No Rainbows & Butterflies In California

The relationship between husband and wife should be one of closest friends

B. R. Ambedkar

State 21: California - November 29, 2017 - December 4, 2017


After departing our hotel in Santa Cruz, we drove to the Cross Country Couple's "Can’t Miss Attraction" for the State of California; “Route 1”. Designated in 1964, Route 1 is a highway running along the Pacific coastline of California for 655.8 miles, and is the longest road in the state! It's Southern terminus is at the I-5 near Dana Point in Orange County, and it's Northern terminus is at Route 101 near Leggett in Mendocino County. Route 1 serves as a major commuter hub between Los Angeles and San Francisco, and is one of the most beautiful drives in the US!

The most scenic aspect of the drive along Route 1 is Big Sur. Big Sur is a sparsely populated 71-mile stretch of Route 1 along California’s central coast where the Santa Lucia mountains tower above the Pacific Ocean. Big Sur has been hailed as "the longest and most scenic stretch of undeveloped coastline in the Continental United States.”, and “one of the most beautiful coastlines anywhere in the world”. The rugged coastline and mountain views make Big Sur a popular destination, and attracts tourist from throughout the world!

Ironically, the merging of the mountain and ocean creating Big Sur’s beauty, are the very same forces which are causing it's destruction. Route 1 along Big Sur is frequently closed and or rerouted due to inclement weather, erosion, rock slides and landslides! In 2017, Big Sur received more than 60 inches of rain causing landslides in six separate locations, and damaged the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge beyond repair. While a new bridge was in the process of being rebuilt, another 2 million cubic foot landslide occurred at Big Sur covering 1/3 mile of the Route 1 beneath 40 feet of dirt and rock! A 35 mile stretch of Route 1 was closed in May 2017 essentially cutting Big Sur in half! Repairs to the roadways are expected to be completed in 2018.

We plan to drive Route 1 North to South along the California Coast from Santa Cruz to the Santa Monica Pier. According to Google Maps, the trip would be 449 miles and take 7 hours and 49 minutes. we would be breaking up the trip over 3 days. California Route 1 constantly ranks as one of the top scenic drives in the US, and we want to take our time to take it all in.

11/29/17 - Route 1: Day 1

We began our day with a 109 mile drive South from Santa Cruz, CA to Gorda, CA.

A 35 mile stretch of Route 1 between Gorda, CA and Ragged Point, CA was closed due to the landslide. Unfortunately, the road closure prevented us from visiting the best rated beach in Big Sur and in California; Pfeiffer Beach. To complicate matters further, the nearest Walmart allowing overnight parking was in Salinas which was 85 miles North from where we had just come! It was already dark when we arrived at the road closure in Gorda. After turning around, we had a terrifying drive back to Salinas in the pitch dark, on the windy and narrow mountain roads of Big Sur. This was the most terrifying drive of our entire cross country trip!!! Please see the pictures below of our 1st day driving along Route 1.

11/30/17 - Route 1: Day 2

We woke up at a Walmart in Salinas, CA having had a restful night sleep. After getting Rosie an oil change, we drove 149 miles South on the Route 1 Detour to the opposing side of the Route 1 road closure in Ragged Point, CA. This 2 ½ hour detour was the longest of our entire trip!!! Once again, it was already dark when we reached the Road Closure in Ragged Point resulting in an another of terrifying 118 mile drive South to a Walmart in Lompac, CA were we spent the night! The highlight of the day was discovering a beach with hundreds of elephant seals cuddling together on the shore. Please see the pictures below of our 2nd day driving along Route 1.

12/1/17 - Route 1: Day 3


We woke up at a Walmart in Lompoc, CA having had a restful night sleep. Today we continue our trip down the California Coast with a 146 mile drive to the Santa Monica Pier marking the end of our 3-day journey down the California’s beautiful and historic Route 1. Please see the pictures below.

Our arrival at the Santa Monica Pier is also the location for the Cross County Couple's "Historic Location" for California; “The end of Route 66”. Route 66 (aka Will Rodgers Highway, Main Street of America, or Mother Road) was one of our countries first long distance interstate roads, and undeniably the most famous road in the United States history. Established on November 11, 1926, Route 66 began in Chicago, Illinois, and continued Southwest ending in Santa Monica, CA covering a distance of over 2,448 miles. The construction of the Interstate Highway System led to the decline to Route 66, and it was removed from the United States Highway System in 1985. After being decommissioned, parts of Route 66 were absorbed into the state road system, and some segment's access was blocked off and abandoned.

Although it is impossible to travel the entire length of Route 66 from start to finish, Route 66 has experienced a resurgence in recent years! Sections of the road have been designated as National Scenic Byways and renamed Historic Route 66. In addition, a preservation effort is underway across America to preserve the few remaining original business, structures and road segments along the de-commissioned road and designate them as National Historic Sites. We will be visiting such landmarks as we continue on our cross country journey across the Southern States on America’s original cross county road!

We followed Route 66 during our week in Illinois to its starting point in Chicago, which you can read about here, and here. Finally, we will be seeing where the Historic Route Route 66 terminates on the Santa Monica Pier. Opening in 1909, the Santa Monica Pier was the first concrete pier built on the West Coast! Although the pier’s original purpose was to pipe raw sewage into the ocean, today visitors come to enjoy an amusement park, solar powered ferris wheel, carousel, aquarium, shops, vendors, street performers, arcade, restaurants, trapeze school, and the West end of the pier has been hailed as an anglers paradise! After parking Rosie, we spent a few hours of a sunny afternoon meandering around the Santa Monica Pier, taking in the sights, sounds, and the beauty and vastness of the Pacific Ocean. Please the pictures below.

After departing the Santa Monica Pier, we drove 26.7 miles to a Walmart in Downey, CA. This drive will be immortalized as the longest drive covering the shortest distance of our entire cross country trip!!! It took us 3 hours to go 26.7 freakin miles!!! By this point in time, Nate and I were both already frustrated from long detours, and backtracking to the few Walmart’s allowing overnight parking over the past few days. Being stuck in bumper to bumper Los Angeles rush hour traffic for over 3 hours just compounded an already stressful situation.



After a stressful trip through California and Route 1, we decided to take 2 days off the road to camp in sunny southern California! The two days went far too fast, and before we knew it, the time had come to continue on our cross country trip. Our first task of the day was a 106-mile drive South to visit the Cross Country Couple's “Can’t Miss Attraction” for California, “San Diego”. We typically don’t like to list entire cities as attractions, but we had to make an exception for San Diego. Nate and I had previously visited this city during our honeymoon 5 years prior, and we both greatly looked forward to returning on our cross country trip. There really isn’t one aspect of San Diego we like the most. It is just a very nice, clean and fascinating city with an interesting culture making it an ideal place to spend some time moseying around.

Our first stop was Balboa Park. Named after the series of Sylvester Stallone movies about a fictional boxer… no I’m just kidding!!! Named after the first European to see the Pacific Vasco Núñez de Balboa, Balboa Park is a 1,200-acre urban cultural center consisting of 17 gardens, 16 museums, and home to the San Diego Zoo. The land was placed in reserve in 1835, making what we know as Balboa Park's one of the oldest in the United States! In 1915, San Diego hosted the World's Fair to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal, and dozens of buildings were constructed throughout Balboa Park in mission revival style architecture. These buildings are still present to this very day, have been meticulously maintained, and were absolutely exquisite to see! We had a delightful time exploring Balboa Park, and it was truly unlike any other place we have visited on our cross country trip. Please see the pictures below.

After departing Balboa Park, we drove across town to visit San Diego’s Seaport Village. Seaport Village is an outdoor waterfront shopping and dining complex featuring over 70 shops and restaurants along 90,000 sq. ft. of waterfront property adjacent to San Diego Bay. Each shop features a freestanding building in an assortment of architectural styles. What makes Seaport Village most interesting is it’s designed to be a car-free environment, and contains over 4 miles of sidewalks connecting the shops. Albeit a tad too touristy for our taste, we had fun wandering through the village. Please see the pictures below.


After departing Seaport Village, we walked to the nearby boardwalk along the San Diego Bay. In the far off distance I saw what I believed to be an USS Navy Air Craft Carrier. It was very hot his day, and I actually thought I might be hallucinating from dehydration! I asked Lori if she saw what I think I am seeing? Sure enough, Lori stated she too saw an air craft carrier. Off we went for a 2 mile walk down to boardwalk to investigate further. Upon our arrival, we discovered the USS Midway! The USS Midway is an aircraft carrier, commissioned a week after WW2 ended, served for 47 years throughout the Vietnam war, and as the Flagship in 1991 Operation Desert Storm! Until 1955. the Midway was the largest ship in the world, and the first air craft carrier deemed too big to fit through the Panama Canal! The Midway was decommissioned in 1992, and now a serves as museum ship permanently docked in San Diego Bay.

See, I wasn’t hallucinating, but for a moment I was questioning my sanity! It has been many years since I stepped foot on an aircraft carrier, but today was not the day for a reunion. We were running out of daylight, and the $20.00 per person admission was a bit too steep! I took a few moments to admire her beauty from afar as the sun set over the San Diego Bay. Nearby, there was a very nice supersized statue depicting the iconic image of a sailor returning from WW2 kissing his waiting woman. Please see the pictures below.


Our trip through California has been very stressful! There have been longer than usual days of driving, heavy traffic, driving treacherous roads at night, extremely difficult navigation, and the majority of Walmart’s in the state do not allow overnight parking. The stress of 2 weeks of the aforementioned was beginning to wear on our patience, and Nate and I had a huge argument!

On our trip, Nate does the driving, and I am in charge of the navigation. After we wake up in the morning, I get the front of the van together, plot all of the paths for the day, and plug it in the GPS, while Nate folds up the bed, makes breakfast, and gets everything put back in place. One of my jobs is to find a Walmart where we will spend the night, and with all of the stress of California, I forgot to find the Walmart where we would sleep tonight!

After leaving San Diego, Nate asks me to set a course in Michele, our GPS, for the Walmart where we will be spending the night. I told him I don’t know where we are spending the night. Nate got angry, and said, “Navigating is your job! Driving is mine! I am going to keep driving until you find a Walmart for us to spend the night”. I quickly checked my app for a Walmart allowing overnight parking, but there were none anywhere nearby! Nate was angry at me for not having a Walmart lined up this morning, and I was angry at Nate because he was driving aimlessly without a destination. I demanded he pulled Rosie over so we could find a Walmart together, and he demanded I do my job and navigate us to a Walmart to sleep tonight! In the end, we ended up finding a Walmart 91 miles North in San Jacinto, but Nate’s aimless driving added 35 miles to the trip. In the future we agreed: I would enter all of the days navigated points on the GPS, and Nate agreed not to drive until we have a destination entered into Michelle!


We included our fight in this post, because Lori and I want our blog to be reflective of the realities of life on the road! We have read dozens of blogs of other cross country travelers who paint only a utopic view of van life, and have even read a few blogs of couples whose cross country trips ended in divorce. Whatever problems you have while living in a stationary home, will be magnified x10 when living a mobile existence! Prior to departing on our year long trip, Lori and I spend 2 years in couple’s therapy discussing: How we would cope with life on the road? How would we handle not knowing where we are going to sleep every night? How would we resolve disagreements when living together in 76 sqft space? How are we going handle the days when plans fall through, left turns are made instead of right ones, and everything just seems to be working against us? How would we cope with the only constant in our life being inconsistency?

There are utopic days on this trip when we are captivated by the beauty of Yellowstone, and are left speechless from the view at the apex of the St. Louis Arch. Then there is the day when we broke down in the “middle of nowhere”, West Virginia, or the day I had to rush Lori to ER in Chicago with a 104 fever. Life on the road isn’t always rainbows and butterflies. However, we both came to the realization, the greatest asset we have on this trip is not Rosie, or even the road before us. The greatest asset we have is each other! No matter what surprises the next day may have in store, I wake each morning feeling blessed to share a brand new day not just with my wife, but with by best friend!

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