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My Summer 2018 Tour de California

16 March 2001
East Bay, CA, USA
For about the 20th time I spent a couple summer weekends driving back roads in California. I have refined my route and now make only slight variations from what I know to be the most scenic and enjoyable roads.

This year I asked a few NSX club members if they were interested in driving with me, I wasn't surprised when they said no. It's a LOT of driving, all day for 2 days at a time. I've been reducing the total mileage in recent years, but it's still intense, and also in tents. You have to be hard core. In my case, your wife needs to be out of the country!

The first day is relatively short: Mines Road, a bit of San Antonio Road partway up the back of Mt. Hamilton, then Del Puerto Canyon Road, I-5, Little Panoche Road, Highway 25, Bitterwater Road, and Jolon Road to Fort Hunter Liggett. An up-and-back run on Del Venturi Road caps the day. I stay overnight at the Hacienda Guest Lodge, in Randolph Hearst's original ranch house inside the base gate, for just $50.

In the last few years I have much less difficulty reserving a room there. Not coincidentally, access into Fort Hunter Liggett has become more difficult. You need to show registration, auto insurance, and a passport or Real ID driver's license, and a Hacienda reservation email. They run your name against some database and give you a parking pass.

I highly recommend a stay at the Hacienda, whether you are driving an NSX or not. The area is so scenic.

I like to go to sleep very early and wake up before 5 AM for the second day. This year I left well before dawn. It was a little too early, especially for the two rabbits I crushed within three minutes of each other. Nacimiento Road climbs to the top of the coastal range then winds slowly down to the ocean. I reached an empty Highway 1 well before dawn.


This was only two weeks after the re-opening of Highway 1 north of Ragged Point, where a massive slide had occurred many months before. It was a huge construction project completed ahead of schedule, just in time for my trip.

Highway 1 can be crowded and frustrating, Before 7 AM it's wide open, fast, and magical. I spent almost an hour an half driving north to Big Sur then south to San Simeon. I shortened my day by omitting the Vineyard Road area which has become much more popular with tourists and bicyclists than it was 20 years ago. Instead I chose Highway 46, Templeton Road, and Highway 41 to Highway 229.

About 6 years ago I taught my daughter to drive a manual transmission in the NSX. She drove with me on Highway 25 to the Hacienda. The highlight was 229, which offers a single-lane roller coaster experience for its southernmost 2 miles. I knew the NSX would tolerate minor mistakes, and she really enjoyed it. This year I drove that section down and back, then down and back and down again.

A captivating feature of the NSX that you can't see the hood from the driver's seat. New cars cannot be built this way due to European pedestrian safety rules. They require a gap under the hood so it can compress before hitting hard metal obstacles. The same rules effectively ban pop-up headlights which have corners that can injure pedestrians. The low hood and pop-up headlights are becoming retro design,

Highway 58 is another road you want to go out of your way to experience. At 10 AM I was feeling sleepy and stopped under a tree for 10 minutes. Not a single vehicle passed either way during that time. That long stretch has hills, curves, valleys, a 5 mile straightaway, large humps and dips, and one of the best high-speed hill climbs and descents anywhere.

Highway 33 takes you to Cerro Noroeste on the ridgeline along the southern edge of the Central Valley. This is where I tried to straddle a slightly too large rock last year and collected a huge dent in my oil pan. (It didn't leak much, but my daughter and I replaced the oil pan last winter.)

Cerro Noroeste Road is a tease. In several places you can see portions of the road ahead: the apex of one turn, then the apex of another, and a third and sometimes a fourth. In between the apexes, trees block the view of the road. So you can see roughly where you're going and the fun coming up. It's like a reverse strip tease, where you see all the naughty parts first.

The road ends at I-5 near Gorman. Most years I turn back west on Lockwood Valley Road and drive to Ojai and Santa Paula. I didn't have sufficient energy for that this year. I arrived in the Los Angeles airport area about 4 PM.

For the return the following weekend, I chose to start with Little Tujunga Canyon Road, a much shorter and emptier route than Angeles Crest and Angeles Forest Highway. Then it was freeway to Backus Road to Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road. There the windmills appear to be slicing through the crest of the road, as if you are about to enter a giant Cuisinart. Highway 58 took me west to Caliente-Bodfish Road. I like to run up and down the mountain at least a couple times, and this is one of the best routes up the mountain. This year I went back down the lower section of Caliente-Bodfish Road just to run it again.

At Wofford Heights I filled the tank and started back down the mountain on Highway 155. Left-right-left-right-left-right. Just the ticket to wear out your upper arms (no electric steering assist on this car) and the outer edges of the tires. I made a U-turn to re-run the best part of the descent. My stock brake pads and rotors were flawless on this demanding curving mountain descent. No fade, no shudder, nothing but smooth deceleration.

Granite Road back up the mountain was scenic but unfortunately not empty. At that point I normally take Old Stage Road north toward California Hot Springs. This year I was thinking of driving the narrow, bumpy Forest Road 23S16, which I drove once before in 2004. The guy who runs the website pashnit.com discovered it in 2006 and wrote about it as "The Road with No Name". An NSX on that road turns heads.

As it happened, Old Stage Road was closed due to fire! Oops I should have checked road closures online. I could take a VERY long detour out to Highway 65 or the long, slow 23S16.

I stopped at the Sugarloaf Mountain Realty sign where the local lady who used to run the real estate office gave me good road information. At that location is a covered kiosk with a topographic map! It shows 23S16 and the much shorter gravel road 23S05 through White River. The lady insisted that 23S05 was a much better choice, compatible with my car and only a ten minute drive. Ten minutes in her F350, that is. That F does not stand for Ferrari.

She said ongoing logging had made a mess of 23S16, the road to Johnsondale. She also assured me that the drivers of the huge logging trucks use radios to warn other drivers of oncoming NSXs and other traffic.

She offered to call a friend up the Johnsondale road to ask about its condition. And "You're OK with dogs, aren't you?". I said "Sure". Three minutes later two huge Great Danes come trotting up. I'm OK with dogs, but these are the size of colts, more than waist-high to me. I quickly led them away from the NSX. The friend had not been reachable by phone. I thanked the lady and left.

I decided to try the paved 23S16. I passed a house with a sign for "Fresh eggs $3.50". Drop your money, take your eggs.

The road turned out to be covered in brown dirt deep enough that I couldn't tell whether or not there was any pavement underneath. Yuck. After a mile and half of that I gave up and turned back to 23S05. On that gravel road I pulled over to let a much faster pickup truck pass. Turnabout is fair play.

After 8 miles of gravel dust and dirt I reached California Hot Springs. Then it was a short run to my customary campground, called Quaking Aspen. It always has a space for me. I took about an hour to set up camp and wash my very dirty car. While parking I almost had a most embarrassing 1 mph collision with a stationary object. I was backing into the campsite. I couldn't see the wood posts in the mirrors, so I stopped and got out. The wood 4x4 that marks the edge of the parking space was about 3 inches from the center of my rear bumper, about to crush it! Whew. Catastrophe averted.


I don't know if there will ever be a day you can do this trip in an electric car. You'd need charging stations in the campgrounds. I drive 500 to 600 miles a day at high power output. Charging during the day would delay your travels.

In the morning I started about 10 minutes too early, in the dark. I used the extra time to re-run the twisty top section of Highway 190. There was no traffic on the descent to and through the Tule River canyon. When the trees thin out the road is quite spectacular. Although I drive this road more than a dozen times, this was the first time I happened to look back over my left shoulder and see a 25-foot waterfall in the canyon. With the empty road it was safe to stop and take a photo.

A little farther down the road I stopped and walked the equivalent of about 5 flights of stairs down to the river. It was still not dawn and I was the only one at this ultra-scenic swimming hole amid granite boulders. No matter how many times I drive these roads there's always something new to find.


At the bottom, near Porterville, I checked my paper map to confirm my location and route. You might laugh at my paper maps, but I still prefer paper to electronic maps. I drive mostly beyond cellular coverage, so I would have to download maps in advance. The eye can scan a paper map much faster than an electronic map can load and reload on a small display. With a paper map I have the equivalent of a 40-inch screen. It will be a sad day when paper maps are gone. AAA's county maps are already out of production, and those are some of my most useful maps.

After Yokohl Valley Road I decided to take a look at Dry Creek Road, having driven it only once, many years ago. Nope, not NSX-friendly. Not when the alternative is the fabulous Highway 245. I made a U-turn back to Woodlake.

Pavement work on the southern part of 245 had me questioning my decision. The upper half of 245, starting about 3 miles south of the Drum Road junction, redeemed my choice. What a workout with manual steering! It's simply heavenly. I drove it twice.

Driving northbound on 245 be careful and allow some margin from the right edge of the road. The pavement drops off several inches right at the white line. If you put a tire 3 inches past the line you will have a bad day.

I finished the day with brief stops at Cat Haven in Dunlap and the Castle Air Museum in Atwater, then a freeway drive home.


I may be getting a little jaded after four days of car commercial driving, but each road is special. (I know, it sounds like that old Sesame Street song.) I don't want to take this blessing for granted because I don't know how many years more I will be physically and mentally fit enough for these drives.

By way of comparison, the main reason I decided not to attend Burning Man this year was that after three years there I wasn't as impressed as I know I should have been at the insane amount of work and creativity that went into building larger than life art and entertainment in a featureless desert plain. It wasn't as overwhelming as it deserves to be. In several years I will return and will be overwhelming again, as it should be.

My wife had a much better reason for not attending Burning Man again this year: Last year she was very nearly run over by a small truck after being run into by another bicyclist. She missed being killed by less than 0.1 second of driver reaction time. That was frightening and disturbing.

On a less somber note, the roads never seem to lose their charm for me in the NSX. Perhaps that's because I wait 11 months after each drive, when the car rarely leaves the garage. The long trip scratches my driving itch for at least the next 6 months. By 11 months I'm completely ready to do it again.

One of these years is going to be my last Tour de California. If it turns out to be this one, it was one of the best.
wonderful read......you are a natural story teller....:smile: