The Himalayas in my back yard

Mount Tamalpais casts a golden sunset over the San Francisco Bay Area, home to three peaks of 2,500 feet elevation or more. Photo by Michael Collier

Mount Tamalpais casts a golden sunset over the San Francisco Bay Area, home to three peaks of 2,500 feet elevation or more. Photo by Michael Collier

By Michael Collier

Imagine this: Hopping on your bike and climbing more than 29,000 feet  — the equivalent of walking vertically to the top of Mount Everest — in 20 days or less.

And this: Completing the challenge without leaving your home turf. In my case, home was the San Francisco Bay Area, and specifically in the hills of the East Bay, right across the bay from Mount Tamalpais in Marin County, which rises 2,500 feet from the Pacific Ocean.

In early November, I signed up for the Strava Climbing Challenge, along with thousands of others across the globe who use the fitness and social media site. The challenge was to climb at least 8,848 meters, or 29,029 feet, between Nov. 7 and 27.

I made that goal — with room to spare — with eight rides, none of which went beyond a 25-mile radius from my home in the East Bay. Most rides involved climbing between 2,800 and 4,100 feet, and most of my courses were variations of a small number of segments.

By varying my rides a bit each time, I warded off boredom. And on one ride, I came upon a teenager who had crashed his car into a retaining wall in the woodsy enclave of Canyon,  just east of Skyline Road in Oakland. The kid was okay but he thought his life would be over once his parents found out what had happened. The car was a high school graduation gift.

I spent the better part of an hour, as the afternoon sun began to fade, telling him how every teenager I know, including myself, crunched up a car at least once before turning 25. Then his parents arrived, I told them he was a good kid and I went back to my climbing.

After every ride toward my goal this month, I measured my total elevation gain, watching it increase as I anticipated my next outing.

My total after 17 days: 29,747 feet. I was tempted to push my total past 30,000 feet but stopped myself because it was Thanksgiving morning, the final day of the challenge, and it was time to engage with my family.

Still, my total elevation gain was in the top 13 percent of the 47,000 riders participating in the challenge. In addition, the Everest-like elevation I completed marked the first time I had climbed so far in a month where I was not training for a double century ride.

And the best part is that I did it all from the hills just beyond my front porch.

From darkness to clarity

By Michael Collier

One of my favorite cycling experiences is riding in the low light of late afternoons in December. In the San Francisco Bay Area, it’s possible to see a full moon rising right after a golden sunset — with a great view of the Golden Gate.

Sunset over Mount Tamalpais, Calif.

Sunset over Mount Tamalpais, Calif. Photo by Michael Collier.

Darkness dominates our waking hours come winter, when the Dec. 21 solstice brings the longest nights and shortest days of the year. It’s what makes us want to sleep in and go down early. As the daylight hours shorten, so do my rides.

Instead of 40-50 miles, I am satisfied with 30 miles up on top of the East Bay ridge line between Berkeley‘s Grizzly Peak and Sibley Volcanic regional park in the Oakland hills. The serenity is comforting, even as he days slip into darkness.

On the shortest day of the year — and the longest night — a friend of mine who practices inner healing held an event for her Facebook friends that aimed to open us up to the state of darkness, the abyss of nothingness. I used the process to let go of some of my demons.

I got on my bike the day after Christmas and rode back up the ridge to Grizzly Peak on a brilliant sunny morning. I felt a lightness of spirit as I viewed 360 degrees of vistas from Mount Diablo to the east to Skyline south of San Francisco.

A sense of clarity envelopes me as I near a personal milestone: to ride 250,000 feet of elevation gain on my bike this year. I am at just under 245,000 feet and expect to crack my ceiling on Sunday.

As I approach that milestone, I realize the importance of having short-term goals. They keep me attentive and on a course — and keep my mind free and clear and concentrated on riding and soaking up the beauty of my surroundings.


On one of the darkest nights of the year, clouds veil a near-full moon over the San Francisco Bay area sky. Photo by Michael Collier.