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California

Laureles Grade

Last Sunday I achieved a 20 year ambition.
Laureles GradeMany years ago my in-laws moved to Carmel Valley in California. Their house was about 15 miles from Carmel, east of Carmel Valley Village. Over the years I visited them many times, and got to know all of the different routes to their house. And to get there from Salinas, or to avoid traffic around Monterey, the key was Laureles Grade: a 5.6 mile road over a 1200 ft. ridge between the Monterey-Salinas Highway and the Carmel Valley Road.
It’s not a particularly fast road – the posted limit is 55, but it’s too twisty to work up much speed, and it’s easy to get stuck behind a slow vehicle. And the scenery is unremarkable, except for a brief vista of Salinas. But it’s a driver’s road. The experience of driving it fast, with concentration and precision, is immensely rewarding. And I know that it isn’t just me. The northern end of the grade is just a couple of miles from the Laguna Seca race track, and on race weekends, or around the time of the Monterey Historics Motorsports Reunion, you’ll see many new and classic sports cars on the grade, from Porsches to Ford GT40s to a certain replica Jaguar D-type.
I loved driving the Grade, but there was always a problem. I lived in Massachusetts, so whenever I visited California I drove a rental car. I had some nice cars back east, including a pretty little Mazda Miata and an AWD turbo Subaru Legacy GT which could go through any turn as if it was on rails, but I never got to drive any of them over the Grade. And the rentals were all the kind of car that a corporate travel department would approve of…
A few months ago, just after Christmas, I finally got to drive the Grade in a car of my own: my Toyota Prius. Now the Prius has many admirable qualities, but handling is not one of them. As I blogged at the time, it wasn’t fun, and shortly afterwards I replaced the Prius with a Hyundai Genesis Coupe. 3.8L, RWD, 300+HP, loads of fun.
Last weekend we drove down to Carmel to attend a wonderful musical event: a reunion of Al Stewart and Peter White, the guitarist who accompanied Al on many of his biggest hits, complete with band. It was a great show, and we stayed overnight in Carmel. On Sunday morning we were trying to decide what to do, and how much time we could spare before I had to get home to work. We were thinking about Point Lobos, or bird-watching at Moss Landing, or maybe an early lunch in Santa Cruz… and then Kate made a simple suggestion: “Let’s drive over the Grade in the new car.”
So we did.
And it was magical.