Distance: 57 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 4985 ft
Sometimes part of the joy of a ride is knowing what you’re avoiding. So it is with East Carmel Valley Road, where part of the pleasure is in knowing you aren’t riding the west end. The first 11.5 miles of CVR, starting at Hwy 1, is 4-lane, fast, aggressive, over-developed, trafficky shoulder riding. Basic hell. But as you move upstream the valley narrows, the valley walls steepen, the traffic lessens and slows down (somewhat), the people thin out, the foliage gets denser, wetter, and prettier, and the road dwindles until it’s finally a centerline-less, shoulderless back road of exceptional beauty and charm.
There is a serpent in paradise. Traffic isn’t heavy (3 cars/mile perhaps on a Friday afternoon in spring), but Monterey-area drivers drive like they’ve had way too much coffee. They honk at you and pass hostilely if you’re driving only a little over the speed limit, and they make it clear that cyclists are keeping them from some very important appointment. Sightlines and passing lanes on this road are poor and there’s no shoulder, but the cars will pass you anyway, and blame you for the danger they’re putting themselves and you in. It’s hard on your tranquillity. Try for the first or last hours in the day. Friends who know the road better than I do assure me I just caught a bad traffic day.
Mapmyride gives an elevation gain of 5000 ft, pretty formidable, but most of it is hardly noticeable, and you’ll work only twice—once at mile 10 on the way out, for a mile, and once on the way back, 3 miles of real work returning to the summit. The road surface throughout is good but not great, so the descents are just chattery enough to be merely OK. I wouldn’t do this ride for the descending.
Begin in Carmel Valley Village, a charming little upscale artsy community with friendly folks and good, unpretentious places to eat, if you like towns where every shop is a wine tasting salon, a spa, or a fine arts gallery (22 wine tasting rooms in a very small town, according to the town map). There are no public bathrooms in the village proper, but there’s a good bathroom at the Chevron at the west end of town, and they don’t seem to mind you using it. Ride east on East Carmel Valley Road to its end at Arroyo Seco Rd. Turn around and ride back.
The first few miles do not impress. You’re still in the Greater CVV Area, and it’s busy. The further you ride, the lighter the traffic becomes (though you never shed it entirely), the smaller the road, and the prettier the scenery, until you get to the summit 18 miles in (Mile 30 on the mile markers, which start at Hwy 1). You’re climbing continuously, but it’s usually imperceptible. At Mile 10 you get the first and only laborious hill on the ride out (1 mile). Shortly after Tassajara Rd. goes off to the R you lose the centerline and things get really good.
At the summit you have a decision: turn around or not? The rest of the ride is very different from what you’ve been through. This is the lee side of the hill, so instead of lush, dark oak canopies in a narrow creek canyon, you get down-at-heel ranches scattered on open, grassy hills and moderate vistas. By the time you get to the turn-around, you’re practically in California desert. There’s also a climb back up that will get your attention: the last 3 miles to the summit are at 8%+. If you turn around at the summit, you’ll have a mellow 36-mile day.
There’s a nice alternative road that turns this ride from an out-and-back into a semi-loop: Cachagua Rd. It goes R off CVR 4.3 miles into the ride and comes back to CVR after a few miles via Tassajara Rd. It makes for a lovely, less trafficked option on either the ride out or the ride back. It adds about 4 miles one way and still leaves you riding the prettiest stretch of CVR.
Adding Miles: At the turn-around you can continue on Arroyo Seco Rd. in either direction. To the L/northeast, there are dramatic views of eroded hills for a few miles. Ride until the landscape isn’t interesting any more, then turn around. To the southwest the road is paved and the scenery dramatic until Arroyo Seco Campground, about 5 miles one way. To the west of our ride, you’re only 5 miles down Carmel Valley Rd. from the jewel that is the Robinson Canyon Rd. ride. and about 14 miles from the Carmel entrance to the Seventeen-Mile Drive.