Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Rental cars

I was all set to tell you all about the rental car I had last week in LA, I had a picture and everything and then I suddenly realized I didn't ever tell you about the rental car I had in June and frankly that one was a much bigger deal so lets drift back in time shall we?

Before today I guess I'd never really thought of this blog as a kind of online diary but in a way thats what it is. Somewhere deep down I hope that people are kind of interested in what I do and the way I write.

So anyway back in June I got sent to LA which isn't that unusual, what is unusual is that I finally realized that because my company rents so many cars I get to be Executive Class with National Car rental. National's system is really cool, you roll into the rental place and just pick out a car, your status determines which area you get to pick from and Executive Class gets you about the coolest cars they have. Thats a good thing, when I was out in February I was faced with a sea of white and grey Camrys. Now don't get me wrong the Camry is a good car but exciting it isn't. That time I ended up with a lime green Kia Soul which believe it or not is actually a really good car, I quite enjoyed it.

There I was, presented again with a line of boring Camrys and this time no lime green Kia to save me. I asked the attendant if they had a Fiat, I've always wanted to try a Fiat. He told me they didn't but that because I was Executive Class I could pick from the Executive Class section which included a BUNCH of Dodge Challengers. I'm not normally one for muscle cars but the Challenger is a nice looking car so I snagged a white one. They only had white and black and if you've ever been to southern California in the summer you know you want the white one.

Driving up the 5 highway to Burbank the Challenger was a disappointment. Don't get me wrong it had power and its comfortable but the windows are small and the big C pillar means the rear visibility sucks so its a tough car to drive in heavy traffic. Being that the highway ride wasn't real fun I knew I needed to find someplace to take the car that would be fun so Sunday I headed north east where I knew there were hills and hopefully fun roads. A friend had suggested the Angeles Crest highway through the Angeles National Forest which is where I headed.

The signs are great, right out of Jellystone Park. For a driver this place is AMAZING, the roads are twisty and you spend a good hour climbing up away from LA. I stopped at one of the first turnouts for pictures:

I was all excited about the view here but frankly this is at only maybe 2000 feet above sea level, the high point is Dawson Saddle at 7,903 feet which is by far the highest I've ever been in a car.

This is the view out on the other side of Dawson saddle looking out toward what I think is Lake Los Angeles in the distance, certainly I don't see any other dry lakes on the map.

Looking back up the road:
Dawson saddle is actually out of sight on the right. These big canyons are amazing and just ring with the roar of motorcycles.
The Challenger was very fun on these twisty roads, it wasn't really hampered by being a 6 cylinder engine since that little mill puts out lots of power, the problem was that it was geared very high and as such didn't have much in the bottom end, I bet my Jetta is quicker off the line but once you wind it up to 4500 rpm it starts to really take off. I kept the shifter in 2 and entered turns at maybe 35mph so I could scream out of them at 50 or 55mph.

Challenger gets a well deserved rest after Dawson Saddle.
The suspension and steering on the Challenger are very good, light but precise with just a hint of understeer when pushed. I didn't go too hard since it had hard rental car tires and I was worried about losing traction and sliding off a cliff.

If there was anything I was disappointed about it was the sound. The Chrysler engineers have done a very good job making the car very quiet and from inside the engine note is almost totally muffled. With the windows down (you'd better have the windows down on this ride!) when I was near a cliff wall I could get just a bit of exhaust noise reflected back on me. I'd guess the people behind me or on the other side of the canyon were getting my sound which made me a little sad.

The worst part of the trip is the return, I was to tired to turn around and run the 60+ miles back through the forest. Its draining working so hard in every turn with your adrenaline pumping. When I do it again I'll take a co-driver so we can trade off and drive it in both directions. 
There are some good views of the high desert scenery. California is in a serious drought and the farmers are starting to give up in some of the driest places. I saw trees that were dead and real honest to goodness tumbleweeds.

You should never take pictures while driving but I couldn't pass up these rocks sticking out of the ground like the cars at the Cadillac Ranch.

Driving back is mostly super slab highway but I did spot a sign for "Route 66 Historic Segment" which of course I had to check out.

Theres nothing really that special about the physical aspect of RT66, its just road but driving down this little stretch out of the big hills I could imagine folks headed west during the dust bowl looking for a better life in the promised land of California where as Woody Guthrie explained they would find they didn't have the "do-re-mi" and they'd better go back to beautiful Texas. A freight train was lumbering in the other direction blowing its lonesome whistle as it climbed the grade. I was glad I was headed back to my hotel in Burbank and my modern lifestyle. To celebrate I had dinner at Hooters with a nice cold beer and hot chicken wings then went to bed early to dream of the Challenger's roar.

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