2009 Honda Fit Sport: Cross-Country Travel
January 27, 2010
Just back from a trip to the Bay Area over the weekend. Great time to drive after all the recent rain. Bright sun and lots of snow on the mountains that circle the basin.
In fact, there was so much snow that I went up U.S. 101 to avoid any potential slowdowns on snowy Interstate 5 up on top of the mountains through the Grapevine. Of course even when I cut over from U.S. 101 at Santa Barbara to the old stagecoach road across San Marcos Pass, the mountains on the other side of the Santa Ynez Valley even had a dusting of snow.
It was a great weekend to drive the old El Camino Real. Hardly anybody on the road, for California, anyway. Took the Honda Fit. For which am widely thought to be insane.
For all our enthusiasm for driving, we've let ourselves stereotype small cars like the Honda Fit as little more than runabouts, too slow and crude to be trusted farther than the grocery store. But the truth is, you've got a perfectly comfortable package here and 117 hp with which to use it. You just to have to be smart about it.
This just isn't the right car for pounding down your typical Interstate of cement slabs, for example. It doesn't matter whether you're on the way to San Francisco or just commuting to work, this car hates cement. It car rides on its springs while damping control is not exactly sophisticated, so it pitches back and forth like a small boat. And like so many Hondas, there's lots of road roar through the front hubs. But should it be a surprise that this car is not a BMW 7 Series?
Out there on the asphalt you find on much of U.S. 101, road noise is not an issue. If the pavement ahead looks a little rough, steer around it. Want to go faster, use the gearbox -- that's why it's got five speeds. You know, drive the car.
In fact, the thing that makes the Honda Fit entertaining for a 380-mile trip is the opportunity to drive. Gas, brake and steer. Somehow we've let ourselves be fooled into thinking that cross-country travel should only be done in limo-size cars with large, gas-sucking engines, as if we were all meant to drive a 1966 Ford LTD every time you stray across the county line. Small cars get you there, even if it's hundreds of miles away. The ventilation system works and so does the radio. You have to stop once for gas, but you're getting 38 mpg. Hey, it's got a navigatin system, so use it.
For me the whole drive was a nice exercise in lateral thinking, both in car selection and route choice. Here in California, U.S. 101 largely follows the old 1796 route between the Spanish missions. It's known as the El Camino Real (the royal highway), and it's marked by cast-iron bells set beside the road every mile or so. Anna Pritchard began a civic movement to celebrate the old road back in 1892, although the first marker in front of the Plaza Church in the Pueblo near Olvera street in Los Angles didn't go up until August 15, 1906. Mrs. A.S.C. Forbes believed in the project so much that she established a foundry in Los Angeles to cast the downsize replicas of mission bells that were used as markers. By 1915, some 115 bells had been placed along the route.
Over the years the bells disappeared as the route changed to become more of a traffic thoroughfare and less of a historic pathway. Despite replacement bells erected in 1949 and 1960, the number had dwindled to about 75 when the Caltrans (the state transportation department) revived the program under a federal grant in 2000. California Bell, the company founded by Mrs. Forbes, was revived in the San Francisco Bay Area by John Kolstadt and new bells were cast using the original molds. Some 555 examples were put in place by 2006 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the program. You can even buy an example from California Bell complete with pole stand for $2,395.
Every once in a while, it's nice to drive a road with a name. El Camino is just a fact of life in California, but I've also driven down the Lincoln Highway coast-to-coast, Route 66, and dozens of scenic routes. Sometimes it's good to get out of the Interstate mentality, not just in where you're driving but also what you're driving.
Michael Jordan, Executive Editor @ 20,680 miles