By on February 16, 2013

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.

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56 Comments on “Highway 1, Revisited. A Future Writer Story...”


  • avatar
    Summicron

    “Containing your exuberance will be the hardest challenge of all.”

    No, containing exuberance wasn’t the hardest challenge.
    My first trip was 1978 and Depends weren’t invented yet.

  • avatar
    european

    to all future & present writers:

    supply self-made photographs to your stories, don’t just use
    some sorry-ass small pics off the net.

    i already said the same to derek.

  • avatar
    JK43123

    And add a few more personal comments, like about a particular turn that was hard, how you thought you would die when the bike pulled out in front of you at mile 46, whatever. But it’s a good story, thanks for sharing with Ohio flatlanders like me.

    John

  • avatar
    Nicholas Weaver

    You should NEVER think about 8/10th, 9/10ths, or all that race crap on a populated public road, especially one like Highway 1. (Which is a road I’m pretty familiar with).

    I learned this as a motorcyclist: NEVER/ outdrive your sight lines. Not only is 1 a no-runoff road (Cliff or splash, depending on direction), but half the turns are blind-as-bats. Since there is significant odds of a Winnebago going the other way, or a bicyclist going yours, or a lame tourist stopped in the middle taking photos, you MUST NEVER outdrive your brakes: you MUST be able to stop in the space you can see.

    Which also means you can drive a road like 1 in a way where the road really surprises you. Decreasing radius? Negative Camber? The Ghost of William Randalph Hurst? Who cares, you’ll be able to react and adjust.

    If you want to go into a blind corner faster than you can see through to the exit, go to the track.

    • 0 avatar
      Summicron

      “half the turns are blind-as-bats.”

      +1 This
      Oh, so very this.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      I learned the same lesson. On practically road in the Appalachian mountains. And then I got a motorcycle!

      Seriously, the goals of driving on public roads and driving on the track are different. On the road, your habits have to be able to deal with every random road hazard that jumps out at you for five or six decades.

      That includes dealing with the random “racecar driver” who comes around a blind turn in the middle of the road road, apparently hoping to validate frontal offset crash test results outside of the lab….

      Never overdrive your sightlines or your headlights.

    • 0 avatar
      George Herbert

      I need to finish my writeup on what performance driving on public roads means, but…

      Yes, overdriving your sight lines is suicide. 8/10 here isn ‘t 8/10 of adhesion limit, it’s 8/10 of the lesser of how far you can see around the corner, how well you can see the road surface, how many avoidance and bailout options you have, etc.

      This is one of many roads where driving the posted limit will kill you in some curves. Skyline in the SF Bay Area is another, we all know more.

      Some corners, adhesion is 35, and I drive 12 because that’s all I can see.

      I agee these points are important. I had a hard 800 word limit for this, or these comments would have been in the initial story. I will finish up the followup.

      • 0 avatar
        burgersandbeer

        Thanks for the clarification. I thought there might be a disconnect between the 8/10 claim and some of your text such as “if you see the DSC light, you’ve pushed too far.”

        I’ve spent some time on Highway 1, and even trying to keep up with the speed limit is reasonably entertaining with all the hazards on that road. The bicycles make me especially nervous.

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        “This is one of many roads where driving the posted limit will kill you in some curves.”

        That’s because they’re only for the straightaways. The actual design speed for MOST curves is 25 MPH – or less, sometimes much less. In fact, most roadway standards are observed by their absence. The topography determines all aspects of road building on that middle stretch.

        Having driven that stretch northbound for the first time in a full size car, I don’t recommend it as any kind of driving course. Some of he hazards you noted, but too briefly. What you didn’t have space to mention, for instance, is the southbound winnebagos shying so far from the guard rail that they ignore those funny yellow lines in the middle of the road, leaving northbound vehicles with a width not more than a parking space designed for a small car.

        It would take more than 800 words to fully describe why that road should be traveled with extreme caution, not for the experience of “driving the twisties”. There are many winding roads throughout California more appropriate for that.

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        Also, whatever you do, don’t improve your sight lines by slipping across the center line approaching right handers. Or do the same to “center the crown” on off camber lefts.

        And, remember that many/most inexperienced aggressive motorcyclists apex left handers with their TIRE choked up on the centerline. Leaning into the oncoming lane. So give them some room. One of those close calls are enough to teach them off the habit, without needing to kill them.

        If you have to get frisky, do it going uphill. Your breaking distance is much shorter than downhill. And most cars are more stable on the brakes uphill, as their weight balance is more even than when doing handstands on the brakes downhill. This is doubly or triply true for bikes.

        And, finish breakfast before sunup. Most Winnebagoites (though not necessarily bicyclists) like to eat their egg and bacon in daylight, so will give you an hour or so of dawn between when the deer (exploding due to Californians’ obsessive fascination with PETA vs hunters) goes to bed, and the RVers are ready for another day of wallowing.

        If you start early and drive with a group, you may be able to send a birddog ahead to delimit a stretch of beautiful curves where you can make those obligatory sliding corner exit photos / videos. Don’t do it without.

      • 0 avatar
        George Herbert

        I want to disagree with Lorenzo’s “with extreme caution”, but carefully.

        I literally learned to drive on roads like Highway 1, mostly out in west Marin County. I have seen more single car road fatality wrecks and cleanups than some police officers, though I had to stop and help less often. I know.

        There are roads around that just outright are dangerous, and cannot be pushed. They are not fun to drive. Around here, Mount Hamilton Road. Used to be, Sawyers’ Bar Road up in Northern California, when it was only one lane for both directions, and while logging was still active.

        Highway 1 is not that dangerous.

        It is a master-class road for performance driving. And overly full of tourists driving badly, and bicyclists, and road hazards. But those don’t undo its excellence as a road.

        If you drive it with wild disregard for those hazards, don’t allow for sightlines and road surface and oncoming bad drivers, it will kill you, or you’ll kill someone. But between boring and madness lies responsible fun. If you can’t tell what the limits are then it’s not safe to drive fast. If you can, you will be rewarded.

        It’s not a learning road. It’s not a road for impatience. It rewards balancing patience and knowledge and aggression.

    • 0 avatar
      NTI 987

      I came in here to say this. People have no business going anywhere near 8/10ths outside of a race track. 5/10ths or maybe 6/10ths is very aggressive driving for the street and you can have plenty of fun without being totally reckless.

      Edit: Sorry to the author, just saw your later clarifying reply. I think when people with some track experience see 8/10ths, they’re thinking of it differently than how you used it in the article. But a good article nonetheless, it was a minor point.

      • 0 avatar
        George Herbert

        I don’t consider it entirely a minor point; 8/10 of adhesion limit on a road like Highway 1 is … not recommended.

        8/10 of “I can see that far around the corner, and with my reaction time and what I think the road conditions are, brake and stop…” is entirely reasonable. You understand the basic conditions and are leaving some additional margin for the unknown (water on road, oncoming car/bike/motorcycle in your lane).

        I’ve had real track experts tell me 8/10 means everything from “drive 80% of your adehsion limit speed” to “drive 80% of your adhesion limit G force” to “drive 8/10 of your comfort level”. I am not going to pretend to be a real track expert. I don’t race.

        When people, including some of those same people, start using it for road driving, it gets muddier, leads to confusion and consternation, which is clearly lesson #1 I take away from the comments. We need a new clear vocabulary for how hard you’re pushing with road driving. The racer terms are clearly not it.

  • avatar
    Kevin Jaeger

    Good story. This road’s on my bucket list to do in my Miata. It’s just a long way to get there from Quebec.

  • avatar

    Double wishbone, eh? My favorite suspension is the brassiere…

  • avatar
    Speed3

    My ’08 Mazdaspeed3, his name is Gurp, loves both these roads. The views are so amazing but if you take your eyes off the road you will be toast.

  • avatar
    the_yeti

    Check out ca-130 through the Diablo mountain range. Built where there Is no natural pass, you climb 4000 feet over a series of 360 switchbacks. Best yet, no tourist or winnabageos, because the road does not go anywhere. Its just pure twisty driving between San Jose and I5

  • avatar
    MrWhopee

    The first time I got to experience the California Highway 1, it’s in the most inappropriate vehicle possible: a K-car based Chrysler New Yorker, column shifter, front bench seat, “landau” roof. In light blue, no less. Hey, I reserved a “luxury” car, and that’s what I got! Nevertheless, I, being a young driver at the time, drove the car the in a rather exuberant fashion, and my friend got car sick as a result. I had to stop a few times so he can get fresh air and steady his stomach. Oh the pitching and wallowing! I don’t think the car’s engineer engineered the car for any kind of corner at all. The car was like a tiny boat in a heavy sea. And the constant tire squeals! If I had recorded it, the sound must’ve been like that “C’était un Rendezvous” movie, except it wasn’t even half as fast. But that’s all the car can do (and my friend can stomach)!

    But still, attacking the curves aggressively sure is fun, even in K-car based Chrysler New Yorker. The feeling of car suspensions hitting bottom, front tires at maximum deflection, nearly off its rims. Just mind your passenger.

    Come to think of it, the car has simulated wire wheel covers. I am amazed it did not lose any on the way. Quite a feat of engineering!

    • 0 avatar
      GeologyRocks

      I’m reminded of my first time on Highway 1 as well, also in a rather unlikely vehicle. 1996 Geo Metro sedan. Casually spending time with a friend who was a student at Cal, when she was not in summer class our time was spent exploring. During long days while she was in class and studying, my journeys exploring throughout the northern part of the Golden State included one such jaunt down this American treasure. Long will I remember the first time the highway revealed the azure Pacific down below as the warming July sky cleared the misty haze from the dense forest as I traveled southward. Each passing mile broadened my smile. And not because of the washing machine-on-acid handling being felt in my minimally padded drivers seat with each corner taken at nearly the exact marked speed. Simply for the sheer beauty that the planet was providing me. I am of the opinion that this dynamo of a road should simply be driven in a minimally-performing vehicle to really give back to you (as a driver) an experience to remember.

  • avatar
    GST

    Nicely written, but agree with Nicholas Weaver, not a road to outdrive your vision! Have been fortunate to have been able to drive the whole of it many times. Best drive was in our 2001 Audi TT with the top down for two days. Next best, a ’2004 VW Jetta, with stick shift. No Ferrari or Porsche to choose from, oh well.

    Also be prepared to be passed by some local traffic mainly identifiable by being rusted out station wagons or pickups.

  • avatar
    Caraholica

    There are a lot of roads in California that you can practice driving fast on, this isnt one of them. It has been a long time since driving fast on this road is a good idea. This road is stunning in its design and where it has been placed on the planet, but it has serious consequences for mistakes and those usually involve some of the many more people who now live and drive this road in the last 20 years. Really, even if you find some clear space in front of you, increasingly impossible weekdays, and forget about all summer and fall, you can bet there will be a rented Mustang convertible coming the other way crossing your lane to go into or out of a lookout. More likely a parade of motor homes with dozens of helpless and desperate people like you backed up about to do something stupid.

    Save your 8 and 9/10ths for the hundreds of inland roads that are deserted and you will much more satisfied with your drive. Oh and watch out for motorcycles, they blow corners too.

    • 0 avatar
      George Herbert

      I need to write up some “I learned about driving from that” incidents; once, in West Marin, in a lefthand curve with a cliff up on the right and trees to the left, I had an oncoming motorcycle at 80 mph lose it and wobble uncontrolledly into my lane right in front if me. There was about 1 sec to center to center head on impact.

      I started over, heading up the cliff, because there was no time/space for anyone to brake effectively. I would survive the rollover in my car; any contact and the cyclist would probably die. I got half off the road just edging up the cliff, they recovered just enough to cross back over the line as they passed me. If I hadn’t dived off, he’d be dead. They recovered fast enough I recovered before I lost it up the cliff, but juuuust barely.

      Yes, it happens.

  • avatar
    tbone33

    A decade ago Highway 1 taught me how to communicate with traffic cops, that I was fundamentally incompatible with my longtime girlfriend, and that Miata was the correct answer to most questions. I don’t have the space here to explain the girlfriend part, but you likely don’t care about my romantic history anyway. The exciting part is that I had just purchased a Miata, was driving south on Highway 1, and there wasn’t much traffic that Tuesday.

    We were making VERY good time and I was enjoying my little miracle from Hiroshima until I came upon a Mitsubishi Eclipse. My ears told me he was driving briskly, which didn’t jive with what I was seeing. The driver of the handling-impaired vehicle was also driving unsafely, and must have decided we could collectively maximize our unsafe-ness by continuing to let me tailgate him every time a turnout appeared.

    When the long straightaway just south of the curves appeared, we both decided to see how fast we could go. His V6 won, as did a hiding CHP officer’s ticket count. Per the cop, the Eclipse driver composed a short story and was rewarded with a ticket for 99 MPH. I made no excuses and was given a ticket for 85, a reduction of 30 MPH from the red digits displayed in his cruiser.

  • avatar
    CliffG

    Having done it both by litre bike and car, most of the problems with doing that road is the likeliness of being crowded no matter what the time year is. Given the few real spots allowing for passing you’ll be lucky to average driving at 30%. Now, the real fun Hwy 1 runs north of San Francisco,much less traffic and the last 35 miles from the coastline back to 101 (heading north) is second gear knee dragging stuff with virtually no traffic. Absolutely an epic run and the road is in pretty good shape in most places. If I had to pick the Hwy 1 to drive for just sheer driving pleasure, I’d choose the 1 running from Salinas to Garberding (and stop at Fort Bragg for some North Coast brew).

    • 0 avatar
      George Herbert

      There will be a Highway 1 North Coast writeup to follow, once the winter rains fade and I get a free weekend. If I’m not voted off the island.

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        Noone fancying themselves driving enthusiasts would ever vote off anyone promising them a North Coast Hwy 1 writeup :) That stretch is epic, and much less widely known than the Central Coast one.

        In a bit of a reversal from the usual lore, the northern part of the state is now the most interesting part for driving, while the central part takes honors for wine.

  • avatar

    Where did you come across thinking Highway 1 goes from Mexico to Oregon? It ENDS at 101, about 20 miles north of Fort Bragg– you’re still 193 of miles from the Oregon border. The same can be said for the southern leg, which is I-5.

    Highway 101 and Highway 1: not the same thing. Following the coast doesn’t make it so.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      Old highway 1 DID run from Mexico to Oregon. Some parts of the southern leg were buried under I-5, and others were disconnected segments. Highway 101 was built as an I-5 bypass in those segments to restore the connections at both ends, and some parts of 101 are actually segments of the original highway 1. Other original segments not directly connected to 101 are now local streets in So. Cal beach communities, or local coastal roads in the north. With all the changes and re-routes over the years, it may be technically true that highway 1 doesn’t go from Mexico to Oregon, but it’s such a part of California history that it still exists as a state of mind, if not an actual road, like route 66.

    • 0 avatar
      George Herbert

      I go by the old highway 1. For most of the overlap distance, if not all of it, California officially stacks the highway designations on the same physical roadway now.

      I haven’t recently checked the north end’s signs, but I was in San Diego a couple of months ago and the I-5 signs also have “1 South” (or north) every few miles down to central S.D. From there north, it varies as it splits and merges. From memory… 1 is independent and coastside through LA and Malibu, the joins 101 in Ventura through Santa Barbara, splits off at Gaviota through Vandenberg and rejoins briefly in SLO then off to Morro bay separately.

      From there it’s coastal and separate up to San Francisco, joins 101 across the Golden Gate Bridge, dives off back out to coastal for Bolinas, Point Reyes Station, the long north coast run until the south end of the Lost Coast where it runs inland to 101.

      I recall seeing 1 signs in Eureka and Crescent City, but haven’t looked recently.

  • avatar
    Tiddley_Wink

    I’m seriously disappointed that this is the writeup of the Hwy 1. Hwy 1 is about experiencing coastal California. Taking time to stop at the hidden beaches, admiring the areas rich agricultural history, taking in the beautiful coastal chaparral and redwood habitat that exists no where else in the world, and admiring our state’s intense dedication to maintaining a natural coastline devoid of waterfront development. It’s not a a “master-class road for performance driving” that happens to be inconveniently jammed with other users and road hazards.

    Hwy 1 is a a TERRIBLE place to drive 8/10, or with any sportiness at all, as NUMEROUS others have pointed out. A twisty two lane highway with regular land slides and other environmental hazards, questionable maintenance, blind corners and rises, excessive tourist traffic, and BICYCLES, is not in any shape or form a good place for “performance driving.” Dude, don’t fool yourself, it’s not a matter of balance, you are NOT special and NO ONE should be driving near 8/10 in good conscience.

    “Left-foot-braking… trail brake…wide onto the gas…DSC kicks in”
    “the southbound lanes as additional recovery space… if you blow a corner badly”
    “master-class road for performance driving”
    “I need to finish my writeup on what performance driving on public roads means”

    I respect the OP for responding to comments, but really, when you have to explain the above comments with a bunch of caveats and conditions (which basically contradict the original article), it just shows that you really shouldn’t have written the article this way to begin with.

    For context, I grew up in Marin, went to school in Santa Cruz, and have a weekend cabin in Mendocino. I’m intimately familiar with this road north of Santa Barbara up through Mendocino County. Hwy1 is a beautiful drive, perfect for low key cruising, hence all the rental convertible mustangs another commenter pointed out.

    I had a girlfriend in Half Moon Bay whose house was immediately off of Hwy 1. The intersection by her house always has fresh flowers memorializing her schoolmate who was hit by a Hwy 1 driver and killed. There’s more memorials like that north of my house in Marin. I’m disappointed that the OP would make parallels to driving in West Marin, as those roads are nearly as dangerous for aggressive driving, and just plain dangerous, period. My Dad almost died driving his motorcycle BELOW the speed limit running into a woman backing out of her driveway without looking in west Petaluma. So yeah, please don’t encourage this sort of thing on public roads that are dangerous enough already.

    I’m not going to offer any additional comments on the quality of writing, other than to say that I agree with some of the other commenters. I think the vote tally speaks for itself. If the OP does go on to write about Hwy1 north of SF, I hope there is a decidedly different focus.

    • 0 avatar
      MrWhopee

      Whaddaya expect? This is a car site, and car enthusiasts, when faced with such a nice winding road, would want to drive it with gusto. Now if this article is in the Sierra Club newsletter…

      But still, yes, the scenery of the area is breathtaking too. And a stop at the Monterrey aquarium is mandatory!

      • 0 avatar
        George Herbert

        Wife and I spend many anniversaries in Monterey; we were there the day the contest was announced. I entered from the hotel room on Cannery Row literally after we finished dinner and the Aquarium.

        This is not the site, and I am not the writer, for sedate leisure travel reports. If you just want to relaxedly cruise 1, please do. It’s a great road for that, too.

        I make no apologies for driving it with gusto, when it’s safe to do so.

      • 0 avatar
        Tiddley_Wink

        Pardon me for thinking that enjoying driving and being an auto enthusiast might also mean showing appreciation for the surrounding environment. Without the things I mentioned, highway 1 could be just another curvy road in the middle of nowhere.

        George, I didn’t realize that writing one article makes you the authority on what kind of articles are suitable for this site. I was seriously stoked to see an article about one of my favorite roads, but your write up leaves out so much of what makes this road great. I’m not asking for a “sedate travel report” (although I think that would be perfectly acceptable) just a balanced article that actually shows an appreciation for the subject at hand without encouraging unsafe driving behavior.

        As for driving with “gusto,” which MrWhopee also seems to enjoy based on his previous comment, I’m not asking for any apologies and I believe most of us have taken unwise risks in our lives. I take issue because it is a bad characterization of Hwy 1. Despite having curves, Hwy 1 is definitely not a “road for performance driving,” I and other commenters have already explained why. Caveating that you should drive safely for the conditions doesn’t change this simple fact, it just re-enforces it. There may be room for taking a spirited corner or opening up on a few straightaways (which IS GREAT), but by and large what makes Hwy 1 great is enjoying the unique surroundings. I don’t think this is possible when you’re pushing to drive 8/10ths, always having to temper your aggressive driving, nerves on end, because of the numerous hazards. That’s no way to enjoy the drive, and doesn’t reflect the character of the road.

        Honestly, I probably didn’t need to post a comment at all, since SO MANY OTHER COMMENTERS SAID THE SAME THING. I also love these new first-time author articles and REALLY respect the efforts their contributors, including this one. I just take it personally as someone from the area with a deep affection for this road. Please drive safe so you DON’T EVER have to apologize….

    • 0 avatar

      I fully concurr with your sentiments, having driven this road dozens and dozens of times, I really feel that this sells the road short, does not get it, and is misleading. Yes, very dangerous road, full of tourists who are wannabe race car drivers.

      Highway 1 deserves a better write up, it has many delights, driving is not one of them.

  • avatar
    gmrn

    Personally, I liked your writing, and enjoyed being taken down memory lane. Thank you for dusting off the cobwebs of the round-trip I had on the road in ’86 while stationed in San Diego and had to pick up a car in SF.

    Also, you seemed to accurately reinforce the need to not outdrive your machine or your skills. Public roads are merciless in their ability to serve up the unforeseen. Enjoy driving, but be wary.

  • avatar
    jkross22

    The family and I just took the LA to Carmel drive and stayed not far from the Aquarium. Even though we did the drive in Volvo’s station wagon on risers, it was a phenomenally beautiful drive that was a lot of fun despite the numb steering. Even manually shifting that beast around corners to keep the engine in the power band and taking advantage of engine braking, it was still a mildly entertaining drive.

    The wife and I are planning on doing the trip again in a few months, but this time will be sans kids and will be in the 3 series. This road begs to be driven with a manual and in a car with some level of handling. As the author points out, this is not a road to drive like you just robbed a bank, but a road with curves to be learned, driving carefully with verve and being very aware of others.

    Can’t wait to do it again. Motion sickness medication is required if you have a passenger(s).

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    Forget about carving up Hwy 1 and catch the Ortega Hwy off I5 at sunrise Sunday morning while everyone else is sleeping-in and the CHP is done for the night. AKA Hwy 74, runs between San Juan Capistrano and Palm Springs and is some of the best canyon carving on the west coast. On a 3 day weekend especially, it’s just you and a few squirrels plus some knee draggers on crotch rockets.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    What George said ! .

    I’ve been driving this fine road since 1969 and it’s always fun and educational too .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    dwight

    I drove this highway once in 1991 and have been dreaming of doing it again ever since. I hope to get out there this spring. What should I rent, though? Impala or BMW 3-series? Hmm, undecided on that one.

  • avatar
    JREwing

    George is actually a writer. It shows.

    Unlike the other “future writers” I’ve read so far, George grabs your attention and keeps it as he tells the story of this amazing road. The others are too busy telling me about themselves to get to the point.

    Bravo, George. I look forward to more of your writing.

    • 0 avatar
      Macca

      “George is actually a writer. It shows.”

      Does it, though? I’m sorry to be so overly critical, but this just smacks of being a belabored attempt to emulate Baruth without the content.

      I see countless commas used incorrectly – which make the read choppy and make some sentences just awkward. I think this is an attempt at a “no-style” conversational piece, but it just comes across as poorly written. Plus, I see very little content here – just kind of a bunch of statements repeating the obvious (high speed shenanigans on a highly twisty, coast-edge highway = difficult stuff, mkay?).

      I’m also shocked at how little folks have balked at his use of stability control. Most of the tough-guy street racing talk I’ve encountered on car forums gets flamed once the writer admits they use DSC, as “real” drivers don’t need handling ‘nannies’. Granted, that’s not how I think, but I am in the minority in thinking that this is a boring piece and highlights a very dangerous, stupid activity on what amounts to a low-speed tourist road.

      • 0 avatar
        burgersandbeer

        I was beginning to think I was the only one that found this extremely choppy.

        The story did get me thinking about driving up Hwy 1 toward Ft Bragg, and also brought out some suggestions from commenters for less touristy roads in the SF Bay Area. Unfortunately, I agree with your take on the writing.

      • 0 avatar
        Dingleberrypiez

        LOL, I thought JREwing had to be his wife or something.

      • 0 avatar
        rpn453

        “I’m also shocked at how little folks have balked at his use of stability control.”

        Well, now that you mention it . . .

        “If stability control blips more than a couple of times you’re pushing it.”

        I’d have already pushed the “DSC off” button the first time it happened! How’s that?

        But I wouldn’t be driving unfamiliar roads near the limit anyway. I’d rather take it easy and enjoy the scenery on a beautiful road like this.

        I didn’t really enjoy this article either. I just couldn’t relate to it. I do have a strong dislike for stability control because I enjoy feeling the car move around beneath me when I choose for it to do that. But driving so hard that “it will scare you”, to me, means driving beyond your abilities to the point that you’re putting yourself, your vehicle, and the people around you in danger. I’m just not enough of a thrill-seeker to enjoy that. Or maybe I’ve just never had enough wealth to be willing to put so much at stake.

        I actually found it kind of strange that he recommends driving at 8/10ths, and then in the next paragraph advises trail braking. Why would you need to trail brake if you’re that far below the limit? I’d leave that as a safety factor for a major misjudgement. I never steer with the brake off-track without plenty of visibility and run-off room, so usually just left turns from the inside lane onto clear multi-lane roads.

        This article does make we want to drive Highway 1 though.

      • 0 avatar
        George Herbert

        Trail braking improves your safety margins for responding to the unexpected in or around the corner. Relative to a smooth mid apex, you’re going a little slower earlier, and the acceleration out can be eliminated or modulated by conditions as they develop through and out of the corner.

        I didn’t think it would make that much of a difference when I was 15 and my (former amateur racer) father taught me TB when I was learning to drive. Before I was 17 it became all that stood between me and hitting a deer around a blind corner. I got some brush scrapes on my passenger side from evading slightly off onto the shoulder and just barely missed tapping the deer with my drivers’ side mirror. The car behind me, an SCCA racer who was on a normal apex, hit the deer center-grill. Despite having seen my brake lights before seeing the deer. Deer had frozen and hadn’t moved an inch.

        Everything that makes it good racing makes it good for performance driving open roads, just don’t do it at 9 or 10 tenths on the open road.

      • 0 avatar
        rpn453

        I think I see what you’re saying. I was thinking of 8/10ths in a 80% of available traction way. I suppose it could also mean using all available traction but with safer lines and late apexes.

  • avatar
    akitadog

    My wife and I did the PCH from San Francisco down to Big Sur, then back up to Monterrey to stay with friends, in our rented 2010 Mustang. It was a gorgeous drive and we had a great time. We weren’t trying to go 8/10ths (she was 4 months pregnant), but we took it at a clip that allowed her to enjoy the view and me to enjoy the road.

  • avatar
    jerseydevil

    Nice story, it makes me think that I should go there, visit the left coast, i never have, even tho im a fairly worldly traveler. Here is Philadelphia, the airport is close and good, and long distance vacation travel has to pass the Paris test – in seven hours I can be in Paris. in 6, London, in 5 Dublin, etc, etc, so I’m always goin to europe. Oddly, I’ve spent more time driving around central France then I have here in the USA. But this trip may have to be done, I’d have to rent a car, a convertable to be sure, and make my lazy frenetic way along this drive. Thanks for the story, I can hear the awe in your words.

  • avatar
    Mrb00st

    LOVE IT.

    You should get out east and drive Tail of the Dragon and surrounding roads.

    • 0 avatar
      George Herbert

      I’ve heard of 129.

      Again assuming I’m not voted off the island…

      I very much would like recommendations from those not on the West Coast, about great roads in your areas.

  • avatar
    DarkSpork

    I just drove this stretch of highway today. I voted “not so good”. Why? The piece strikes me as mostly fictional. I will say that it is an absolutely beautiful drive, but you’ll hate it if you try drive it quickly.

    The entire highway is packed with tourists, bicyclists and RVers (as you stated). Contrary to what you wrote, there are few oppurtunities to safely pass, and even if you pass 5 cars, there will be two more you can’t get around before the blind 30mph turn. What are you going on about with the DSC? Mine didn’t come on even in the few instances where there were no cars ahead of me.

    The drive is still immensely enjoyable; rowing the gears, listening to the engine growl as you climb the hills. It’s great, but if I’m going to drive spiretedly I prefer a more empty road (like Mt Hamilton).

    • 0 avatar
      George Herbert

      Hmm. Demonstrating conclusively that there are in fact different flavors of fast road drivers.

      The drive wasn’t fictional, though going to check the conference info it turns out to have been Oct 7-10 so it must have been driving back October 11th, not mid-November. I took 101 north out of Hollywood (conference was at the Loews Hotel there for some indecipherable reason), up past Thousand Oaks (stopped for gas at the 7/11 at Rancho Canejo, which I knew from prior work in the area) Ventura, Santa Barbara, inland at Gaviota, then for giggles took 1 off there, where it goes through Lompoc and Vandenberg because it had been a while. 101 up to SLO (more gas, rotary thirsty) then off to Morro Bay and 1 up the rest to north of Monterey.

      I found plenty of passing situations and the traffic to be tolerable, but your mileage may vary. That will certainly vary from day to day and with conditions.

      The DSC triggering was not planned or intentional. That was the “road’s complex enough to surprise you” factor. Triggered once on that sweeping right I led the story with, which I think was off-camber midcorner but not sure, once on a little stream on the road around a corner, once on a sweeping right up at the inland end of one of the little canyons you dive in to, which I frankly overcooked (again, not planning generally to reach the point DSC or adhesion limit applied, but I started zooming a bit on the way up to that curve, and I shouldn’t have.) So one my own damn fault, two underestimated the road (which is again my own damn fault, and slowed me down). Out of 40 miles of the twisty part.

      In terms of how fast I was going, I let a 911GT2 and a Ferrari past, who were borderline hooning, and ended up near the north end following at road speed a local lady in a Ford van, who obviously didn’t have the adhesion I did but knew how to drive, knew the road, and managed her energy and lines excellently.

      Conversely to your observations, I find Highway 130 (Mt Hamilton Road) excessively twisty to be fun. It goes straight to unsafe without much margin, in my experience. Sufficiently so that I take 580 to 5 south if I have business out at the canyons on the other side of Mt Hamilton. Been up there enough visiting astronomers up at the telescopes that I know Mt Hamilton, and enough not to like it.

      Besides, it reputedly has snow on it right now, behind the clouds.

      Lest there be any doubt, I will video the Highway 1 North from SF to the Lost Coast, once the rains stop. Today has been rains.


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