Plans don’t always work out the way we want them to but sometimes the alternative is just as good or even better. That day, the alternative was perfect.
Morning rolled around much faster than I’d like it to. It’s not that I’d have too little sleep; it’s that I knew it was my last day running in the place that had become my home. And whenever that day was to come, it was always going to be about an eternity too soon.
Thankfully, I wasn’t alone on this day. I was staying with a friend the whole weekend, which was a blessing. I can’t imagine having to deal with the heavy reality of that being my last weekend at home alone. We headed up to Mill Valley together and stopped at Equator for coffee and scones. It doesn’t matter how many times I go running up around Mill Valley and Mt Tam—a stop at Equator is a must.
We started the run a bit later than planned. We’d taken that morning slowly, not stressing about getting up early or being in Mill Valley at a certain time. This meant that, very early on, we realized we wouldn’t be able to do our planned route—which, however, didn’t make the day bad… quite the opposite.
My friend knew the first part of the route I’d planned well. He’d done Double Dipsea several times and we headed out of the Old Mill Park and right up to the first set of stairs—the first of many, many more than we’d anticipated, as we learned later that day. My friend was beaming as we climbed up these staircases. He knew every step by heart and could probably do the ascent to the top of the ridge blindfolded. I tried to keep up with him while keeping up with our conversation but soon learned that I could really do only one, so I let him do the talking while I huffed and puffed up the staircases, sometimes two stairs at a time, sometimes struggling up uneven rocky steps one by one.
The descent via Dipsea Trail was the more enjoyable. The single-track snaked down into the valley and the occasional step or rock made it a lot of fun. The pace my friend set, running in front of me, was comfortable and we hit the valley soon. I proudly pulled out my National Parks Pass and got us into Muir Woods, through which our planned route went, for free.
We ran and hiked through the tall, fragrant trees, stopping for wildflowers and slowing down so as not to disturb other visitors to the monument. There were stretches when the path was clear and we could stride through, stretching our legs and filling our lungs with the damp air. Soon, we hit the Bootjack Trail and started the ascent from the valley alongside Rattlesnake Creek and Bootjack Creek.
The water skipped happily down the mountainside, falling in cascades over boulders and bubbling in its gorge, sometimes deep, sometimes right at our feet. The single-track was soft and the air earthy. It was a joy to be existing in that moment. We picked up the pace again, ran through a little stream that cut across the trail, and I was just in the middle of saying how much fun the trail was when another set of stairs surprised us.
“You didn’t have enough? You had to plan a route with more stairs?!” my friend asked, his voice partially coloured by disbelief and partially by mischief.
“I didn’t know these were here!”
As luck would have it, we encountered several more staircases before we stopped for lunch—a leftover pizza warmed up to the body temperature of a runner who’d just climbed halfway up a mountain. It was perfect.
Refilled on water and fuel, it was time to make our first executive decision… which is fun when you’re both introverted and would absolutely hate to make a decision the other might not be on board with but agree to anyway. We sure weren’t going to be able to execute the original plan of running to Point Reyes Station and taking a bus or two to get back to Mill Valley—my friend would have made it by himself, he’s a fast runner. But he had me with him and there was no way I could pull off a marathon PR and get us there in time.
After a short, quiet debate, I suggested we can get on Old Stage Road, run to the West Point Inn and make another decision there based on time and how we’re feeling. The Old Stage Road is a very gradual uphill—and my friend loves these. So we agreed to go ahead with the plan and headed up through the campground to find the ol’ road.
After indulging in each other’s interests (me taking photos of a specific specie of Mariposa lily for my friend and him convincing me that I absolutely should take that pretty rock with me), we took a few moments to ponder the beauty of the city as it peaked from behind the Marin hills. The inn came sooner than we expected and it was time to make another decision.
A bit of questionable math on my side later, we agreed to go to the top of Mt Tamalpais, then drop down the Fern Creek Trail and then get on Temelpa and go down the streets to the Mill Valley clock the way Jam on Tam does. I’d done a few rounds with friends who took part in the event so finding the right way wasn’t going to be a problem.
By the time we’d reached the rocky semi-stairs near the top of the East Peak, we had a running joke about stairs. Every time we encountered a new staircase, my friend pointed out that I must have designed a route with the most steps possible, and that nobody would be able to fit more stairs into a half marathon around Mt Tamalpais even if they tried.
“I did it for you, I know you love them,” I would say.
“That’s very considerate, thank you,” he’d reply.
The view from the top was wonderful. I mean, of course; it’s Mt Tam! It can’t be anything else. The air was perfectly clean from the rains and storms that had raged for a few days until the sun finally appeared on Sunday and besides great visibility, we had clear blue skies above us and almost no wind. Couldn’t have wished for better weather.
Fern Creek was as much fun as any other day, even though we had more miles and more climbing in the legs than usual. I still left my friend in the dust—my unbelievably fast friend who won a half marathon the other day and ran his first-ever 50k in four hours. Yes, I might be bragging. Steep, technical downhill is my only strength when it comes to running so you have to deal with me occasionally mentioning it.
The trail also just so happens to have more stairs so I started to wonder if my friend, by any chance, was right. There could definitely be designed a half marathon with many more stairs than we did that day if it was solely around Mill Valley and its SLP (stairs, lanes, paths) but when it comes to getting up and down Mount Tam, this half marathon might just have been more stair-heavy than other possible routes.
We ran down the last staircase and I twirled around the clock before we crossed over to Equator and ran the last few hundred yards back to the park. Another friend who invited us over for dinner was texting me, asking what time we could make it, so we packed up and left Mill Valley to turn ourselves from trail runners back into humans before picking up a Coke for her and heading over.
As Marin disappeared in the rearview mirror behind the bridge, it was time for me to say my last goodbyes to the beautiful Mount Tamalpais and the peaceful redwood valley. It was time to say goodbye to Equator and all the friends I’ve made over the years that get to go up that mountain every morning for breakfast. It wasn’t easy… and I only knew that there would be even harder goodbyes in the two and a half days that I had left.