Author Archives: Jack Rawlins

North Fork Siuslaw Road

Distance: c. 45 miles out and back
Elevation gain: c. 2830 ft

This is another ride leaving Hwy 101 and following an Oregon river upstream.  It’s different from our others (Gardiner to Eugene, Elk River Road) because the North Fork of the Siuslaw River is big, and the land around it is that wide, open flat marsh/meadow unique to big Oregon river mouths.  So for the first half of the ride you aren’t in forest or canopy—you’re in full sun, with trees on your L and the marsh/meadow on your R.  After 12 miles, you leave the river and the ride becomes conventional, lovely western coastal Oregon forest.  Like our other Oregon coastal river routes, it’s an easy ride—in the first 12 miles you’ll climb 350 ft.  Not a life-changing ride but a very pleasant day on the bike.

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Elk River Road

Distance:38 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 1200 ft

This, like many of the Oregon rides, was suggested by Friend of Bestrides Don.

Is there such a thing as a perfect ride?  Elk River Road is as close as it gets—a beautiful, essentially flat out-and-back roll through my beloved Southwest Oregon coastal rain forest on a good road surface with little traffic and just enough pitch to make the return ride a brisk romp.  Add a spritely rock creek along the entire length, an optional ride to a lighthouse for character, and free snacks in the form of wild blackberries.  Most of the road is on National Forest land, and the road turns to dirt at our turn-around point, which means there aren’t many people up there except campers in the undeveloped campsites along the road.  Once into the Forest, I met 5 cars on the ride in (in 12 miles), on a lovely August Saturday at midday.  The only drawback is…nope, can’t think of any.

This ride is a lot like the first 40 miles of our Gardener to Eugene ride—both gorgeous, canopied forest on a basically flat road along a pretty river—so which should you do if you can’t do both?  GTE is longer, it’s flatter (so there’s no sense of downhill if you ride back downstream) and straighter, it doesn’t turn to dirt (so you can through-ride it), it’s not in National Forest so it’s a little more developed, and the scenery has less variety.  The Elk River canyon is narrower and steeper, and thus the river does more tumbling that the Smith does.  Overall, Elk River Rd is a more dramatic, more intense ride.

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Scott River Road

Distance: 55 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 2650 ft

The land surrounding the Marble Mountains Wilderness Area may be the richest cycling region on the West Coast.  Almost every small road is pretty, interesting, mostly car-free, well-paved, not killer steep, and paved, at least in the main.  Loops are easy to construct.  The only drawback is there aren’t many communities up there, so you have to plan overnight stops carefully, unless you’re self-supporting.  The area is represented in Bestrides by two rides, Forks of Salmon and this one, but they’re the tip of a very rich iceberg—see Adding Miles to see the big picture.

This ride is representative of the area: smooth-surfaced, lightly trafficked, very pretty, and surprisingly easy.  It’s one of the easiest 40-mile rides I know.  It accompanies the Scott River for its entire length, so it’s gently downhill going out and gently uphill returning, but the difference is negligible—I rode out in 2 hrs and back in 1.5 hrs.  The only noticeable hill is the last mile or so descending into Scott Bar, our turn-around spot, so if you’re really into mellow you can skip that, leaving you with nothing but constant gentle rollers, just enough to vary the riding experience without ever making it laborious or tedious.  You climb 2650 ft in 55 miles, which is less than half our sport’s norm for a climbing ride, 1000 ft per 10 miles.  You could almost leave the granny gear at home.

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Leggett to the Sea

Distance: 44 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 6030 ft

This ride was suggested by Friend of Bestrides Brian.

The position of Bestrides has always been, avoid Highway 1 like the death-trap it is. The traffic is constant, irritable, and staring out to sea, and there’s no room for you.  But all generalizations have their exceptions, and this stretch of Hwy 1, the northernmost, while still busy, is more than worth your time.  It’s grand.  It’s a lot of climbing (only about 2 of the 44 miles are anything like flat), and there is only one break in the forest wall, at the turn-around.  But that one break is a stunning view of the Pacific Ocean, the forest wall is often primeval redwoods, and none of the climbing is brutal.  The road contour is perfect for descending—endless serpentining, curvy enough to be exhilarating, not so tight that you’re constantly on your brakes, all beautifully banked for speed.  And of course you can continue on from the turn-around point and ride as much of Hwy 1 as you want to.

There are two flies in this otherwise-blissful ointment.  The first is traffic.  It’s busy.  But it’s less busy than almost any other leg of Hwy 1, because most tourists are interested in the stretch between Fort Bragg and Big Sur.  And it’s nobody’s commuter route, so the drivers are not in a hurry.  The real problem is construction equipment: any wet winter causes damage along Hwy 1, so most summers there’s a steady stream of gravel trucks going to and from the construction site(s).  It’s not as bad as it sounds—there is little shoulder but room to pass—but if it bothers you you might choose to ride in the fall, when the construction is probably complete.  Even so, I did this ride midday on a Monday in July, the road crews were busy, yet I did long stretches of riding the center line in solitude.

The second ointment fly is the road surface.  It ranges from glassy to tooth-rattling chipseal.  When it’s rough, it definitely takes the edge off the descending.  When it’s smooth, there is nothing better.

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Covelo Road

Distance: 58 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 5844 ft

This ride was suggested by Friend of Bestrides Brian.

This is a good, solid ride.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, though it has no extraordinary features.  It’s got some nice rollers, a very pretty, flat stretch through a fairly dramatic river canyon, one fairly easy climb, one somewhat harder climb, and a totally unremarkable town, Covelo, at the turn-around.  It’s 10 miles down the road from my beloved Branscomb Rd. ride, and I wouldn’t do this one until I’d done that one.

It’s the only paved road by which Coveloans can leave town, and the river attracts lots of water seekers in the summer, so traffic can be substantial.  I recommend doing it early in the morning or sometime other than summer or both.  Anyway, the Eel River Canyon is prettier in early morning, before the sun gets high.  The seven-mile stretch from the Eel River Bridge to Dos Rios is the ride’s best scenery, and it’s essentially flat, which makes it a rarity in Bestrides.  The Mapyride elevation total gives the impression of a fairly laborious outing, but it’s actually a piece of cake.  The only time you’ll work is the 2-mile climb back to the summit from Covelo, and that’s only 6-7%.

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Bald Rock Road

Distance: 22 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 2385 ft

This is another of those “worthwhile if you’re in the area” rides.  It’s 22 miles of small two-lane back road through pretty but not extra-special Sierra foothill forest.  You pass through a small but bustling mountain community, Berry Creek, which unfortunately makes the first third of the route surprisingly trafficky for a foothill road.  You will do some work—I recorded 2400 ft of gain in the 11-mile ride out—but it’s never steep.

Two features elevate this ride above the perfectly pleasant.  First, rollers.  The road is all up and down, so much so that there is only a 1465-ft. difference in elevation from start to turn-around but 2400 ft of vert on the road (in other words, you nearly ride every vertical foot twice).  This has its charm.  It means the climbing on the ride out is constantly interrupted by little descents, and on the ride back the descending comes in short, fast runs interrupted by short risers, so about the time you think you have to brake the contour does it for you.  The riding experience is ever-changing.

Second: Bald Rock, the greatest rock formation the world has never heard of (see photos at the end of this post).  Take slippers or sandals and plan to get off the bike and explore—you will be enchanted.

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Philo-Greenwood Road

Distance: 21 miles one way
Elevation gain: 2835 ft

This is one of seven rides (all detailed in the Adding Miles section of the Mountain View Road ride) that are worth doing around Boonville, a charming little town with good food and an interesting history, so I encourage you to find a place to stay in the area, make a cycling holiday out of it, and do all of them.

This road parallels Mountain View Road, which is 5 miles to the south, and the two are similar.  Both roads are isolated trips through standard coastal pine/redwood forest with a good dose of 8-10% climbing.  This one is prettier and easier and has a much better road surface, and it  makes for a shorter loop if you’re returning on Hwy 128, so if I was just doing one of the two I’d go with Philo-Greenwood unless I wanted a) a bigger climbing challenge, c) more Hwy 1 riding, or c) to visit Manchester.   I’ve mapped the ride as one way because I assume you’ll want to return on 128, which is covered in the Mendocino/Comptche ride.  The Philo-Greenwood/Cameron Road/Hwy 128 loop is 42 miles.

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Carquinez Scenic Drive

Distance: 20 miles out and back (14.5 without the climb)
Elevation gain: 2130 ft (1390 without the climb)

This is the only ride in Bestrides that is suitable for non-riding family members and children.  It’s a relatively flat, utterly sweet little back road that’s been converted into something like a multi-use rec trail.  It’s open to cars for a stretch at either end, but the center section of roadway, the George Miller Regional Trail, is closed to cars, so there’s no through traffic and thus almost no traffic at all on most of it.  The road traverses the steep sidehill overlooking the Carquinez Straits, and the vistas of the straits, the sailboats thereupon, and the two bridges to the east and west, the Zampa and the Benicia-Martinez, are guaranteed to make your soul sing.  I’ve added a short spur, a moderately challenging climb up through a very pretty creek canyon, which you can skip if you’re out for a lazy day, and the Adding Miles section shows you how to stretch the ride into a loop that crosses both bridges and takes you through the charming hamlet of Benicia.

The serpent in this Eden is motorcycle traffic.   The Port Costa area, where the ride starts, is motorcycle central, and, while the George Miller Trail keeps them from through-riding the Scenic Drive, it doesn’t keep them from riding the first miles and up McEwen, which they love to do.  The last time I rode McEwen on a weekend, I was passed (on a very small, windy road) by at least 200 motorcycles.  If you can ride on a weekday, do so.

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Caliente Loop

 

Distance: 44-mile loop
Elevation gain: 4320 ft

If you’re like me, you think Bakersfield is hot and flat, which is what you see driving through on Hwy 5.  But a Friend of Bestrides wrote in to say I had to overcome my prejudices and try the area.  It turns out that Bakersfield, while it is smack in the middle of the San Joaquin Valley, is at the Valley’s southernmost tip, so it’s surrounded closely on 3 sides by mountains like the Tehachapis, and there are good roads in those mountains.   The Caliente Loop is considered one of the local gems.

The loop is essentially three different rides: a meander through a small, rocky creek canyon; a mostly flat roll across a wide valley dotted with horse farms, and a thrilling series of switchbacks through thick foothill shrubbery.

Why I didn’t ride (that and the 20-mph wind, and the cows)

First, a mea culpa: I haven’t ridden it yet—the only ride in Bestrides I haven’t done.  The one day I set aside for it, the fog on the course had visibility down to 100 ft, my wipers were going a mile a minute, the road was a slimy morass, the wind was 20 mph, mostly in the rider’s face, and free-range cows were wandering the road (in the fog) during the 9% descent that ends the ride.   I thought of my wife and children and drove the course, photographing from my car.  But Bestrides needs to recognize Bakersfield, so I’m putting the loop in.  I’ll get back and ride it, I promise.

Before you get on your bike, you have a decision to make: Which way to go?  Clockwise gives you a 7-mile climb up a set of constant, tight 9% switchbacks, then a rolling leg through a wide valley, and finally a 22-mile almost imperceptible descent.  Counterclockwise gives you the reverse: a 22-mile almost imperceptible ascent, a rolling leg through a wide valley, and a 7-mile descent down a set of constant, tight 9% switchbacks.  I’d go counterclockwise, and my description goes that way.

This is a ride you want to time correctly, and the window is small: ideally you’d ride in the spring, when the creek you’ll follow for the first 20 miles is babbling and the grassy fields of the second leg are green.   But spring means spring run-off, and any significant run-off closes the road, because Caliente Creek Rd. has several places where flash flood gullies flow right over the roadway.  I’d ask about road conditions at a local bike shop.  And expect to find a “road closed” sign and ford some streams any time before summer.
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Parkfield Grade

 

Distance: 19 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 2770 ft

This is another of those rides that has location going for it.  What else are you going to do if you’re stuck in Coalinga?   It’s a classic climb from the lip of the Hwy 5 corridor up 10 miles through hardscrabble hills of grass, rock, and oak.  The scenery is quite lovely in its way.  It’s at its best in spring when the grassy hills are green.    Grand vistas of the San Joaquin Valley below abound.  The road surface is sound (which is all you can ask, since no one uses this road save the rare ranchers who run a few head of cattle on the hills), and, while the pitch is a tad monotonous, the back-and-forth contour is constantly stimulating.  It’s a fair amount of vert (2000 ft in 6 miles), but it’s just a steady moderate effort, never steep enough to be a grind.  The road turns to dirt at the summit, which will keep cars and most bikes out of your playground.  All in all, a thoroughly rewarding little outing.
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