Fun on Highway 17

Berkeley Travel Blog

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Spend most of today visiting Berkeley, my former home for 5 years. The drive from Santa Cruz along windy highway 17  (the main highway from Santa Cruz to San Jose) is even more exciting than average because of unusually high winds. The winds are so strong that I see two giant trees toppled by the gusts during my drive. They fall with a crackling crash to the side of the highway - fortunately away from the road and cars. Once I get clear of the valley and work my way north up the peninsula, the winds are still so powerful that they sporadically push my car sideways as I drive along the freeway.

Eventually I arrive at Berkeley. I visit my old apartment building - and former TravBuddy office ;) - get lunch at Gregoire, chug a vanilla latte at Peet's, and, to complete my culinary homecoming, finish up with dinner at Oliveto.

On my way back to Santa Cruz, the traffic is stop and go along highway 17 because of fallen trees and scattered debris along the road. I try to drive in the left lane, away from the trees on the side, to avoid fallen debris along blind curves. This proves to be a good strategy as there are at least two cases where fallen trees are nearly obstructing the right lane. Out of curiosity, I just looked up the Wikipedia entry for highway 17 and here is what it has to say:

Highway 17's combination of narrow shoulders, dense and high-speed traffic (despite a posted lower speed limit of 50 mph (80 km/h) in most sections), sharp turns, blind curves, wandering fauna such as deer and mountain lions, and sudden changes in traffic speeds have to led to driving conditions that result in a number of accidents and fatalities, leading to the reputation of Highway 17 as one of the most dangerous highways in the state. In the winter months, since Highway 17 crosses a high precipitation area in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the roadway can become very slippery and slick due to rain or snow, making the road worse. Some sections of 17 have become so notoriously dangerous that they have attained nicknames amongst the locals. (i.e. Northbound 17 after Summit Road with its sharp turns and steep slope has been deemed "Valley Surprise" for the fact that many unfamiliar drivers hit the median on their way to the Silicon Valley)

I''ve never actually heard these nicknames for the highway, and I think that this description is a bit of an exaggeration, but it's interesting nonetheless ;) I've driven along the 17 enough times that I'm pretty familiar with the curves and bends now, but I can see how it would be even more dangerous for unfamiliar drivers, especially with extraordinary wind conditions. If you're ever visiting this area, make sure to drive carefully!
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photo by: mahoney