Found myself awake at 3:00AM: I could be driving right now. And it will probably make me happier than a couple hours of sleep. I could be driving right now. I got up, drank some water and dressed in the living room with the light off. Grabbed my pack and left the house. As I pulled out I kept the RPMs low to avoid waking the neighbors. Silicon Valley was still tucked soundly in it’s bed and I was already putting miles between where I was and where I could be. 25 minutes later I was through Santa Cruz and hitting all green lights on Mission. Before long I was on Hwy 1 proper, watching rock walls and coastal valleys appear and disappear in the wash of my headlights, racing with the dashed center line northward. While buzzing past Pigeon Point lighthouse I rolled down all the windows and inhaled as much fresh ocean air as I could before turning inland at San Gregorio State Beach. I saw a buck as still as granite in the light of my high beams and watched him scramble across the road after I passed. I stopped at the intersection of La Honda and Skyline and cut the motor just to listen to the wind softly rustling the redwoods. Their spires scraped the clouds, back lit by the faded white glow of the city below us. My tires chirped happily as I descended from the summit in 3rd gear. Switchbacks soon turned to highway and I let the RPMs climb to the red line as I merged with the commuter traffic beginning to appear.
When I pulled into the parking lot at the gym for my AM workout the odometer read 95 miles. Just shy of a 100 mile sprint.
Watching this reminds me of how much I have to learn about driving. I’m always two seconds slow getting on the throttle after cornering and I’m often missing good opportunities to hit the apex and straighten out a curve. There’s always room for improvement, it’s great that the classroom is so beautiful.
I woke up early Wednesday and decided to try out Hicks Road in Los Gatos. First, my review. This is a fun road to drive with some great corners that you can take at decent speed. Elevation changes are predictable though there are rock slides (dangerous not just for large rocks but because gravel and dirt on the road surface cause skid conditions which I encountered several times). The route I followed took me past Quicksilver Park and through New Almaden, a quaint little burg with the stars and stripes hanging from every telephone pole. All very pretty indeed.
So that’s the review of Hicks Road. But here’s the story: I was driving uphill and just rounded a sharp corner to find the road blocked by a fallen tree. I was able to stop the car but sat there on the steep incline trying to grasp my situation – do I have to back up? Can I drive around? Is there a chance someone is going to come around the corner behind me and hit me? And then for the first time in all the months I’ve been driving around Silicon Valley’s hills and valleys in the dark of night I felt something. The Creeps.
I’m out here alone in the dark…
Miles away from anything…
And no one in the world knows where I am.
Then I noticed that at some point someone had driven through the top of the tree which laid across the opposite side of the road and onto what little shoulder there was. I stalled the car trying to launch on the hill but was able restart and get moving. I drove slowly through the debris of the fallen tree, dragging branches under my car for at least 2 miles. I didn’t feel like stopping on another steep hill and groping around under the car for branches. Another 4 or 5 miles later I saw a couple of pedestrians (not hitchhiking, just walking) and thought that was weird considering it was 5:00AM.
It was only later when I casually mentioned my morning drive to co-workers that I heard more about Hicks Road: San Jose teenagers have been going up there for decades to get creeped out, there’s a creepy old church and abandoned insane asylum, the disused mercury mines, the whole road is supposedly haunted and home to a commune of albinos who some say are violently protective of their privacy and swarm cars unfortunate enough to stop on the road at night. A Google search for “Hicks Road San Jose” will turn up various and entirely dubious legends for you to read as I don’t care enough to sort it out myself.
I’m likely to go back and drive Hicks Road again but I’ll probably do it during the day. Not because I believe in superstition but just because it’s a little too remote and poorly maintained for midnight driving.
Round-trip from home this is a 40-minute route that fits perfectly into the time I have between waking up and going to the gym. The speed limit is 25 mph which is a little slow but there’s some good hair pin turns to justify it. This is a residential area with deer crossings and I saw a stunning buck on this morning’s drive so caution is advised. Buzzing this neighborhood before people start leaving for work is best as it gets clogged with commuters by 6AM. Taking Hicks Rd. could turn this into an 1.5 hour route almost meeting up with one of my favorite routes McKean Rd.
I woke up early and washed the e30 at the little self-serve coin operated car wash around the corner from home. Then I dropped it off at AAA Car Care Centre on Keystone for an oil change which took about an hour. I’m not going to turn this into a review of AAA but will share the following experience:
I’ve heard so many stories about quick lube shops being cheap to the point of dishonesty that I’m probably just paranoid now. In 3000 miles I’ll try somewhere else and compare experiences until I find a shop that really earns my trust. We also drive a e39 540i touring which we always take to Bavarian Motorsport in Milpitas (a great shop I recommend very highly) for service but they’re not open on weekends which is the only time I can spare for a fluid service on the e30.
After the oil change I loaded up the car with beach stuff and set out with the family for a 150+ mile drive.
The drive from Santa Clara to San Mateo over Hwy. 101 is not enjoyable on a Saturday. Traffic is heavy and often stopped entirely. But San Mateo is quiet with lots of parking and less than 30 minutes drive from Pacifica which makes it an excellent via point to the coast. Talbot’s Toy Store is huge and beats Toys R’ Us for selection and experience.
On the route from San Mateo to Pacifica we drove through the newly re-opened Devil’s Slide Tunnel. The tunnel is fast, well lit and ventilated. Commuters will no doubt love it but speaking as a joy rider it’s simply boring. If you’ve been through one tunnel you’ve been through them all. We arrived at Nick’s Restaurant at Rockaway Beach around 1:00PM. This place is cool because you’re parked right on the edge of the ocean and if you go early in the morning it’s a great spot to take pictures of your car.
Nick’s was packed just like every other time we’ve gone there. Here’s a few notes about Nick’s:
After lunch we drove south on Hwy. 1 to Santa Cruz to do a little shopping. If you’ve never been I can tell you that downtown Santa Cruz is like going to a parallel dimension where 90s alternative culture is the norm: droog dancers block off large sections of sidewalks to dance and swing clubs at each other, teenagers ride around on art bikes, homeless people ride skateboards, travellers make and sell jewellery right on the street and musicians of all kinds compete with each other for bandwidth every 50 feet or so. Santa Cruz is polarized: there’s a large hip but wealthy bourgeoisie population that bedrooms there but works in Silicon Valley and then there’s the masses of hippies, surfers, travellers, street kids and homeless.
We stopped in Santa Cruz to buy some flats (shoes for Trina) and have some frozen yogurt. The latter of which doesn’t seem to exist: they only have ice cream. We ended up at the Penny Ice Creamery which was… bourgeoisie. They serve ice cream, sorbet and some frozen yogurt. Portions were small, expensive and delicious. After our treat we headed to Aptos.
This is not an amazing beach but it’s got real toilets and fire rings. We only go here when we plan on having a fire and cooking hotdogs and roasting marshmallows over it. We’ve failed to launch this so many times and yet again it didn’t happen. There’s less than a dozen fire rings and on Saturdays the locals come and stake out a claim to camp on all day and into the night. We enjoyed the fading sun but gave up on cooking on the beach when it was obvious everyone with a fire ring was planning to stay put. We vowed to try again the next day.
This highway is fun to drive ONLY when no one else is on it. People drive slow in the fast lane and ride their brakes for miles and miles. No one knows how to drive. The cops hang out on the straight away near the Summit Snack Shop.
The drive was beautiful: after breaking through the clouds (what I’m driving through in the video) it was clear skies and sunny with the ceiling at least a mile below me. I saw two groups of deer and a few rabbits scampered across the road in front of me. As I made my descent I saw soft fluffy clouds nestled between green hills as mourning doves scattered at the sound of my motor as I passed by their perch.
This road at dawn is truly a hidden gem. Sorry about the footage, maybe next time.
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