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Latest from the Joyride Guru

Mid-Course Corrections to Weekend Driver

Well, I spent a fun weekend doing a few adjustments to Weekend Driver. Those of you that are regular visitors know that most of the newspaper columns are in “frames” on the page… you actually see the page from the newspaper website.

I’m in the process of putting the original columns, as I wrote them, on the website, and got a few done this weekend. They’re part of the expanded Drives Online section. Check it out.

Second, for a bit more than a year, I’ve been putting together GPS data to go with the drives, which have been available for free. Well, they’re no longer free… they’re just $1.99 to download. Look for the image of Saturn (the planet, not the car), then follow the link to Geovative’s website. They can magically take GPS coordinates and create files for most of the portable systems on the market. For the nearly 5,000 folks who have downloaded trips, I hope $1.99 isn’t too much to pay for a great day on the road.

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Subaru Forester Worth the Cheers

Subaru Forester
Subaru Forester

Just finished a week with a 2009 Subaru Forester. In my 600 or so miles back and forth to work, regular daily life and a cruise down a dirt trail for my upcoming column, the Forester was a comfortable, handled great and the final number on the gas mileage gauge was 22.8. Not bad for a car with so much capability.

The new Forester has become on of almost everbody’s favorites. My favorite parts? Let’s start with the handling. On my daily commute there’s a rather sharp freeway onramp that usually gives me the heebiejeebies if I take it too fast in an SUV. No such sensation in the Forester. It took it with a minimum of breaking — not as fast and smooth as my 1991 Miata, but very respectable for a car, let alone something with this much storage space.

The seating was upright, almost chair-high. Accessiblity was easy on the senior-citizen scale — my octegenerian mom with the hip condition had no problem hopping in and out. Not much of a step-up for her 5-foot frame. Seats were firm but comfortable; the version I tested had soft cloth upholstery.

The five-speed manual transmission shifted smoothly and the clutch even had some feel to it, something that’s not always found in front-wheel-drive cars. The four-cylinder engine had plenty of power. All-wheel-drive was sure and tight on the dirt road where I took a Weekend Driver tour, Black Canyon Road, north of Ramona, Calif.

It’s a bit taller and wider than previous versions. Chair height seating, a relatively low beltline and lots of windows give excellent visibility.

Subaru has been roundly praised for this car… I can see why. And at less than $27k, it’s a smart buy.

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Grapevine Canyon Drive Now Online

The latest Weekend Driver column, Grape Drive in the Desert, is now online. And it couldn’t be timelier, with lots of folks heading out there to look at the flowers. I took a sharp, brand-new Nissan Xterra with the off-road package up Grapevine Canyon in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. A fantastic trip through a rugged, remote portion of Southern California (is there anything else in the desert?).

For this story, I decided to forgo my usual preparation — web searches, map unfolding, book opening, etc., and just do what a lot of you do, gas up the car and head out. You do have to have some idea of where you want to go, so I pointed the Xterra toward the visitor center at the Anza Borrego Desert State Park. There, I asked one of the volunteers to pick me a trip. And that’s what I took.

Be sure to check it out.

And don’t forget to read my review on the Xterra. Thanks to the good folks at Nissan for supplying the vehicle.

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Still More Fan Mail

Jack,

I just got home from going on the drive that you described through Santa Ysabel and Mesa Grande Road. I have to say that it was AMAZING!

I am writing you to thank you for giving such clear directions and sharing your experience. I wish you would’ve mentioned the presence of law enforcement because I definitely had some close calls with my radar detector. Anyway, I’m also wondering if you have any other suggestions for roads similar to mesa grande.

Also, I’d like to make a trip out towards the desert for some rally type driving (I own a Subaru WRX). You know any good drives through the desert? I’d love to hear back from you.

Thomas

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Hi, Thomas. Watch out for those bears and smokeys in the mountains. Headed out to desert, take Montezuma Valley Road (see the Desert Daze story, one of the trips in Weekend Driver San Diego), but don’t go flying off the curves; you might hit an endangered Big Horn Sheep.

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Staycations and Smart Moms

Got a call last week from Ruth McKinnie Braun of the suchasmartmom.com website. Ruth is putting together a feature on staycations for spring break and wondered about some good drives and spots to take kids.

Of course, I talked Ruth’s head off on places to go, and I won’t try to steal her thunder too much, but here are a couple of drives to consider.

1. Highway 94. Includes stops to see old cars at Simpson’s Garden Town Nursery in Jamul (a great vintage auto and travel trailer collection) and the Pacific Southwest Railroad Museum in Campo (train rides on the weekend).

2. Highway 101: Beaches, nature centers and places to eat.

Of course, there are 20 drives in Weekend Driver San Diego that will give you more than enough to explore over any vacation in Southern California, whether it’s home or a destination.

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Old Highway 80 The well-preserved former U.S. 80 in eastern San Diego County has all the charms of driving on an old country highway. It's Chapter 1 in Joyrides Around San Diego.
Blair Valley Take an easy, off-pavement drive on the western edge of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. It's good for off-road novices with all-wheel-drive vehicles. Discover beautiful desert vistas, history and have fun all in a couple of hours from San Diego. Chapter 9 in Joyrides Around San Diego.