Road Trip Part 2: Detours

Living in Southern California you become accustomed to traffic. You develop a sixth sense about it and somehow always know when to look at the traffic updates on google. Knowing what is up ahead on the road can be a major game changer on a long road trip. It can make or break the entire day.

Jen and I set out up the 405 to the 101 on our way to Santa Cruz late in the day on a Friday. As we hit the interchange from the 405 to the 101, traffic was pretty rough. It took us roughly 3 hours to go from orange county to Ventura. This is pretty typical for a Friday night in southern California. I was mentally prepared for the LA traffic. Once we cleared the city, things opened up and we were able to decompress… finally

It’s About the Drive

Driving for me is sometimes therapeutic. I enjoy the journey but despise the traffic. I have always enjoyed cars. Sometimes I drive long distances without turning on the radio. Not only because I just enjoy the sound of the engine, I enjoy the road, the wind and the view. And yes sometimes I enjoy the silence. Driving with kids has been a drastic adjustment. It’s a lot like craving your favorite snack. It’s like opening the cabinet and reaching for it only to find out that the bag is empty. You think that you are in for some emotional or mental relief, only to find out that it is just an empty bag with a few crumbs left I am calling this out now because I often look for alternate routes to take just to avoid the traffic and “enjoy” the drive.

Once I put LA behind me, I was finally starting to enjoy the drive. The kids were safely nestled in the back of the sprinter watching a movie. Jen was sitting in the seat next to me scrolling through random Instagram feeds on her phone. I was content to enjoy the safety of my solitude in the drivers seat. If you read my previous post, you would understand our trip up the coast was uneventful. OK, minus the ice cream incident in Paso Robles. After we successfully managed the deafening screams of our personal air raid siren aka our third and youngest kid, Alex, we were able to continue our journey. I continued up the 101 for a while before feeling that traffic itch needing to be scratched.

GPS Crippled?

Starting to get a little frustrated I looked to the right. I said “Hey Jen, can you check traffic ahead and see what it looks like?”. She flicked her finger across the screen of her phone like she was flinging a booger off it. She then proceeded to tell me that there was a large “dark red” section just shy of Monterey. “It has one of those accident thingy’s and I think it is a parking lot and it says unknown”. And then she went back to words with friends.

After a little prodding, Jen went back to researching the incident. She was able to find an update indicating there was an ongoing investigation which usually means a fatality was involved. Road closures for this reason can take several hours before the investigation gathers enough information to open back up. As a SoCal native, I started reviewing our situation in my head. Do I risk the estimated wait time and head straight in to the fortified front of my enemy, flank it on a side road. I hoped not get stuck behind enemy lines on a single lane highway. I wondered if I should look for an alternate route to sneak through and reach my destination unscathed?

Right Brain V Left

I did what I thought any rational person would do. I looked to my right and asked Jen to see if there were any other roads that could bypass the red stuff. After her blank look , I said “Without going too far out of the way”. I specifically asked this with also offering to her that we could take “Carmel Valley Road” and cut over to highway 1. If you have never taken E. Carmel Valley Road after it turns into Elm Ave. from the 101 to the 1, it is an absolutely beautiful drive. There are rolling hills, a creek, and even a small trestle bridge seen in this photo graciously stolen from google earth –

There are numerous places to stop and check out the scenery, wildlife, and even some spots to enjoy the creek. If you go during the winter or spring time, this is what you will find here –

I have driven this road numerous times. E Carmel Valley Road is a perfect detour to get away from the freeway on a road trip. When you feel like the road is beating you down and your patience is waning, sometimes a quiet scenic detour is just what you need. It also helps that this road will drop you just south of Monterey. Even better, you end up at a nice shopping center with decent food. If you have an RV, you will also like that there are a couple large gas stations with diesel if needed.

Getting Lost

We continued barreling head first into a tsunami of gridlocked vehicles. Jen, in her infinite wisdom, felt that Carmel Valley Road would take too long. She felt staying the course and passing the road closure ahead was better. I was stuck. Staring down the road ahead I considered Jen’s map skills. Knowing that Jens ability to read a map is about as strong as my ability to deliver babies, I was stuck. I knew no one is going to die but it won’t be pretty.

I reluctantly submitted and reminded her that we have only a few minutes for her to make a decision. Our last chance to exit the freeway was just ahead. As the marines say, the worst decision is no decision. In just a few hundred yards we were committed. She tells me there is a road that parallels the freeway. Then she says it is changing colors from yellow to orange. I again ask her to evaluate alternate routes suggesting Carmel Valley again. She then says “I’ve got one, and its all green except where it connects back to the freeway again.” I say “Great, lets go”.

The Road Less Traveled

A few minutes later we exit on Bitterwater road. We drive through the heart of King City and start heading inland. I drive for a good 20 minutes heading east without seeing a single sign of civilization. There are no more lines on the road, no road signs, and the road itself is becoming an issue. I am beginning to question if we are going to become a sequel to “the hills have eyes”.

The road begins to deteriorate and the sun is starting to set. Jen keeps reassuring me that our next turn is coming up any minute. Another 10 minutes goes by. Just as I am debating turning around and heading back to the freeway, the end of the road comes into view. We roll up to the intersection and I jokingly ask Jen which way to go. We have two options, left or right. She says “right” but is clearly pointing to the left.

Map Reading Skills?

Jen has always struggled with differentiating right and left. We have been together for over 20 years now, and I immediately know what she means, but for dramatic effect I start heading to the right while saying “I hope we don’t get lost.” Jen starts to get that look of panic on her face; the look I assume most men get when their doctor tells them they need their first prostate exam. She immediately says “no I mean left!! Left!!” and keeps pointing. I laugh and then turn the van to the left.

We are now heading down Highway 25. Another road heading into the abyss of central California. We are now flanked on both sides by barren dirt hills and the occasional abandoned house. The road is windy and would be perfect on a motorcycle. We are unfortunately driving the polar opposite of one. I am stuck driving an average speed of 20 mph for the next 45 minutes.

Safety In Sight

As we begin to approach civilization again, I finally see a road sign for the 101 freeway. I feel a calm sense of relief knowing that we just took a small adventure through part of California that almost no one will ever see. I can see an intersection ahead, and I am desperate to know where I am in terms of distance to Santa Cruz. We inch closer to the intersection and a road sign comes into view. Highway 25 is now merging with highway 156 in Hollister. My brain begins to do the math…

I have had several jobs in the past that involved reading maps and plotting routes. Being well acquainted with various highways throughout California, I have even been through Hollister several times in my life. The gravity of what just transpired hit me. Jen had inadvertently taken us over an hour out of the way only to end up on the exact road that paralleled the freeway with traffic trying to bypass the closure.

Seeing the Light

So many things run through my head and I feel my patience fading quickly. The kids begin to laugh and start talking about the old abandoned homes and fantasizing about who used to live there. It feels like life has thrown me a lifeline; a chance to redirect my angst and remember why we are even in the van in the first place.

It’s strange to think how quickly we lose site of why we do things. It’s even stranger to admit how easy it is to let the small things in life weigh us down. Jen and I have been on countless trips that didn’t go according to plan but it took 3 tiny humans to remind me of why we do it. We do it because we like the adventure and we enjoy seeing the world. Yet, there I was, angry that Jen had taken us on this crazy detour to the middle of nowhere only to end up at the same place.

From Here to Where?

Life is interesting in that respect. Everyone has a story to tell and most of us stick to the highway. What really makes the difference is the detours we take. No matter what we do in life, we all end up in the same place. I sit here now, writing this story, which is not even close to being over, reflecting on how lucky I am to have Jen making me go right when every ounce of intuition tells me to go left. Sometimes we just have to give in to the madness and let it play out. I think the biggest lesson here is to just enjoy the ride because the kids definitely will.

Stay tuned. Up next is the actual arrival in Santa Cruz, hiking in the redwoods, natural bridges state park, San Simeon and the elephant seals.


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