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 elevation total gives the impression of a laborious outing, but I didn’t find it hard at all. The only time you’ll work is the 2-mile hill just before the turn-around, and that’s never worse than 6-8%.
Highway 162 winds west to east across much of California and shows up in Bestrides more than once. For instance, it’s the road from which the Bald Rock Road ride, northeast of Oroville, takes off. Here we are at the western terminus, where it deadends on Hwy 101. There’s a large dirt parking lot 1/4 mile up 162. Ride to Covelo (KOH vuh low) on Hwy 162 (aka Covelo Road, a name I’ve only seen on maps); turn around and ride back.
You begin with 8 miles of rollers. In this world, some rollers are too small to notice, some are so large each uphill pitch kills all your momentum and enthusiasm, and some are just right, big enough to notice but small enough that you can power up the upslopes standing and feel buff at the crest. Covelo Road’s rollers are pretty much ideal. The scenery is conventional brush and small tree. You’re following a creek, but you can’t see it.
After 8 miles you cross the Eel River Bridge and follow the river for 7 miles (to Dos Rios) through a moderately grand canyon that I think is quite fetching. The pitch is about 1% down overall and seems flat except for a bump or two, so it’s no work at all, in either direction. You’re in the midst of a rocky canyon in full sun, so if you’re out there on a hot summer afternoon, you will die. (I did it in July at 7 am—perfect.) On the plus side, you’ve got countless swell swimming holes to choose from, which is why the turn-outs are full of cars in the summer afternoon. Seriously consider taking a swim suit.
Dos Rios is a tiny enclave of tiny houses 1/2 mile off the road (clearly signed, invisible from the road) with no services.
At the Dos Rios Bridge the road leaves the river and begins to climb moderately for about 5 miles. The road is a big, wide two-lane, clearly designed for 60-mph car traffic, so the excitement level is pretty low, but it’s pretty easy climbing—about 4-7%, with no tough pitches.
At the summit the road goes up and down, with some nice views, then drops for 4 miles and bottoms out onto the dead flat, dead straight road through Round Valley, a completely developed farming region that looks just like any other small farming valley in California. It takes you to Covelo, a small but fully functional town I can find no reason to get to, so I like to turn around at the summit and save myself the 4-mile return climb, which is the hardest work on the route.
The 5-mile descent back to Dos Rios, because the road is groomed for car traffic, is about as mellow as 30-mph corners can get, with big, manicured curves you can take at full speed without a care. Don’t expect too much in the way of hair-raising. If you’re timid about descending, you’ll love it.
Shortening the route: Start at the Eel River Bridge. Skip the descent into Covelo.
Adding Miles: If you are set up for dirt, you can continue on Hwy 162 through Covelo, ride through Mendocino National Forest and Mendocino Pass, and descend (having returned to pavement) to Hwy 5 on a road that has nice moments. Also mostly in the dirt, the Laytonville-Dos Rios Road, a true back-back-country road, will take you on an adventure from the one town to the other on a tread not much bigger than a driveway. From the Dos Rios Bridge, ride into Dos Rios and just keep riding on the only road out of town. I haven’t done it, but I’m told it’s done. You’re 10 miles from the Branscomb Road ride, which takes you to the ocean.
Afterthoughts: There are no services and no water source between Hwy 101 and Covelo. Plan your water carefully, especially if you’re turning back before Covelo. I take a third water bottle and stash it at the Dos Rios Bridge for the last 15 miles. There’s nothing at the Hwy 101/Hwy 162 junction either.
A local told me Covelo Road was famous for car crashes. He also mentioned that there’s an enormous Indian reservation just outside town. Draw your own conclusions.