I live in Illinois and – for those of you not familiar with the area – we don’t have a lot of mountains. A few thousand years ago about a mile of ice came down from Canada and crushed the land flat. Since I don’t have mountains to drive through at home, I always look for the challenge (actually I always seem to end up with the challenge) of mountain driving. I’ve found myself in the middle of mountains in Vermont, Nevada, Arizona and California.
I don’t have a problem with the driving per se. I have no problems navigating on one-and-a-half lane roads that cling to the side of mountains like a ring in a bathtub. Add the additional excitement of seeing the yellow caution signs warning that things could be ICY ahead.
My favorites are the signs that warn of hairpin turns. You look straight ahead at a sheer side of rock, another mountain or – the best – naked blue sky (no guard rails necessary).
No, the problem I have with mountain driving is that I can manage it at something like 20 – 25 miles an hour slower than the posted speed limit. I think I’m going fast enough. Half the time, I feel like I’m racing around the mountain passes like that old Porsche commercial. But then I notice the half dozen locals hanging off my back bumper which kind of destroys the illusion.
Luckily about the time I’m worried that the drivers behind me are conspiring to plunge me off the nearest cliff, I get a friendly reminder. There is a turnout only ¼ mile ahead. Turnouts are a godsend to out of state drivers not used to vertical relief in their pavement. They are a wide spot in the road, situated every few miles up and down every mountain road in southern California. I think I have stopped at every one between San Bernadino and Idylwild. They give me a chance to pull over and take a look around. The scenery is usually great. I often stop to take pictures or shoot video at turnouts.
However, I must admit the real reason for stopping is to pry my fingers from the steering wheel, take a few deep breaths and let the other drivers pass me by. Then it’s back on the road… to the next turnout a few miles down aways.