Mustang Challenge | 14 Hours to Portland

8 hours turned into 13, and our destination changed from Portland to Eugene. The most amazing miserable half-day drive to date.

[You’re reading part of the Mustang Challenge series, a loosely bound concept that was created to inspire others to get out and explore the country in their cars. In this Mustang Challenge, two Canadians are touring the USA for the first time, traveling for 26 days through 13 different US cities while traversing over 8,000 miles behind the wheel of a 2016 Mustang GT. This is one post in a series of many. To read the previous articles and to follow the series, jump to the bottom of this page.]

The drive from San Francisco to Portland was special, and not in a conventional way. According to Google Maps, the route from our San Fran hostel to our hotel in Portland should take eight and three quarter hours (to date, Google Maps has been nearly pinpoint precise). However, we wanted to travel a bit on California State Route 1, having heard how majestic it is from many other people.

Thus, we set out Sunday just before noon with a scarce outline to drive the coastal highway for several hours, then transfer over to a major interstate for the rest of the leg. Unfortunately, as designated chief navigator for this drive, I failed miserably in my duties and what should have been a nine hour drive turned into a 14 hour marathon.

You see, the previous night had been a wild one (despite our best intentions), with a large group of us from the hostel hitting the town. And by hitting the town, I mean hitting bars. Even cooler, our Irish hitch hiker friend, Sam, was in San Fran at that point too and he and some friends met up with us  (it turns out Sam was so inspired by our Mustang, after dropping him off in Houston, he rented his own to use for the remainder of his trip. He even suggested his auto V6 was faster… what a buffoon). Much singing and much dancing was done, in conjunction with clearly a truckload of drinking. Personally, at the time I didn’t think it to be overly exorbitant, but my body clearly thought otherwise when I woke up the next morning.

Sam’s S550 rental. Another non-believer has seen the light.

Akin to raising the dead, Alex finally woke me up at 10:30am – checkout in half an hour. Dazed and lethargic, I made it to the bathroom for an ice cold shower, hopeful it would do the trick and bring me out of my zombie state. It didn’t. Exhausted, I plumped myself into the passenger seat at exactly 11am and we zoomed off.

Country Road Causes Stomach Turmoil

Now usually the MT-82 shifts pretty smooth, but today Alex was wielding it like a battle axe. Perhaps messing with me, perhaps not, every shift he banged out (and literally banged out) caused me to nearly lose whatever food I had left in me, and we hadn’t even reach highway 1. In fact, we were still in traffic waiting to cross Golden Gate and merge onto the coastal highway.

California State Route 1 is a single lane scenic road, twisting and turning up and down through the hills as it hugs the coast line, starting south of Los Angeles and running all the way up to Mendocino County. Every few miles had a lookout turnoff where travelers could pull off the road and take in the majestic oceanic view. It was truly fantastic, both from a nature and driving perspective. The tight turns provided Alex with a magnificent opportunity to toss the Mustang around and exploit my weakened digestive system. Again, I’m not sure if he was messing with me, but every turn he could, he made sure to keep it as tight as possible. All shifts were on and off, as was the braking. Eventually he won and I had to motion for him to pull over – I needed to take in the scenery from outside the vehicle.  This went on for two hours before we decided that was enough and we should get some lunch. In those (dreadful for me, amusing for Alex) two hours, we had only moved something like 60-70 miles, and because highway 1 is further west than the optimal track to Portland, we actually added time to our drive. Stopping at McDonald’s (what else?) for lunch, Google computed that we still had 9 hours to go. Ouch.

This still wasn’t the worst part. Oh no, that was about to come very, very soon. Feeling better after lunch, I looked at the directions and promptly fell asleep. I awoke a couple hours later and asked Alex if we were on interstate 5 yet. He didn’t seem to be aware of what I was talking about. Ignominiously, I had forgotten to tell him, foregoing my navigation duties and instead substituting it with recovery slumber. This didn’t bode well. Loading the GPS showed that, based on where we were presently (highway 101), we’d have 9 hours to go. Ridiculous. After 4 hours of driving, we still had 9 hours to go – 15 minutes more than the direct route from San Fran. Absolutely brutal. Just absolutely brutal.

A lookout somewhere on California State Route 1. Absolute gorgeous view.

Hanzel and Gretel Trundle Through the Trees

In hindsight, this oversight provided to be both a blessing and a curse. Yes, this blunder added a significant amount of time to our day, but took us on what turned out to be a really fun drive, and through a really neat part of northern Cali – Redwood natural park.

Highway 101 (which we now were obligated to stay on for another 230 miles before we could transfer to interstate 5) weaves just inland of the coast line, snaking up and down the hills of northern California – a small road bounded by vast national forests. Redwood trees, some easily with a six foot trunk diameter, tower a couple hundred feet into the sky. These pillars of time stand firm just a few feet to the side of the road, their supremacy clear as other smaller trees hunker in the shadows. The road, full of tight turns and switchbacks, beckons to us to push the Pony. The flora, on the other hand, whispered to be cautious, do not be overzealous, for whizzing by at 60 mph, Alex and I knew right away any one of these trees would easily turn us into a ball of scrap metal if we so much as clipped it.

Hustling on highway 101. I really wanted to get to Portland.

Thus, in a way it was man versus nature. Us, pushing the Mustang for all we were worth, riding the edge of the headlights as the mile markers went by. The looming trees and ominous rock faces, ever waiting to show us that man and machine are fragile, that our kinetic energy was but a drop in the ocean to their potential energy. There were a few close calls – some switchbacks came up very abruptly, their tight radius requiring a last second mashing of the Brembos to get our velocity in check. One s-turn, which I had visually identified and correctly assessed from a distance away, scared Alex senseless (have video evidence) as we flew by, the guard rail a finger’s length from the door. He thinks I was lucky – I know I was good.

This epic battle raged on for a solid 90 minutes before, finally, the knurled, ever-reaching wooden limbs vanished from our rear view mirror, our vessel hurtling forward, the echo of our exhaust an obnoxious triumphant laugh. The enchanted forest would not be getting a taste of Mustang or Mounties, at least not tonight. Victorious and now exhausted, 12 hours after we had set out, we finally merged onto interstate 5, direction Portland. It would still be another hour before we finally pulled into a motel 6 in Eugene, too fatigued to continue. We’d make Portland the next day.

For me, despite starting the day pretty hung over, I was able to rally and enjoy what has been to date the most entertaining and challenging drive of my life. I can pretty much guarantee had we tried any of these tricks on this road with the Focus (or anything less capable than the S550), we’d be on the news the next day. Or maybe a few days later, depending on how long it took for the authorities to find us…

Follow The Series

Be sure to check back to the blog on Tuesdays and Fridays for updates. You can also follow Connor and Alex on their adventure by checking in on Twitter and Instagram @MustangMounties

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