Immediately upon seeing the roads near the area I’d be camping at, I knew I couldn’t take my CRX. It needs some work to keep the tires from rubbing, and it’s clunky. All the bushings need replacement, the oil needs changing, so I can’t be driving it to its limit. The curves were taunting me, and I needed something that would enable me to meet their jaunts with unwavering tenacity.
Enter the 190E. One of those objects I obsessed over and HAD to have. It is a car I’ve sacrificed a lot for, but as I have come to find out, it’s a car that reciprocates good feelings and well-being more than any car I’ve ever owned before. From the moment you set eyes on it, it becomes clear this machine is designed to do one thing very well. Drive, and drive hard. Distractions are completely eliminated, with not even a passenger seat. Anything that contributes to comfort has been tossed in favor of power-to-weight ratio, or better grip. The exhaust is nasally and several times too loud, but being bad has rarely felt so good. The gas mileage is horrible, and this is partly because of the tune that is weighted towards maximum power over economy, but moreover due to the way the car begs for acceleration. How can one resist?
An hour or so was spent gathering things for camping. The tools were thrown in the right rear of the car to best balance for grip, and so began the trip North. The hot, boring trip North, up the 5 to the 99. Cell phone troubles meant I’d have to get there by memory. I remembered the campsite name and numbers, and the general direction, but rather than stress I opted to just let the roads get me there eventually. I drove right past the 178 turnoff, but something nagged the back of my head and suggested that was the right way to go. After confirming with a local a mile or two later, I backtracked and set down the 178 East. As the 178 became narrower and began winding up a steep canyon, my weekend immediately became less about camping. Different thoughts began to culminate. I don’t believe in destiny, but there was a certain feeling that I had done so right in bringing this machine to this place at this time.
My trusty German-built machine did not falter once whilst charging up the canyon, snorting angrily, past unsuspecting tourists, past curious locals. The roads widened, and the turns became more gradual and high-speed as I crested the hill and took my exit just before Lake Elsinore. I felt like an exhibitionist as I rolled slowly but no less noisily through a large throng of people attending a local music festival. People turned and started, pointed and smiled excitedly. I don’t blame them, it’s not every day you see a Mercedes with a roll bar, especially in a small town like Kernville.
I rolled slowly through the campsites, interrupting impromptu soccer games and waving in return to those admiring the car. After locating the campsite, an eventful evening was had enjoying the people and place around me. Living in an urban, smog-ridden area, it becomes easy to forget how beauty abounds in places not even that far from home.
Almost all of the next day was spent in the water in an attempt to combat the Summer temperatures. Around mid-day, seeing as no one else in my group was interested in breaking to eat, I decided to use my growling stomach as an excuse to get back behind the wheel. Back down the twisties to the nearest store. After I consumed a bit of energy in the form of pastrami and queso and milkshake, my leftover endorphins left me aching for more. I howled back up the road, past my campsite 10 or 20 miles to a road I’d heard mentioned by the locals. Around a blind corner I found it, so I pulled the parking brake to make the turn, up the opposite lane and back into my own as I began my uphill charge. I heard the whoops of pedestrians behind me, but quickly left them there as I focused on what was ahead.
This fabled county road turned out to be extremely technical. I gave no quarter and took no excuses from my beast as I reigned it in before the sharpest turns. Sometimes it was necessary to swerve onto the other half of the road to avoid potholes, but never around blind corners. It snorted as I climbed ever upward. I slowed for a Jeep I was following, and passed as soon as I saw the blinker and wave. Around the next corner, my car began to sneeze and lurch. I knew this was all I would get out of it for now so I threw the car sideways in an attempt to turn around before she gave her last breath. Instead, the Jeep turned the corner and found me stalled sideways, blocking the road entirely. I jumped out and pushed the car enough to get it pointed downhill and gave a slightly embarrassed wave to the other motorist whom I had mildly inconvenienced as he passed me by again with a concerned look.
Now it’s just me and the quiet, at 7200 feet in 105 degree weather with no water. I’m a mile and a half from the general population, up a very steep and windy rutted and pot-holed road and I’d seen one car in the last 15 minutes. My group would likely be expecting me back as well, although their drunkenness might buy me some time before they notice me gone. A turnout provided some safe-haven from the off-chance of traffic as I checked the normal things. Wiggle the VR sensor… try to start. Nope. Check for leaks… None. Temperature? Cool. She would start for a second or two, but then begin to lurch and shake, completely unresponsive to throttle. It seemed like fuel, so perhaps the elevation makes a bigger difference than expected with my custom fuel delivery system.
I coasted down to the populated road below without the aide of power steering or brakes, in hopes that I would be able to start the car on the way down, or at least be within sight in case anyone was looking for me. I was a long way from cell reception, so no chance of AAA. After 10-15 minutes of cutting power to my ECU, wiggling wires, and trying to recover from the physical effort required to push the car in such heat, she sprang back into life as if nothing had been wrong at all. Unfortunately, I had noticed that my camber plate had slipped somewhere along the lines of asking so much of the car. I had no choice but to limp back to camp and hope I could locate a jack.
My acquaintances weren’t particularly worried about me. The booze dulled their senses and made them barely notice their sunburns, let alone the fact I was gone. Those closer to me weren’t worried, as I have a history of getting through the toughest of things. I always end up coming back if you give me time enough to figure things out. However, none will ever understand why I don’t join them in their rituals of getting drunk and nursing hangovers. I prefer to stay sharp and know what is going on around me. If I ever found myself at a point where I simply COULDN’T drive due to age or being altered, it would certainly be a personal low.
As the Earth’s rotation caused the Sun to appear lower behind the mountains, the evening turned cool and I set to work fixing the camber plate. My tire was completely bald on the inside due to being at full negative camber for so long, but no threads were showing. I’d be fine.
Another hellish sleep thanks to the OC party-types next to us. Another hot morning as the sun peeked its way into our tent. I helped pack up the campsite and got an early start. I didn’t know what time I left, but frankly did not care. This day was to be mine. South to the first stop – gas. Curious onlookers gawked as I filled up. One young guy asked me if it was a rally car. Well… You’re not too far off. At least he didn’t ask me if I drift. As I purchased water – the only way to regulate my body temperature – I casually asked the cashier a question he probably hears one hundred times a day from us tourist-types… “How do I get to the 395?” He rolled his eyes a bit and launched into his rehearsed answer that included “Do nothing but what I tell you!” I let the person behind me up to the counter after thanking him, and walked out to the map outside to reaffirm his instructions. I got an alternative idea, and decided to get back in line and ask again in a different way.
“What about… the 483? Does that ever hit the 395?” His face lit up. The question was stimulating in some way, something out of the ordinary. He asked if 4-wheel drive was an option, which it obviously wasn’t, but he was eager to share another route, so long as I didn’t mind going 3-4 hours out of my way. I didn’t, not today, not here. He described the first leg of the trip, and I quickly realized he was referring to the road I had had troubles on the day prior.
In a way, I felt as though I’d be again facing an arch-nemesis. But I was confident this time as I trudged my way back to the base. This time I knew where the turn was, so no handbrake turn necessary. Within minutes, the point at which I broke down became another turn in my rear-view mirror. The road got increasingly dirty from the washed out hillsides, so at times I would have to point the chassis carefully and be reserved with my throttle foot. One careless punch could unsettle the rear and cost me my most prized possession, or even my life. There are few better feelings than performing in the face of danger, and few worse than miscalculating.
The switchbacks grew ever higher, the hillsides ever steeper, and the views ever more so grand. The clean air allowed for miles of views, unlike anything I’d seen in quite some time. It’s important at times such as these to take the opportunity to enjoy your surroundings. Intense focus and performance is entrancing, but appreciating places you’ve never been can be a welcome interruption. Just don’t let the angry folks in the passenger car you passed earlier catch up with you.
Increasingly, I could feel the engine starving for air. Second gear no longer had pull until 5500 RPMs, and the same for third. Reaching fourth was a rarity with the hills as steep as they were. But still, I thrashed it, demanding all it could give and daring it to give up. The temperature stayed acceptable, and never once shot up the whole way to the 9,400 foot summit. A break was in order for this machine. It had done its work well, and it was the least I could do.
Quick in, quick out. I knew I had 80 more miles of virgin wilderness to tarnish with my loud exhaust tone, so back on the road for us. These new roads on the backside were difficult. Around every turn there were potholes and more blind turns. As we descended, I could feel power returning as more oxygen was available for this hungry Cosworth to breathe. I would occasionally encounter a motorcyclist. One was fully in my lane on a blind corner at one point. Luckily I never go too fast when I don’t know what’s on the other side, and quick thinking on both of our parts saved his life.
After a treacherous period that was hard on both the car and my mind, I reached a turnout. Some Forest Service Rangers were writing up motorcyclists and I smiled as I rolled by at a sane speed, hoping they would not notice the squirrel flattened on the right rear tire.
Another photo opportunity presented itself as the forest opened up to meadow. The contrast was so stark that I gasped and immediately turned around. On another day I might have explored but other things were on my mind at this point. I even decided to join in on one of the photos, speculating that my future offspring might want to know what I did in my youth.
Shortly past the meadow, I was unfortunate enough to get behind a camping trailer. They were doing about 15mph, and after 10 minutes and countless missed downhill turnouts, my patience wore thin. My license plate cover reads “Cosworth – Power to Pass”, and sometimes that gets to my head. I waited for a long straight, and, while not completely legal, decided to have a go. I shifted down to second and held it there for a few seconds so he could hear my intentions, and then went for it. A relatively safe situation suddenly turned deadly as the pilot of the large truck and trailer decided he didn’t want me ahead. He swerved completely in the oncoming lane as I was alongside him, forcing me inches from the curb and kicking up pine cones. I kept on the throttle and squeezed by with seemingly inches to spare. We were both in the wrong, but attempted murder wasn’t in my plans for the day. I held my hand gestures to myself and got far ahead of my aggressor within seconds.
More gradual downhill, and soon I found myself in a slightly more populated area. The roads finally improved and showed signs of maintenance. With still not a soul on the road, I never lifted the throttle, but instead brought music to the hillsides. The endorphins still carried me over crests and around corners with focus and at speeds some might consider irresponsible.
The terrain once again changed, this time from oaky country roads to something so grand I was found breathless once more. The valley floor was visible, but between there and me was miles of high-speed corners reminiscent of the straighter parts of Pike’s Peak.
At one point, I came across a BMW sitting in a turn-out pointed uphill. Its owner stood outside and watched with an amazed grin on his face as I explored the limit of my grip on the turn. The only thought that entered my head during this otherwise completely focused downhill run was that of a song…
“The hilllssss are aliiiiive with the sound of Coswooooorth…”
I felt honored to have finished up the challenging part of my drive home with such a perfect road. The car complimented every turn, proving to be the machine I thought it was and much much more.
My enjoyment of the day did not diminish as I turned onto the 395. My hot water was traded out for some cool water at a gas station. Temperatures, pressures, and fluids were checked thoroughly. My inside thermometer read 128 degrees as I laboriously buckled my 5-point harness, but the solution to heat was easy; just drive faster.