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2005 Tour de California diary

16 March 2001
East Bay, CA, USA
Day One

This year’s drive didn’t start late with a traffic jam, but instead right on time with a CD changer jam. My trusty putty knife, inserted below the magazine, ejected it. To my embarrassment, I found that I had managed to get 7 CD’s into the 6-CD changer. (There had been a CD left in the changer by malfunction when I inserted a full magazine.) I was quickly on my way, and that, ladies and gentlemen, was the extent of my mechanical failures on the trip. Gotta love this car. The first of my 54 CDs (9 magazines’ worth) was, appropriately, The Cars.

Being a tad early, I added a short drive through the windmills at Altamont Pass, taking the North Flynn Road exit toward Tesla Road. It’s a great side trip, empty and scenic.

Next was Mines Road, the northern part of which is reminiscent of the tight Southern California canyons near Santa Clarita. Unlike last year, the road was free of gravel. Right away I saw three deer, one on the road and two eating bark off a tree. The NSX was quiet enough to sneak up on them. This is why I avoid driving remote roads at night.

As Mines Rd crosses over a ridge, the climate changes from Southern to Northern California and back again. Then there’s another switch to meadowlands as Mines Road becomes San Antonio Valley Road. This is the most beautiful stretch of open road in the Bay Area, a miniature version of Highway 25 south of Hollister. I drove to the base of Mt. Hamilton before making a U-turn and continuing to Del Puerto Canyon Road.

Del Puerto Canyon Road is challenging, with several deceptive decreasing radius curves, but I was well rested and in no hurry. I took another side trip to Diablo Grande, a burgeoning development at the end of its very own brand new 10-mile-long, 80 mph two-lane driveway. What, you say there’s a 40 mph speed limit sign? Impossible. :)

I spotted Diablo Grande from the air a few years ago, before a single house was built. It’s in the valley directly south of Del Puerto Canyon. In my last visit, they had started building some nice-looking custom homes on the hill, overcharging a bit for the remote location, or so I thought at the time. Now, at the bottom of the hill, they have tract houses jammed together behind a 6-foot cement wall just like in Los Angeles or some other urban area. It’s really unattractive. If they had maintained decent spacing it could have been very exclusive and nice. It’s definitely for retirees, since you are 15 minutes away from anything, anything being Patterson which doesn’t have any high-paying jobs as far as I know, and probably won’t for the next 30 years or so. That’s Diablo Grande. One helluva road, a golf course, and an unexceptional Club House in which to have lunch.

My fuel light turned on crossing the aqueduct at Patterson. Perfect! The NSX was handling perfectly, smooth and stable, even though I had intentionally reversed the left and right front tires (still maintaining correct direction of rotation, though). I get the most wear out of the front tires by reversing them when the inside edge is 2/3 of the way down. I defy anyone to tell the difference in a blind test. The bias in the radial plies is far too subtle for me to detect. Maybe on a race track you could tell the difference. Maybe.

Nearly an hour on Interstate 5 reminded me why I avoid major roads. This section is more crowded every year. It’s both boring and stressful, which you might think is impossible. At least the car is ultra-comfortable.

A row of golden hills appears on the right about 5 miles before the Shields Ave exit that leads to Little Panoche Road. The road hugs the north side of those hills. Last year I made a ridiculous side trip toward New Idria, but this year I stuck to the good part: Panoche Road. About 2 miles before Paicines I was able to test the upper range of fourth gear. The handling was rock solid.

Highway 25 had fresh tar and gravel on road, but without any audible kick-up of stones. A rabbit bounced across the road. No I didn’t hit it. When I hit animals, they float gently to the pavement, or they just lie there.

One year if I start early in the morning, I could add a hike at Pinnacles National Monument. I did that one year with my 1987 MR2. The loop trail is 6 miles and takes a few hours, with something like 1000 feet elevation gain. That’s uninviting on a 95 degree day. If you go, don’t forget sunscreen.

The turn to King City is inconspicuously marked, but I know it well by now. Bitterwater Road tops the ridge and gives you a view over the whole Salinas Valley toward the Coastal Range. The road has no cross streets or driveways, so you can really rip down the hill. At the edge of town is a gas station where fuel is nearly 50 cents cheaper than at the freeway 1 mile away. I used the air hose to put a few extra psi in the tires.

Jolon Road took me to Fort Hunter Liggett. The guy at the gate asked if he could borrow my car. I said, “Sure I have enough gas for 20 minutes or so of that. Just stop by at the Hacienda.” But he said he was just kidding and he didn’t stop by. Too bad.

I took the eastern ridge road (a right turn at Nacimiento) to the Hacienda. This section has curves and dips. A spotted fawn got out of the way in time. There is a gas station on this road, very near the Hacienda. The price (presumably without state sales tax) is about the same as in King City. I doubt it stays open late, though.

I ordered dinner at the restaurant, and, knowing that they are slow, stepped out to move my things into the room, Tower C upstairs. The restaurant charged me only $10 for dinner, but they brought me two meals. On one plate. I guess that was food for two regular people or one hungry soldier. He MIGHT be able to eat all that.

Just before sunset, I took an evening drive north on Del Venturi Road, which begins directly across Mission Road from the Hacienda. Right away you encounter a cement slab river crossing, but the water’s not too deep. Don’t try this in the winter or spring. About 6 miles up the road there’s a cement slab crossing, this one with an inch or two of water. It makes a great photo.

The pavement ends after 18 scenic miles. In the last 5 miles there are rock formations with holes eroded like Cave City at Mt. Diablo near Walnut Creek. There is a lot of granite in the mountains here, it pokes out of the hills in interesting formations. Beyond the end of the pavement, the road continues north to Carmel Valley Road. Backpackers can use it to access the interior of Big Sur. Del Venturi Road is so beautiful that I can’t believe I’ve only driven it once before.

Back at the Hacienda, I washed the car almost totally in the dark. There was a hose thoughtfully installed right next to my parking spot behind the Hacienda, and an overhead light as well. You can’t use a car cover here because the parking permit needs to be visible in the window.

I took pictures of the C and B rooms. They have carved wood interior doors dating from the 1920a, and vaulted ceilings upstairs with beams. The Hacienda is a romantic place for couples, but I can only fit myself in the car with all that stuff. Besides there’s only one person I’ve ever taken on a romantic getaway to here, and that’s the person I’m married to. Two people fit in the car just fine if you don’t have a tent and sleeping bag.

I found out recently that Hearst built the Hacienda years before he built the “Hearst Castle”. At one time, this was the only residence on his huge property. He used to fly guest into there with a 3-engine airplane. It would have been like having a place in Alaska or remote South America now.

Day One Summary: 345 miles in 7 hours, zero road kill.

Day Two began early, about 15 minutes before the alarm went off The room was charming but it could have used air conditioning. Oh well, that’s what I have a car for. At least they give you a big fan. The room has a cable TV Ethernet box without a power cord, but I had no time to test it. There is noWiFi, if you expected any. But the important thing is that the mattress is really good, better than I have at home.

I went out to load up the NSX, and darned if that wasn’t the shiniest thing I’d seen in a long time, even in the pre-dawn light. The French, who seem to have a unique word for everything non-technical, call this Aurore. It’s also a popular girl’s name.

I was on the road before 6 AM. I confidently selected the new-to-me diagonal shortcut from Mission Road to Nacimiento Road. I’d never taken this shortcut before, and it’s not on any map, but it appeared to be correct. Sure enough, it was. A long straightaway, it sports some LONG skid marks, many from dual-wheel truck tires. The boys on the base have been getting frisky.

I chose the real bridge rather then cement slab across the Nacimiento River to keep the car 100% clean. (My avatar on NSX Prime shows what happens when you cross the cement slab through a few inches of water.)

I decided to take photos but no video this year, even though I had the video camera with me. It’s too inconvenient to remove the camera to switch tapes every 120 minutes. Besides, I tend to sing along with the CDs, and I wouldn’t want to inflict that on anyone.

Stony Valley must have done a proscribed burn on the north side, so I could not get a photo of what is normally the prettiest valley in the state. At first glance, there appears to be nothing at all (other than the road) in this valley, but then you notice an inconspicuous mound of dirt to the right. I think it’s a bunker they use for military exercises. This would have the potential to be a great park some day except for the practical impossibility of finding and disposing of unexploded ordnance and lead slugs.

It’s wonderful to have an amazing place like this within driving range of home. You always have these roads to yourself, any time of day. You don’t want to drive them at night, due to deer and unpredictable and unmarked turns. Maybe some day when I’m not on the Tour I’ll get up at 4 AM and come down here and just drive through here back and forth and back forth until I’m tired of it, if that’s even possible.

I could go back and forth this morning, but Highway 1 is out there waiting for me and it’s not going to be empty forever. I have to get there early.

West of the Fort boundary, the road narrows. I came upon a deer that I did not see until he was about 10 feet away from me on the shoulder of the road; he was so well camouflaged. He raced me down the side of the road. I’m glad he didn’t try to duck in front of me. That would have been the end of this Tour.

Approaching the top of the coastal range, the sun finally appeared over the mountains to the northeast, hitting the tops of the coastal range. About 1 mile east of the summit, I saw the shadow effect I had been hoping for when I got up at 5 AM. It’s hard to photograph when the car is stationary, but in motion, your eye fills in the momentarily missing parts of the shadow of the NSX. Then you get a perfect image of the car, from stem to stern and top to bottom, complete with the silhouette of the driver. Here, that silhouette is projected on a rock wall on the left (west) side of the road.

At the summit dirt roads split off to the north and south. They might be fun to explore in a regular car, a 4WD, or a dirt bike. Descending toward the ocean you have an awe-inspiring wide angle view that the camera cannot capture. The road slices down the hill, disappearing into the fog what appears to be about 2/3 of the way down. You are thousands of feet above the ocean. Halfway out to the horizon you see the top of the shadow of this mountain. Above is a blue sky with one lonely cloud. Oh, and there are zero other cars on this road. In fact, you haven’t seen another car all morning.

Halfway down the road briefly ducks into a small, dark ravine with 10 or 20 huge redwood trees and a stream coming down the mountainside. If Nacimiento Road were a person, you would consider him to be one determined SOB. It’s obviously impossible to get over these steep mountains, but this road just goes straight up a diagonal anyway. There’s no place to build a decent road, so the builders just carved out enough dirt for 1.5 lanes, and that’s what you get.

I saw two more deer crossing the road, bringing the total count up 8 or 9. The road finally dipped into the clouds a few hundred feet above the ocean. This was the first time in several years that I’ve had fog on Highway 1. The rabbits were out in force. They must know that they are safe from airborne predators when it’s foggy. I also saw my third quail.

I took a quick jaunt north on Highway 1, since it was looking so empty. With fog, Highway 1 doesn’t have the view going for it, but the road is still great. In light fog like this you can see the road ahead just fine, and I suppose that’s what you should be looking at anyway!

At one point, I saw 8 rabbits within one mile. Until the fog comes out, you don’t know how many of those critters there are. I saw dozens in all, and I’m pretty sure I saw a fox, too, far ahead in the fog. That bushy tail could not have belonged to a coyote.

It’s just amazing that you can be out here on Highway 1, the premier scenic road in the country, all by yourself, if you just get here early enough. The fog probably turned away a few people, but I have been alone out here every time I arrived by 7 AM. This day, it was 10 miles before I saw a single other car, ant that one was going the other direction!

Approaching Big Sur, I made a U-turn and headed south. I didn’t want to get into traffic. :) Heading south, I started to see some northbound cars. I guess people get on the road at 7 AM. These poor slobs had been camping in the fog, when they could have had a great room at the Hacienda for $30.

45 miles of thrills later, I stopped just north of the Hearst Castle at an ocean-side parking area. Several chipmunks begged for food, but I had none. One hopped into the front end of the NSX and started eating bugs off my radiator! Then a second one joined him. I walked over to see the elephant seals. Several of the males were battling each other in the surf, while about 20 females were just playing dead on the beach. Yup, they have the brains of the species.

I hope that chipmunk got out of the radiator when I started the car, otherwise he’s in for the ride of his life.

The town of San Simeon has nothing but motels, but not a single fast food outlet. That’s some strange zoning. Just south of town, I drove several miles up San Simeon Creek Road, which is a long dead end up the hill. I quickly climbed above the fog layer into sunlight. Along the road, the appearance of my car caused a quail and a rabbit to nearly run into each other. The road crossed two or three single-lane (uncovered) wood bridges, but I neglected to photograph them.

If you wanted to be near Cambria and didn’t want to pay those prices, I’ll bet you could find a place up here. The weather is better too, because most of the places are above the coastal fog. There is already one large new-looking house among the mobile homes and run-down houses.

Heading inland, I chose the narrow but scenic Santa Rosa Creek Road, which starts half a mile south of the main town of Cambria. The creek had water in it, along with a strong hydrogen sulfide smell, and the road was empty. I saw a small front yard planted in corn, and wondered if this was some kind of property tax dodge. One thing that may kill the real estate bubble in California is that not many people can afford to pay the 1%-plus property tax based on current prices. That annual bill is like a mortgage that you can never pay off. For sure if you doubled the prices from current levels, people will be locked into their homes, financially unable to trade for a home of equal value. Home purchasers or ordinary means will not be able to pay $20k to $40k per year in property tax on a $3M generic house, even if they have no mortgage at all.

Entering the wine country, I decided to make a triple pass through the area: north on Vineyard, east on Chimney Rock, west on Adelaida, and back east on Peachy Canyon. The money is pouring into this area faster than the wine pours out. Large, new, expensive houses are everywhere. The county must have zoned the area for 10 or 20 acres minimum; otherwise there would be housing developments out here rather than these isolated large homes. Otherwise this area is just too pretty for developers to stay away from. A pleasant side effect of the money influx is that the county can afford brand new pavement on these roads, making them a true delight. They are doing their best to make this look like wine country in France, and let me tell you these roads are European quality everywhere.

Just call this triple pass the Vineyard Trifecta. Chimney Rock Road is really fast and absolutely perfect. Adelaida Road is almost as nice, with a fabulous section shaded with live oak trees as it slaloms along the north side of a hill. Peachy Canyon Road is little narrower.

It’s 10:30 in the morning, and I’m zipping through scenic wine country on empty, winding roads with perfect pavement. You just can’t get this experience in Napa. No, it isn’t better than sex (if it is, you’re married to the wrong person), but it’s really good driving through here. You don’t want to stop for anything. Just like… oh, never mind.

Paso Robles is growing like crazy, despite the proximity of much prettier countryside to the west. I suppose people prefer the shorter drive to work to the prettier scenery.

Creston Road quickly opens up outside Paso Robles, leading to a choice between La Panza Road and 229. I decided to drive them both. Highway 229 was not the radical roller coaster ride I recalled, perhaps because I was not pressing as hard as last time. A short stretch of Highway 58 brought me to La Panza Road, which is a beautiful high-speed road, not as challenging as 229 but highly enjoyable. La Panza is almost the equal of Highway 58. Then I checked out O’Donovan Road, which turned out to be just average, not worth repeating since it’s bracketed by two better choices.

Highway 58 was as fun as ever, starting with the high-speed sweeping curves of the western section, then the straight section across the Carrrizo Plain, then the roller-coaster ups and downs intermixed with right angle turns, then the high-speed serpentine descent into the Central Valley.

On the way out of Taft on Highway 33, I discovered what the main industry in town is. There’s a huge correctional facility (aka state prison) south of town. It appears to be about ¼ mile square.

I took a few photos along Cerro Noroeste, then I began to get sleepy as the traffic started and the road became Cuddy Valley Road. Turning west on Lockwood Valley Road, I stopped at the Ranger Station. I found a shady spot to park and I slept in the car about 40 minutes with the A/C running. What a difference that made!

As I resumed the drive, my Valentine One showed me that a weak but persistent K-band detection was behind me. Rather than slow down, as I would have done without the directional information, I decided to put some extra distance between the probably moving radar unit and me. I simply sped up when the line of sight to the rear was blocked, and soon there were no more beeps.

Lockwood Valley Road has numerous streambed crossings. The road has no bridges; it just runs right across the (normally dry) riverbed. But I can see how people occasionally die from drowning crossing these things when the water is flowing. When you drive through shallow water, you don’t perceive any significant hazard. The problem is that in a few of the crossings, the shoulder has been eliminated by erosion, creating a waterfall on the downhill side up to 6 feet high. If you fall off that edge because your car slips or because you don’t see where the edge of the road is, you are in big trouble.

Other than the streambed crossings, Lockwood Valley Road has a look similar to Little Tujunga Road near Santa Clarita. Near the western end, I checked out Reyes Creek Campground. It has a beautiful creek shaded by cottonwood trees, so it’s not too hot. The campground looked quite popular. It’s at the end of a paved road about a mile long running south from Lockwood Valley Road across a wide streambed.

Highway 33 south was empty. It climbs over a pass at 5160 feet, then descends to Ojai. The 55 mph speed limit is more than sufficient for most of its length. The same is true of Highway 150 from Ojai to Santa Paula, which was as pretty as ever and most atypically unobstructed. It’s hard to imagine how you can have more fun in a car than this.
While driving it, I mean. On public roads.

In Santa Paula, I wanted to located South Mountain Drive. I recalled from last year that it started at a freeway underpass which was not at an exit, at 12th Street. And indeed it turned out that 12th and Harvard is the place you want to be to get under the freeway. Am I good or what? Go slowly over the dip there; it practically took off my stock front spoiler.

South Mountain Road is well worth finding, but it has an intimidating 6-foot ditch on the right in place of a shoulder, with embedded telephone poles in case the ditch doesn’t kill you. The north side has a small shoulder and then a row of date trees. So either way you’re going you’d better keep both hands on the wheel and not get a flat tire.

East of Santa Paula it’s almost exclusively agricultural, mostly orange groves. Some day it will all be houses, I suppose. At today’s house prices, I don’t know if anybody could afford to buy them, so maybe it will stay oranges for a while. At least until the prices come down a little.

The rest of the day was mostly freeways, with a traffic jam on the 405 near the Getty Center traffic jam. Now THAT is what I call a hazardous road.

Day 2 Summary: 537 miles in 10 hours, zero road kill despite record sightings of wildlife.

Earlier in the day Lance Armstrong rode the first Pyrennees stage of the Tour de France, giving him a good opportunity to dust what remained of his competition. I read through the day’s live report on cyclingnews.com before peeking at the results, to preserve some degree of suspense. By now you know how it turned out.

Day Three

I called France before leaving, but my wife was across the lake at the beach with one of our California neighbors. My in-laws have a lakeside paradise there, with hiking trails and parties all summer.

My drive began to the clatter of the ABS pump, testifying the enthusiasm of my Day Two drive. The pump needs to restore pressure at ambient temperature after having been operating at much higher temperature the day before. Cooling down to ambient reduced the pressure. You know, PV=nRT and all that.

My 14-hour Day Two didn’t make me the slightest bit tired. So I began thinking of returning north the following weekend instead of waiting an extra week as I had planned. That would give me a full weekend to work around the house before leaving to meet my family in France. Or… (evil grin) I could go driving another weekend up north! Highway 36 is mighty inviting.

After 100 miles of freeway, I reached Highway 76. No matter how early you get here, there is always slow traffic, at least up to the huge Pala Casino, where there is at least a convenient gas station.

At the base of Mt. Palomar, I stopped and waited several minutes in order to maximize the space in front of me. A sport biker arrived, and I let him pass. A skunk near the bottom of the mountain provided an olfactory wake-up call. I was satisfied that I managed to keep the biker in sight until a pickup blocked me near the top.

Just before I had to slow down, I encountered an oncoming yellow sport bike at full speed cutting the blind apex about a foot on my side of the center line. Fortunately I didn’t need that part of the road at that particular moment, but otherwise he could have taken off my side mirror. He came within about 6 inches, although it happened so fast that I couldn’t tell exactly. I decided not to re-run the uphill stretch after having almost been hit. That was too scary.

The Japanese gear ratios (for 2, 3, and 4 of the 5-speed) would help on the Palomar climb, because with the American ratios you are constantly in the 1-2 gap. Downshifting to first in the middle of the turn using heel and toe you have to be very careful letting the clutch out that you don’t upset the balance of the car. This mountain is one of the very few places I have driven where the 1-2 gap is bothersome.

When climbing a steep grade like Palomar, you need to keep an eye on the temperature gauge. Mine rose slightly near the end of the climb, but I have a Dali Stone Shield that reduces airflow.

As I started the descent on East Grade Road, my CD player was belting out the obscure BTO song “Down, down, we all go down”, followed by the obligatory “Let it Ride”. Near the bottom, I saw a 5-foot brown snake on the road. I turned back to see (from a respectful distance) if it was a rattlesnake. It was gone. I guess they cross the road quickly, but play dead when a car shows up.

This year I remembered to drive Mesa Grande Road clockwise, from Highway 79 back to Highway 76. The 12 mile half-circle begins with a superb but short uphill run that leaves you wishing it were several times longer.

The next highway-quality back road was S2. Its north end is almost wide enough to be 4 lanes, certainly 3. It has high-speed curves, but the lack of vegetation means that visibility is unobstructed most of the time. I imagine an F1 car could do 150 mph here. That would be something to see.

A quick right and left at Scissors Crossing 18 miles later brings you into the mobile home hamlet of San Felipe. (If the homes are mobile, why haven’t they moved out of this godforsaken place?) If there’s any economic sense left in the State of California, this is still a cheap place to buy real estate. When it’s worth nothing, it should cost nothing. 

If they ever come up with economical solar electricity generation, places like this will be primo for retirement, if you are willing to stay inside all day. Just put in enough solar panels to run your air conditioner and you’ve got it made.

It’s 47 empty miles further to the outskirts of Ocotillo. When you see the glint of the cars on Interstate 8 in the distance, you know that’s where you are. You might as well make the U-turn before town, because there’s nothing there worth visiting.

It’s fun to zip along S2 at high speed. It’s flat, with nothing much to hit if you mess up. There’s no scenery, but the road is good wide, safe, flat, with curves to keep you interested. Another 47 miles of fun brought me back to Highway 78, where I turned east. Traffic cooperated for the short stretch to S3, where I turned north, winding over the hill to Borrego Springs. The motorcyclists out her are the truly hardcore at 95+ degrees. I get uncomfortable just stepping out 30 seconds for the occasional photo. My NSX’s air conditioner is working great and much appreciated, especially after having driven one summer without it.

Highway S22 west out of Borrego Springs is the most thrilling high-speed climb I have ever driven. I didn’t get a picture of it, but S22 climbs the hillside as if a giant knife sliced diagonally into the mountain. You get the best acceleration in second gear (stock 5-speed). Halfway up, with my temperature gauge starting to climb, I pulled over to let the engine rest. When I shifted to 3rd gear and continued the climb at lower rpm (3 to 4k rather than 5 to 6k), the temperature held steady.

If you use your left foot to push yourself backwards into the seat, you will have greater precision in the high-g turns. That worked so well that I just had to go back to the bottom and do the whole climb again.

Wow, that was satisfying! (No, it’s not as good as sex.) The second time up, I didn’t use much acceleration. I just tried to maintain the best speed through the turns and not worrying about the straights. Not only did this give the water temperature a break, but I think I was faster in the turns this way. I was just barely touching the gas pedal, either letting up or pressing down. I accomplished most of the braking for the turns just by letting off the gas. Super, super smooth. Try it some time.

Back on S2, I decided to head south again to use up some excess gasoline before leaving high-speed paradise. I am exploring fewer new areas these days and freely backtracking and re-driving some of the good spots. I saw no patrol vehicles on any of the back roads all day. That’s pretty unusual.

After refueling at Sunshine Summit on Highway 79, I took County Road R3 north at Radec, relying on my memory even though the road went off the edge of my San Diego County map. There is one nasty decreasing radius turn, marked 15 mph. Major skid marks testify to its poor design.

The granite on the hills would be pretty if there weren’t all the human debris around. Oops, I mean human-generated debris.

R3 gives you a full 10 miles of fun to Sage junction, then a few more miles before suburbia starts at the outskirts of Hemet. You can then turn back south and enjoy an outstanding slalom up a gentle climb. Plant yourself with the dead pedal and put it in 2nd gear.

I detoured a mile or so east on Red Mountain Road to check it out. I have to try that again when I have a map. This area, just north of the San Diego County line, has many, many For Sale signs lining the road. Do the owners sense it’s time to sell out, or can they just not resist cashing in at absurdly high prices?

Some of these houses are built on hilltops for the view, but all you can see is spiky hills covered with rocks and no vegetation at all. It’s really depressing looking. I’d almost rather not have a view when that’s all there is to look at.

The road west from Sage leads to Interstate 15, where there are two entrance lanes. An Infiniti G35 zipped up behind me and took the inside lane. I decided to beat him to the freeway by taking advantage of my sticky Yokohama A022 tires. With a solid lead coming out of the 90-degree turn, I found a gap between the cars to my left and crossed quickly over to the number 2 lane. The G35 tried the right lane and got totally boxed in. I never saw him again. I have to keep an eye on my competitive urge on freeways, although I am pretty good at guessing which lane will provide the least obstruction. It can be fun for a while, but the danger is that I won’t see something that I’m supposed to see when I’m changing lanes. So I try to keep it within 10 mph of the speed limit on freeways. Exercising my enthusiasm exclusively on empty roads is why I haven’t gotten a single ticket since I bought my NSX in 1996.

Day Three Summary: 534 miles in 9.5 hours, zero road kill.

After 4 days of work in LA, Day Four began just after rush hour on Friday. In about an hour I was off the freeway near Sunland and onto Osborne Road, which becomes Little Tujunga Canyon Road, a Southern California classic. On these semi-arid mountain roads, I enjoy scanning the surrounding mountains to see whether I can identify the path the road will take. Sometimes you can see it climbing a mountain miles ahead.

I drove about 12 miles, then I took a great and scenic side road west through an open gate up to the Bear Divide Ranger Station at the top of the hill. Watch out for fallen rocks on the road, and be sure to stop and check out the view at the top. Then I briefly checked out road 3N17 on the east side of Little Tujunga Road, but on that side it is not really a driving road. It’s just a winding-up-the-mountain-and-have-some-kind-of-amazing-view road, and I’ve done plenty of that on the Tour.

So I continued over to Sunland, where Oro Vista becomes Big Tujunga Road. At that point there was 100 yards of gravel where the roadbed had been partially carved away during our very wet winter by a raging but now dry river. I decided to drive the Angeles Crest Highway this day, never having done so before. I have read that there are frequent CHP patrols and plenty of traffic, but I cannot resist an undriven road.

I took Angeles Forest Hwy south and turned east on Angeles Crest Hwy (CA 2) toward Big Pines. As it turned out, I encountered no traffic at all! I figured that taking plenty of pictures was reducing my average speed enough to make my drive free of obstruction, even compared with other years’ Tours, which were already quite good in that respect.

After about 30 miles, I reached two closely spaced tunnels, short and straight. With no traffic present, conditions were perfect to get the full auditory experience of driving an NSX at full throttle. I took it to redline in first, and nearly to redline in second, capturing the thrilling sound on my microcassette recorder, which was grossly inadequate for the task. Nevertheless, I can’t stop grinning when I play it back.

Just a mile later I learned why the road was so empty: a “Road Closed” barricade. Darn. Now I have to retrace some 30 miles of…. deserted sports car heaven. OK, I guess I can handle that. :)

In its present blockaded state, Angeles Crest Highway is indeed very Tour-friendly. In case you are checking your map, the location of the road closure has an amusing name, entirely appropriate to a ski area: Islip summit.

I descended the mountain in full car commercial mode. What a great start to my day.

Since I was heading for Lancaster, I took Upper Big Tujunga Canyon Road. It’s not as twisty or fun as Angeles Crest Highway, and then it becomes flat and mostly straight at the north end after the descent. Lines of sight ahead are sufficient to allow you to practice your smoothness on the sweeping curves. Angeles Forest Highway took me the rest of the way out of the mountains. This is a wide, smooth road, quite safe to drive at high speeds. All in all, this set of roads is much more fun than the crowded canyons north of Santa Clarita.

I wasted 20 minutes checking out Alviso Canyon Road, which is decent but not worth a detour, especially when the road is blockaded several miles ahead. The closure was prominently marked this time, but I decided to check it out anyway before getting on Highway 14.

Just south of Mojave, I decided to pass my usual Backus Road exit.and took the overcrossing for Oak Creek Road instead. This route is not as fun to drive, but it takes you close to several hundred windmills. After 10 miles, I turned north on Tehachapi Springs Road, having missed the southern half of that winding and scenic route over the pass. I filled the tank at Tehachapi before continuing west on Highway 58.

About 1 mile before my Caliente turnoff, I recognized a past CHP ambush spot. It’s a wide shoulder hidden by a sweeping right turn. This time it was empty. As is my practice on multi-lane roads, I was not speeding excessively anyway.

The Caliente exit is 15 miles west of Tehachapi. I first learned of this route over a decade ago from a staffer at Car and Driver. It’s worth the trip here even if you have no other destination. Five miles from Highway 58, the road splits and you have a decision to make: To the left, Caliente-Bodfish Road winds several miles up and over a substantial hill. To the right, Caliente Creek Road follows a meandering ravine around the hill. I recommend driving both, in the counter-clockwise direction.

The lower part of Caliente Creek Road has no residences, probably because the canyon is so narrow there. You can really zoom along in second gear listening to the engine, but pay close attention to the turns, every single one. Several have decreasing radius, and the one marked 15 mph is quite deceptive.

As the sun angle got lower, the long shadows gave the canyon a magical quality as I drove in and out of the sunlight. Unlike the canyons in Los Angeles County, this one is full of trees, mostly quaking aspen with their distinctive flat fluttering leaves. After 10 miles or so, the valley opens up into farmland. Then you can turn back south on Caliente-Bodfish Road and complete the loop back to the Y.

I made a U-turn a bit earlier, in order to get out from behind a horse trailer going down the hill and also stay in front of a van coming up the hill. (There are no passing zones on the southern overhill section of Caliente-Bodfish Road. If you are not obstructed, you have a beautiful slalom run up the hill through live oak trees. Far ahead, above the Sierra mountains, I saw a tall, lone cumulonimbus cloud.

There’s a real contrast between this slalom up the hill and the tight, challenging turns of Caliente Creek Road. You can choose one road or the other, or do a loop and drive both of them as I always do. On this day, I enjoyed the short slalom more.

As you top the hill northbound, Caliente-Bodfish Road gives you a grand view of the flat valley 500+ feet below. Continuing north through the valley, the road winds up two more substantial hills. This is one of the few roads you can take up into the Sierras on a Friday afternoon without having to contend with significant traffic, or in the case, any traffic at all.

I’d like to thank the traffic engineer who decided NOT to put up a guardrail on Caliente-Bodfish Road as it descends to Lake Isabella. The view is spectacular. With a guardrail, people would stop to get out and look. This way you can just look from the car. The lake is far, far below. The dropoff of 1000+ feet is enough deterrent to stay away from the edge. The road slices down the mountain at a constant angle, putting you on a virtual glide slope to the lake, dead ahead.

On the way down, I spotted 12 quail leaving the road. Still no road kill for the whole tour!

The hills to the left, north of Highway 178, have more rock outcroppings than the hills to the south. In fact, with the sun low in the sky, the hills to the north are reminiscent of a spray-on textured ceiling, where each nugget is a sizeable boulder. I topped off the gas tank at Bodfish. The cheapest gas is just before Highway 155 starts down the hill, 4 miles north of town.

This year, the Kern River is flowing from a full Lake Isabella in a torrent. I stopped at the raft launching area to look. Farther up the road is a classic road sign: “Lakeshore Drive: No lake access”.

Highway 155 down the mountain is simply a joy. The upper section is an unremitting series of slaloms and switchbacks. If it’s not one, it’s the other. There are no straights. It’s especially fun when it’s empty, as it was for me. There was hardly anyone going uphill either.

Ten miles down Highway 155, I encountered a quarter-mile section of gravel. That’s part of the price of driving the Tour. And you never know whether it will be a quarter-mile or ten miles. Next I encountered a cow walking up the shoulder on the inside of a blind turn on my side of the road. Wow, this road is even more challenging that it appears.

On a virtually empty road in the middle of nowhere, what should come up the hill but a black Lamborghini! I don’t recall ever seeing one of these on the Tour before, and here he was at least an hour from anywhere. With a less than reliable car like his, that guy is more adventurous than I. His car was a newer one, very wide, sporting huge air scoops that you could almost crawl into. He didn’t know that would soon be blocked by a semi truck 0.5 mile ahead, then he would encounter the gravel section. Oh well, you win some, you lose some.

That was the first exotic vehicle sighting on this year’s Tour. I waved to the driver, but I couldn’t tell if he waved back. A mile later, I saw two boys riding a single bicycle. They waved to me and I waved back. Imagine their surprise at seeing two exotics within a minute of each other in such a remote area. After I passed them, I gave them a second-gear full-throttle burst for their listening pleasure.

The twisting descent covers 20 miles. It’s a real upper body workout, but what a kick! Your arms and your brain are worn out about equally by the time the road straightens out. With manual steering, you wouldn’t be as sharp as you need to be if you drove it twice in a row.

Passing the hamlet of Woody, which consists of a single structure, I decided to go all the way down the hill on 155 and come back up on Granite Road. Highway 155 was unobstructed all the way down. At the bottom it becomes an ideal third gear road. The trees disappear and it turns to rolling prairie. Once you cross Highway 65 into the valley, Highway 155 becomes a fourth or even fifth gear road. But that was last year’s adventure.

I chose Famoso Road to take me to Granite Road. It had just been resealed, but fortunately the tar was staying on the asphalt where it belonged.

Granite Road is practically a nonstop photo gallery 20 miles long. This year I saw at least four brand new houses along the road, large and certainly expensive. It looks like people with money discovered this area maybe a year or two later than Vineyard Road over by Paso Robles. Oh well, so much for finding a real estate bargain here. The roads are still great, and they have the money to maintain them up here.

My destination for the evening lay to the north, meaning that I needed to take Jack Ranch Road (scenic but short) to Old Stage Road. Old Stage Road has huge bulges that left my CD changer silent 80% of the time due to skipping. The road has wonderful potential if it were ever resurfaced: the topography is superb for driving. It could use a slight widening too.

During this descent, the big red ball in the western sky played hide and seek, departing and returning several times. A rabbit dashed across the road just in front of the car, escaping with his life. With the sun almost down, I turned back east and uphill on M56 at Fountain Springs. As I glanced at my map, a chipmunk failed to avoid being hit. That was my first road kill of the tour. Coming on Day Four, that’s still a record performance.

It was dark as I turned north on Highway 190, and I still had 30 miles to go. My eyes were getting tired, and the darkness didn’t help. You have to worry about deer, and you can’t see as far ahead around turns. That’s why I like to do these drives in the daytime. But other than the detour on Alviso Road, I think I made the right decisions all the way on which roads to take and which to skip. That’s a pretty good batting average for the day.

At 920P I arrived at Quaking Aspen campground, parking at the same site as in 2004 so that I would have no pine sap dripping from the trees onto the car.

Incidentally, I had considered wimping out and staying at the Ponderosa Lodge about a mile south of Quaking Aspen. Unfortunately, the Lodge was closed, dark, and empty, with a For Sale sign posted.

The campsite is at 6000+ feet elevation, and you can see a phenomenal number of stars at night. I made a note to myself to bring binoculars next time to look at the sky.

In the summer it is still a bit warm at sunset, so you can go to sleep on top of the sleeping bag. Unzip it though, because the temperature drops all night. By morning you will be inside the bag.

This year, I quickly discovered that I had forgotten my insect repellant. Another item to add to next year’s list. Fortunately there were few mosquitoes around to take advantage of my oversight. Two guys at the next site lent me a lantern for setting up my tent, which is quite difficult in the dark. Within half an hour I was ready to sleep. I left the car unwashed, uncovered, and empty of any food, hoping that any bears would leave it alone overnight.

Day 4 Summary: 497 miles in 9.5 hours, road kill = one chipmunk.

Day Five

I awoke at 5:45 AM due to sunlight, after stirring briefly a few times earlier due to bright moonlight. I suddenly realized that I had heard no bears all night! This after two consecutive years of close encounters. However, there had been a small animal making scratching or biting noises seemingly inches from my head outside the tent, persisting even after I tried to scare it away.

I took my time packing up, then washed the car. The tires had plenty of tread, a welcome change from earlier Tours. I studied the maps and decided to backtrack a bit to check out the campgrounds on the Kern River above Lake Isabella.

I got going with a shiny car just after 7 AM, heading south on Western Divide Highway. Starting fresh with daylight was incomparably better than driving this same road tired and in the dark the night before. Although 11 hours is a relatively short day for me, Highway 155 had been pretty intense.

As I turned east toward the Kern River, a slow vehicle came into sight ahead, and suddenly a passing zone materialized. I am so lucky on the Tour.

The Kern River Valley is a very large basin high in the Sierras. I was descending the west side and looking across to the snowcapped Sierra peaks that ring the east side of the valley. If I’d been slightly earlier, the rising sun in the east would have projected the shadow of my car on the rock wall to my left.

The road slices a LONG way down into the valley at least 2000 feet below, in and out of curves in the hill. It’s a remarkable piece of road, a little intimidating too, with no guardrail. Driving uphill, on the side that doesn’t fall off into space when you look the wrong way for 2 seconds, would be more fun.

I passed an area burned in the 2002 McNalley fire, when my intended route on this road had been closed. Reaching the river, I passed Sherman Pass Road, where I had camped in the early 1990s during a 1000-mile weekend trip in my 1987 MR2. That trip was the precursor of the Tour de California, which I began in 1999 after owning the NSX for 3 years.

I checked out several campgrounds along this upper stretch of the Kern River. They all looked fine, albeit a tad compact. My favorite campgrounds were Gold Ledge (huge rock formation as a backdrop) and Fairview (good tent sites available away from the water). These campsites will naturally be warmer than the ones up on the ridge, and there will probably not be any bears at night. The river’s sound is ever-present, so if you get the urge to visit the facilities when you hear the sound of running water, riverside campgrounds are not for you.

The river was really flowing this year. It looked downright dangerous, in fact. The vegetation and scenery is exactly like the Southern California deserts, except of course for the beautiful rock-strewn river.

If you don’t feel like camping, there is McNalley’s Fairview Lodge, and the apparently popular Kern River Golden Trout Resort, both of which are $100+ per night. I’ll take the tent, thank you.

Some 25 miles down from Western Divide Highway, I made a U-turn. I didn’t want to risk running out of fuel, with my gas stop being far away in Springville and the trip odometer showing 205 miles already driven on this tank. One rabbit (the kind with legs, not wheels) made a U-turn just in time to save himself from becoming vulture food.

I enjoyed a remarkably unobstructed run back up the mountain. It was really a blast. The Kern River canyon is an excellent place for a Dawn Patrol!

Near the ridge, I took a brief look at Lloyd Meadow Road, which dead ends 23 miles up. It was inviting, but I didn’t really have the gas. Hmmm. OK, I had enough gas for just a taste...

It’s a good road, at least at the beginning: drivable and fun. No less than 3 signs advise you in no uncertain terms that this is a DEAD END in 23 miles. They don’t want you running out of gas and having to hike out. Maybe I’ll put Lloyd Meadow Road on the list for a future year. I noticed that a car exiting the road was very, very dusty. I should call the Ranger Station and ask what the road is like farther north.

Back on Western Divide Highway, my fuel gauge reached zero, but I knew from experience, including an 18 gallon fill-up in 2004, that it’s a while from “zero” until the light goes on, and I have 50 miles after that. Western Divide Highway is surrounded by tall redwood trees, and the road is wide, smooth, and fast. Perfect for helping me maintain my 50-mph typical daily average speed. 

Just north of Quaking Aspen, the view down the road was spectacularly beautiful on the westward descent. I decided to go back to the top to get photos on the way down. The trip back up the hill was phenomenal, even better than Palomar, with plenty of hairpin turns. I wonder if you could burn out a power steering motor doing this (later NSX and automatic transmissions only), or just your arms (with manual steering).

If you were to take a large Tupperware container, fill it halfway with water, throw in some dirty clothes and detergent, and put it in your trunk, your clothes would be clean in 20 minutes on this road. The ice cubes in my cooler slammed back and forth so much that it was a wonder they stayed frozen.

Highway 190 would naturally be more fun uphill than downhill, but the Tour always has me driving it downhill. The problem is that one pass in either direction is sufficient to wear you out. A triple pass would be overload. This year’s partial backtrack over the upper section was a good compromise.

Just below 4000 ft elevation you come out of the trees all of a sudden. Farther down is a beautiful swimming hole on the Tule River, well worth the $5 parking fee if you are staying for any length of time.

At 276 miles on the trip counter, I reached Springville and the first gas station in all that distance. But there was no need to panic: the fill-up was a mere 16.7 gallons. I really got my money’s worth out of that tank!

Since it was still barely 10 AM, I decided to take back roads rather than the freeway north toward my next major destination: Mammoth Pool Road, which is about 40 minutes north of Fresno. I had driven most of these foothill roads before, and I knew which of those tiny lines on the map to avoid due to narrowness, bumpiness, or lack of pavement.

I started on Balch Park Road and then Yokohl Valley Road. (Make sure you don’t spell that “Yokel”.) This road is a little rough, and narrower than most of what I’d been driving. It’s reasonably scenic when you aren’t looking at trailer homes and human-generated debris. Along this section I saw my second snake, with striking black and white annular markings.

As the road nears the edge of the Central Valley, the vegetation thins out to just grass. There’s an occasional oncoming car, but most of the time there’s just you and the road as far as you can see, and that’s pretty far. This is another area with granite outcroppings. If you need granite in your life and you don’t want to grossly overpay, this may be the place to go. As long as you don’t need anything else, like neighbors for example.

At the bottom of Yokohl Valley Road, there are some irrigated lawns and beautiful horses, and there is already a hilltop full of suburbia (a high-end housing development) a few miles south of Highway 198.

Just past Lemon Cove, I turned west to Dry Creek Road. The south end of the creek was very wet this year, but it dries out as the road follows it upstream. The road gets narrower and twistier at the north end. There’s plenty of granite here as well, including a texture-coated hillside that I stopped to photograph.

This is a pretty remote area of the Sierra foothills, but I nevertheless decided to try a slight detour south of Badger, turning right on Stagecoach Road. Don’t bother with this one: it’s narrow enough that you have to concentrate in case someone comes screaming around a turn in the middle of the road. Worrying about that takes away all the fun.

Highway 245 is far better. It’s smooth and wide as it weaves along a wooded hillside. Next time I will skip Dry Creek Road and drive the western section of 245 instead.

Dunlap Road was new to me. It’s a fun descent (westbound) with nonstop curves. I was following 2 sport bikers who were really having fun. I thought I was slightly faster then them, but when I let them get ahead I couldn’t pull them back. Dunlap Road is every bit the equal of Highway 245. It’s superb, if you don’t get hung up behind some smelly pickup truck, as the sport bikers and I did temporarily.

A few miles west on Highway 180 brought me to Elwood Road, which has a beautiful overlook of the Kings River just before you reach the river crossing at Piedra. Trimmer Springs Road sweeps along the northern edge of Pine Flat Reservoir. Visibility far ahead is excellent, and the few cars present pull over immediately for an NSX.

Maxson Road, Burrough Valley Road, and Lodge Road took me north to Auberry. I passed another of many Conservation Centers and Work Centers. Are they all prisons? If so, I’m thinking that supplying prisons may be one of the major industries in rural areas these days. Not supplying them with criminals -- the cities do that. I’m talking about workers.

Auberry has plenty of real estate activity. Probably city folk are looking for places where there aren’t a lot of hayseeds. If you want to make some serious money, you have to beat that trend and figure out where the city folk will move before they do.

One thing that Auberry does not appear to have is a gas station. So I took Powerhouse Road to North Fork. My reward was two miles of brand new pavement, happily not fully graded, with little rises intact. I passed by the narrow and very winding Redinger Canyon Road. A pop-up camper trailer would have been ahead of me, and I wanted to get gas in town instead. Road 222 continuing to North Fork was excellent: fast and wide open.

I reached Mammoth Pool Road at 2 PM. I had not expected the drive from Springville to take 4 hours, but that’s mostly because I had neglected to look carefully at the map to see how far it was. Still, 2 PM left me plenty of light for the run up the mountain and back, which takes about an hour each way.

I was concentrating on smoothness, not speed. With more traffic than usual descending the mountain, I decided that I would cut across to Beashore Meadow Road on my way back down.

My ascent was 48 unobstructed miles, just over an hour. That, gentlemen and lady, is one heck of a drive. Lance Armstrong climbed his last serious mountain earlier in the week, and I just climbed my last one for this year. The top is over 6000 feet. Sierra peaks 13000 feet high are about 15 miles away, the next huge ridgeline to the east.

About one-third of the way back down, I turned right, taking the very narrow but paved road that crosses over to Beashore Meadow Road. This is about as remote a road as I would ever drive in the NSX. It’s not graded at all, meaning that the rises and dips are phenomenally fun.

The only trick here is not to have a head-on collision with some wide vehicle towing a trailer. The drivers here seem to use an interesting strategy to minimize their risk of collision: drive as fast as possible to minimize the amount of time spent on the road. That strategy has its limitations.

If you have any 3-year-old kids, bring them up here to experience these bumps. They are nearly continuous. The 3-year-old in me is very entertained. If the road were a little straighter, you could go fast enough to get airborne. I wouldn’t advise it, because the car would come down pretty hard. A car needs a robust suspension to handle being launched and landing like this. Maybe I need an F-18 rather than an F-16. 

One of these days, I may check out the Lower Chiquito campground which is just off this cross road. It must be pretty if people go there despite its remoteness.

The end of the cross road is owned by a cow. At least that’s what the cow thinks. It just stood there in the road staring at me.

Beasore Meadow Road is aptly named. It’s has a beautiful meadow, then another.

Suddenly my fun was over. A 6-inch rock emerged from the shadows behind a right-hand bend. This was not a fit-under-the-car kind of rock. This was a tear-out-the-oilpan kind of rock. It was too big to drive over and a little too close to get all the way around in time. It ripped open the sidewall of my right front tire. There was no other apparent damage.

It was a hot day for changing tires, but I was gratified that my 14-year-old tool kit worked absolutely perfectly. Once I figured out how to operate the jack properly, that is. The lug wrench doubles as a crank handle for the hook-shaped bar, which you use as the crank axle. You don’t have to raise the car very high to put on the spare, since it starts fully deflated.

This was my second flat on a tour. The first on was at the very beginning of a Tour. I had the car flatbedded home where I grabbed a replacement tire from my stash in the garage and was on my way the same day. This time I was too far from home for a tow.

The spare supposedly handles the same as a regular tire, but it only lasts 50 miles. I didn’t believe either of those assertions, and in particular I figured that the spare would take me the 200+ miles to home.

I had tested the air pump at home the year before, after reading that it was a good idea to exercise its seals. I had also bought an extra spare tire, a spare spare as it were. So I would still have a usable spare once I got home.

I discovered that the NSX’s tool kit (under the carpet in the trunk) needs a set of work gloves. You can get really dirty, and the new wheel, being behind the radiator, is very hot. The old wheel will be hot too if you’ve been driving with any enthusiasm.

What with unpacking the trunk, finding space for the flat tire, re-packing everything, and washing up, I was stopped for an hour before getting back under way. That was an unusual way to end a Tour. Besides, a little adventure never hurt anyone.

I picked up the rock from the road as a souvenir of sorts. That was a hard impact, similar to the one that bent my lower right front A-arm several years ago without flattening the tire. The new A-arm is beefier in the area that bent last time, so I will know at the next alignment if that design change did its job. The symptom of a bent A-arm was excessive negative camber that could not be dialed out.

The NSX takes corners fine on the mini-spare. It’s not quite the same handling as with regular tires, but it’s not bad at all. I’m sure the compound used on the mini-spare is much softer to make up for its narrower width.

I checked the map and chose Highways 49 and 140 to minimize the miles to home. Then, just north of Oakhurst, cruising behind a camper van, I spotted the sign for Road 600. I swear I simply could NOT resist. I had to take it.

What a great choice. Soon I forgot that I had a non-A022 tire on the right front. Whoops! When you turn the wheel to the left, you get 90%, not 100%. No harm, no foul.

The last few turns out of the foothills give you a nice view of the expansive flat Central Valley ahead. I got a wistful feeling that all the curvy fun part was ending.

Entering the Central Valley, I ran over a bottle or something similar. It made a loud CRUNCH, but no flat tire. Whew!

I easily found the freeway (Highway 99) and headed home. I skipped my usual finish via Del Puerto Canyon Road and Mines Road. Late in the day using a mini-spare, the risks of that route outweighed the benefits. Furthermore, the Mines Road drive would be straight into the sun, and I was pretty wiped. I spent a long day in the saddle, but with the involuntary break to change the tire I wasn’t sore anywhere.

As the sun set, Venus emerged to guide me. It wasn’t nearly as bright at sea level as it had been in the dark, thin, clean mountain air.

About two exits before home, I noticed a speed-related slapping noise like baseball cards in the spokes. (I kept thinking about Lloyd Bridges in Airplane saying: “Remember, flying a plane is no different than riding a bicycle; it’s just a lot harder to put baseball cards in the spokes.”) So I stopped and took a look at the tires, but everything looked OK. The spare felt warm (soft rubber heats up more), but not as hot as a race tire. I’d been driving 75 to 80 mph for close to an hour. Maybe I should have consulted the owner’s manual. Naaah. I continued home.

The next day when I removed the spare, I found the source of the slapping sound. A 4-inch flap of tread had been cut into the mini-spare by that bottle or whatever it was I hit. The cut was flush with the carcass of the tire, but the tread was still able to function adequately on the freeway. Mines Road would have been a different story.

The mini-spare still had 3/32” of tread, as compared to 4/32” new. I can now estimate that these tires will probably run close to 1000 miles. So although the spare is for a single use only (once you inflate it, you can’t restore it to its original compact size to fit under the hood), that single use is very dependable.

Getting a flat tire out in the middle of nowhere in the Sierra foothills is exactly what that mini-spare is for. It certainly did its job, as did the rest of the car. So I’m not totally crazy driving through remote areas in the NSX. Crazy would be doing so in a Lamborghini.

Day Five stats: 564 miles in 14 hours (minus one for tire change), road kill = one right front tire plus one mini-spare.

During the following week at work, I considered whether or not to drive one more day, up to Highway 36, during the last weekend I would be alone. You readers probably knew my decision before I did.

Day Six

Fully rested, I left home before dawn on one last day of Tire Trashing duty. You see, the tires still had usable rubber on them after 5 full days of driving. That rubber was just begging to be spread over back roads. I checked the oil and water levels for the first time in the tour. Fine, as expected. This is an NSX, after all.

I had replaced the mini-spare with a heavily used Yokohama A022 tire from my garage, already mounted on a rim. I figured it would hold up just fine for 800 miles. I keep a sizable inventory of tires stacked up in the garage, mostly the softer rears. I also put the new mini-spare under the hood.

My replacement right front tire was the last one I used before replacing my bent A-arm, and the negative camber had really accelerated the inside wear. It was 85% toasted on the inside but had deep tread on the outside. This day’s drive would indicate, via tire wear, whether or not the rock impact had radically altered my alignment.

Exiting at Red Bluff one exit north of the one labeled Highway 36, I turned left one block and found both Highway 36 and a gas station, all without traversing town. Excellent. Only 2 hours and 40 minutes from home and I was ready to rock. Preferably without a real rock this time.

The first set of hills on Highway 36 is delightful, an asphalt roller coaster. Then the road descends into a large valley. You can see it slicing up the mountain on the other side a few miles in the distance.

About 50 miles from Red Bluff is a wonderful downhill slalom section where I think my brake fluid started boiling a little. There I saw my first deer of the weekend, not counting two strolling in front of my house the previous morning.

The landscape gradually changes from live oak to pines, and past this point it’s all lumber forest. Instead of chipmunks, there are squirrels, who seem to be smarter about cars.

At South Fork Mountain summit, I turned off to check out the road (labeled 4N12) and took a nice photo. I later realized that this is the very road that goes all the way north to Highway 299. It’s a 50-mile long driveway. You might only encounter one other car (at least that’s my experience), but you’d better be alert when you do. It’s a road to nowhere through nowhere.

About 10 miles past the Mad River crossing, and 100 miles from Red Bluff, you cross the Van Duzen River at Dinsmore and the dividing line disappears. That marks the beginning of perhaps 20 miles (I forget how much) of harrowing driving, with a sheer drop to the right and some large vehicles, including horse trailers, heading your way.

It was time to be selective for this Tour. Anyway, the Redwood Autorama at Fortuna (an open show for classic cars) was the previous weekend, not this one. So, having scratched the Highway 36 itch, I made a U-turn. True, the scenery on Highway 96 (the Trinity River) is even prettier, but these two highways are not as empty as my typical central California Tour roads. Traffic attenuates the fun.

The lexical hierarchy of curves is slaloms, sweepers, and switchbacks, in increasing order of tightness. Ascending from Mad River is a series of sweepers, it was second gear fun all the way. At the top of the hill, I saw somebody actually enter South Fork Mountain Road! That’s a long drive, well over an hour. There’s nowhere anyone would stop before the other end of the road.

As I entered the last 30 miles before Red Bluff, it was once again roller coaster city. One such section parallels a creek bed with trees, amid live oak studded hills. The highway here is built on a low ridgeline instead of in the valley like a normal road. The ridgeline goes back and forth and up and down seemingly randomly. That’s really grin-inducing and pretty strenuous if you take it at a good level of effort, as I did.

At one spot I saw a couple guys stopped next to a Ford Taurus with the trunk open. The road there was like an autocross course, so I did a double-clutch downshift to second and gave them a little exhibition of cornering ability. It was quite remarkable: one right-hander at maximum (for the road) speed followed immediately by a similar left-hander. I’d like to see how that looks from outside the car some day.

After getting gas 20 miles south at Corning, I headed west on Black Butte Road toward County Road 306. The south half Black Butte Road is very wide, but bumpy. Newville Road is better, and so is the scenery passing Buckhorn recreation area. If you’re looking for a remote location to spread out without being more than a few hours away from San Francisco, this might be what you’re looking for. It’s dry, but there are still trees.

A north-south row of small hills to the west looks semi-volcanic in origin the way it’s lumped up. Highway 306 starts in front of this row, then suddenly crosses through to the west side. The large ranches here only grow grass. No, not that kind of grass. The illegal kind is grown in those remote forests up north where I was earlier in the day.

I stopped 4 or 5 times for photos along the upper end of Highway 306. Every hill seemed prettier than the last. Ten miles into Highway 306 I reached Highway 162, which stretches invitingly into the mountains to the west. I’d never had the necessary time and gasoline to fully explore it, but on this day, thanks to that timely U-turn on Highway 36, I wasn’t short of anything. Not time, not tires, not gas, not energy. Apropos of nothing, people that get 10k miles out of their A022’s are definitely not getting their money’s worth. They can only get that of mileage by driving in a straight line.

Highway 162 becomes FH7 on entering the national forest. It snakes up the hill beautifully. My compliments to the civil engineers.

Thwack! Every time I hear that noise I think a rock hit the windshield. Actually it was a plastic water bottle collapsing as I went up mountain. You get a similar sound effect going down.

16 miles up the road and some 2000 feet higher, the pavement ends. It goes from perfect to gravel, just like that. Your tax dollars at work.

This road is almost as nice as Mammoth Pool Road. It’s very much worth driving. I saw exactly one other car the whole way. Since the road doesn’t go anywhere useful, nobody uses it. It’s sweepers for the most part, 65ish according to physics, 45 according to the speed limit signs.

Back on Highway 306, I found myself heading south right off the edge of my Northern California map. I had to do the rest from memory. There is at least one triple-digit section on Highway 306, and it’s beautiful too. I passed a deer on the other side of the road. He just looked at me rather than trying to cross the road, fortunately for both of us with me traveling at 80 mph.

A right turn on Lodoga-Stonyford Road kept me going south. The house construction of choice here is single wide, about half of all structures. Then, as fast as you can say that you’re in town, you’re out the other side and back up to 70 mph.

Going through farm country, I was reminded of an NPR show from the previous day interviewing retirees who go out to Borrego Springs where I was on Day Three. They go out in the ridiculous heat and try to count wild sheep, of which there are 700 or so. The lead interviewee was Mr. Mouton. The interviewer must have known it, but Mouton means sheep in French. I was laughing out loud. I wonder if the interview was done on April 1.

Out here you’ll see many instances of the “West Virginia State Flower”, which is a big satellite dish. A left turn to Maxwell was another decision from memory. Another left onto Maxwell-Sites Road and I knew I was on the right track.

Back on Interstate 5 southbound, I impulsively exited at Highway 20 westward to Highway 16, which I had only driven once in the past several years since the casino was built. Once I made the turn onto 16, I was alone.

This area is popular for inner-tubing, and there are some attractive camp sites near Cache Creek Canyon Regional Park. It’s a pretty canyon. By the time you reach Rumsey you are out of the canyon area and it’s more open farmland similar to 306 but not quite as pretty.

You can’t miss seeing the casino. From the road, that is. I will continue to miss seeing the inside of it every time I drive this area. I prefer not to gamble on losing bets, in the casino or on the road.

Past the casino, traffic is 10 times heavier in both directions. Really the pits, and I don’t mean for throwing dice. It’s truly a pain to drive this section. The only highlight was my first NSX sighting of the Tour. A black one. That was a fitting end to the fun part of my 2005 Tour.

I got home in plenty of time for dinner, with 4 serviceable tires. It hardly seems like I’ve completed a proper Tour without cording at least one tire. Does destroying a tire and a spare count?

Day Six stats: 660 miles in 11.5 hours. No road kill.

Total stats: 3137 miles in 61.5 hours, no tickets, no accidents, one squashed chipmunk, one destroyed front tire, one destroyed mini-spare. And incalculable fun.
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