I was thinking earlier this month about my automotive plans for the year, what events I am looking forward to, what I want to do with my cars. I got to reminiscing about experiences at driving schools and track events with professional instruction. I haven't written about it here as of now - hopefully I add it some time soon - but back in 2018 I did a two-day stint at Ford's driving school in Utah, which was a perk included by Ford in the purchase price of my RS. You can read about it here if you like:
In 2020, when I was down in South Carolina with my folks for BMW's Foundation Fest, we visited the BMW Performance Center East and did some autocross in their cars. I wrote that up for the blog:
Event: BMW CCA Foundation Fest
If there's one thing more fun than driving your car around a track, it's driving someone else's car around a track, and letting that someone else worry about wear and tear, tires, brakes, maintenance, insurance. So with that in mind, I started looking at course offerings at BMW's Performance Center West, located just east of Palm Springs in Southern California. Proper driving schools are expensive, so I hemmed and hawed a bit and moved it to the back of my mind. A couple of weeks ago I found myself at there right place at the right time - namely Facebook, on a Tuesday night - when a spot opened up for the one-day M School on January 16th.
The Golden Gate chapter of the BMW CCA organized a special event at the school at a discounted rate, and sold out all 32 spots immediately in October. I was able to pick up one of those spots when a gentleman had to cancel on short notice. The price was not even half the normal price of the program - a total no-brainer. With the Monday a work holiday for MLK day, I had just enough scope to drive down Saturday, do the school Sunday, and then bomb home on Monday.
Immediately I began scheming... road trip! I love road trips. You may have noticed.
Focus: road trip to northeast California
GT350: road trip from Houston to SF
- Start off with an easy 3-hour first leg down 101 to Atascadero, grab fuel and food.
- Take 41 west just a bit, turn south onto 229.
- Follow 229 until it tees off into CA58. My map above is a bit wrong on this point.
- Follow CA58 east all the way to 33.
- Follow 33 south and stop in Taft for fuel and food as needed.
- Stay on 33 south past Maricopa, turning left to stay on the Maricopa Highway south.
- Follow 33 all the way down through Ojai into Ventura, and jump back on 101.
- Turn off 101 to follow the Pacific Coast Highway toward Malibu.
- Pick your favorite canyon road and head into the Malibu hills. I took Encinal Canyon to reach the Mulholland Highway 'car spot' at the top of the snake.
- Head back down the hill to PCH and follow it in to West LA.
- Take I-10 and CA60 east to Palm Springs.
- I had the whole day, but I had to generally keep making progress toward my destination. I didn't want to cut back or veer off course
- I was by myself, and the Focus does not have a full-size spare, just a can of tire slime built into a compressor
- The more remote the road, the higher the likelihood of tire-killing debris, the lower the chance of cell service, and the lower the chance of someone coming by to help you if stranded
Fueling up near home. I hit the road at 9a after the mandatory Chick-fil-A chicken biscuit breakfast. As designed, the 101 stretch was easy goings with very light traffic, an audiobook, and cruise control. The weather became overcast and cool as I left Atascadero and onto the first of the new roads. The 41-229 combination was a winner! 229 is a quiet road that gets small on its southern end, where the centerline disappears and it becomes a roller coaster with cambered cut-backs one after another.
Somehow I didn't take a single photo of CA58 on the way out - sorry. I took a ton on the return trip to make up for it. This road was amazing. 65 miles of smooth, fast, flowing pavement through hills, valleys, wide-open expanses, solar panel farms, all culminating with an incredible canyon sequence on the east end. Love at first drive! No one out there, easy to cruise at highway speeds through the rolling landscape.
The DSLR didn't come out again until my Taco Bell stop in Taft. The only damper on the CA58 experience was rain that started to fall more aggressively in the middle of the closing canyon section. PS4S tires and RS drivetrain didn't mind but I had to dial it back a couple of notches to be safe. The Focus was already accumulating a nice layer of filth.
After lunch it was down 33 and into Los Padres National Forest.
My favorite thing to see on the GPS. This road was not totally new to me - I drove it last year in the opposite (northbound) direction - so I knew it was going to deliver.
I pulled off for a photoshoot under the cloudy skies. I still love the look and aggressive stance of the RS, and no color is better-suited for it than Nitrous Blue.
I found the drive through Ojai charming - my route took me through residential areas and it had a cool crunchy feel to it. The backside of Ventura was not so lovely but the downtown looked cool. I tried to cruise down Main Street but it's pedestrian traffic only due to Covid, fair enough.
The weather was still a bit gloomy as I rolled down PCH into Malibu, and the sun was on its way out the door.
^ really pleased with that one.
I was trying to make my way up to the "snake" portion of Mulholland Highway, but found it closed. The rains over the winter appear to have washed out and impacted quite a few of these canyon roads. Poor Malibu hasn't caught a break recently, we found it burned when we drove my Skyline home after purchase. Oh, I guess I forgot another road trip. Here it is:
I made my way back down the hill in the dark and rain, and on to West LA where I caught up with my buddy over dinner. His apartment's garage offered some shelter in a very tight space.
Fun driving was finished for the day, so I pointed the nose east and let the cruise control take me the rest of the way. An hour from Palm Springs, I fueled up one last time and cued up one of my favorite albums - Queens of the Stone Age's 2002 Songs for the Deaf. The record is a loose concept album, modeled after the drive from LA to Joshua Tree, jumping through fictional radio stations representing different cities along the way. It's one of the few records I'll listen to straight through from start to finish, but in many years I'd never had the chance to do it properly. Cool experience, all that Josh Homme stuff is born from the desert.
Queens of the Stone Age - Songs for the Deaf
Obviously it was dark when I arrived, so I'm cheating and showing you some photos from the next day. I stayed in Palm Springs at the Rendezvous, a small 50s-style hotel with about ten themed rooms centered around a pool area.
When selecting rooms, one of my options was the "Pretty in Pink" suite, decked out and fully dedicated to Marilyn Monroe. I wouldn't really have gone for this, except that they claim that she actually stayed in this room. That's pretty cool, more interesting than a James Dean tribute room, so that's how I ended up here. Bizarre room layout with the shower/tub kind of elevated in the middle of everything, but comfortable enough.
Early to bed for a second big day of driving!
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