August 11, 2003

False Advertising

"Why, yes," I said. "We can certainly go see the giant sequoias. Instead of taking Interstate 80 back from Lake Tahoe, we will take 89 South to 4 West, cross the main crest of the Sierra's not at Donner but at Ebbetts Pass, and stop at Calaveras Big Trees State Park."

Ha! I repeat myself: Ha! Donner Pass is a pass--a smooth route through a mountain chain avoiding the steep peaks and the heights. Tioga Pass is a pass (albeit one that they do not plow in winter).

Ebbetts Pass is not a pass.

It should be called "Ebbetts Saddle that is marginally lower than the highest Sierra Nevada peaks, but that should not be driven by the faint of heart and acrophobic, especially not in a poorly-made Ford Taurus with 130,000 miles on it and a twice-rebuilt transmission."

The other members of my family say that it was absolutely beautiful.

I was concentrating on avoiding the RVs on a road with hairpin turns that was so narrow that they forwent painting a yellow line down the middle, when I wasn't watching the temperature gauge or listening to the thunk-thunk-screech of the transmission...

Posted by DeLong at August 11, 2003 08:44 PM | TrackBack


You'd enjoy Utah's improved roads then, which I can happily report having survived during a visit to Moab back in 1994 in my then-new Ford Escort wagon. After spending most of a December day hiking in the Arches Nat'l. Monument, my wife and I decided we'd drive what was labled an 'improved road' on the offical State of Utah Highway Map through a part of the Canyonlands on our way further west towards the land of my wife's youth (Paragounah, UT). It started out quite well, on a nice asphalt road under a beautiful early-evening sky. The asphalt road ended as we passed a number of evaporation ponds and turned into a gravel road. Still, not too bad as the sun was just about to set.

About a quater of an hour later, the gravel became a bit more, well, bumpy. Given the lack of ground clearance in my Escort, I slowed down to 30mph. Not a bad thing, I thought to myself, because it gave me a better chance to take in the awesome scenery. However, it was beginning to get a bit dimmer in the sky. But we only had about 25 miles to go, after all. Then, the road got, shall we say, narrow. O.K., not that narrow but there were no shoulders left to speak of. As the twilight deepened about the time we were passing by what's famously known as Dead Horse Point, I started rounding a turn and glancing about 10 feet to my left saw what looked to be a drop of 1000 feet.

As Ghu is my witness, what vestige of a prehensile tail my butt had got a death grip on my car seat. Oh, and my wife I will now mention has a terrible fear of heights. We got around the corner, slowed, and weighed our options. We _could_ go back I told my wife, although it would throw our schedule off about three hours. Or we could go on, trusting that the upcoming section of road would be better, given it was located in a National Recreation Area. I made the decision to go on, good red-blooded male that I am. By now, it was practically dark, but as we made our way I could dimly make out what looked to be a looming cliff that blotted out about half the sky. The road was taking us in that direction. By this time it was dark, and when we reached the base of the cliff the grade of the road became much steeper and we began to climb. Ohhh-Kaaay. I can do that, I said to myself, even in the dark.

Then the patches of snow appeared and then grew, and the lack of guard rails suddenly took on a whole new significance as the hairpin turns tightened. About that time, my wife remarked that she was glad it was dark, because she couldn't see how far it was we might fall if we slid off the road. For about the next half-hour, I drove a slow 5-10mph up, never stopping for fear of getting stuck in the snow. After what seemed to be not-quite-an-eternity, we reached the top of the cliff and found ourselves on flat ground with a sky filled with more stars than I've ever seen in my life, before or since. I stopped the car and had to get out to celebrate just being. Thank you mother earth, thank you father sky. I was not the tourist to get into trouble this time, thankfully.

And I even have a story to tell now... :-)

Posted by: David W. on August 11, 2003 10:02 PM

Must be something about Fords... We've got a '94 Taurus with 271K on it. We were about to hand it back to it's maker due to an A/C that went out and required an est. $1300 to fix. While we were mulling over our options, the radiator blew. Got that fixed for just shy of $500 on a Sat. at our local Goodyear store. Good guys, we came in at 2.30pm and were done when they closed at 4. Strangely enough with the rad fixed our A/C came back. This is fine. Now we can drive it until it's full 10 year life expectancy. I did'nt like the seats in too many of the possible replacements either. And fellas, they're just not making bench seating for sedans anymore! My 2000 Ford Focus however has gotten a recall every other month like clockwork since I've owned it. It's trans dropped out on me at 17K miles, and you thought the Escort was a 'disposable' car! I keep on finding bits and pieces of it in the driveway when it's shedding. A piece of tire the size of a paper back book cover disabled it the other week on the interstate too.

And don't be too smug with your tale David. Everyone over the age of 40 knows what an 'improved road' means. They used to tell you such esoterica in HS Driving Classes. It's a step above a dirt track essentially. But it does sound amusing...

Posted by: VJ on August 12, 2003 12:11 AM

Wimp. You are describing a daily drive on Irish roads.

Posted by: William Sjostrom on August 12, 2003 03:06 AM

I hope you picked up a growler at the local brewery. Good stuff!
And those are some big trees!

Posted by: theCoach on August 12, 2003 03:06 AM

I'd have a tough time in Ireland just trying to figure out how to get from bally point A to bally point B, I'm sure. However, for sheer driving thrills, Mexican highways (and bus drivers) are pretty handy.

BTW, I still have my Escort wagon, now with over 300K miles on it, original engine and all.

Posted by: David W. on August 12, 2003 06:26 AM

Don't bedrudge those roads Brad! I would kill to have such entertaining ribbons of tarmac at my disposal!

Posted by: Lorenzo on August 12, 2003 06:45 AM

Sonora Pass ( can be a thrill, too, especially the drop off its 9,000 foot height. The link shows the approach to the summit from the west, a mostly gentle climb up through gold rush country until nearing the summit. From the east it's a serpentine scramble up the fore edge of a book.

In 1986 I drove it in a 1967 VW Beetle. The beetle's front brake pads had long before been ground down to their fundaments, and I made the whole trip -- from Bridgeport, CA to San Francisco -- using the transmission and the emergency brake instead. I wanted to save the brake drums...

Two weeks later I crossed back to Bridgeport, via Tioga pass. I didn't have enough money to both pay the day use fee (Tioga Pass is in Yosemite Nat'l Park), and buy gas in Lee Vining at the eastern end of the road. I had the precise amount of gas needed to reach Lee Vining and 395; there was no turning around and finding another way over the mountains. After some grinning, the Ranger in the fee station let me continue with a handwritten IOU (which I paid out of the proceeds of my next paycheck).

Posted by: LHP on August 12, 2003 07:05 AM

I experienced something similar when I drove from Baltimore to visit my brother in Oceano, and decided to do the coastal road, route 1, from Monterey Bay down to Oceano. I'd heard it is some of the most beautiful driving you're likely to find anywhere, and I guess it must be true because what little I saw of it was just amazing. But you don't dare take your eyes off that little road, not even for an instant. I hadn't reckoned on the road being that narrow, that high up from the surf below, and the plunge down that close to the edge of the pavement. It was white knuckle city the whole way. I was driving my little 93 Geo Prism (a Toyota Corolla under a GM skin) with nearly 170k miles on it, but it's in great mechanical condition. By the time I got to Hearst Castle, I was the wreak.

Posted by: Bruce Garrett on August 12, 2003 07:08 AM

Any idea why the roads most usually described as "scenic" are those which are so dangerous to drive, that a driver (vs. a passenger) only looks at the view at peril of their life?

Posted by: Jay C. on August 12, 2003 08:03 AM

Is it really rational for you to be driving the family around in that clunker? At least rent something else for the hazardous family vacation driving!

Posted by: ratar on August 12, 2003 12:30 PM

Well the characteristics which make a road scenic -- hills and curves come quickly to mind -- also tend to make it more dangerous to drive on. Low traffic is also a key characteristic of the scenic road; and there is less traffic on roads which are difficult to drive on. The roads in Jamaica were quite scenic, and fairly dangerous -- I'm still not sure quite how we got through that vacation -- the roads in Ireland also, however we were on bike so did not have to worry about their low drivability.

Posted by: Jeremy Osner on August 12, 2003 12:33 PM

I have but one comment: Try driving in Corfu, Greece. No one describes them as scenic, because they are the only roads around. My husband crash landed a vespa in order to avoid going over a cliff! And even buses do them!

Posted by: Barbara on August 12, 2003 02:59 PM

What the hell is brad doing driving such a clunker? I thought big shot economists only drove late model German or Italian cars? Get yourself a consulting client, Brad, and make him suffer a heart attack when he opens your bill. Then get the family a decent ride.

Posted by: kit on August 12, 2003 04:25 PM

I do economic history and macroeconomics. What consulting clients want to learn about economic history? (Although analogies between the railroad age a century ago and the information age are fascinating, they're the stuff of after dinner speeches, not corporate strategy moves.) And my macroeconomics is mostly about why you shouldn't expect to be able to forecast interest rates, or predict movements in the stock market. (Animal spirits rule!)

So it's unlikely to happen. No cars costing more than $25K for me...

Posted by: Brad DeLong on August 12, 2003 08:21 PM
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