There is a state route that directly connects the Southern California Inland Empire area to the San Luis Capistrano area of Orange County. This route is 74….otherwise known as Ortega Highway. It’s a two lane road that on the eastern side (Lake Elsinore) winds its way up the Santa Ana Mountains before taking a gently winding journey through the Cleveland National Forest before ending near the coast in Orange County.
The good news about this journey is that it is VERY scenic! The bad news is that there is an east-to-west section, about a mile or so in length, that is beyond excrutiating for me. Once I’m past that, the rest of the 20+ mile drive is awesome!
So, why the stressful mile? Here’s what happened to me this past Saturday during the drive…
I made a right hand turn onto Ortega Highway and proceeded up the next two miles fine and dandy. Then I encountered the yellow and black sign with 25mph in the middle of a circular line with an arrow at one end, signalling a change in direction involved than a U-turn, and one that also meant I was now going to be in the outside lane instead of the inside lane.
That’s when “it” happened….
My heart started thumping, sweat made itself known, the CD player was silenced, the A/C was turned on, the steering wheel was clenched (ditto for my teeth), my ears began popping, my eyes focused on the double yellow line and the realization that I had coffee but no breakfast was recognized as a very bad decision as nothing was calming the caffeine racing through my veins.
Why was all of this happening?
Along that infamous west-bound mile, there are very few, if any, guardrails.
Let’s just say that a mis-judgement of 4 feet could make me nothing more than a memory. These photos I took a couple years ago when I had pulled over to one of the many look-outs and…well…looked out!
The key here is that these views are awesome because the mountain side is pretty much vertical, it’s not one of those nice sloping kind, so when you’re driving in the outside lane, the road curves left and all you see in front of you before you follow the road is blue sky, you know that there is no hope if you make any error either on your own or with the help of another driver.
After surviving that scary mile, driving the interior portion of the highway is a blast! Twists and turns that engage the driver rather than lull said driver offer incredible opportunities for sightseeing (and picture taking even while driving) as well as a just plain fun driving experience.
Though easily tempted, there is no need for any bravado other than that which is recognized when one safely reaches a destination at the other end of the road. The windy nature of this road, the false sense of ease that accompanies all but that fearfull mile and the awesome scenery that draws ones eye from the road sometimes pull together to create “vehicle over the side” alerts on Sigalert. Yep, as in over the edge, off the road, down the cliff…whatever phrase you prefer.
Remembering that this is a two lane windy road, tempers can be riled if slow drivers don’t pull over into any of the numerous turnouts and let the faster drivers pass. The end result? More activity on Sigalert for accidents caused by passing on a no-passing road.
If the beginning of this road bothers me so much you may wonder why I drove on it. This past Saturday I took a gardening workshop at a nursery on this road so it’s the fastest and most direct way to get from here to there. There are additional workshops on each of the next seven Saturdays that I’m going to attend, and I’m going to get there by taking Ortega. Hopefully after another week or so I’ll enjoy driving the ENTIRE highway, nasty mile included.
One thing for sure, I’ll have a good breakfast before I head out, not just coffee.