Travels in a 340R - Alice's Restaurant, Woodside California, USA
by Alvin Richards (copyright 2001)
of the joys of living in California, is well, the sunshine for nine months of
the year. In San Francisco, we are blessed with the fog of the summer, which
Mark Twain described as the "coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in
San Francisco". This translates to 50 degrees Fahrenheit at night in the
height of summer. However, in October, November and December we are blessed with
blue skies, sunshine and little or no rain. This is an ideal combination for a
journey in the 340R.
One of my favorite runs from the city is to Alice's Restaurant in Woodside, infamous for literary and musical references and a mecca for bikers and car nuts. Woodside is a strange combination of multi millionaires who have made it big in the boom years and people who were brought and raised in the area. What the draw for the two and four wheeled enthusiasts is the combination of a glorious road in great countryside with a big fry up to finished with.
Woodside is located about 20 miles south of San Francisco. A ridge of hills separates the coast from the inland, and during the summer keeps the fog from rolling in. The road running along the top of these hills, through woods and open land is called Skyline Boulevard, or simply Highway 35. For the most part it serves the community spread along its length, but on a sunny evening or a weekend it becomes a habitat for petrol heads. A fine venue for a Lotus 340R then.
The interesting parts of Highway 35 can be found by taking Highway 92 West. After climbing to a crest, you will find signs for Skyline Boulevard to your right. This is one of those interesting little intersections, especially in a right hand drive 340R, where you are facing uphill with a blind crest in front of you. Its made worse by peoples habits of driving three ton SUV's, drinking lattes and spending quality time on there cells phones. So, select first, wait for a gap and then floor it. After that little jolt of adrenaline (and trust me I have had numerous close shaves here), you are faced with a few glorious miles of Californian roads.
For the next three or four miles, you are faced with an empty road, and a long series of short straights, long sweeping curves and tight 'S' bends, whilst climbing to the spine of the ridge of hills. On a good day you can see down to the bay and San Francisco in the background. If you are really lucky the view to the coast will not be blocked by the fog bank slowly rolling in. Scenes from the film The Fog were filmed in this part of the world for a reason ! The road is perfect for a 340R, a quick blast of acceleration down the straights, leave the braking as late as you dare as the armco approaches at great speed, trying to not look over the precipice that, at least your mind tells you, is just the other side of that galvanized steel. Downshift a couple of times, hear the exhaust bark each time. A quick turn in, feel the steering as it loads up as the corner tightens, you make a mental note that you should have brought more speed into the corner, a glint of the straight ahead and floor it again, and up through the box, each passing gear change brings a howl from the engine. Each time you repeat this procedure for the next couple of miles, the grin grows larger and larger. The manner you approach this part is generally proportional to the amount of brake dust on the wheels when you come to stop at Alice's. This is usually preceded with "I just cleaned those..." !
Of course this run can be ruined by any number of events, pickups trucks, old Buick's on a trip to the local church on Sunday morning, swarms of 40-somethings on their Hogs. But, if the timing is right, then this is magic. Just picture taking you favorite car out of the garage in your collection in Grand Turismo, and then hitting Trial Mountain for a spin before breakfast. All this with the wind in what's left of your hair and the warm winter sun on your face.
Now this brings an important point. The 40-somethings on their Hogs, people going about their daily business and the officers of the law, well, they are a real pain. So the solution is that you make this journey early in the morning. Now this does not mean that you have time to go get a Mocha-Frappacinco-decaff-Latte on way, and god only knows where you would put it in the 340R. No it means getting up a 5.30 or 6 in the morning. It is horrible when the alarm goes off, but you know the reward. If there was some other way, like selling sole to the devil (ooops, already did that to get the car in the first place), your children into slavery etc., then you know you would choose that. Instead us mere mortals need to get up at the crack of dawn.
After the first few miles of Skyline Boulevard, it goes from the wide open spaces of grassland and scrub to woodland. You are now faced with the ever changing road, the sudden bright light of sun through the trees and then the pitch black that follows. It is my only experience of being a Hollywood star, each shaft of light is like a photographs flash going off in your face. With this you also have to deal with vehicles in stealth mode, or perhaps they just using 'black' lights for driving. Whatever they are, their lights seamless blend in with the color scheme of the car and the surrounding woodlands. I ask the question, why are there so many brown Buick Skylarks, Chevy Blazers on this road, and why can't they we painted day glow orange so that they are visible. The temperature dives and rises as quickly as the scenery changes. One moment you are in an open piece of flatland and basking in the warm sunshine, then next in the depths of a pine scented wood and bitterly cold.
The road continues along to Woodside with similar, and beautiful scenery. The only real problem here is that there are many side roads, driveways which really hamper your ability to responsibility enjoy the road to its full potential. Your next opportunity lies between Bear Gulch Road West and East. This part is equally good in either direction, full of sharp descents and rises, unforgiving sharp 'S' bends and wonderful little point-and-squirt straights. Each is tackled with more vigor and you grow in confidence, but weighted with the fact that at the majority of corners there is a bank on one side and a ravine on the other, or at best woods. Its best not to get this wrong ! Again the 340R is breath taking, taking each straight with a series of up shifts through the rev range, at each gear the car is begging for the next cog, which gets swiftly dispatched in the same way at the last. Before you know it, you are heading down through a series of 'S' bends, the first gentle, down shifting and accelerating out. The next is a real sharp one, you are down a couple of gears and really hard on the brakes. You wonder if they are really working. I never got used to the brakes in the Elise and even more so in the 340R. After years of getting used to cars diving faster than a German U-Boat facing an onslaught of an allied attack, the body control exhibited by both Lotus's I find still remarkable. The tires and brakes do not complain as speed is hacked off. The steering loads up and you enter, you feel the speed being scrubbed off and then you take a quick sharp breath before you nail it again. This is the worst place to come across any traffic, and if you do it is guaranteed to be a 40-something out on a Hog.
A mile or so after Bear Gulch Road West, you will reach Sky Lagonda and Alice's Restaurant and Garage. By all accounts the place is referred in a number of books and has a song written all about it. For the most part it is just simply where people meet, swap stories, talk about the latest modifications to their machine and generally have a laugh at the Hogs. For those of you lost, for Hogs read Harley Davidson. There is this odd cult here in California, and it seems to recruit people from all walks of life, the main criteria seems to be that you have a near or complete empty nest. Perhaps its just recreating Rebel Without a Cause or The Wild One, but it results in mostly men dressing up in leather and traveling around on Hogs at exactly 33 MPH. Now you may say that men dressing up in leather is prototypical for San Francisco, but that is, as they say, another story.
As the day warms, the cast of riders changes. The race bikes are out early to enjoy the road, the other bikes clubs and email lists come along later in the day, along with the Porsche 911 Turbo crowd. Latter you find the Hogs and then the Corvette's turn up. Irrespective they either end up in the parking lot in front of the store or sitting outside Alice's with a pile of fried food in front of them. There is nothing better than a large helping of breakfast, polished off with a mug of tea and the time to sit and bask in the journey. The trouble is that you don't have a lot of time to do this. Lotus's are a pretty rare bread at the best of time, and add the fact that there were only a limited amount of 340R's made, its a fairly wild looking animal (or as one truck driver shouted on the freeway "that Lotus is sick, dude"), they do invite a number of questions. After extensive research, the first asked questions is "how fast", quickly followed by "how much". Its funny thought, the bikers love the car and the "exotic" car drivers... well I recall something to do with green and envy.
340R at Alice's Garage 8.05 AM. Spot the silly hat and grin !
The garage is about the only place to fill up in a 10 miles radius, more so if you are heading for the coast. As you will note, the 340R has some slight damage to the front license plate, after a slight incident when my brother-in-law drove the car back for Las Vegas (but, alas that is another story !). It looks great after the repair, especially since I have ditched the license plate. The picture was taken by the 911 Turbo crowd who carried en masse with walkie talkies. They asked "So why did you get it...", which the only answer could be "Well, 911 are two a penny around here".
For Alice's there are two real choices, either head back the way you came or head down Highway 84 to La Honda and down to the coast, where you can experience the delights of Highway 1 and the wonderful California coast.
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