Projects & Trip Reports > Trips

Watts Valley > Pitman Hill > Tollhouse > Highway 168 [June 11, 2010]

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Click here for map route

Last night I was actually a bit depressed from being home alone (wife is gone to Japan and it was the first time I came home before 8pm since starting the Rebirth of the car, I hate being idle like that, my mind is too active) so I decided to go out for a drive.

I was hesitant at first. The tires are not the best, I've not cut the hood for the intercooler yet, I haven't installed my front license plate yet, I don't have a spare tire in the car right now, yadda yadda..... I knew there would always be excuses so I just decided to screw it all and go out.

Man was I glad. Once I closed the door and placed both hands on the steering wheel, I got that sudden emotional feeling that I just wanted to attack something with the car. I love that feeling. I always get so serious when I set out for the hills by myself alone in the car like this. With all the Initial D I've been watching, I really wanted to do a night run up the foothills, so out I went. It was already past 10pm.
The last time I drove Watts Valley road in my MR2 I remember killing a rabbit. I was really sad that I couldn't avoid it. That must have been back in 2004 or so.
Unfortunately I didn't have my camera with me. By the time I remembered the camera, I was already on Academy Ave and didn't want to head back.

The Drive...
I headed out HWY180 to Academy Ave, turned left and then made a right at Ashlan Ave. There was a LOT of on-coming traffic initially but once I got into the foothills the traffic disappeared.

The first thing I noticed is that the road has fresh pavement on it. It's great but they have not painted the lines yet, and since I have not washed my windshield yet (or the car for that matter), and my right headlight is angled down for some reason (I didn't have any tools with me), visibility was VERY poor.

The corners had just begun when I saw some tail lights of a car a ways ahead of me. A couple corners later I realized I was closing in very fast on the car. When I got close enough to identify the car, the car started turning it on. I was glad at first, but then I realized it was a newer generation Toyota Prius. HAHAHAHA But actually the guy was doing quite well, I think he really knew the road. I could easily keep up with him, but on a couple corners I would have had no clue where the road was going without his guidance. Because of this, and the fact that I hadn't driven the road at night before, I decided to continue at his pace (which wasn't that bad really) so I eased the pressure up a bit. Eventually he pulled off and let me pass. He then immediately flashed me repeatedly and I was like "Whatever buddy, I wasn't even ass grabbing you so I don't know what your problem is" I guess he was really pressured by me and was really pushing it.

I made very quick work of loosing him and also made very quick work at discovering that I need to be freak'n careful out there. Before the grade increased, there were a couple uphilll-right-turn-downhill "hump" corners. The first one I took too quick for the sharpness of the corner. Remember visibility is poor and without the painted lines it's hard to predict the sharpness of the road in the dark. I came over that first hump and jammed the brakes right at the top while turning into the downhill corner. A serious No-No in a mid engine car. I didn't loose any traction, but I definitely felt the lateral G-force of the rear end. I thought "Ohh man I need to take it easy since I don't know this road, I could make a mistake really quick driving like this"

I ended up driving the remainder of the road in a more conservative manner. If I could see the corners well enough, then I would get after it. But if I couldn't tell where the road was going, I was man enough to totally slow down to 2nd or 3rd gear even if it turned out to be a high speed corner. There were numerous times when I said to myself, "I could be going so much quicker if I knew this road" ;)

Here is the opening corner from Google Maps

Road ratings (0 out of 5)
Click here for Google Map of route
Total Distance of road: 17.2 miles
Time of day: 10pm
Weather: Clear, dark, low 70s

Road Conditions...
Access from my house: 5 (15 miles from my driveway. Wow, I can't believe this is closer than Elwood Rd :o)
Quality of pavement: 5
Smoothness of road: 4 (No bad dips or harsh bumps at all)
Cleanness of road: 3 (There were some rocks in the road from the construction but nothing too serious)
Width of road: 4
Accident avoidance: 4 (If driven properly, I think it is a very safe road)
Visibility in the dark: 1 (considering my dirty windshield and non-adjusted headlight)
Assumed daytime Visibility: 4

Frequency of other traffic: 5 (I only saw the one Toyota Prius)
Frequency of corners: 3 (Lot of straight sections at the start, then it gets better)
Steepness of grade: 3 (There are a few steep sections, but it's no Old Tollhouse LOL)
Amount of uphill: 3
Amount of downhill: 2 (Some downhill and flat sections here and there)
My current ability to handle this road in the dark: 1 (Holy cow I don't know this road in the dark at all)
My MR2's ability to handle this road: 3 (I'm not sure how to rate this. It's my fault that I don't know the road in the dark so I couldn't keep the car in it's rhythm)

Mechanically Speaking... (no rated scale)
Average gear: 4
Average cornering speed: 40 MPH
Fastest Straight-a-way Speed: I limited it to 65 MPH (Could probably hit triple digits near the beginning)
Slowest Corner Speed: 20/30 MPH in 2rd/3rd gear (My fault for it being dark and I wanted to be safe)

Overall Impression...
Thrill factor: 5 (WOW NIGHT DRIVING LIKE THIS IS TOUGH! Poor visibility + not knowing the road + not attacking mountains for so long = VERY EXCITING)
Would I drive it again: 5
Tougue factor: 3 (The road would be fun to leisurely drive at a brisk pace with another car, but to go all out on this road could result in a serious speeding ticket)
Final Road Rating: 5

Very close to home
Starts off slow but really picks it up
Car isn't continuously taxed, ie. the corners come in waves
Driving in the dark enables me to see on-coming headlights, so I could take liberty of the road all over the place if I needed to

Newly paved road is not painted yet
Lots of houses along the way. I wonder if they get annoyed by cars attacking the roads out there?
I saw 1 dear while on Tollhouse Road
Hard to determine the sharpness of the corner in the dark without any painted lines on the road

Good sections like this (this is on Tollhouse Road). Uphill Left turn into flat right turn with good visibility and wide shoulders

1st pic: Once on Tollhouse road, it initially narrows and becomes very windy for a couple series of corners. It's a lot of fun in here, the average speed in a couple areas like this drops a good 15-20 MPH over the rest of the drive. Fun!

2nd pic: I looked for one of the hump corners I was talking about. I think this is one of them. Gotta be careful if you don't know whats immediately after a corner like this

3rd pic: OH YEAH BABY, THE GOOD STUFF! Up-hill left-right consecutive corners :D

Hey! I've passed that prius several times in the past. Not too hospitable when you pass him(it)her. Couple of occasions tried to keep up, but to no avail. Must be nice to have the 2 again! Get the gang together for a short run? Watts Valley to burrough valley, turn left on Tollhouse, take the various roads to Pittman Hill to Watts Valley blah blah.


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