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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 an amber hues n 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 driver: 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 Grimsby, on the coast of Lake Ontario, inland through gnarled forests in St. Catharines, then along craggy inclines to Niagara-on-the-Lake and southeast to Niagara Falls. The muscular 225-hp engine and Dynamic Stability Control technology in your BMW 330Ci convertible delivers a heart-pounding experience on this 124-mile journey. Picnic at Ball's Falls, a 200-acre conservation area along the Bruce Trail that's particularly popular during a local four-day Thanksgiving festival. Visit winery restaurants and antiques shops in Twenty Valley (www.20valley.ca/index.php). Log on to www.ontariotravel.net/GreatDrives to preview 19 other scenic drives.

The sparse countryside of the Scottish Borders, a region just west of England, offers an exhilarating romp across hilly greenery inhabited by flocks of big-horned sheep. The B709, a secondary road, offers a more intricate drive than the M6 motorway and A7 tourist route that it parallels. As the precision steering of your sleek Porsche Carrera GT clutches this route from Carlisle to Edinburgh in the north, you weave through woodlands and sweep along a stream. This drive to Edinburgh's charming New Town, a World Heritage site, puts roughly 100 miles (one-way) on your odometer. Visit Eskdalemuir to see Kagyu Samye Ling, the Western world's first Tibetan monastery, which was founded in 1967. Visit Carlisle Castle (www.english-heritage.org.uk) and learn about the Scottish Borders' legacy. Climb Witta Hill to enjoy gorgeous views. For more information, contact Scottish Borders Tourist Board (www.scot-borders.co.uk) and Edinburgh and Lothians Tourist Board (www.edinburgh.org).

TOURING TOOLS

Today's luxury vehicles have useful features that will enhance your distance-driving experience. Mercedes-Benz installed its optional Cockpit Management and Data system in one out of three of the 5,500 CLK-class cars purchased in the U.S. last year, and one out of four SLK-class vehicles. This state-of-the-art driver's aid offers audio cues, an integrated phone system, and GPS satellite navigation technology that requires only one DVD to map any U.S. route. The car's seven-speed adaptive automatic transmission with touch shift feature (standard in CLK 350 and CLK 500) adapts to changes in the road (delaying upshifts on ascents and hastening downshifts) and to an individual's driving style. Other thoughtful details: Mercedes' one-touch SmartKey door-unlock device also retracts the vehicle's hardtop; and AIRSCARF, a neck-level, in-seat heating system, wards off the chill from top-down driving.

The Glenn Highway Scenic Byway, a 135-mile drive in Alaska, shadows the path of migrating hawks and falcons and provides access to mountain trails and riverside recreation. Leaving from Palmer, you cross the Matanuska River and travel Old Glenn Highway to Bodenburg Loop Road, which runs along Matanuska River through farmlands dotted with colony log barns from the 1940s. A chance to pet and feed reindeer and pick produce at local farms may persuade you to park a while. The rocky, off-road trails and snowy plains near the stately glaciers and snow-capped Chugach mountain range beg to exploit the capabilities of your Lexus RX-400h Hybrid. Take time for an up-close and personal encounter with nature at the Mile 118 viewing area near the end of the Byway to watch golden eagles and other raptors. Visit Anchorage, the largest city on the Byway, which offers a bevy of attractions, as well as the Alaska Native Heritage Center to explore the music, culture, and art of the Native American people of Alaska (www.alaskavisit.com).

Soaring along the Kailua-Kona Coast will bring you to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where you'll find Mauna Loa and Kilauea volcanoes. Arrive near dusk to witness Kilauea, the island's most accessible and active volcano, ignite the evening sky. From Kailua-Kona, allot two hours for this fairly straight drive; add an hour if you start from Waikoloa and Waimea. Before you go, call Volcanoes National Park (808-985-6000) for closings due to weather or unpredictable lava flow and tips on what to take with you. There are also scenic lookouts in Ocean View set between white and black sand beaches. Make sure you get to the end of Chain of Craters Road--the best location for lava viewing. Consider touring the Jaggar Museum's displays on the geology and physics of volcanic activity (www.hawaii.com).

CONTACT IS KEY

It's very important that you have the right tires for your travels. Before you approach a tire dealer, consider the variety of driving conditions you may encounter and prioritize your performance criteria. For example, is wet traction more important than cornering capability on dry roads?

Michelin's online tire adviser (www.michelinman.com) offers guidance on when to replace tires and how to check treads. It also tells you which Michelin models prevent hydroplaning in wet conditions. Michelin's Pilot Sport PS2 is a high-performance tire that comes standard on some BMW models. It has an asymmetrical design pattern on the inside and a wider circumference to help channel water away from it. When cornering, this capability puts more rubber on the road, which increases tire performance.
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Title Annotation:GREAT DRIVES
Author:Drakes, Sean
Publication:Black Enterprise
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2006
Words:1337
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