The Kaiser Pass Road: A survival guide
In the first place, what is a government agency whose duties include maintaining price supports for sugar beets and administering the food stamp program, doing in charge of a one-lane mountain road? Isn’t that like putting a comedian in charge of writing new laws? (Actually, that’s an idea we could live with!)

It happens to be that the Kaiser Pass Road to Florence Lake (KPR2FL) is under the jurisdiction of the United States Department of Agriculture! That’s right, the people who oversee the holes in Swiss cheese also overlook the holes in our pitifully paved pathway to paradise.

Regardless of the illogic, we have to work with what we’re given. In the interest of public safety and awareness, we offer the following advice on the use of this astonishing road. The author is a veteran of the road, having driven it intensively since 1973.Though this is no record in itself, he has traveled the road many hundreds of times in vehicles ranging from a Porsche to a flatbed truck and trailer.

Fasten your seat belts! Here we go!

Know the dimensions of your vehicle. This means: How far can you pull over without falling off the edge, hitting a rock or scraping the cliff? You may want to practice finding out where all of your wheels are by driving over targets in your driveway. Put a few cans on the ground and see if you can hit them with the wheels. It’s good practice when you need to slide by an approaching truck and trailer without falling over a cliff that’s so steep and high you have time to write your will in longhand as you tumble end over end on the way to hitting bottom.

Don’t be afraid to get a little dirt on your tires by pulling over. You’d be surprised how often I have had to pull over so someone in a jacked-up, huge-tired, diesel-powered 4-wheel-drive pickup can stay on the pavement and not dirty his shiny black tires.

Know how to use your vehicle’s gears. So few people know about shifting down it makes me cry (not really). Every week I come up behind a vehicle that has its brake lights blazing all the way down the steep descents. The stink of overheated brakes violates the pristine fragrance of nature. Even if you have an automatic transmission, you can use the engine to slow your descent on the steep parts of the road. As you descend, shift to a low gear (either 2 or 1 or L). Your engine will rev up and retard your vehicle enough that you don’t need to keep your foot on the brake pedal. A revved-up engine won’t use excess fuel nor will it be damaged if you use a little brake occasionally to slow down.

Remember, brakes work by converting motion into heat. They have limited capacity, though; if there is a lot of slow, brakes-on downhill driving, they can get so hot they fade, which means they simply can’t absorb any more heat, and you can’t stop! (A friend once told me of his brakes getting so hot the plastic splash shields that kept the brakes from getting too wet in the rain actually melted!)

Folks at various resorts in these parts have chilling tales of overheated brakes. Imagine lifting your hood and seeing the brake fluid in the reservoir boiling! Imagine, too, spending several hundred dollars replacing your drums/rotors, cylinders/calipers, and other expensive stuff. Gear down!

Practice backing up. The most valuable skill to have when driving a one-lane road is backing up. Learn to use the outside mirrors if the car or truck is filled to the gunwales with stuff and you can’t see out through the back window.

Develop a sixth sense for detecting damaging potholes. When you’re driving in bright sunlight alternating with deep shade, it can be difficult to see the potholes. Even after over three decades of experience on this ghastly road, I get fooled when a deep one is hiding in the shade of a tree.

Drive with your headlights on. This gives approaching drivers early warning so they just might pull over and let you go by. It’s a good way to alert someone poking along in front of you. At night, if you find a wide spot and pull off the road to allow an approaching car to pass, turn your headlights off, leaving your parking lights on. For some reason every time I’ve done this people just know that it’s their turn to drive by. Also with your lights off, it doesn’t blind them as they approach.

Don’t form a big long line of cars made up of your friends / family. So often I get behind a bunch of cars that have Uncle Louie (he’s the most timid driver with the oldest car; not too reliable, you know) leading a line of relatives at a snail’s pace and they’re not allowing anyone to pass. In spite of your opinion of the awfulness of the road, some people may actually negotiate it faster than you. Don’t make them creep along behind and fume. It’s bad karma.

Be nice. When someone pulls over and lets you pass, wave (make sure you extend all of your fingers, unless it’s the driver you’ve been following for 12 miles at 4 miles an hour, in which case you can choose the number of fingers to extend).

Intimidate the opposition. One way to get everyone out of your way is to drive the biggest, baddest thing you can find. Try one of the oversized luxury / sport / assault vehicles such as the Hummer, Lincoln Aggravator, Chevy / GMC S’bourbon or the Ford Exhibitionist.

Write your Representative! The only thing that can improve the condition of this hideous road is the infusion of our Federal tax dollars. Perhaps we can reduce the spending for tobacco subsidies or allow eggplant price supports to lag a bit, and put some money into the fund that fills potholes on KPR2FL

Okay, let’s go back home. Choose Muir Trail Ranch or Florence Lake.
Copyright © 1999-2008 by Muir Trail Ranch