Distance: 42-mile loop
Elevation gain: 3820 ft
Many areas have the “Big Ride,” the one you do on the day you want to put in some miles and do some work. In the Wine Country, the Big Ride is Geysers Road (when it isn’t Stewarts Point/Skaggs Springs Rd.).
When I reached the beginning of the Geysers Road climb, I was stopped by a group of road maintenance guys and we got to talking. Did I really want to do this?, one of them asked. Geysers, he said, was a mess. Long and steep, with a surface that was at its best broken pavement, at its worst full of gravel, rocks, and fallen plant material, with frequent stretches of dirt road and spots of minimally repaired earthquake damage where the road “just falls off.” Also no water or other reprovisioning opportunities, and little to no cell service.
As it turns out, he was absolutely right, but it’s a wonderful ride nonetheless and nothing to be feared. Except for one hard mile of 14-15% climbing, all the elevation gain (I recorded 4300 ft) is thoroughly manageable, and the scenery is stunning. As with all Wine Country riding, the road surface is indeed poor, varying from sorta OK to wretched, but the worst of it is on the ascent, when you’re doing 5-7 mph and it’s not an issue. I found the earthquake sections geologically fascinating. And the isolation is a large part of the appeal—after I passed the turn-off to the gravel pit 3 miles in I can’t remember seeing a single vehicle.
If you have everyone’s image of the Wine Country—vineyards, gently rolling hills, old farm houses, everything neat as a pin—forget it. Geysers is a wild and woolly climb up the side of a creek canyon, followed by a few ridge crossings and mad descents through more canyons, all barren of signs of humanity (one house, one thermal power plant). No wine tasting here. But you get that stereotypical Wine Country riding experience on the Geysers Rd.-to-Cloverdale connector.
You want to ride Geysers from north to south. The road is in two halves with very different characters. The north side (up to the Geysers Resort Road turn-off) is narrow, mellow of pitch, rough, and winding. The south side is steep, wider, straighter, and smoother (though not smooth). So riding from south to north robs you of most of the road’s rewards: instead of a charming, curious, and mellow ascent and a speedy, relatively smooth descent, you get a steep, relatively featureless slog up to the summit, followed by an unpleasantly rough descent. You’ll see riders beginning at the south end, but I suspect they’re riding to the summit and back. This is fine if all you want is a workout, but the north side is by far the prettier and more dramatic.
By the way, you won’t see geysers. You’ll see some developed thermal activity in the distance to your L, but it isn’t pretty and the resort itself is closed.
I would avoid this ride on a hot summer day, since much of it is exposed and there is no water.