Addicted to novelty since 2001

Have You Driven Highway 1 From San Francisco to San Luis Obispo?

If so, I’d be curious to hear what you thought. I understand it’s a pretty gorgeous drive. I’m probably going to attend a wedding in San Luis Obispo in June, and we’re considering flying into San Fran and driving down.

17 Responses to “Have You Driven Highway 1 From San Francisco to San Luis Obispo?”

  1. Aaron

    I’ve done it, but not recently. It is a beautiful drive, but if my memory serves me right, it takes a lot longer than you might expect. Highway 1 tends to be fairly curvy with lots of opportunities to stop and take pictures. I’d suggest planning on an average speed of 45-50 mph.

    If you do make the drive, be sure to stop and spend some time in Monterey (wharf/aquarium) and Hearst Castle.

    How much time do you have for the trip?

  2. Darren

    Aaron: Thanks for that. As much time as we want (within reason). We could do it in two or three days, as it were.

  3. Andrea

    I turned off somewhere after Heart Castle. It’s a beautiful drive, but really twisty and turny and may indice motion sickness. It can be a hard drive, since the road is narrow and you have all those hairpins. Also, if you are from Coastal BC, I think the scenery is less spectacular than if you’d grown up in Saskatchewan. I’d definitely drop by Carmel and Monterey and zip over to Heart Castle (book tix well in advance). But I don’t think you need to do the entire drive. Go back to the main road after a while. Or at least keep that escape route in mind.

    Don’t get me wrong — it’s beautiful, but a little tiresome.

  4. Andrea

    I turned off somewhere after Heart Castle. It’s a beautiful drive, but really twisty and turny and may indice motion sickness. It can be a hard drive, since the road is narrow and you have all those hairpins. Also, if you are from Coastal BC, I think the scenery is less spectacular than if you’d grown up in Saskatchewan. I’d definitely drop by Carmel and Monterey and zip over to Hearst Castle (book tix well in advance). But I don’t think you need to do the entire drive. Go back to the main road after a while. Or at least keep that escape route in mind.

    Don’t get me wrong — it’s beautiful, but a little tiresome.

  5. Dan

    You’ll have to watch out for Devil’s Slide. It’s the area between Pacifica and Montera [0] (so close to San Francicso) is closed right now because of the high rainfall levels causing it to actually slide down the cliff. There is a detour, but I figured you’d want to know before you got there. To alleviate the problem (as it was a problem well before this year) they’re building a tunnel [1], but that won’t be completed until 2011 now.

    Have a good drive!

    [0] google maps via tinyurl

  6. Sean Hagen

    I drove down Highway 1 last summer. Very nice and scenic. Aaron is right though, it is quite a curvy drive. I thought it was fun though, not knowing what was around the next bend ( beautiful ocean vista? sandy beach? semi in your lane? ). I’d definitly recomend it though, but I’d also recomend an air-conditioned vehicle.

    I found that an un-air conditioned Jeep is only fun to drive down there when you’re near the coast. Otherwise, it was like being in an oven, even with the top down.

  7. Lindsay

    The drive is fantastic – especially in nice weather…definitely allow some time for exploring. Two stops that I’d recommend: Big Sur and Cambria (but drive right into town…away from the highway – quaint arts community).

  8. miss604

    i’ve driven hwy 1 from oakland down to Big Sur to camp (through carmel, santa cruz, monterey) and it was awesome. Pacific Coast Hwy is like taking the Fraser Canyon if you’re heading to the interior of BC – the views are awesome but it takes a lil longer than any other route. The little towns are lovely and the aquarium at monterey is the best. i’ve also driven hwy 1 up from san francisco all the way to the washington state border – again the coast is amazing – i never knew how beautiful and sandy the oregon coast could be :p

  9. Aaron

    I’d say that three days would work well. A word of warning: Maybe it’s just me, but the coast can get a bit repetitive after an hour or so.

    Obviously it’s always changing, but the shock of the beauty can wear off. The sad thing is that as you move down the coast, the environment will change, so if you only do a small section you’ll miss a lot. Parts might be foggy and green, and others will be rolling golden hills of grass.

    Obviously, it’s up to you, but you might think about driving sections of the 1, and drive out to the 101 to speed things up.

    You should also try to mix it up with other vistas and spend some time in the cities along the way (and maybe a little out of the way). The towns near Monterey, but slightly inland, will provide a nice contrast (and plenty of opportunity to buy fresh fruit and vegetables).

  10. Justin

    I’d definitely go for it, there are some areas that are incredibly beautiful and others you just have to stop at (Santa Cruz, Hearst Castle, Monterey area etc.)

  11. Martine

    The most beautiful part is between San Francisco and Big Sur, so I’d make sure I wouldn’t miss that part.

  12. chuck

    The most scenic route is Highway 1, it’s winding and will take about five hours from SF, the road south of SLO used to make me carsick if I was a passenger, I lived in SLO in the late 80’s. The most direct route is U.S. 101 south. If you do rent a car get something sporty to take those hairpin turns!!

  13. Gordon Meyer

    It’s one of my favorite drives ever, but the points made by others should really be heeded.

    If there’s any hint of car sickness in your past, beware. Highway 1 North of SF is worse, but it’s still quite curvy when you’re southbound.

    If it’s raining, I’d change your plans. Not a fun road to drive in foul weather.

    It will take a lot longer to make the drive than you think it will. You’ll face slow moving drivers and crazy b*stards who tailgate and pass irresponsibly.

    Stop anywhere in Point Reyes, and consider a quick visit to Point Lobos. Two of the most beautiful places on all of the earth.

    Do you like wine? A short side-trip to the Bonny Doon tasting room, just north of Santa Cruz is highly recommended.

  14. Joe

    Heres an account of the first time I ever made the trip from Morro Bay to Monterey:

    Incident at Big Sur, or How a Volkswagen Saved my Life

    A few days ago, while talking with a few of my fellow instructors, the conversation took a turn to things we did or experienced in our youth. Days spent in the military, cars we had, girls we knew and places we visited. Some humorous, some tragic, some exciting and some that brought us to screaming out loud out of utter boredom. As I sat there listening to others accounts of days gone by, my mind slipped back some 35 years, to a time when life was simpler, gas was cheap, I had a full head of hair, and to a truly bizarre and surreal episode in my life.

    It was October of 1972. I had finally gotten out of the Navy in February, on Dad’s birthday, the 18th. I was living at home, having recently returned from Healdsburg California, where I had taken a job as a mechanic. The job and the surroundings hadn’t been much to my liking, and after packing up all my belongings in Dads VW van (with plenty of room left over back then), Id made the move up there and back in the space of 2 months.

    My passion then was cars, sports cars to be specific. My time in the Navy had been spent thinking and dreaming about them. Like most kids my age, I lusted after big American muscle cars while in high school, but one of those defining moments in life had struck one Sunday afternoon at the 32nd street Naval Station in San Diego just 2 years before. I was walking across the base from my ship to see a movie at the base theater, weaving my way through the parking lot, when something caught my eye. There, tucked into a slot, dwarfed by a couple of huge Detroit monsters of the day, was this little, nay TINY, yellow, something! Blazing, screaming, in your face bright yellow, that made it stand out from its Detroit brethren for no other reason than its audacious color, never mind its diminutive size. I was drawn to it like the proverbial moth to the bright yellow flame. “What IS this?”, I thought, as I weaved my way around the other cars, all now reduced to the color of mud in my minds eye. The yellow “something” blazed like a morning sunrise on a drab landscape, blinding me to everything else around it. I was fascinated. I was dumbstruck. I wanted it, and I didn’t even know yet what it was!

    As I reached it, I was taken by its shape. A car like none Id ever seen, it barely reached my waist at its highest point. It was short, squat, and looked like it was doing a hundred miles an hour just sitting there in the parking space. A small badge on the right rear of the car said “Europa”. “Hmmm”, I thought, “Never heard of it.” I walked around the front, and the low hood sat wedge like between a pair of headlights set back into deep scoops in the front of the fenders that were barely knee high. A small round badge, yellow, with a sort of green triangle in the center, sat at the nose with letters spelling out
    L O T U S

    Further peeking around led me to believe that the engine was in the rear, as the hood was so low there was no way an engine could fit under it. The back of the car was higher, or at least appeared to be at first glance, but as I looked closer I realized that the rear cover (and indeed it was the engine cover as I could tell by the screened openings in the top of it) was bordered by what I learned later was described as sail panels. This gave the vehicle a bit of a look like a miniscule tow truck without a hook. And hooked I was! Right there, in that instant, I no longer lusted after big cars with big engines. This bit of automotive minimalism had won me over to the world of sports cars. Cars with small, buzzing little engines. Cars you didn’t get into, but rather put on and wore like a jumpsuit. Cars that would fit in the trunk of a Lincoln or Cadillac. Cars that would stir the soul, and corner so hard and so flat it felt as though your brains might leak out of your ears!

    Such was my introduction to the world of sports cars. A world then defined by tweed caps, stringback driving gloves and cute little British and Italian cars that , while exciting to drive, tended to leave there bodily fluids at every intersection and parking space and had a mind of their own when it came to whether or not they would even start. I guess that lent them their charm, but in the years that followed, that charm gave way to the precision of the Germans and the wild innovations of the Japanese. A different time, a different world, but love them I did, and it was that love that drew me to a strange and bizarre night in a blinding deluge in a place called Big Sur.

    My passion for sports cars had led me naturally into an equal passion for road racing. There weren’t any tracks in my area, so I had taken up something called autocross. At the time, I had just bought a brand new Ford Pinto with my life savings from the Navy, and was campaigned it on weekends in autocrosses, also known as slaloms or time trials, in local parking lots. You tear around a course set up with traffic cones one car at a time, and the fastest time wins. What I really wanted to do was drive a real race car around a real track, but that take money, buckets of it, and I had neither. No money, no buckets, no racing. The next best thing was watching, but TV just didn’t carry any road racing back then. There was no ESPN, no SPEED channel. The only racing was the Indy 500, once a year, and the occasional NASCAR circle track race. BAH! All these guys do is turn left! I wanted to see cars darting left and right through turns, over hills, around long bends, engines screaming, drivers sawing frantically at the wheel, desperately trying to fend off a pursuer or nipping at the heels of the leader as they locked up the front wheels trying to slow their thundering steeds for the hairpin turn at the end of a long straightaway. I wanted to smell the unmistakable scent of castor beans from their exhausts, (now you know where Castrol oil got its name, it was the prime ingredient in it back then), hear the growl of the four cylinders, the sewing machine song of sixes, the thunder of V8s and the exotic jungle scream of V12s as they climbed through the gears and faded from earshot and then came screaming back around from behind hills and trees on the next lap. I wanted to feel the gut shaking throb of 30 or so engines blasting out at full song as the green flag dropped.

    There was only once place that I knew of where all of this happened on a regular basis that was within driving distance. A place just east of Monterey California, called Laguna Seca. Laguna Seca, or Dry Lake, wasn’t much of a track then by today’s standards. It looked different than it does now, the track having been lengthened and modern facilities added, but it was THE place to go if you wanted to see REAL road racing. All the stars came out there at least twice a year for the professional races, and there was amateur racing year round. And so it was that I decided to make a trip to see my first real road race, the final Can Am Challenge Cup race of 1972. All the big names, like Porsche, Ferrari, McClaren, Shadow, would be there. Names like Penske, Donahue, Andretti dominated the ads for the race. I was excited to say the least. What I didn’t know was how exciting a trip there was going to be.

    Rainfall comes fitfully to the Central Coast of California. The region from Santa Barbara in the south to Monterey in the north doesn’t get much of it on a yearly basis, but every so often it gets hit with what used to be described as a “gully washer”. Three years earlier, 1969, was one of those years. Local papers touted it as the “Hundred Years” rain. No one living in the area could remember anything like it, as it rained steadily and occasionally torrentially for weeks that winter. Some towns like San Luis Obispo suffered major flooding, and the papers admonished local official for not having made better preparations to deal with it. “A fluke”, they all said, “a freak of nature. We’ll probably never see it again in our lifetime.” Well, maybe for the lifetime of one or two of them, because three years later, the “Hundred Years” rain came 97 years early.

    It started raining early that fall, the first rains coming in mid September. Nothing out of the ordinary, but always raining on the weekend, with the letups in the middle of the week. This had really put a cramp in my style, as the first two or three autocrosses of the season had been rained out, and I was really antsy about getting my speed fix. Fortunately, road racers race rain or shine, so I knew I could look forward to the 15th of October when the Can Am came to Laguna Seca, and planned my trip there with mounting anticipation. Like other forms of racing, the Can Am was a 3 day event with practice on Friday, qualifying on Saturday and the race on Sunday. As a new (and broke) employee at Al Burton Motors, the local American Motors and Renault dealership, I had to work that Saturday. Practice usually began at sunrise on Sunday, and I wanted to get my senses full, so I planned to leave in the early morning hours and arrive there just as the track opened, and then drive back that night. I also planned to make the drive up the famous Highway 1 which I had heard much about, but never traveled. My sports car friends all told me, “Man you have to try it! It’s all twisty and windy, and the scenery is great. You’ll love it!” Well, the scenery didn’t much interest me, and it was going to be dark anyway, but I was always up for the next set of switchbacks, so the die was cast.
    I’d leave Morro Bay about 1 AM and, allowing for even bad weather, I should be at the track by 5 am, plenty of time before the 8am practice. Or so I thought.

    And so began, the Incident at Big Sur.

    It rained all day Saturday the 14th, so hard that the lot flooded in front of Burton Motors, and threatened to flood the bays as well. After work, I went home, ate a quick dinner and went straight to bed, anticipating the alarm clock at midnight to make sure I was on the road by 1. I catnapped a bit, but I was too excited to sleep and woke from a semi-sleep state when the alarm went off. The car was packed and I slipped quietly out the door so as not to wake Mom and Dad, fired up the Pinto, and headed off down Balboa St. The rain had stopped, but the cloud cover was complete so the only light came from the streetlamps and my headlights as I made my way around the corkscrew on ramp at Morro Bay Blvd. and on to Highway 1 and headed north. Settling in at a steady pace, the familiar landmarks flew by. The PG&E power plant, Atascadero Road and the High School, and the lights of the Standard Oil pier at the end of north Morro Bay. Past Cayucos, and then up the lonely stretch toward Cambria. It was very dark through there, and I was glad I had fitted the Pinto with extra driving lights to help pierce the gloom. Driving on, I soon climbed the hill entering Cambria, and as I topped the hill and descended past Burton Drive, a few drops of rain began to spatter the windshield. Not much, but enough to have to keep turning the wipers on periodically.

    On the Pinto rolled, through Cambria and along the coastal cliffs, through San Simeon and then Piedras Blancas, and along the last of the coastal plain. It was DARK! There were no lights, save the occasional porch light from ranches here and there, and the very rare oncoming car. The rain had begun to fall steadily by now, and the wipers were keeping up on the lowest setting, but not really keeping time with the music coming from the 8 track. (Sorry, I refuse to get poetic).

    Everything began to change, however, as I approached Ragged Point. The rain got heavier as I passed the Point, and rounded the long downhill curve and crossed the bridge at the creek. Past the creek, the road began to climb steeply, and began to fold and twist itself in to a string of switchbacks that had me slowing to 10 miles per hour in some places. I was entering the most rugged part of the Coast Highway now, although I didn’t know it at the time. I knew I was climbing, a lot. I would round left hand curves as the road followed deep ravines and I could see cliffs on the right or pine covered hill sides, but the unnerving sight came as I rounded the right handers, with my headlights shining out into space, catching nothing but blackness beyond the guard rail on the outside of the turns. It didn’t take me long to figure out that there was nothing but a near vertical drop off beyond that guard rail, and I slowed my pace and hugged my side of the road like a security blanket.

    Back and forth I pulled at the wheel, accelerating out of the left hand turns and up hills, braking and tiptoeing around the right handers, all the while the rain getting steadily harder. At this point I hadn’t seen another car since before Ragged Point, and it was getting eerily lonely now. Small rockslides began to appear now and then on my side of the road and I had to slow to dodge them. In some places as the road tucked in to follow a ravine, water was rushing across the road several inches deep, and the spray from the wheels added to the now heavy downpour on the windshield. The wipers were now on high, and barely keeping up and I was forced to slow down even more. Once, near a place called Lime Kiln, it let up momentarily, and I heaved a sigh of relief, hoping that Id gotten past the worst of it, but as I rounded a bend just beyond, the rain came back with a vengeance.

    In all my life, before or since, I have never experienced rainfall like that. It did not seem to be windblown, just falling vertically and in volume that rivaled a waterfall. It would slacken now and then, but only slightly and the wipers were nearly useless. By now I was crawling along at between 5 and 10 miles per hour, even on the straight stretches, which, thank goodness, were becoming longer and more frequent. As I crawled along, I began to question the wisdom of ever having decided to make this trip, on this highway, in this kind of weather, at this time of night. I also began to question the motives of my friends who suggested it in the first place. Were they trying to get rid of me??

    By now, it was too late to turn back. I knew from the map Id studied before I left that I was past the halfway point, but I also didn’t know what lay ahead, so on I pressed. Some where, and to this day I don’t know exactly where, I almost decided to turn back. The road had dipped down close to sea level, but was carved out of near sheer cliffs and I was by now picking my way around numerous small rock falls that were looming up out of the darkness and the torrential downpour. As I rounded a curve, doing maybe 10 miles per hour, the rain was coming down so hard I couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of the car. I was trying to follow the one line or so that I could see in front of the car, when all of a sudden a large, volleyball sized rock appeared. With a resounding BANG, I hit it. Not having time to hit the brakes, the front of the car lurched upward, followed by a graunching, scraping, and banging as I passed over it. I hit the brakes, and brought the car to a stop, fearing I’d done major damage. The engine was still running, and no warning lights were on, but I was worried Id holed the oil pan or worse.

    There I was, stopped in the middle of the road, the rain hammering down on the roof drowning out the sound of the stereo and all else. I pulled forward, steering left and right, and the steering felt ok, so I stopped again, and decided to check for damage. Grabbing the flashlight from the glove box, I opened the door and was immediately hit by the deluge. It felt like someone was standing above me pouring a bucket of water on my head and shoulders. I hung on to the door and leaned out sideways and peered under the car, waving the flashlight around. The oil pan had a few scrapes on it and was slightly dented, but otherwise seemed ok. No oil appeared to be leaking, although there was so much water dripping everywhere, it would have been impossible to tell anyway. I had added an anti-roll bar to the car to improve the cornering, and it, being the lowest part of the car had apparently taken the brunt of the hit. The “U” brackets that secured it to the bottom of the car had been stretched into a “U” shape, but were still secure. The floor was dented as was the exhaust pipe, but otherwise, I had dodged the bullet.

    I sat there for a few moments, gathering my composure. By now, I was beginning to get scared. What if I ran into more of this? What if an entire hillside comes down in front of, or even worse, on top of , me? I knew I couldn’t stay there, but moving on didn’t seem possible anymore. The road was littered with rubble and more volleyballs. All I could do was try to get out of there as best I could, so I put the car back in gear and pushed off, dodging the bigger rocks and driving over the rubble, hoping I wouldn’t flatten a tire.

    On and on I drove, the rain still pouring down, harder, then slackening, but always a torrent. After another hour, the road began to turn inland, and the cliffs gave way to tall stands of pine trees on both sides of the road. Slowly, the rain began to let up also, and I passed a sign that said Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and Big Sur. At last! I was back in civilization!

    As I approached the town of Big Sur, the rain began to diminish, and I also noticed a pair of headlights some distance behind me. Descending the hill, the road passed through the little village, and I slowed to obey the 25 mile per hour speed limit, not wanting to risk a ticket in what might be a speed trap. As I did, the pursuing car, a Ford Torino, passed me. As we cleared the village, we both picked up speed, as the rain had all but stopped, and the road had become a series of gentle curves.

    And then it happened. We were picking up speed as we cruised through the middle of a pine forest. As we rounded a bend to the right, the Torino’s brake lights came on and we both had to pull to a halt quickly. There in our headlights was a sight Id never seen before. The road curved back to the left, with a slight bank, and was awash in mud and rocks. Some of the rocks were the size of basketballs this time. We both got out of our cars, our headlights illuminating the scene, and began to survey the situation. As the guy in the Torino, a tall, black fellow, and I stood there by the edge of the mud flow peering out into the gloom, we noticed that there in the middle of the flow, some 100 feet away, was another car. Sunk in to the axles and surrounded by rocks, was an old MGB, and its passengers, a young man and woman, desperately trying to push it out.

    “Hey man”, the young fellow called out, “Can you, like, give us a hand?” Though he had yelled at the top of his lungs, we barely heard him over the roar of rushing water in a nearby, but unseen stream. We looked at each other and shrugged, and waded out into the muck. As we neared the car, it was apparent they had been there some time already. Both of them were muddy from head to toe, having traded places at least once, one driving and one pushing. They were young, about my age. Both had long stringy hair, soaked with rain, giving them a decidedly disheveled appearance. Both had on bellbottoms, the guy in a tie-dye shirt and the girl in a gauzy black top. True hippies of the day. “Man, we are so glad to see you guys” the guy said. “We’ve been here for half and hour and haven’t seen anyone. We came around that last bend and, like, barreled right into this stuff! Can you give us a push?”

    “Yeah, lets do it”, I said, and with that the girl jumped in the driver seat, and the three of us pushed, shoved, lifted, bounced and grunted, and slowly but surely, the MG made its way through the mud to where our cars were parked. As we neared the last of it, it gained traction and lurched forward, banging over several rocks, and suddenly the engine erupted in a blast of unmuffled exhaust. The girl brought the car to a halt as she cleared the mud, and the boyfriend slid under the car to inspect the damage. “Whoa, not to bad,” he exclaimed. “The pipe just came apart at the slip joint. I can probably hammer it back on.” With that he pulled the jack from the trunk, and the two of them set to work lifting the car.

    The other guy and I stood there in the glow of the head lights pondering what to do. My thought was there was no way I could get across. My car was as low as the MG, and I had the aforementioned sway bar to hamper me even further. “I think I can do it” the black guy said. “If I go back down the road a ways, and get a run at it, I think I can make it without stopping.” Looking out into the mud and debris in the glow of our lights, I thought this was sheer folly, but it was his decision. I told him Id stay there and help him push it out if he got stuck. I got into my car and moved it to the side of the road behind the MG and with that, he hopped in the Torino, whipped a U turn in the middle of the road and roared off around the bend disappearing into the darkness. His engine had almost faded from earshot when we heard him slow, and with a slight screech of the tires, we heard him accelerating back toward us. I stepped back to the side of the road as he came barreling around the bend, doing probably 60 miles per hour or so. Like a fast motorboat crossing the wake of another, the Torino hit the mud and rocks, sending up a huge spray in front of it. Engine screaming, it banged and crashed as it clawed its way through the muck. At first, it appeared he might make it easily, but just over half way it slowed abruptly. Gunning the engine, turning the wheel back and forth trying to find a path and traction, he finally came to a halt about three quarters of the way across. Even though he had started on the right side of the road, the banking in the left hand bend and the slick surface had caused the car to end up on the left shoulder by this time. The engine slowed to an idle, the door opened, and out he stepped, calf deep in the mud at that side of the road. “Dayum!”,he exclaimed, “Awmost! Can you dudes help me out?”

    With that, the two hippies and I set off across the brown slurry. After a few shoves with the girlfriend sitting on the trunk for traction, the Ford was free. Stopping to inspect the underside for damage and finding none, we exchanged the obligatory thumb lock hand shake, and with a “Thanks, Brothers”, he was back in the Torino, and we watched as his taillights disappeared around the next curve.

    As we slogged back through the muck to our cars, I considered my options. I could try to make it through, but that seemed impossible. I could stay here with the hippies, who were, I had by now noticed, quite under the influence of something. No surprise there, I thought. My last option seemed to be the only viable one, go back to the village of Big Sur and wait for daylight when road crews would most likely be along to clear the mess. Reaching the other side, I was about to do just that when the boyfriend asked, “ Man, do you think you could give us a hand with this?”, referring to the problem with the exhaust pipe. My Good Samaritan instincts got the best of me and I agreed to hold a light and hand him tools as he scrambled under the car to make the repairs. Down on my hands and knees in the mud, I held the light for him as he cursed and hammered away at the pipe and muffler. As I knelt there peering under the car, his girlfriend announced, “God, I gotta get out of these clothes.” I figured she would go off behind the bushes at the side of the road, but as I looked up, she whipped of the gauzy top and pulled down the bellbottoms, revealing the fact that she had nothing on underneath. With no modesty whatsoever, as if no one else were there, she tossed the mud covered clothes in the trunk and pulled on some clean ones.

    Up to this point, I thought Id seen it all. Then I thought, “Well, no I haven’t. This is the first time I’ve ever seen a stranger strip in front of me.” A decidedly weird thing, on a decidedly weird night that was to get even weirder.

    “I think I got it” the boyfriend said as he scrambled out from under the MG. “I think that’ll hold ‘till we get to Big Sur anyway.” As I stood there holding the light for him and ogling his girlfriend as she dressed, I heard, off in the distance, the unmistakable blat of a Volkswagen heading toward us from the same direction the Torino had left earlier. “Oh crap”, I thought, “here comes another one that’s gonna get stuck.” Sure enough, a few seconds later around the bend came a Beetle, its dim yellow headlights barely illuminating the mudslide as it charged headlong into the deepest part of the slide and immediately ground to a halt, up to its bumper in muck, the headlights blotted out by a sheet of the sticky goo. The three of us stood there waiting, and after what seemed like several minutes, both doors slowly opened. Two young men, one with a big blond afro, and the other, the driver, with long dark hair slowly stepped and wobbled out of the car into the slop. “Whoooaaah, Man, what is this snow or somethin’?”, the driver exclaimed. Even across the 150 feet of mud I could see the smoke curling out of the open doors. It was obvious neither of them had a clue, nor would they have in the foreseeable future. If the couple in the MG were under the influence, these two were most likely on Neptune or some other nearby planet. Both were giggling uncontrollably as they floundered around in the mud and rocks, obviously amused with the turn of events. “Do you need any help?”, I shouted to them over the din of the still roaring stream. “Nah Man, we got it”, the driver yelled back. He stuck his head back in the car, and two more very hirsute characters stumbled out of the back of the VW, and the four of them set about pushing the VW. Problem was, there was a decided lack of teamwork. The driver and passenger were pushing in opposite directions, and the backseaters, obviously in a state of even more relaxation than the other two, didn’t seem to be doing much more than leaning against the sides of the car. “Dude, what the F— are you doing?”, the driver screamed at the co-pilot. Lifting his head, the co-pilot realized the error of his ways and stumbled around to the front of the car to join his friend in trying to push the VW backwards out of the mud. The backseaters gathered their senses enough to begin pushing in the same general direction and after a few more minutes of giggling and cursing, the Beetle was finally extricated. “Dude, I never seen snow like this before”, the driver yelled to us across the creeping brown ooze. “We’re going back to the City. I can’t believe this s—!” With that, the four of them poured themselves back into the VW. The starter cranked, the flat four blubbered to life, and we watched as they drove off, the soft, reddish glow of another doobie dimly illuminating the interior.

    As they drove off, I stood there amazed and dumbfounded at the scene I’d just witnessed. A night that had begun with so much excitement and anticipation, and progressed to a definite state of fear, had now run the gamut of wonder, eroticism, foolishness and high comedy. I turned to the boyfriend and wished him luck, and started toward my car to take up the only option I felt I had left, to return to Big Sur and wait until the road crews came through to clear the mud field. As I walked to the car, the boyfriend declared, “Ya know, I don’t think I want to stay here. I think those dudes in the VeeDub had the right idea about going back to the City. I’m going to try and get back across.” Hadn’t they learned anything, I thought? He had to have help getting out once, he saw that the Beetle had gotten stuck, and the big Ford didn’t even make it all the way through. More foolishness I thought. “I think if I go out and move some of the big rocks, I can make enough of a path that I can get through,” he added. OK, I thought, have at it, but it’s just going to be a repeat of what you went through.

    He had his girlfriend turn the car around so the headlight shone out across the mud, and he slogged out into the muck, picking up the bigger rocks and tossing them aside, clearing a rough path as he went. After reaching the far side, he returned, picking out smaller ones as he went, and by the time he got back, there was a fairly discernable path carved out of the mess. Standing by my car, I watched as he hopped in the MG and retraced the route the Ford took earlier, disappearing around the bend, and then with a distant screech of tires came blasting back toward the mud.

    Following the lead of the Ford, he hit the mud at the right shoulder, blasting a shower of brown into the beam of his lights. The MG began slowing immediately, and true to form, ground to a halt a little over halfway again. After a few futile attempts at gunning the engine and the rear tires spinning wildly, vainly searching for traction, he gave up. Opening the door and floundering out into the brown, he cursed a non-stop flow of expletives the likes of which I hadn’t heard since my discharge from the Navy. Adding to this was the girlfriend, only instead of cursing the situation, her venom was directed at him! “You dumb SOB, you idiot! I told you we’d never make it. I just changed and now I’m all muddy again! God, I never wanted to make this trip in the first place!” At this juncture, I got back into the Pinto, and left them standing there in the mud, hurling verbal grenades at one another.

    A few minutes later, I was back in the village of Big Sur. I slowed and pulled off into a dirt parking lot in front of a motel, and brought the car to a stop. The quiet was deafening, and I sat there replaying the night’s events in my head. I remember thinking that no one would ever believe me if I told them what I’d witnessed over the last hour. It was just too bizarre. Well, I thought, nothing much else to do but try and get some rest. I was still wet and caked with mud everywhere, and tired from slogging around pushing cars and I hadn’t slept much in the last 36 hours. I slouched down as best I could in the non-reclining seat, closed my eyes and started to drift off.

    I had just about reached the twilight zone, when I was brought back to the present by the sound of an approaching car. I looked up in the mirror, just in time to catch the sight of a VW Squareback, as it zoomed north under the streetlight, headed full speed for the mudslide. Oh man, I thought, he’s going to get stuck in it too. Again, my Good Samaritan nature got the best of me. I heaved myself back up in the seat, fired the engine and set out in pursuit of the doomed VW. With a chirp, my rear tires found the pavement and I raced back toward the mud, knowing I was in for another session of pushing. As I rounded the curve, my headlights found the mud, but the Squareback was nowhere in sight. Oh geeze, I thought, did he go off into the trees when he saw the mud? I pulled to a stop at the edge of the flow, and there in my lights was the MG, on the far side, boyfriend and girlfriend out of the car and the trunk open. I got out and yelled to them over the din of the still rushing water, “Hey! What happened to the VW?”. His answer caught me unprepared. “Man, you should have seen it! It was unbelievable! He didn’t even slow down! Just drove through it like it wasn’t even there!” I couldn’t believe it. “Are you kidding me, man? No way!” I yelled back. “It was righteous man”, came the reply, “He just flew through it!”

    This turn of events hit me like a slap in the face. I’d already seen three cars flounder in this stuff. One of them a VW, and one of them, the MG, twice! And now a VW Squareback, the failed successor to the Beetle, blows through it like it wasn’t even there? In my thoughts, I harrumphed like a disbelieving old English gentleman sitting in his overstuffed chair in his parlor after having been told the Germans were winning the war. My back was up! The gauntlet had been thrown, and there was no way I could not accept the challenge. If that bloody VW could make it, my trusty Pinto could to!

    Standing there looking out over the mud, the situation quickly brought me back to reality. I could see remnants of the VW’s trail, as he had followed a similar path to the one the MG driver had carved out, although he had gotten nowhere close to the opposite shoulder. Obviously he hadn’t slowed much, given the slipperiness of the mud. I knew if I were to have any chance at all, I would have to clear even more of a path than the MG driver had. Id already bashed the bottom of the Pinto on the rock earlier and didn’t want to risk tearing the bar off the bottom completely, so out into the mud I trudged, lifting and heaving yet more rocks to the side.

    After traversing the mud flow to the other side and back, I was satisfied that I had cleared a path that would give me a fighting chance at making it across. I had removed everything larger than fist size and was ready to get on with it. I made it back to the car, the mud now soaked through and into my sneakers, and I could feel it squishing between my toes with each step. The carpet and seat, already coated in partially dried muck, immediately got a fresh coat as I sat down and twisted the key with my muddy hand.

    The engine burbled to life, and I whipped the car around and headed back in the direction of town and after a quarter mile or so, I slowed, made another U turn and after dropping the gear lever down to first, banged the throttle wide open and began the final assault. The engine screamed as I hit second, then third, nearing 70 miles per hour. As I rounded the curve, the wipers on full blast, I took a deep breath and held it as I bore full speed into the flow.

    I was greeted with a large “BANG!” as I hit the mud and the first few large rocks, the car slowing immediately as it did. A continuous rumbling and rattling came from the floor and the car bounced violently over the rubble mixed in the mud. I also became aware of the fact that the car seemed to be drifting, and that turning the steering wheel seemed to have no effect on the direction of travel, and that direction was now toward the low shoulder on the opposite side of the road. I kept the gas pedal to the floor, and could hear the engine screaming as the back tires spun wildly in the goo. I was now a good three quarters of the way across, still moving but losing speed, and now completely in the oncoming lane. Closer and closer I got to the far side, and closer and closer I got to the opposite shoulder, the front wheels now turned fully to the right, acting more like rudders than wheels. Just a few more feet, I thought, just a few more!

    Finally, just as I was about to hit the shoulder, the front wheels cleared the mud and bit into the pavement. Not much, but as they did, the nose turned abruptly back to the right, and the rears, still in the mud, caused the car to slew around, and I slid to a halt sideways in the middle of the oncoming lane, my headlights now illuminating the MG parked on the opposite side of the road. A few seconds later, I became aware of the fact that I was still holding my breath, and exhaled with a whoosh, followed by several gasps of fresh air. “I made it!”, I thought, “I made it, I freaking made it”, now yelling out loud, pounding on the steering wheel.

    The boyfriend in the MG stood and stared while the girlfriend just sulked. Their car was up on jacks and it was obvious the exhaust had come loose again. He walked over and congratulated me and again asked me if I could help him. Full of elation with my success, I agreed and pulled my car up ahead of his, parking backward to let my headlights light the area. At this point, all I really wanted to do was get out of there. My mind was a million miles away as I held the light for him again as he lay on the wet pavement banging away at the exhaust pipe.

    A minute or two later, the last straw was added to the camels burden. To this day, as clear as the rest of the events of that night are to me, I could not tell you what kind of car it was that came whizzing around the bend, crashing headlong into the mud. Another shower of mud, crashing, thumping, banging and coming to a stop dead in the middle, I knew it was time to go. I stood up, leaving the flashlight there by the MG, and walked back to my car. As I got in and started the engine, I saw the door of the freshly stranded car open, and the driver stepping out as I made my U-turn and accelerated up the road and around the bend. Id had enough madness for one night. The real life episode of The Twilight Zone had come to an end.

    The madness had ended, but the misery had not, as I was soon to learn. As I picked up speed, the car began to shake violently, even though I was on smooth pavement. I could also hear sporadic bangs and thumps on the underside of the car, and quickly realized that gobs of mud and rock had gotten packed up inside the wheels, and was now being pitched out as the wheels spun faster. I slowed and pulled the car to the side of the road, and getting out with my flashlight, laid back down in the wet, reaching behind each wheel and scraped as much mud as I could from the backs of them. Finally, after getting all I could from them, I climbed back in and continued on. The car was still shaking as I drove, and I had to keep it under 50 as I finally made it into Carmel. It was probably between 4 and 5 AM as I entered the village, and as luck would have it, there was a gas station at the first intersection. I didn’t need gas, and the station was closed anyway, but there was a self-serve car wash right next door. I pulled into it, and thankfully had a few quarters in my pocket, began washing the underside of the car and the insides of the wheels. Mud flowed steadily from under the car in the dim light, carrying with it rocks, twigs, leaves and other detritus. Finally after a couple of dollars worth, I turned the wand on myself. I was brown from my chest down, and as the warm water from the wand hit my legs, I suddenly became aware of how chilled to the bone I was. I washed my legs and feet as best I could, not wanting to hit myself in the chest with the blast of water. When the last quarter ran out, I put the wand back in its mount, and began changing my clothes. I opened the door and sat down, took off my shoes and changed my pants and shirt, tossed the shoes and socks into the passenger seat and drove off barefoot with the heater going full blast.
    The rest of the drive to Laguna Seca was thankfully uneventful. Id had more than enough weirdness for one night, for a lifetime for that matter! Through Carmel, and on up to Monterey, and on to Highway 68, I headed east. I reached the track just as first light began to break over the hills to the east, gave the lady at the gate a 20 dollar bill and drove slowly up the hill in the line of cars toward the track. I made my way around the access roads and finally found my way to the hillside between turns 8 and 9 on the east side of the track. Facing the track for a good view, I pulled in between a couple of other cars, and shut the engine off, as the grey light of dawn crept over the sky. Completely exhausted now, I slid the seat back and slouched down hoping to catch some sleep before the racing began.

    It was here that the epilogue to this story takes place. The final event that gives this historical account its name. I hesitate to call it a story, as the events are all true to the best of my memory. I may have embellished it in a few places to give it interest, but the basic events really happened. At any rate, as I began to doze off, I was suddenly awakened by the rude bark of racing engines firing to life in the pits just across the track from me. Those same buzzing fours, singing sixes, thundering V8s, and shrieking V12s that I had so yearned to hear now were just ear splitting noise that I had no hope of sleeping through. For half an hour or so, engines rumbled as the teams warmed them for the first morning practice. I sat there listening, and after a while it all began to blend into a muddy cacophony that, far from music to my ears, was beginning to border on painful.
    Seeking refuge, I turned the radio on, and as the old radio commentator Paul Harvey used to say, heard the rest of the story.

    It was probably 8am by then, and the news was on. The announcer was saying that they were getting reports that the village of Big Sur had been hit by a mudslide. Early reports said that people were missing and damage was extensive, but there were no details available yet. I listened to it, but didn’t comprehend right away what it all meant. The news ended, and practice began so I switched off the radio and sat there watching the cars as they flashed past in front of me, diving into turn 9 and accelerating up the hill toward the finish line. After the practices was over and the track was declared closed, I turned on the radio again, and more reports were coming in. A major portion of the village of Big Sur had been swept away by a huge mudslide, including the local motel. The same motel I where I had planned to wait for the road crews to come and clear away the mud where all the madness the night before had taken place.

    There are a lot of cliché’s that could be applied to all this I guess. Things like, “Some things happen for a reason, some are just pure chance.” Or “Guess I was just lucky”, or and egotist might say, “Damn, I’m good!” My personal favorite in this case would be “Sometimes its better to be lucky thank good.” In my case, it was probably a little bit of everything.

    All I know is, if it hadn’t been for that Squareback that never slowed down, I probably wouldn’t be here to tell this tale.


  15. Kyle Campbell

    I spent my formative years growing up in the Bay Area (please don’t call the City by the Bay “San Fran”) and have lived in San Luis Obispo since 1991.

    The following is a link to what I would think are the best directions from San Francisco Airport -> down the coast -? SLO town:,+ca&daddr=37.613144,-122.427521+to:CA-92%2FHalf+Moon+Bay+Rd%2FSan+Mateo+Rd+to:CA-1+to:CA-1+to:san+luis+obispo,+ca&hl=en&geocode=%3B%3BFX7fOwIdrh20-A%3BFQj0OAIdhkC0-A%3BFczEKwId2MO7-A%3B&mra=dpe&mrcr=0&mrsp=1&sz=11&via=1,2,3,4&sll=37.496652,-122.240067&sspn=0.430373,0.837708&ie=UTF8&ll=36.49639,-120.640869&spn=3.488336,6.70166&t=h&z=8

    Oh, and make sure you have a full tank of gas and maybe some snack food before heading down the coast because it will cost $$$ from Carmel.

  16. Melissia Wannlund

    Beneficial info shared. I am extremely happy to read this write-up. thanks for giving us good info. Great walk-through. I appreciate this post.

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