King of the Coast // by Jake Szymanski and Alex Dickinson

Words by Alex Dickinson // Photos by Jake Szymanski


Five friends, ninety miles, one slashed tire, five crashes, two full days of driving, and one hell of a weekend. After a 4:00am wake up call, we drove South through foreboding winds and a heavy downpour to ride an event we knew next to nothing about.

We kept things light off the bike. Snapchat told a tale of a few days full of weirdness. Here we are arriving at the hotel. Still unsure of whether or not the bellhops appreciated our antics.

Rollout was pregnant with jittery, nervous excitement. 100 miles, mostly gravel was the gist of the description we’d been given. Ready for a lengthy, testing day in the saddle, we rolled through the iconic arches into Marin County, warmed by a stunning San Franciscan sunrise.

As the parking lot began to fill, our nervousness was not appeased. About half of the other riders arrived on mountain bikes. One of our mates only had a road bike to bring on the trip, so while the rest of us were on cross bikes, it was pretty funny to see a pair of 28mm Pasellas lined up next to a lefty.

Mt. Tamalpais was a highlight of the trip, for sure. The climb was long and beautiful, and although with heavy fog it looked more like home in Portland than our preconceived notions of California, I loved every minute of it.

After the gravel climb to the summit, we cruised along the ridge. The dense fog sat on the open, grassy ridgeline, with large boulders scattered in the fields–an otherworldly landscape. We made our way around a road closure gate and enjoyed a fun descent to the trails. Madness ensued shortly thereafter.

To quote one of the best books ever written, it was as if someone had cried, “Let the wild rumpus start!” We began a few of the most fun filled hours I’ve ever spent on a bike.

After a few steep rollers, flat number one brought us to a halt and separated us from the rest of the riders. We swapped it and continued to hoot and holler through the mud, tree roots and puddles.

After a free cyclocross skills clinic taught by Mother Nature, we came to a series of farmers’ fields, and literally rode through herds of cows. Four of the five crashes of the day happened on this deceptively peaceful, pastoral track. Sections of the road had completely washed out, and we tended to fall into the resultant ruts and holes. A couple of the falls were actually quite terrifying, and the term “ass over tea kettle” was employed often, but we were still having the time of our lives.

After a welcome stint on the tarmac, we came to a steep trail and said, almost in unison, “We have to go up that?” We did. For me, this was one of the best parts of the ride. It was a peaceful suffering that felt like a respite when compared to the more technical sections of the ride. We came to what we thought was the top, and continued to make slow progress over super slick rollers. Frustration set in as our cleats clogged with mud and the ratio of pedal strokes to steps began to wane.

King of the Coast, we were beginning to realize, was a gnarly ride. We had our fair share of mechanicals and crashes. One of us was left with a dangerously patched tire. We had thirty miles to go. There were rumors of sketchy single-track descents. It was getting dark. We had three lights.

The odds of us finishing safely were slipping, and we were at a turning point. We could sacrifice our pride, take a trail down and ride 30 miles home on the road, or, we could take a big risk and try and finish. We decided that getting everyone home safe, and doing it together, was more important than saying we finished.

We rode further than we needed to on the way home (thanks, Siri) and decided to ferry back into the city. 80 miles in, sore, tired, hungry, no lights. It was time to rack it. As we rounded the bend into Tiburon, however, we watched our ferry push out into the bay. There went that plan. We downed what calories we had left, and employed some strategic drafting and pushing to get us home. In the end, teamwork saved the day. We crossed the bridge again in the dark. A beautiful feeling.

We rolled our bikes into the hotel, covered in mud, sweat, and some blood. If only we had a photograph of the faces of those sitting at the hotel bar. We popped champagne in the hotel room. Cheap as it was, it was the best I’ve ever had.

After quick showers, we landed at a taco spot. The woman at the register said, “That’s a lot of food. You probably don’t need chips.”

“We need chips. And guac, thanks.”