significance. If you won't feel thrilled or at least mildly intrigued as you descend this road when you realize that you're riding down the same path where Gary Fisher set the course record and where the likes of Joe Breeze, Keith Bontrager, Otis Guy, Tom Ritchey, and Charlie Kelly initially "got things started" when they were teenagers, then you won't be impressed by this trail.
You leave the Repack Road "race course" behind where you cross Cascade Creek on a wooden bridge after which the trail makes a right-hand kink. The remaining trail mileage on this ride after this point will be a laid-back cool-down segment, maintaining the nearly flat downhill slope of the creek itself. The trail also crosses the creek multiple times along this stretch, which serves as the last bit of riding fun that it yields to you. Soon, you'll be passing through a gate and the remainder of your ride will take place in the form of an equally gentle glide down leafy Fairfax streets all the way back to the heart of the town.
Since Fairfax could be considered the closest thing to a pilgrimage site for mountain biking, there are a number of places in tiny downtown Fairfax for coffee, some drinks, or a meal that are frequented by mountain bikers. Some quick suggestions would include the Java Hut or The Coffee Roastery for coffee, and Iron Springs pub or Gestalt Haus for a quick bite. I'm also fond of The Sleeping Lady for a post-ride meal; their salads and burgers are impressive, they have good beer and outdoor seating, plus the Ukulele Jam they have going every Saturday between 2:00 and 4:00 is a cute form of entertainment you might not find elsewhere (though the participating age group has a bit of a geriatric flavor).
Finally, no biking-focused discussion about Fairfax could be considered complete without a mention of the Marin Museum of Bicycling. This local treasure has been (very justifiably) the new home of the Mountain Biking Hall of Fame ever since it opened in 2013. It's a great place to admire some seriously historic bicycles (some not even called that yet back then) going back to the 19th century and, more importantly, to see first-hand some of the very pivotal bicycles and read their stories from the early history of the sport, many of which were ridden on Repack Road and the other trails in the very hills surrounding the town. That's without getting into the distinct possibility of running into Joe Breeze himself at the museum, or one of the other "founding fathers" of mountain biking. I would strongly recommend this place to any first-time visitor. In fact, the museum is easily worth a visit in its own right to anyone who has a serious interest in the sport.
© Ergin Guney
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