Where And How To Hit The Road

Exciting driving experiences that take you out of cruise control

When the rest of the world is immersed in a busy workday schedule, Greg Smith prefers to lose himself on the road along strikingly poetic landscapes to get away from it all. “I go driving to regroup,” says the Los Angeles-based television commercial/show music composer. His last drive started near Santa Monica with the Monterey Peninsula, a maritime community eight hours north of Los Angeles, as his destination.

One of Smith’s favorite routes, which sometimes takes him four days, is the Pacific Coast Highway (U.S. 1). Driving above raging blue tides and beneath radiant azure skies, his exhilaration heightens as he heads toward what becomes the San Luis Obispo North Coast Byway/Route 1 — two smooth lanes that wrap around steep, rugged cliffs and snake along grassy pastures. Stopping at remote depots and folksy pubs on less-traveled back roads offers an added sense of adventure during the 200-mile journey. Whether he’s cruising coastal Maine or California’s Death Valley, Smith relishes the feeling of freedom and harmony that comes from enjoying nature, the ride, and how his vehicle handles the road.

Five million explorers tour America’s most famous highway — Route 66 — each year. But this 158-mile stretch of road spanning Arizona from just east of Seligman to Topock and flanked by high desert plateaus is not the final word on scenic drives.

A westbound trip on Hawaii’s Kona-Kohala Coast on a sun-kissed day takes you into lazy, low-hanging cloud banks. And when autumn arrives, North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Parkway is canvassed with a mesmerizing palette of rouge and amber hues. In Great Britain, the rustic jaunt across remote hills in the Scottish Borders is a modern voyage reminiscent of a majestic era.

Here are some of the best national and international drives for scenic sport or rugged handling. But before hitting the road, we suggest these tips to safeguard your adventure.

SAFETY ON THE ROAD
Make sure you pack bottled water, blankets, a first-aid kit, and a charged cell phone. Notifying someone of your travel route and having your car checked and tuned should also top your pre-drive checklist, advises Gregg Laskoski, a spokesman for AAA (www.aaa.com), which provides a variety of free online trip tools such as weather updates and help applying for international driving permits.

A membership with AAA offers a number of benefits, especially for long-distance drivers: AAA’s online map gallery allows drivers to print out detailed maps of major cities, national parks, and scenic driving routes. TripTik (www.triptik.net) offers home delivery of AAA’s spiral-bound routing maps and Drive Trips (http://travel.aaa.com/drive-trips.html) offers self-guided, detailed routes with recommendations for lodging and worthwhile pit stops. Association-approved mechanics also offer a free checkup before your long drive.

Wonders beyond American borders include roadside stalls perched along the Niagara River Parkway in Ontario, which often entice drivers to hit the brakes, pull out a picnic basket, and sample the vintages of the area’s harvest. It is a romantic drive through fragrant vineyards and orchards that bloom near the sculptured cliffs of Niagara Gorge. Niagara’s wine route leads you easterly from

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