2000 Tour de California
I’m a little late getting out my progress reports on this year’s Tour de
California, but I’ve been busy eating, sleeping, and driving. 🙂
As long-time list members will recall, last summer I drove over 2000 miles of
California back roads. This summer I aim to drive quite a bit more, especially
since I put less than 2000 miles on my car in the 11 months following last
year’s Tour de California.
As Lance Armstrong has been crushing his competition in the Tour de France,
riding hundreds of miles over back roads and mountain passes, I’ve been doing
much the same at higher speeds. So far I’ve driven 2.5 days and 1500+ miles, and
had a wonderful time. This year I put a video camera in the car, powered by a
lighter cord and operated by a wireless remote control.
The first day was close to a re-run of last year’s tour.
Friday afternoon I had to fight some rush hour traffic to get to Livermore,
but from there it was clear sailing to Mines Road and Del Puerto Road, which is
my favorite route to leave the Bay Area. Del Puerto starts at the north end of
San Antonio Valley Road, which is the prettiest high-speed back road in the
entire Bay Area. Its inaccessibility is essential to its enjoyability, and I
simply could not pass up the opportunity to drive it as long as I was there.
Del Puerto was in good shape, without the off-road detour I encountered last
year. After that, it was 40 boring minutes south on I-5.
Incidentally, if you live near San Jose and want to drive your NSX to I-5,
don’t take I-580 or CA 152! Take the time to drive over Mt. Hamilton; you won’t
From I-5 I turned west on Little Panoche Road and then Panoche Road to CA 25
south. These are wonderful driving roads. They are inconvenient to visit and not
on the way to anywhere, but it’s surprising how little extra time it really
takes to drive them. For example, it takes me 2.5 hours to drive to King City by
freeway. On this drive, I reached my King City refueling stop in 3.5 hours even
with rush hour, the San Antonio Road excursion, and one wrong turn (see below).
Actually, rush hour south from San Jose would have increased the freeway-only
time to almost 3 hours. So my ultra-scenic route cost me less than an hour. Of
course, if you have to go slower for a passenger, the extra time could be
I had intended to take Bitterwater Road from CA 25 to King City, but I did
not recall that its name is different on the highway 25 end. So I ended up
driving 15 miles extra and taking Lonoak Road, which is far inferior for
driving, though it’s slightly more scenic.
I hurried out of King City to Jolon Road south to Nacimiento Road, reaching
Ponderosa campground before dark. I immediately realized that I had forgotten
the mosquito repellant. The bugs seemed to stop biting after a while; maybe they
all got their fill.
I quickly set up my 20-year-old North Face VE24 tent, which is the NSX of
backpacking tents. The only disadvantage of camping on the east side of the
coastal range is that I missed what appeared to be a great sunset, as I noticed
the pink clouds overhead. I had the advantage of an almost-empty campground and
a prime spot next to the creek. Unlike last year, this was not a holiday
Day One Summary: 332 miles, 5.5 hours.
I woke up at 5:45 AM and was on the road by 6:30. I reached the coast at 7:00
AM and had a pretty good run south, encountering only two cars and only spending
a minute or so behind them. There was this one lady northbound in a Honda who
seemed to think that both lanes belonged to her, but a touch on my brakes took
care of the problem. She was probably on her way to Berkeley; that kind of
driving is normal up there.
I had planned the Day Two drive after consulting with a Central Coast
resident list member who knows all these roads. I tried to cover all the best
roads on either the southbound (Day Two) or the northbound (Day Five) route. I
had a secondary objective of surveying road conditions for an upcoming event.
When I was done highlighting the maps, Central California looked like a
Since no sane person would follow my routing, I’ll spare you the details and
just list the highlights. Old Creek Road was outstanding, Interlake Road (G14)
was as scenic as I remembered, and Chimney Rock Road was even prettier than I
remembered. San Marcos Road was almost as pretty as Chimney Rock Road, and is
the best way to connect US 101 with the south end of G14.
At one stop, I paid over $2 per gallon for the first time. You know, if this
keeps up I might be spending more per on gas than I do on tires!
I had to go slow on several miles of Highway 58 due to fresh sealant and fine
gravel west of La Panza Road. Once I got past the sealant zone, Highway 58 was
better than I remember. It is arguably the best high-speed driving road in the
state, with a mix of straights and twisties, all of which are in top condition.
In the neighborhood of Maricopa, on a lark (as if this whole trip were
anything else), I took a few minutes to drive Midoil Road, where I saw hundreds
of strippers. Oil wells, that is. Cricket pumps. Anyway, speaking of strips, the
tire marks on the road indicated that this road was a local racing zone. Midoil
Road has plenty of off-camber turns and curves following blind rises. An NSX
would stand an excellent chance in a contest here, especially if the road were
unfamiliar to both drivers.
I continued south on CA 33 most of the way to Ojai. This section north of
Ojai is fabulous, even more so than I remembered from last year, when I was
preoccupied with babying two worn-out tires. At about the 32-mile post, check
out the huge rock that has fallen halfway down the hill. When they say watch out
for falling rock, they really mean it: This thing could squash a semi!
My road kill count increased by two small squirrels, though I avoided dozens
more. As nearly as I can tell, these critters are spooked by the noise of the
car and they dash for safety, sometimes right into the path of the car. Their
little brains sometimes can’t figure out where the danger is until it’s too
late. For whatever reason, this seems to occur only on roads where cars do not
pass very frequently.
Speaking of road kill, I saw one dead coyote (with accompanying large vulture
recycling him), and one live coyote that wisely left the road.
The only tumbleweed I saw all day had eyes and headed straight for my car,
where it disintegrated and left several pieces decorating my grill. The bra and
StoneShield protected the car from any damage. I was even happier to have them
when a car in the adjacent lane on I-5 tossed a piece of road debris, probably
fiberglass rocker molding, at my car. Man, I hate freeways…
Speaking of freeway debris, I noticed an astounding number of stray tire
belts on the southern California freeways. Typically there were several per
mile. These make it a good idea to stay in the left lane, though I even saw some
on the left shoulder. Two NSX list members have had their cars damaged by these
things. Forget chemical fingerprinting of explosives: I want chemical
fingerprinting of retreads!
When I reached Los Angeles, I found and drove the famed Mulholland Drive.
Save your effort and skip it. You might as well drive Sepulveda Boulevard; it’s
that crowded. Mulholland in no way compares to the fine hilltop roads in the San
Francisco Bay area, specifically Grizzly Peak Boulevard in Oakland. [It turns
out that I was on the eastern, rather than the western, section of Mulholland.]
Day Two Summary: 620 miles in 14 hours.
Day Three was my chance to explore the mountain roads east of San Diego. This
area is too far from home to reach except on my Tour de California runs, so I
wanted to make the most of this opportunity. When I woke up, I got out my maps
and spent 15 minutes planning the Day Three route. When I was done, the southern
California map looked even more like a patchwork quilt than the Central Coast
Complicating the task (it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it) was the
fact that this area is about 100 miles from my southern California base of
operations in Redondo Beach.
I started off the interesting part with S16 that connects I-15 with CA 76.
This is the same road that leads to the Ka-ching, I mean Pechanga, casino.
(These are the guys who must have hired a dot-com executive, since they seem to
spend more on radio advertising than their total revenues.) Once you pass the
casino, the rest of the road is quite twisty and nice.
At Mt. Palomar, I encountered several Ford Model A’s heroically climbing the
mountain. There was an accident halfway up where a double-trailer tanker had
crashed into the high side. I saw no sign of the cab, but the folks directing
traffic seemed quite calm. I remembered from last year that the curve with the
chain-link fence was decreasing radius, and anyway I was taking it fairly easy.
The climb up Palomar is the best possible case for switching to the Japanese
gear ratios. It seemed to me that every turn was too fast for reasonable use of
first gear, but far too low to get any torque in second gear. I’ll probably make
the switch (keeping the stock ring gear) if I ever need a transmission overhaul.
But since I rev-match most of my shifts, I don’t expect the transmission ever to
As I had done last year, I chose to descend East Grade Road. It is far less
steep and it offers sweeping vistas, including one of the lake north of Palomar
from 2000 feet above. It was here that I made probably the stupidest move that
I’ve made in many years. To call it a misjudgment would be like calling Mt.
Palomar a hill: true, but a drastic understatement. Certainly it was my dumbest
move ever in the NSX. Suffice it to say that although the chance of mishap was
only about 1 in 1000, a mishap would likely have been fatal. Not good. I’m still
kicking myself over that one, and I plan to make a concerted effort not to do
anything similar for a long, long, time, if ever.
In the event, I got away with it, as most male teenager drivers do several
times. I hope it’s not really true that men are perpetual teenagers. 🙂
My next stop was Mesa Grande Road, which was a loop that I forgot to run last
year. After driving it, I felt even worse about the omission. This is a
wonderful and scenic driving road, and apparently only the motorcyclists know
about it. If you’re running Palomar, don’t miss Mesa Grande!
Although CA 79 was fine and CA 371 was OK, CA 74 to Indio was a real
disappointment. Despite my careful plan to drive it in the morning against the
main traffic flow, it was too crowded for any fun at all. And the route east
from Palm Desert was one traffic light after another. Don’t drive this one
unless there is no alternative.
The only good thing to come out of this section was my discovery of the
Select button the radio. I recalled from reading the manual several years ago
that this button finds the strongest radio stations and temporarily redefines
the memory buttons to these settings. So you don’t have to mess with scanning at
all, and your regular settings are preserved. This trip was the perfect
application, once I had exhausted my 5 or 6 magazines of CDs.
Besides Mesa Grande, the biggest surprise on the 2000 Tour was S22. This road
begins unpromisingly with a few improperly graded miles that had me hitting my
head on the roof. I considered turning back, but stuck with it and was rewarded
with a terrific drive. The high-speed sections may not be suitable for 120 mph,
but they’re plenty of fun at 80+ mph. The road is well traveled enough that you
need not worry much about being stranded. The desert (western) section had
several large dust devils visible from miles away.
West of Bradley, S22 climbs the mountain in a spectacular series of
switchbacks. The road is far more open, and better-suited to the stock gear
ratios than the Palomar climb. You don’t have Palomar’s traffic either. S22
- must* be run westbound for optimum enjoyment.
The rest of S22 is merely great, with little or no sign of improper grading
except for the 2 miles west of Ranchita.
As I did last year, I ran S2 south to I-8. Here I encountered and overtook an
enthusiastically driven black BMW sedan, 5-series, I think. Right after that I
encountered a parked enforcement 4×4, fortunately when I was traveling close to
the limit. In fact, all weekend I kept encountering CHP and other enforcement
vehicles at times when my speed was close to the posted limit. This particular
4×4 may have been a Border Patrol vehicle anyway; I was too busy trying to
appear nonchalant to get a good look.
When I stepped out of the car for gas at Westmorland, I was hit by a wave of
105-degree heat. (It’s not the humidity, it’s the heat.) The NSX certainly
spoils me with a comfortable shirtsleeve driving environment.
My final trip across the mountains was on CA 78, which is a fine road but no
comparison to the fabulous S22. I took a side trip to check out S3, which
connects S22 to CA 78, and I found it to be great. With this information in
hand, I can now recommend the ultimate Southeastern California loop, as follows:
Up the west side of Mt. Palomar, down East Grade Road, over to the Mesa
Grande Loop, CA 78 east to S3 north, S22 west to S2, S2 south to I-8 west,
Sunrise Highway to Julian. The S2 section can be shortcut via 78 to Julian if
time is short. If time is long, you can re-run Mesa Grande and Palomar.
My last side trip was a loop through Valley Center to 76 and back, but these
roads are too busy for spirited driving. I stopped 45 minutes for dinner at
Oceanside to allow the weekend northbound jam to clear a bit.
On the way back to LA, I faced mega-traffic on I-5 and 405. I had fun for a
while finding the optimum route through the traffic, and for a while I was
having a lane-picking contest with a white BMW sedan with the plate RCZR X or
something like that. Any chance that it’s Nick Mateucci(sp)?
Day Three Summary: 618 miles in 13 hours. Running total: 1570 miles in 2.5
days of driving.
Day Four will be the Canyonball. See you there!
The NSX camping adventure continues…
Last weekend, while Lance Armstrong was finishing up his Tour de France in
Paris, I was completing my Tour de California for 2000.
I drove nearly 1000 miles on Saturday and Sunday, bringing the total drive to
4.5 days and 2500 miles.
Day Four of my Tour de California was the Canyonball. At the meeting point,
one of the attendees remarked that some people come to show their cars, while
others come to show their women. I resemble that remark! Seriously, people have
pride in their cars and pride in their spouses/significant others, so why not
show it? Besides, everybody knows that I have the most charming and beautiful
wife, so if there’s a contest, it’s for second place. 🙂 No, my wife was not
there. The Canyonball is not a passenger-friendly event, and I’m sure some of
them had a negative net number of meals for the day.
Also at the meeting point I picked up my aftermarket front rotors from Mark
Johnson. These should eliminate the shudder that accompanies high-temperature
braking such as occurs on days like this one. 🙂
Saturday was my first Canyonball. I was expecting a brisk drive through the
canyons, some of which I had driven before solo. What I was not expecting was
how hard I would have to work to keep up with some *very* capable drivers. I
seemed to be continually at full throttle or full braking.
This event was the only time I have ever seen my temperature needle move
above the middle of gauge. One canyon road had an extended climb under full
throttle at high rpm in second gear. When the gauge reached 3/4, I backed off a
little and shifted to third gear. The gauge returned to normal within about 90
seconds. Maybe I should have just turned off the air conditioner. 😉 Very few
other exotic cars can stand up to this kind of stress.
Most of these canyons have a 55-mph limit, which is often beyond the
self-enforcing limits of physics. It’s more than high enough to tax your driving
capabilities in the twisties.
As we had been instructed, I did not attempt to push beyond my capabilities
with the car. Several times I backed off to relax a bit, waiting to for the
respite of some civilian traffic ahead to let me catch up again. This worked out
well, but I still felt like I’d been through a washing machine at the end of
some of the runs. Not that the NSX had any trouble maintaining the cockpit at 70
degrees the whole time…
I’m struggling with how to explain the intensity of this particular drive. In
my solo drives, and in every other NSX event I have attended, the road was my
dance partner as the car and I glided over the landscape seemingly effortlessly.
I would coast into the turns, maintaining a speed near the car’s cornering
limit, and gently power out. In the Canyonball, at least in the groups toward
the front that I ran with, the road was no partner: it was an adversary to be
conquered. This was not a joy ride; this was real work for the driver, for the
engine, and for the brakes.
The Canyonball is not the time and place to learn for the first time what
your car can do, but rather a time to be serious and focused, and put safety
first. I.e., if you can’t keep up safely, then drop back; that’s what I did.
Some people apparently broke these rules and their cars, but there was no damage
to bodies if you don’t count egos.
Because the event ran late, I found myself alone at the end running the last
two canyons while the others went to dinner. I reverted to my normal relaxed
pace and had a fine time exploring some beautiful roads that were new to me, and
which I never would have found without the route instructions. They were
incredibly scenic, and well worth the extra time. All my thanks to the
Canyonball organizers and route planners.
I returned to civilization via Mulholland. By the way, I take back what I
said last time about Mulholland Drive. The western section, called Mulholland
Highway, is a whole different road than the residential eastern section I drove
on Day Two. It’s wide and fast, but you’d have to get up there pretty early to
have it to yourself.
At sunset, I got onto the freeway toward Ojai. Just north of Santa Paula, I
spotted a campground sign and stopped there so that I could drive 150 to Ojai in
daylight. This was a good idea, except that I crunched my front spoiler in the
dark on a deep dip in the dirt. (How’s that for alliteration?) I think the only
damage was a coating of dirt and a "bruise" on the lower part of the nose mask.
The weather was perfect for camping, about 65 degrees F. In the few minutes I
spent looking at a clear, starry sky, I saw a satellite and a meteor. I was
definitely not in Los Angeles anymore. I was so tired that even a pack of
coyotes howling could not keep me awake.
At 6:30 AM I was on the road again, and the view coming over the hill into
the Ojai Valley was a wonderful surprise. (Incidentally, there was another
campground near the crest on Highway 150.)
By 7:00 AM I was on Highway 33 all by myself. I cleared the construction
zones (one-lane sections with traffic lights) without delay and had a wonderful
run up the mountain. This would have made a great Canyonball run, but I’m sure
it’s full of cars after 8:00 AM. I drove in my normal Tour mode, maintaining
excellent speed but using the brakes and gas far less than on the Canyonball. I
enjoy this mode much more than the attack mode, so maybe I’ll have to join one
of the slower groups on the next Canyonball. Except that those groups seemed to
be the ones having the control problems. :-/
Anyway, if you get the chance to drive Highway 33 north from Ojai in the
morning you should definitely take it. The best continuation would be Lockwood
Valley Road, then west again on Cerro Noroeste. This day, I continued on 33
north, which was empty but less entertaining once the mountains were behind me.
[Like Highway 1 on Day Two, Highway 33 out of Ojai is an example of why it
pays to camp with an NSX. With a tent, you can sleep where the best roads are
and get on the road at 7:00 AM, well before the traffic starts. Don’t knock it
until you’ve tried it.]
Maybe you readers figured it out before I did, but I’m a collector: in this
case, a collector of roads. Roads that are fun to drive or scenic or both. The
tiniest line on a map is to me a tempting invitation to check out what this new
road offers. On this day I struck out, finding dirt at the end of the paved
sections of Ballinger Canyon Road (off 33), finding a sign announcing a blockage
on Klipstein Canyon Road (off Cerro Noroeste), and learning that the route to
the top of Cerro Noroeste mountain was just not fun to drive.
In last week’s write-up I mentioned the strippers and Midoil road at
Maricopa, but they are actually at Taft. I fueled up in Taft, and answered a
10-year-old boy’s questions: "What kind of car is it? How fast does it go?".
Most of my gas stops in these small towns elicited at least a "nice car" or
similar comment. NSXs are few and far between in farming areas. You’re certain
to be the center of attention.
Route 58 was as terrific as ever, and better than the preceding week because
the road sealing work was completed. That winding section up from the Central
Valley is awesome. I videotaped a run over the fun bump that’s a mile or two
west of the summit and similar runs over the large undulations north of Soda
On this Tour, I turned north on Shell Creek Road, which I had only driven
once before. It’s a fine country road, with plenty of open straights and the
occasional unmarked 90-degree turn just to make sure that you’re awake. Highway
41 provided an opportunity for the NSX to pass three or four cars at a time
safely at impressive speeds. When I got back to Highway 33 and turned north, I
was alone again, or nearly so. I tried a few speed runs, but nothing too
serious. It was more like speedus interruptus (meep, meep!), since I feel that
it is discourteous to pass any opposing traffic at high speed. Besides, you
never know which of them might be an enforcement vehicle.
The reason I chose Highway 33 was to be reach Coalinga and the southern
terminus of Los Gatos Road (known as Coalinga Road on the western side of the
county line). I had driven this road only once before, about 8 years ago. That
time it had some gravel on it, but this year it was clear. It is narrow and
unstriped in some sections, but it’s beautiful, empty, and great fun to drive.
Even in Tour mode, you will find yourself catching your breath at the end of it
nearly an hour later.
The endpoints of Coalinga/Los Gatos Road are so inconvenient that you’d never
drive it unless you had all day to burn, but I have the entire run on videotape.
Just be careful and expect to get tired. Once you’re on this road you’re
committed, since there are no ways on or off other than the endpoints.
Incidentally, I should warn you of a hazard that fooled me for only the
second time in 10 years: a dashed yellow line that extends through many areas
where it is actually not safe to pass. This was at the south end of Los Gatos
Road. These days the authorities are so conservative about where they mark
passing zones that you don’t expect this sort of marking, which is a throwback
to pre-lawsuit days. The lesson: When the road markings tell you it’s safe and
your own two eyes tell you it’s not, obey your eyes. ‘Nuff said.
Just before reaching Highway 25, I checked out Old Hernandez Road. A scenic
and semi-promising road turned into dirt a few miles later, making me 0-for-4 on
the day. Highway 25 was the last of the open roads for my Tour. Route 25 seems
more scenic and fun each time I drive it, especially since I have not seen a
patrol car on for the last several drives. More speedus interruptus and fun
turns took me all the way to Tres Pinos before the housing subdivisions
appeared. (Don’t worry, there won’t be any playing with Pinoses this year. Oops,
it looks like I did it again.) Tres Pinos was the site of the bluegrass festival
that I missed last year. This year I attended it with my family (see
The freeway drive home was uneventful, and I was pretty darned tired after
all those hours and miles of high-effort driving. I had planned another trip
south and back in August, but I’ve cancelled that and booked a flight instead.
My next big drive will be the Tour de California 2001. Considering the risks, I
count this year’s Tour a success purely on the basis of having a great time on
the roads and surviving with my body and car intact. Not getting stopped or
ticketed was a welcome bonus.
I’ve said it before, but the NSX is the best car in the world for this sort
of extended drive through remote areas. I hope that each of you has a chance to
do something similar at least once.