2002 Tour de California
Well, it’s that time of year again, folks. I’m taking two long weekends to
put a couple thousand miles on my NSX, roughly half its annual mileage.
This year, my Tour had an unconventional start: in bed. No, I’m not beginning
a career writing trashy novels. It’s just that on my scheduled starting day I
found myself totally exhausted from extensive business travel and in no shape to
drive. So at 12:30 PM with almost all the preparations complete, I simply had to
get some sleep. A man’s got to know his limitations.
I figured that I would begin my drive the next morning, but at 2:30 PM I
awoke completely rejuvenated and eager to go. I gathered the remaining necessary
items and I was off at 3:20 PM.
My route for this tour was similar to the one I drove on my first Tour in
1999. (See http://www.geocities.com/myfsixteen but be aware that you may be locked out
temporarily if too many people have been downloading those large map files.) My
objective was to reach Ponderosa campground on Nacimiento Road before dark. I
figured I was good for about 4 hours of driving, which should be sufficient. I
tuned in the Lehrer News Hour on 88.5 FM until it ended at 4 PM.
My air conditioner was weak, but working acceptably well. I had managed to
transfer some refrigerant from my 1989 Hyundai Sonata which has a date with the
wrecking yard this summer due to a combination of leaking exhaust, faulty crank
angle sensor, and oxidized and peeling paint. It was a great car for worry-free
parking at the airport. I connected the high-pressure side of the Hyundai and
the low-pressure side of the NSX to my two-gauge setup, terminating the yellow
center hose on a plug. A fellow on the cartalk.cars.com board helped me with
some great information on how to do this. With the two valves I could control
the flow, which turned out to be very, very slow even with both air conditioning
systems running. I stopped after almost an hour even though the NSX still had
plenty of foam in its sight glass. Re-using is better than recycling any day.
This fall I will have to get the NSX’s slow refrigerant leak repaired, now
that my Freon detector has found it in the neighborhood of the evaporator.
That’s a very expensive neighborhood.
As I approached Livermore, I hit rush hour traffic in earnest. I decided to
conserve both driving energy and time by sticking with the freeway out of town
rather than my 1999 route via Mines Road and Del Puerto Canyon Road. I can drive
those roads any time I want, but the Tour comes only once per year. By 4:10 PM,
traffic thinned out nicely at the Altamont Pass, and I was off toward Interstate
The amplifier module in my left door had started buzzing the previous weekend
on the Autozotica drive, so I was expecting only to have the music of the
engine. (Doug Hayashi will tell you that it’s a bad idea to tear apart your car
right before an important event. So I’ll fix this in September.) I discovered
that if I turned the balance control full right and turned the bass all the way
down, the left side amplifier would stay cool enough to prevent the buzzing.
Lousy audio was definitely better than no audio.
On I-5, I passed an RV towing a Saturn, and remarked to myself that I, too,
was driving a recreational vehicle, but one of an entirely different sort.
At 5:20 PM, 125 miles from home, Little Panoche Road marked the real start of
this Tour. I wasted no time picking up the pace to an indicated 92 mph. (I try
not to speed much on freeways, which is probably why I have gotten zero tickets
in the 6 years I’ve owned the NSX.) I was expecting to refuel here, but the gas
station I remembered is at Panoche Road, several miles south. The eastern
section of Little Panoche Road is flat and relatively straight, and of course
it’s empty. Then it winds over some hills and down into a large valley with a
2-mile straightaway. Too bad the pavement is so rough there. The rough pavement
doesn’t discourage the local residents in their pickup trucks from attaining
frightening speeds as they pass you in the opposite lane.
As you may know, I fly Southwest Airlines between Los Angeles and Oakland
almost every week. On the northbound trips, if I have a window seat, I attempt
to identify the back roads north of Coalinga and west of I-5. They are difficult
to identify, but it’s rewarding when I do. For example, San Antonio Valley Road
is visible as the only road east of Mt. Hamilton (identified by the white
observatory on top), and the high valley is the only grazing land with oak trees
for over 10 miles in any direction. Back roads tend to follow the deepest
valleys, which are relatively easy to identify from the air.
I made a mental note of the configuration of Little Panoche Road as it joined
Panoche Road in the large, dry valley. Maybe I’ll spot it on my next Southwest
flight. If I’d had extra time, I’d probably have taken this opportunity to
explore the south section of Panoche Road, which is a dead end at New Idria as
far as pavement is concerned. Instead, I turned north. The next winding section
on Panoche Road is an entertaining traverse of another set of hills, and is
followed by an outstanding wide, resurfaced section down the west side. (This
section is 10 miles east of Highway 25.) As you approach Highway 25, there are a
few straight-aways on which you can safely try to max out 3rd or 4th gear, if
you are so inclined. I was taking things easy, at 7/10th or so. It took me
nearly an hour to cover the 45 miles to Highway 25.
Highway 25 was more beautiful, fast, and smooth than I remembered. Next time
I won’t wait 2 years between visits. Traffic was very light, with only a few
civilian vehicles and no patrol cars. This area is seeing some noticeable
development, with some new vineyards and a gigantic white house on the east side
of the valley, visible only from the north, about 25 miles south of Panoche
Road. I saw several quail near the road, and one deer that turned his head for
me but was otherwise unperturbed. Probably never saw an NSX before…
The turn for King City arrived all too quickly. I had covered 34 miles of
Highway 25 in 29 minutes. This turn is marked only by a small King City sign;
there is no Bitterwater Road sign to mark the road which enters at a sharp
angle. As Bitterwater Road crosses the ridge, westbound drivers are treated to a
panoramic view of the expansive Salinas River Valley and the coastal hills
beyond. I sped down the hill into King City and the gas station at the bottom of
Bitterwater Road. By the time I got there, the low fuel light was on.
A long train was passing, blocking the road into town, so it was just as well
that I needed gas. I added some air to the tires, and used their surprisingly
clean bathroom. Then the train was gone and so was I.
A short blast down scenic Jolon Road (county road G14) brought me to the
entrance of Fort Hunter Liggett. In 1999 and 2000 this had been an unattended
guard shack. No longer. Now there are cement barriers to divert vehicles away
from the shack, and the guard checks your ID and issues a one-day pass.
My Valentine One detected a radar unit on Mission Road, but before I reached
the source, I turned west onto Nacimiento Road and found myself behind a pickup
truck. When he crossed the bridge, I took the shortcut over the cement tank
bridge, which was dry due to the lack of rain. The guy probably never figured
out how I got past him. (Somebody has a photo of my car crossing this bridge a
few years ago through 2 inches of water, which made quite a splash.)
Several civilian vehicles were stopped along Nacimiento Road enjoying the
beautiful pre-sunset scenery. I snapped a few photos before noticing that my
camera was giving an error message. So I opened it and checked that the film was
feeding, then went back and re-shot my three photos. The error message
persisted. Oh, well, I certainly can’t complain about having to drive what is
arguably the most pastoral scenery in the state twice.
Ascending Nacimiento Road the low sun projected a shadow of the car onto the
canyon wall. I stopped for a photo, but no matter where I stopped the image was
just no good. Only in motion do the uneven rocks allow a smooth image of the car
At almost 8:00PM, 267 miles from home, I reached Ponderosa campground, seven
miles east of the summit near Nacimiento Road. I chatted with the park
attendant, paid him my $15, sprayed on some bug repellant, and set up my tent.
Then I quickly washed and covered the car. (Ponderosa has no flush toilets, but
it does have the essential: car-washing water!)
A few more campers arrived, but they set up far away and quieted down
promptly. There is little or no traffic on the road at night. Soon I could hear
only the stream (Nacimiento Creek), and then I was asleep. The night was cool,
about 50 degrees: the perfect temperature for camping.
In the morning it seemed that the sun was taking its time rising, because the
pre-dawn light didn’t seem to increase. Then I opened my eyes to look, and it
was the moon shining through my tent window. D’oh! When the real sunlight woke
me, it was just after 6:00 AM, which was perfect. The weather was still cool
enough to keep the bugs away while I packed up, and I was on the road at 6:50
I thought to myself that not many married guys are able to go driving and
camping alone. Fortunately for me, my wife likes to take our children to visit
her parents in France every summer, leaving me alone to play. I’m such a lucky
guy. I’ll go see all of them next week, then I will return to finish my Tour.
A propos of nothing, I suddenly thought of a technique that ancient
scientists could have used to prove that the Earth is either curved or finite.
You simply set up an observation post on a peak and verify that the sunrise and
sunset are both slightly below horizontal. If the Earth were infinite and flat,
this would not be possible. See: I can drive and think at the same time. 🙂
The western side of Nacimiento Road always seems to be teeming with wildlife.
This time it was a group of quail and a large rabbit, the first one I can recall
seeing in California outside of desert areas. As I started down the mountain,
the coast appeared to be fogged in with a very low cloud layer hugging the
ocean. But by the time I got to the cloud layer and passed through it, I
realized that it was 400 feet or so above the ocean. So I had good visibility
for my coastal drive.
Highway 1 was not deserted, but I had little trouble getting past the few
cars traveling my way (southbound). Almost everyone pulls over for a red NSX,
although I also credit my technique, which is to approach at full speed then
brake aggressively to avoid coming any closer than a safe following distance.
This is intended to make the point that I would like to go faster but I do not
intend to endanger anyone, for example by tailgating.
Highway 1 was as much fun as ever, and totally free of patrol cars. I reached
San Simeon before I knew it. After that, the road got a little crowded. I pulled
over to check my maps, which I had neglected to do the night before. Meaning
that I had no idea which road I would take after reaching Cambria. I had a faint
memory that Old Creek Road was good and a strong memory that Santa Rosa Creek
Road was narrow and rough, so I chose the former over the alternatives, which
included Highways 46 and 41.
Old Creek Road proved to be an excellent choice. The one civilian vehicle let
me past, and I had a wide, smooth, and winding road all to myself. Due to the
camera problem, I did not stop to take a photo of the gigantic cypress tree that
towers over the road mid-way. All too soon I reached Highway 46. (Either time
passes more quickly as I get older or I’m driving faster, because these drives
just don’t seem very long any more.)
I decided to detour through the countryside along Vineyard Road, and for the
first time I explored Klau Mine Road and Chimney Rock Road to their respective
ends. Other a rusting 1957 Studebaker Lark in a front yard, there was nothing to
write home about, so you can safely skip those dead-end sections. On Vineyard
Road, I saw a clean 1956 Lincoln and a fawn stranded on the wrong side of the
fence. The old and the new. On those rare occasions when there is no traffic,
Vineyard Road is superb for driving. It’s so pretty that I would buy some real
estate there if I were inclined to own investment property.
Adelaida Road had a brand new coat of pavement. Other than the fact that the
shoulders had not been filled, making for sharp dropoffs on the edges, the
surface was race-track perfect. So I raced on over to Paso Robles, where I
filled the tank.
At Paso Robles, I carefully studied my San Luis Obispo county map and chose a
new route, Niblick/Linne Road. It turned out to be acceptable, but inferior to
the usual El Pomar Road through Templeton. At Highway 41, I jogged west 0.2
miles to Highway 229 south.
Highway 229 is not to be missed. Much of it is single-lane (no stripe), and
it goes up and down almost as much as it goes side to side. Don’t try this if
you have a passenger but no airsickness bag. It was a total blast.
Highway 229 ends at Highway 58, which is itself a premier driver’s route.
With a nearly full tank I turned east, encountering a large burned area on the
north side of the road. A hilly, winding section gives way to a large, flat
valley north of Soda Lake where you can reach high speeds if you like. Toward
the east side of the valley, the road remains straight but becomes playful with
abrupt rises and drops, plus some sharp 90-degree turns.
Highway 58 climbs out of the valley with more up and down and side to side
motion. About 1.5 miles east of Seven Mile Road is a small bump that will launch
your car quite well if you drive it westbound at high speed.
The descent on the eastern side (or conversely the initial ascent out of the
Central Valley) is a one of the finest sections of high-speed mountain road
anywhere. My stock brakes, with PowerSlot rotors, Dali deflectors, and removed
splash guards, held up well on the fast descent with occasional hairpin turns.
East of McKittrick, I explored Reward Road, but found it inferior to Highway
58, so don’t bother with it. The scenery would only be attractive to a petroleum
engineer. At Taft, on Highway 33, I stopped for gas. As I started fueling, a
very attractive lady asked me what kind of car it was. She said she knew what a
Viper looked like, and this was not a Viper. Some of you guys might have offered
her a ride, but my wife has a strict "one strike’ policy regarding such matters.
Come to think of it, so do I. Paradoxically, this is liberating, in that I can
flirt all I want since I know that nothing serious is going to follow. (No need
to be nervous about rejection when you’re not even going to make the attempt.)
As it turned out, the lady in question was the passenger in a large Dodge Ram
pickup, which followed me out of the gas station and south on Highway 33. As we
left town, I rapidly accelerated to 100 mph or so and left them behind.
Highway 33 is heavily patrolled, but feeling invincible I climbed the long
hill at 80 to 90 mph, blowing by a car or two in sweeping curves in the passing
lane section. What fun! The nice thing about the NSX is that if you can do it,
the car can.
At the top of the hill is the inconspicuous left turn onto Cerro Noroeste
Road. Cerro Noroeste was nicer than I remembered, fast, scenic, and empty. I
drove Cerro Noroeste at my maximum safe speed, which was fast indeed: just ask
Kirby about the previous weekend�s Autozotica drive. Anyone in the Los Angeles
area really should get out and drive this road, perhaps via Ojai and Highway 33.
Past Mt. Pinos Road the local traffic increases, eventually preventing rapid
progress. At Highway 5 I drove Gorman Post Road down to Highway 138 to N2 to
Pine Canyon Road. Pine Canyon Road had new pavement, and was therefore a much
better drive than I remembered. Then I was ready for my own mini-Canyonball run.
From Three Points Road, I drove Lake Hughes Road to Santa Clarita. At one
point I spotted some minor crash debris, mostly bumper and turn signal plastic.
About 1/4 mile later I saw the BMW 3-series convertible that it came from: much
more crunched than I had expected. Good thing he didn’t flip.
On the open and fast road, I had another random thought. This one is bound to
be more controversial: I suspect that belief in God (or some higher power) is a
primitive function of the brain, rather than an advanced one. In fact, I surmise
that what we call animals’ instinct is experienced by them as being given a hint
or a command from an unknown source, which is how humans often perceive God. The
great thing about this hypothesis is that nobody can disprove it. 🙂
What will be proven, I am confident, is that animals are conscious, and
almost certainly self-aware. Otherwise how could predators and prey be so clever
when hunting and evading? It’s hard to imagine how any being without
consciousness could accomplish the feats that they do. There are countless
stories of how domestic dogs have exhibited intelligence, and wild dogs and
wolves are known to be even more clever. All of which does not make me a
vegetarian any more than the wolf.
Speaking of animals, I appear to be working on a new Tour de California
record: zero road kills so far.
Once I reached Santa Clarita, I had quite a bit of trouble finding San
Francisquito Canyon Road. As I learned, you have to turn left onto Seco Canyon
Road, then left onto Copper Hill Road before you turn right onto San
Francisquito Canyon Road. I let a Z3 lead the way at high speed through the
rocky canyon and up to 4000 feet or so. I could gain some ground on him in the
turns, but not much. I waved goodbye as I turned right onto Spunky Canyon Road.
Next on the menu was the winding Bouquet Canyon Road, which provided welcome
shade to give the air conditioner a break. The 55 mph limit was just about
perfect, at least for this downhill run. A left on Vasquez took me past an
oncoming pristine 1963 Corvette convertible with roll bar, fender flares, and
super-wide tires. A right on Sierra and a quick left onto Sand Canyon Road took
me over to Little Tujunga Road, which was and is the best of these canyon roads.
After that it was freeway traffic, including the dreaded 405 South, totally
jammed from north of the Getty Museum all the way to LAX. Now *there* is a
After a total of 479 miles and 10.5 hours, I reached my father’s house in
Redondo Beach. That was a long day’s drive. I sat down at the computer and spent
some time booking reservations using Southwest’s amazing $29+tax fares between
Oakland and Los Angeles before I went to sleep.
The next morning, I dropped my film for developing and drove to the Petersen
Auto Museum (http://www.petersen.org), where the CHP 11-99 Foundation was holding a
special event. The Chippies, ex-Chippies, and other members were displaying
their "other rides", some of which I was sure would be quite interesting. I was
American muscle cars were well represented, including some GTOs, a Charger,
and several Mustangs. One fellow had a photo display showing the rusting hulk of
a GT350H that he bought for $400 before spending almost a year restoring it to
pristine condition. Scary, that was.
A Modena Spyder carried the California plate "CHP 1199", and there was even a
CHP helicopter parked right in the middle of everything. There were two vintage
(1950s) CHP patrol cars and several other odds and ends: about 70 cars in all.
My NSX was still unwashed, so I parked it discreetly on a lower floor.
I took several photos (the new roll of film still had the same error message)
and left without entering the museum, since the current exhibit runs through
January. Next stop: Palomar!
Sunday morning traffic was not heavy, and I was able to pick my way through
the freeway traffic. A fellow in a Volvo convertible was changing lanes 2 or 3
times more frequently than I. I enjoyed leaving him behind by making superior
choices. Just like the stock market, you need to go with the long-term trend
(left lane is fastest) unless there is a clear contrary short-term trend (a
truly wide open lane to the right).
Highway 76 to Palomar was jammed, but I managed to pass all the cars except
one in two or three passing zones. The last guy was going 30 mph in a 55 mph
zone up a hill. When he didn’t take the turnout on a long left-hand sweeper, I
did. I zipped around him easily (which I couldn’t have done if he had not been
going so slowly), passing on the outside with the NSX at its maximum (for me)
safe speed and high lateral acceleration. It was a thing of beauty. And by the
way, it was legal, since in California sharing a lane is allowed as long as it’s
When I reached Palomar Road, I slowed down to open a gap in front of me
before heading up the mountain. At the first hairpin, I sped up and charged more
than half way up before I had to slow for a moment for another vehicle. I got
past that vehicle and then one other promptly, then slowed as I came up on two
vehicles very near the top at the 5000-foot elevation mark. The temperature
gauge never budged, meaning that my StoneShield (protective screen for the
radiator) was allowing sufficient air flow for this heavy use.
The advantage of driving Palomar Road uphill is that gravity mitigates any
minor mistakes you make. If you need to stop for an obstacle, gravity adds its
force to any braking force you apply. Going downhill, gravity lengthens stopping
distance and amplifies your mistakes, which can lead to disaster.
At the junction (which is not really the top of Palomar, just the top of the
fun part), I turned right on East Grade Road and had clear sailing. The views
descending this road are spectacular, especially the wide-open expanse including
the shallow lake to the east. I turned east on Highway 76.
At Center Loop Road there were well over 100 motorcycles (the chrome shiny
kind, not sport bikes) parked at what appeared to be a biker’s bar. It was very
well located, right at the beginning of the beautiful Mesa Grande Road. That
road winds up a hill, then levels out but keeps on winding its way through the
trees, then fields. It is not to be missed if you are in the area. I waved to
all the oncoming bikers scattered here and there along the route.
A quick few miles north on Highway 79 brought me to county road S2. I avoided
Julian, to the south, which tends to clog up with bikers and tourists. The
northern section of S2 has some great high-speed sweepers and some fun humps
that can send your NSX airborne if you have the guts to top 130 or so. At least
that’s what I’ve been told, since I’m afraid to try it myself.
As I slowed for the turn east onto S22 I spotted an oncoming patrol pickup.
Good thing I had not encountered him one minute earlier. He spotted me too, and
turned to follow me at 55 mph for a few miles. But what the heck, I needed a
rest and I hadn�t tested the cruise control in quite a while. He turned off at
Ranchita and I resumed manual cruise control. 🙂
The road down to Borrego Springs is long and fast. Just when you think the
descent is over, a panorama appears with the town still 1500 feet or so below.
It’s not for acrophobes. At 1:45 PM I stopped at the grocery store in Borrego
Springs, having only eaten a banana all day. Driving hard suppresses the
appetite, but I was getting hungry.
Borrego Springs is so primitive that it doesn’t have any Diet Dr. Pepper. But
the grocery store had some intriguing bags of "Mexican Pastry" in the bread
section. There were several different varieties, none of which I recognized.
Since taking a road trip is all about trying new things, I bought one that
looked vaguely like a French brioche. It turned out to taste quite a bit like
I tried to locate the mini-oasis with the palm trees west of Borrego Springs.
I think I spotted it, but it would have required a 1/2-mile walk each way in
95-degree heat and parking the NSX at the end of a deserted road. Besides that,
I was late for my appointment with Mark Johnson in San Diego, so I made a mental
note to try some other time and some other season.
As I started the climb back up S22 out Borrego Springs I passed a bicyclist.
Wow, he must have some real stamina.
Partway up the hill, I spotted an unusual rock formation, looking like a huge
stone bowling ball balanced on a peak, and made a U-turn for a photo. As I
parked, 3 wild-looking cars came up the hill: a sedan followed by 2 sports cars.
The sedan had an unusual grill with sideways D-shaped chrome sections joined at
the centerline. Kind of like you took a BMW kidney grill and turn each half 90
degrees. The sports cars looked like Panozes. I took my photo, hopped in the
car, and zoomed up the hill, passing all three cars at about 100 mph in a very
long passing zone. (They were traveling at 65 mph or so.) At the top of the hill
I stopped for another rock photo, and this time a total of 8 cars came by,
including an S2000, a 5-series BMW, and a BMW Z8, the first I’ve ever seen on
the road. All or most of them had their halogen headlights on. Clearly,
something was afoot: a car club event, or a magazine test or something. And
since I was several miles up the hill, these guys must have been going almost as
fast as I on the physics-limited section.
The sports cars looked sort of like S2000s from the back, but they had round
tail lights. At least one of them had a BMW emblem on the side. At the next
passing zone, I was able to pass 4 of the cars, but there were still 4 in front
of me, with the S2000 directly in front. That turned out to be the last passing
zone on S22, and these guys were locked in at 65 mph. Bummer. Or should I say,
Bimmer. Actually, 6 Bimmers, one Honda, and one UberHonda (that would be me).
They turned south on S2, which was my direction too. A couple miles later, as
I was resigning myself to the 65 mph pace, my Valentine One signalled a laser
detection and the Z8 passed me. Almost immediately, the Valentine detected laser
again, and then the whole group then pulled off at a small building that
appeared to be a bar or store or something. I waved and accelerated to my normal
Then I got to thinking: Laser hits? Right near the stop? With no police
anywhere? Maybe they were infra-red range-finders for a photo shoot, which I had
messed up by my presence. (Yes, an NSX makes a nice photo, but it was red, not
blue like the other cars, and I was carrying 600+ miles of dirt.) Damn. Of
course, they could have let me by at any point, but perhaps they didn’t have
sufficient radio communication.
The next day, I did a web search and discovered that the mystery sports cars
were BMW Z4s, not yet officially announced but not super-secret either. The
mystery sedan turned out to be the new 745. I figured it was the Roundel
magazine folks and I attempted to email them an apology. No response yet. I
suppose it could have been BMW of North America giving a comparison drive to
various magazine writers. But except for the uphill section from Borrego
Springs, 65 mph was too slow for any evaluation of the cars’ capabilities.
Anyway, back on the Tour, I discovered that a safety feature had been added
to county road S2. Its southern section crosses some very hot desert, and you
could be in danger of dehydration if your car broke down. So at 1-mile
intervals, the authorities have installed blue plastic barrels, presumably
containing water, each marked with a large blue flag. Very thoughtful. Probably
helps the illegal immigrants too. [Turns out these are primarily for the
illegals, wouldn�t you know…]
S2 is a long, long ride, one of the few roads on this Tour that did not end
too soon. When I entered Interstate 8 westbound, I momentarily forgot that I
once again had to pay attention to the speed limit. Time to switch context. I-8
climbs over a pass of about 3000 feet, and the NSX had the power to pass all the
other vehicles at 80+ mph up the hill. Past the top, it was back to normal
I located Mark Johnson’s place and picked up a part that he had for me, then
I was off to fight Sunday evening traffic on I-5 north. That’s the most
hazardous kind of driving, and I try to avoid it on the Tour, but this time it
was a price worth paying.
In real estate there is a concept called "highest and best use", meaning the
use of the property which creates the highest value. In my opinion, the Tour de
California is the highest and best use of an NSX: combining its advantages of
performance, comfort, and reliability.
The developed film was blank, due to film jam. Time to buy a new camera.
Cumulative statistics: 3 days, 1203 miles, 0 tickets, 0 road kills, and 1
My Tour de California occurs at the same time of year as the Tour de France,
and the route similarly varies from year to year. Like the planners of the Tour
de France, I seek out lightly traveled and scenic roads, with emphasis on hilly
After driving 65 miles in Los Angeles in the preceding week demonstrating the
car to co-workers, I pulled out of the garage in Redondo Beach at 5:15 AM into a
light Saturday morning drizzle. This was my earliest start ever on a Tour de
California day. I had carefully preserved my jet lag since returning from France
on Monday, so waking up at 4 AM was no problem. I had attempted to add some
Freon to my barely functioning air conditioning system, but my puncture valve
did not mate to the can of Freon I had with me. I suppose that if things got
desperate, I could pay an air conditioning shop to add my Freon to the system,
but I’d rather save it for after the leak is repaired.
My other preparation was to mount the videocamera and load it with a 2-hour
tape to record some of the best parts of the drive home.
Even without detailed maps I managed to find Big Tujunga Road near Sunland at
about 6 AM. The initially poor road surface turned nearly perfect a little over
a mile later. Lots of sweeping curves on about 10 miles of ascent. As I gained
altitude, the skies cleared.
I continued north on N3, the Angeles Forest Highway. This is a superb
high-speed road, with no traffic going north at this time of day. There were
quite a few southbound vehicles, probably commuting to work on this Saturday
morning. Fortunately, they stayed on their side of the road. Angeles Forest
Highway was great fun at high speed. In contrast, the curves on Big Tujunga were
too tight for high speed but not tight enough to be a slalom-like challenge.
Once I neared Palmdale, I doubled back to try Alviso Canyon Road, which has
some expensive homes at its north end and has some fun driving for the rest of
its length. Watch out for curves following the blind rises.
Mt. Emma Road reminded me of Lake Hughes Road near Santa Clarita. Cheesboro
Road crossed over the California Aqueduct, which looks much bigger when you’re
sitting on top of it. As the sun rose, I turned on the air conditioner. It was
blowing hot on the left and cold on the right, a sure sign of very low
refrigerant. I drove Barrel Springs Road, but it’s nothing special.
Re-entering civilization, I momentarily forgot that the roads now had speed
limits. Oops, that could earn me a ticket. Actually, I have earned many tickets.
It’s just that I haven’t actually received any since buying my NSX 6 years ago.
After a short run up the freeway (California 14), I exited at Backus Road
west to Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road, which is an excellent 2-lane highway. On
the first very long uphill straight, I passed the only other northbound vehicle
and reached 135 mph before slowing for oncoming traffic. The road then curves
through the mountain pass, where huge windmills over 100 feet high tower on both
sides, the shadows of the blades slicing across the pavement. In a scant 12
minutes and 15 miles, the fun was over. But I had discovered another fine back
road. It’s these discoveries that make the Tour worthwhile.
At this point, the driver’s side amplifier decided to fail even with the
controls set at minimum bass and full right balance. The loud cracking noise
probably risked damage to the speaker cone. So, no more tunes, not even tinny
I entered Highway 58 westbound, paralleling a train track over the pass. The
track passes through several short, closely spaced tunnels which show heavy soot
deposits from the oil-burning engine exhaust. If you got lucky, you could shoot
an unusual photo of a train snaking through two tunnels at the same time.
As I proceeded toward Bakersfield, someone in a bronze Nissan 240SX blocked
my progress by passing a truck at a mere 60 mph. I got past and resumed my 75 to
80 mph cruise. Two minutes later, this same person came zooming up at 90 mph and
stopped in my blind spot, matching speeds. Then he backed off to 60 mph again.
Pretty odd behavior. I figured he might be an off-duty or self-appointed
enforcement type with a cell phone. What to do? I slowed, and he slowed too.
Most annoying. I wasn’t seriously worried, but I slowed down behind a truck
until he passed me. Gotta humor those nut cases by letting them think they won.
While driving slowly, I took the opportunity to check my map, and I realized
that I had missed a chance to check out a parallel road. So at the next
opportunity, I turned back to satisfy my curiosity and simultaneously avoid any
future encounters with the 240SX guy or his friends.
Although the southern section of Caliente-Bodfish Road which parallels 58 to
the north and cuts over to Bena Roed was totally unsuitable due to resurfacing
work in progress, I was able to access Bena Road from the south side of 58. It
parallels a train line, with decent, wide pavement and no traffic. It’s a worthy
alternative to the freeway.
I turned north on Comanche Road, intending to take Breckenridge up the hill.
After a gas stop on Highway 178 (expensive, but no price for gas is too high on
the Tour), I retraced to Breckenridge, where after about 2 miles the road
surface suddenly turned to a tar- and gravel-laden mess. On the Tour, you win
some and you lose some. Time to re-route.
I decided to go up Highway 178 in place of Breckenridge. This highway might
be fun very, very early in the morning, but at close to 10 AM I got stuck behind
30 mph traffic in the narrow but scenic Kern River canyon. This was the
antithesis of a proper Tour. It lasted about 15 minutes, then the "passing lane"
turned out to be the start of a 4-lane freeway section. Free at last! When
traffic gets held back that long, you have miles and miles of clear sailing
ahead. This is exactly when you can get a really big speeding ticket. But my
luck held for the few miles to my turnoff at Bodfish (population 1600, but it
The climb south out of Bodfish is a single-lane road with switchbacks. I had
driven this road around 1993 in my 1987 MR2, after I managed to coax the route
information out of a staffer at Car and Driver. Dodging one driver who was not
keeping to his side, I made it to the top very quickly. Except for a few blind
turns, the visibility ahead on this road is excellent, due to the lack of
I turned left 15 miles from Bodfish at a road labeled Wasler, which is the
first paved turn to the east. Continuing straight at the next intersection put
me on Walker Basin Road. A few miles later I found the blind rise mentioned at
http://www.mr2.com/TEXT/NSXvsMR2.html which I wrote about 6 years ago. My memory had
imperfectly captured just how close the turn was to top of the rise, and how
closely the cattle guard followed the turn. I was amazed that I had managed to
navigate this turn.
Continuing on, the road become Caliente Creek Road, which crosses the stream
bed repeatedly. It probably floods quite a bit in winter. The road surface is
erratic, and the radius of the curves is unpredictable, so you really need to be
careful and assume that every blind turn will have a decreasing radius.
Since I still had plenty of gas, I turned right on Caliente-Bodfish Road,
which goes up and over the hill that Caliente Creek Road went around. This is a
nearly continuous set of switchbacks. 13 miles later, I was back at the point
where I had turned off Caliente-Bodfish road on the way down.
This was a serious workout in a car without power steering or a reasonably
functional air conditioner. I kept the windows up since the AC was giving me
about a 5-degree reduction from the outside temperature, which was approaching
100 degrees F.
I turned left, back up the hill toward Bodfish. I took a minute to check out
the upper part of Breckenridge Road, which was more like a paved driveway than a
real road. Certainly not Tour material, so I was probably fortunate that the
lower portion had been unusable. The biggest danger on those narrow one-lane
roads is fast oncoming traffic, and it would have been a nerve-wracking hour or
more up that road.
As you descend into Bodfish, the absence of vegetation near the road gives an
unobstructed view of the valley far, far below. My Valentine 1 briefly detected
a K-band radar, which must have been on the freeway 5 miles or so dead ahead and
about 2000 feet down. That’s impressive range.
Since it was noon, I grabbed a burger at Bodfish (plus a compliment on the
car from the drive-though gal), and continued west on highway 155. Crossing over
178 I saw several emergency vehicles and people working on a severe crash: a
sedan had somehow left the elevated portion of the eastbound on-ramp and flipped
the car, whose roof was partially caved in. Ouch. It looked pretty bad, and the
paramedics were hard at work. Since the ramp was totally straight, it’s hard to
imagine what could have caused the car to go off. Maybe unruly children or some
other driver distraction; you’d have to be looking in some other direction than
you’re driving to leave the road there.
The heavy haze that I had seen ever since Palmdale became much thicker now,
and was obviously smoke from the Sequoia National Forest fire. Turning left (no
stop sign and minimal markings) I headed out of the Lake Isabella area on
highway 155 westbound. If it weren’t for the smoke, the scenery would have been
fabulous, with megaboulder-strewn hillsides dotted with live oak trees. If you
drove through enough of this scenery, you could begin to take it for granite.
Highway 155 was every bit as good as they said at pashnit.com. It was a
endless string of tight curves. Slalom city.
My arms began to get tired after all the work they had been doing. I actually
began to approach an overdose of roadus serpentinus (that’s Wile E.
Coyote-speak), something which just DOES NOT HAPPEN to me.
The one factor that keeps highway 155 from being a perfect road is that many
of the curves have decreasing radius and are unmarked. Therefore you must keep
some braking in reserve for the 10% to 20% of the curves which require it. This
disrupts the flow of an otherwise fine road, making the drive more of a contest
than a partnership. Caliente Creek Road is also in this category. That’s why the
Car and Driver folks call the Caliente Loop the Lion’s Trail.
Highway 155 passes some sequoias (the ones with the orangish bark) before
descending into the drier chaparral. Farther down, 155 opens up and becomes less
mentally taxing. I went all the way down to the flatlands, where I turned left
onto Highway 65. There was some serious traffic on this road, but "objects in
mirror become smaller rapidly".
After gassing up north of Bakersfield, I began my third ascent of the day,
this time up Bakersfield-Glenville Road. (Yes, I really did plan this circuitous
routing.) This road is good (a solid 8 of 10 versus 9.5 for highway 155), but
the scenery is a mere 2. Round Mountain Road looked excellent, but it was not on
my way for this Tour, so I turned left onto the slightly rougher Woody Road.
Although the scenery got better and better, Woody Road won’t give you one. I
took a photo of a rock formation here. If you are afraid of stopping on the road
to take photos, just tell yourself to be boulder. Must be the heat getting to
Some miscreant left a broken bottle at the apex of a turn, and I ran over it.
You can’t do much to avoid a road hazard right at the apex. My right rear tire
seemed to survive the encounter, fortunately. Damn, it was getting hot outside.
Half a mile before the town of Woody, I spotted a large vulture on a fence
post. But when I backed up to take a photo, he left. Too bad. By the way, I was
using a different camera, having discarded the broken one that caused me to lose
all my Day 1, 2, and 3 photos.
As planned, I made a U-turn and backtracked one mile to what my map says is
Woody Granite Road. Actually, there is no road sign, but I just decided to take
it for, well, never mind… Whatever the road is, it’s very, very scenic.
7 miles later I turned left (east) on Granite Road. This road is a true
wonder, with one of the best combinations of scenery and road surface that you
will see in the whole state. Unfortunately there is some traffic, but once I got
past, it was a superb drive. Get out there early in the day and have fun.
Granite Road rocks!
A loop including Granite Road and Highway 155 would be hard to beat. Trouble
is there may not be any NSX owners in Bakersfield to enjoy it. The local folks
look at the car like it’s a UFO. Even though mine is clearly labeled as an F-16.
At Glenville, I turned north on Jack Ranch Road, then turned right on Old
Stage Road. I made a ring around the Posey area, but the pavement and the puns
ran out (as I knew they would) and I backtracked west on Old Stage Road. A local
fellow at Poso Park told me that Portugese Pass to the east is dirt for a mile
or two, even if it weren’t closed due to the McNally fire (which it was).
Anyway, the road to Poso Park, including the road to Sugarloaf, is nothing
terribly special, but I had a vague recollection of reading about it in a car
magazine, so I had to check it out.
Old Stage Road has only an average road surface except for a brand new
section begining about 7 miles west of Jack Ranch Road (and west from there).
The scenery along Old Stage Road is excellent.
Reaching Fountain Springs about 3:30PM, there was no fountain or spring.
There was, however, a Saloon. One equipped with all the best drinks, in this
case a Diet Dr. Pepper from the refrigerator. Refreshed and with my internal
temperature reduced somewhat, I turned east on M-56, which proved to be a very
good road. Having seen one excellent road after another, I remarked to myself
how surprising it was that something approaching driving heaven could be found
near a place as unappealing as Bakersfield.
M-56 ends in a T into M-60, where I turned left (north) and immediately
stopped at the Hot Springs Ranger Station. I always stop at a ranger station
before camping if I arrive before closing time (generally 4:30PM). The people
there know the best camp sites and can tell you what not to miss seeing.
Those of you who are single may wish to stop by this particular station and
chat with the cute 28ish lady who works there. She was apparently single, but
that bit of information has no practical application for me. Still, a cute gal
behind the counter is a sure cure for direction asking deficiency syndrome. I
don’t know if she even saw the car, but she was intrigued that I was driving
such long distances.
Farther up M-60 (which at some point becomes California highway 190) I
encountered some free-roaming cattle near the apex of a curve, which is a bad
place to stare down a large animal. Not to mention the possibility of a cow
One of them stared at me with about as much awareness as a cow can muster,
which isn’t much. Like the deer on Day One, I guess he’d never seen an NSX
Just as the ranger lady promised, several miles up the road (and higher in
altitude) the temperature cooled sufficiently to allow me to open the windows.
I walked the short "Trail of 100 Giants", took some photos of as much of the
tall trees as I could fit in the frame, and set up my tent at the nearby Redwood
Meadow campground. Some people drive so they can camp, but I camp so I can
My tent, sleeping bag, and all the other gear was very hot to the touch,
almost as if it had been touching the muffler rather than separated by an air
space and metal wall. This was not an "ice cream in the trunk" trip, for sure. I
washed the car and covered it.
I chose a site that had a beautifully leveled tent area (thanks to the prior
occupants), and I didn’t even need a sleeping pad. The camp attendant was a car
nut, and he chatted with me for a while about the 1964 Mustang that he bought
for $300. (I told him about the guy at the Petersen Museum’s 11-99 show who had
paid $400 for the rotting hulk of a 350GT-H.) He found a matching 289 engine
from a junkyard Falcon pickup and had it blueprinted. Then he did something
truly incomprehensible and gave it to his teenaged son.
He told me that the car cover was a good idea, because he had found out with
the Mustang that the trees drop powdery dried sap onto anything underneath them.
After all the car talk, just before moving on to the next camper, the guy
asked me whether I had any food. I said no (I had already eaten it). He said
that was good, because a bear paid them a visit last night and raided the
garbage cans. Oh.
Since the park guy didn’t seem overly concerned, I didn’t really worry about
it much. I didn’t think the car would smell like food, but there was always the
chance that a bear would break a window or worse. Maybe less of a chance with
the car cover on. Mostly I wondered whether a bear would try to break into my
tent. Let’s see: a multi-hundred pound animal with razor-sharp claws against
single-ply nylon. I think the bear would win that one. I put the camera next to
my sleeping bag, figuring that if a bear showed up I would at least get a good
photo and at best scare him away with the flash.
As I took a few minutes to plan the next day’s route in the waning daylight,
a breeze picked up and cooled the air to 72 degrees or so. Wonderful. When my
new Sequoia National Forest map was a little hard to fold, I noticed that it was
printed on plastic, not paper, for maximum durability. Like the NSX’s aluminum
body, this was a creative and superior use of advanced materials.
The other campers were quiet as mice, and road traffic was practically
nonexistent. As the temperature dropped further, I got in the sleeping bag and
zipped it up. With my jet lag, I easily fell asleep when it got dark around 7:30
An unknown time later I awoke to a loud crashing that sounded exactly like
the world’s most inept garbage collection crew, tossing garbage cans around to
and fro. A few minutes later, the same noise, but much further away. I went back
Much later I was treated to another round of garbage can noise. This time I
prepared the camera and shone my powerful flashlight briefly toward the garbage
cans, which were about 25 yards away. Some trees blocked my view, so I couldn’t
tell what was making the noise, but I was pretty sure it was the bear. The light
didn’t discourage him, and no raccoon can bang cans that hard. I waited a while
for my confrontation/photo opportunity, but it never came. Who knows whether I
would have been brave enough to actually shoot the photo? I went back to sleep,
this time for the rest of the night.
The pre-dawn light woke me at 5:40AM, about 2 hours later than I had been
waking up all week. I had successfully played my jet lag trump card, good for an
extra 2 hours of sleep on the Tour.
I took my time packing up, making sure to get a photo of the scattered
garbage. I left the campground at 6:40 AM, heading north on M-60/ Highway 190.
Naturally, I had the road entirely to myself. The major landmark on this road,
the town of Ponderosa, consisted of exactly one general store with a gas pump.
The Quaking Aspen campground, which the ranger station lady also recommended to
me, looked even a bit nicer than Redwood Meadow. More importantly, its garbage
cans were unmolested. Next time I’ll camp there.
Highway 190 north of Quaking Aspen was truly remarkable. It’s a twisting
descent that goes on and on and on and on. Some of the turns are decreasing
radius, which requires extra care. But this road definitely qualifies for the
Tour’s hit parade. Especially at 7:20AM when there’s nobody there but you
heading down the hill from 7000 feet, and a scant few cars heading up. Going
downhill I had the sun behind me, but uphill drivers would be heading into the
sun on a road with no passing zones whatsoever. The Tule River canyon narrows
near the bottom of the hill, and you have a spectacular view of the gorge as you
descend from the east. Too bad about the fire smoke.
If you get a chance to stop at Lower Coffee Camp on the Tule River, do it!
It’s your classic giant boulder-strewn swimming hole, just 15 steps from the
very small parking lot. Show up early with $5 for your parking space, and bring
a swim suit, towel, and picnic lunch. Even at 7:51 AM it had already attracted a
family with 2 boys. The water is not ice cold, but quite reasonable for
swimming. I’ll bet the lot is full by 10 AM on weekends. I took a few photos and
continued on my way.
Near Springville, I turned north on J37, Balch Park Road. It’s a wide road
through a farming valley, with a significant amount of local traffic. I mused
that the density of farms was less than one sees in France, which I attribute to
the fact that California was settled much more recently than Europe. The area of
a farm was presumably the amount of land that one family could successfully
plant and harvest, which of course is a function of the available technology.
With modern machinery, one family can work a much larger farm, and consolidation
occurs as sons and daughters seek other occupations.
I could not resist exploring Bear Creek Road, which starts out as a great
2-laner but narrows to one lane after the turnoff for the Gill School of Science
and Conservation. This must be a different kind of conservation than that
practiced at the Mountain Home Conservation Camp, which is a state prison.
That’s where, presumably facing may more miles of hazardous single-lane road
with the occasional rapidly oncoming vehicle, I gave up and returned to Balch
Park Road rather than attempting to complete the loop. With all the cows next to
the road, I was grateful that grass does not grow on asphalt: those dumb animals
would be right in the middle of the road.
At the Y, I turned left, or west, onto Yokohl Valley Road, which was not very
memorable. I turned northeast on Highway 198 and stopped for gas at Lemon Cove.
Dry Creek Road looked promising on the map, but contrarily to its name the
creek contained plenty of water, even in August, at least for the first few
miles. Dry Creek Road is empty and extremely scenic. It’s like a small-scale
version of Highway 25, and it reminds me of county road 306 west of Orland. As
the valley narrows, the road does too, becoming a one-laner resembling Calaveras
Road north of Fremont or Los Gatos Road northwest from Coalinga.
Next, I turned west on Highway 245, which is a great 2-lane road winding down
the hill. I briefly checked out Drum Valley Road and found it unsuitable for
serious driving. After several more fun miles on 245, I turned right on Boyd
Boyd is scenic and fun, with a bonus: at the western end it descends sharply
along a relatively straight canyon wall down to the valley floor. There is
absolutely no railing or anything else blocking the view (or your car) downward
on the left side of the road. I felt like a real F-16 pilot coming in for a
In order to avoid the traffic from Kings Canyon National Park, I took Highway
63 north. It’s straight and dull, then suddenly ascends out of the valley in a
series of high-speed curves. Fortunately I was able to quickly pass a pickup
towing a horse trailer at a 15 mph crawl.
I jogged east on 180 then continued north on Elwood Road, which passes
through an open valley with farms. As the valley narrows down, a Rough Road sign
warned of… a perfect new coat of asphalt with a dashed yellow stripe down the
center! It was just like a racetrack. My tax dollars at work.
Shortly after the new pavement ended, there was another one of those moments
of discovery when I topped a blind crest to see another large valley suddenly
appear ahead. Exhilarating.
There’s an attractive park next to Kings River, apparently a popular spot for
fishing. I crossed the bridge here and turned east on Trimmer Springs Road. Luck
was with me, and I had five traffic-free miles going up the hill. When I finally
saw Pine Flat reservoir, it was drawn down to more than 100 feet below its full
level. Wow, that’s a big reservoir basin.
I turned northwest on Maxson Road, a scenic one-laner similar to the narrow
section of Calaveras Road.
Watts Road to the north is a 2-lane road, wider and safer. I would have been
better off to take Watts Valley Road all the way from the central valley, rather
than Trimmer Springs Road and Maxson. Next time.
I caught myself admiring the dash layout of the NSX. On empty country roads,
I mostly look at the tachometer, only checking the speedometer when I what to
see how far above the advisory speed I am negotiating a curve. It’s a nearly
A few miles from Maxson, Watts Valley Road becomes Burrough Valley Road. At
that junction was the inviting, very wide, 2-lane Sycamore Road. The sign said
No Outlet, as if that could stop me from exploring it. A mile up Sycamore,
extensive tire marks gave proof that others had had the same idea. I made a
U-turn at the speed bump, which I took as a hint to leave.
Burrough Valley Road terminates at Tollhouse Road. Continuing north, the road
changes to Lodge Road. Crossing 168 put me on the very crowded Auberry Road. But
I was going someplace that was worth this price of admission. I turned left on
Power House Road, following the sign toward North Fork. These roads are as nice
as the ones in Tulare County, but the difference is that people live here, and
they have the temerity to actually use their roads.
Before heading southeast out of North Fork, I stopped to get gas and a
sandwich, and to phone my family in France a few hours before they were to begin
their return trip. Four miles later, an ordinary-looking left turn put me on the
extraordinary Mammoth Pool Road, also known as Sierra National Forest Road 81.
There were several oncoming vehicles coming down the mountain, but almost
nobody going up. Imagine the best fast country road you know, with no other cars
and no side roads, continuing for a full 48 miles. It’s almost more fun than you
It was a slight strain for the NSX as well. Although I have Dali Racing’s
StoneShield which slightly impedes flow through the radiator, near the top of
this road was only the second time I have ever seen the temperature gauge move
above its normal rock-steady mid-range reading. Both times I had kept the rpms
above 5000 in second gear for 20 minutes straight, climbing continuously into
the mountains. And like the last time (at the 2000 Canyonball), all I had to do
was shift to third gear and back off the throttle a bit, and the temperature
returned to normal almost immediately.
I used up the rest of my videotape ascending Mammoth Pool Road. The road
reaches 6900 feet elevation, and viewpoints offer vistas of the Minarets and
other eastern Sierra peaks over 20 miles across the roadless valley of the Ansel
Adams Wilderness, home to the headwaters of the San Joaquin River.
At the top, I started down Forest Road 7, a rough, narrow, single-lane road.
When I met the first oncoming pickup truck almost immediately, I decided that a
choice between this road and the beautiful Mammoth Pool Road was no choice at
all. I made the U-turn and headed back down Mammoth Pool Road. But first I
stopped to change into a fresh T-shirt. The old one was soaking wet with sweat
over every square inch where my back touched the seat. But the NSX had made the
drive reasonably comfortable in spite of the heat.
Resuming the drive, I took a more relaxed pace down the mountain. I thought
about my luck in avoiding running over any animals so far. I think the sound of
the engine scares the animals into running in random directions, and then they
dash away from the car at the last instant. What seems to work well is to
anticipate that dash by (generally) moving to the far side of the road to give
the animal a chance to dash to its near side.
Sixteen miles down from the top, I turned north toward Beashore Meadows. The
road is 6S71 changing to 6S01, but I don’t think it’s labeled anywhere but on
the Sierra National Forest map. Too bad I didn’t save any video for this part;
this road is quite a roller coaster. Its builders didn’t waste any effort to
flatten it out. They just paved over every little rise and dip. If you have any
tendency to get motion sick, this road will do the job for you. There is hardly
a moment that the car isn’t accelerating up or down or left or right, and
usually it’s two of them at once.
The problem is that the road is narrow. There is oncoming traffic, but in
most places you have to slow to about 10 mph to safely pass by. With numerous
blind turns and some fast-moving pickups, some with trailers, this is a
hazardous place to be. But it’s a helluva lot of fun. The bumps launch the car
in the air as much as you like.
The only other time I drove this road, it was a little too early in the
season. Icy drifted snow covered sections of the road, and I was nearly unable
to get back out after I finally wised up and turned around. With the temperature
this time, some snow would have been welcome.
As I drove the full length of the road, I saw steeply sloped areas where
there would have been very large snow drifts on that earlier day, had I
proceeded that far. There was nothing but trees o the downhill side to stop a
car that left a slippery road surface. Ouch!
This one-lane road is just over 12 miles long, but it seems far longer, with
the mental strain of watching intently for oncoming traffic at every blind
curve. Still, it’s a fun way to complete your Mammoth Pool loop.
At the Forest Road 7 junction I turned left, down the hill. Here, Forest Road
7 has two lanes and is great for driving. The AAA map shows a wide line here and
a narrow line beginning just a few miles up from this junction. So it’s the
upper part of Forest Road 7 that you have to avoid. The lower part follows a
river valley, with pine trees on both sides.
The whole loop took me exactly 2 hours to complete. A very entertaining 2
hours. It’s right up there with my personal favorite: Highway 1 and Nacimiento
Road from Carmel to King City at 7 AM.
At some point, unknown to me at the time, the road changed to Forest Road 10.
(The map shows that Forest Road 7 continues to the left.) So I ended up driving
back toward North Fork confused as to which road was which. Bass Lake was packed
with jet skis, swimmers, and boaters. The surrounding roads were equally packed.
If I’d known where I was, I could have headed straight south to Oakhurst from to
bottom of Forest Road 10.
After a soda stop and another quick T-shirt change at Oakhurst I took Highway
49 north. Four miles later, I turned left on Road 600. Once the local traffic
split off for home, I had this scenic road (good, but not great road surface) to
myself. When I saw about a dozen oncoming Harleys, I knew I was on the right
From Road 600, I took the excellent Road 415 west to Raymond, then Road 613
north, which is the equal of or better than Road 600. I had intended to continue
west on Preston Road, but it proved to be unpaved. Ben Hur Road was a detour,
but a superb one. Its southern section is practically a race track, with
excellent visibility. The northern section needs resurfacing, but it’s empty and
I descended to the Central Valley on California 140 and headed north to
Atwater, home of the superb Castle Air Museum. Then I crossed westward on
Westside Road and River Road (County Road J18). I made a few mistakes trying to
follow the many right-angle turns of River Road, but eventually I reached
Patterson, my jumping off point for Del Puerto Canyon Road. Before I did that, I
had a little more exploration to do, but I’m keeping that discovery quiet for
now. [It was the brand-new access road for Diablo Grande developmnet. See
I grabbed a sandwich and gassed up near the intersection of I-5 and Del
Puerto Canyon Road about 10 miles after the fuel light went on. It was at this
stop that I checked my tires and found that the right rear was severely corded
on the inside. Uh, oh.
I had a spare rear tire in the trunk, but it was already 6 PM on a Sunday.
Not a good time to find a no-touch machine to mount a tire. I decided to press
on, taking it especially easy on right turns. As long as I stayed on the
pavement, everything should be OK, even if I had to use the spare tire after a
I had a different kind of drive on Del Puerto Canyon Road, cruising slowly
enough to see all the scenery. It was a quiet way to end my Tour. As I glided
through the winding turns near the north end of Mines Road, a perfect red sun
hung low in the hazy sky straight ahead, guiding me home.
Post Script and Air Tour
2483 miles in 4.5 days with zero tickets, zero accidents, and zero road kill.
A trifecta. My fourth successful Tour de California, exactly matching Lance
Armstrong’s four successful Tours de France over the same four years.
On the plane trip from LAX to Oakland several days later, I managed to snag a
window seat on the left side through a bit of luck: the Southwest Airlines
employee occupying it had to move to a jump seat when the 137th passenger showed
up. I eagerly surveyed the roads from the air, spotting the awesome Cerro
Noroeste for the first time, and seeing that it winds along a ridgeline which
descends from the flanks of Mt. Pinos to the flatlands near Taft. You can see
many of its curves from the air.
The flight path followed I-5 and the California Aqueduct north over the
Central Valley. Highway 58 was too far away to see, but I did spot Highway 46.
We passed directly over Coalinga, then I identified Panoche Road and the nearly
invisible Little Panoche Road. The San Luis Reservoir was easy to spot as we
curved east over I-5. Wispy fog filled some of the valleys toward the Bay.
We turned westward and I spotted two dead-end roads, one of which I have
driven and the other not, followed by Del Puerto Canyon Road, which unmistakably
follows a river. The backcountry here has many dirt roads and ranches, which are
miles from pavement. The flight path passed right over the north end of Mines
Road, Lake Del Valle and the San Antonio Reservoir.
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