Remember TTAC’s Future Writers Week? You chose the writers. The writers wrote. The stories are in (well, most of them …). Here is the first one. Do you like it? Tell us. The stories will be published in the sequence in which they arrived in TTAC’s mailbox.
It’s November on the California coast, between the rains. Pismo Beach is far behind us; Monterey still far ahead. The road is HERE, the Pacific Ocean is THERE, right across the southbound lanes, over that little 6-inch-tall rock ”barrier” that would give you a good launch before you fell the 400 feet to your crunchy doom. Left-foot-braking, you trail brake into the corner, wide then tightening and then wide onto the gas. And the DSC kicks in, up front, and the line out of the corner isn’t quite what you wanted it to be.
Welcome to Highway 1.
Hwy. 1 is the coast road up the California Coast, Mexico to Oregon. Many sections are pretty pedestrian, as country highways go. Two sections are roads on the greats list: the central coast, roughly 120 miles from Moro Bay to Monterey, and the north coast, roughly Marin to Mendocino. If you aspire to be a performance driver, you should aspire to drive roads like Highway 1. I last drove the central coast section in November 2012, on my way back to the San Francisco Bay area from LA at the end of a conference. Because I was going that way anyways. Because I was driving my RX-8. Because I could.
The central coast segment is long enough that you need to prepare and plan a bit. It’s not a road to drive fast in the dark or bad weather. Plan for 3-4 hours of driving for the segment, including delays. If you’re doing it for the first time, drive it northbound (start at Morro Bay); you will be on the inside, with the southbound lanes as additional recovery space between you and Pacific oblivion if you blow a corner badly. Bring a car you know. Handling is more important than power here, if you have to trade them off.
Going north out of Morro Bay, you’re on a smooth country highway along a mostly flat coastal shelf for about 40 miles. This is a fast and beautiful country drive, lulling you into a sense of complacency.
Then the mountains meet the ocean, north of San Simeon, and that’s all over. The road goes hundreds of feet up the side of the cliff and stays there, hanging on by its teeth, and it’s on. You’re in the twisties, and you stay there for another 40 glorious miles up to Big Sur.
On clear days, views are magnificent; there’s nothing between you and Hawaii. Drive slow enough to enjoy them a bit. But the views are gravy; it’s the miles of twisties that make the road.
At 8/10 this will be a thrilling drive with world-class views. At 9/10 you are significantly at risk. Drive harder than that only with a recent will and life insurance, and preferably with a friend behind you with a GoPro or equivalent, so the rest of us can enjoy the crash afterwards on YouTube.
There are probably a thousand corners; tens of them are far trickier than they look going in. There are a couple that are more than a tenth trickier than they look. If stability control blips more than a couple of times you’re pushing it.
And you will blow corners, if you drive it fast. There are deceptively off-camber corners, decreasing radius corners that looked smooth, corners with water on the road at the apex, gravel. You are less likely to hit a deer here than elsewhere, but there are turnoffs, slow tourists in cars and RVs, bicyclists and pedestrians in the road unexpectedly. If you try to drive it without margins: oops, cliff, Pacific Ocean, splat. So know yourself, know your car, and think 8/10.
Slow down and practice finding the lines, connecting the corners. Trail brake. Drive smooth. When you are caught behind oblivious slow drivers, back off and wait; take them smooth and fast and without mercy in the reasonably frequent passing opportunities, and keep going. Take the road in and keep going. It will take everything you throw at it, and challenge you for more. It will scare you. Containing your exuberance will be the hardest challenge of all.
Drive. Even if you only do it once, drive.
George William Herbert is a driver based in Hayward, California, in the San Francisco Bay area. By day, he works for a well-known IT consulting company. He also owns a small aerospace and defense engineering consulting company. For fun, George writes, welds, attempts to design cars, works on technical issues related to nuclear proliferation, and enjoys the California roads. His favorite suspension system is double wishbone. George’s current daily driver is a 2004 Mazda RX-8.