Christian Kemp's USA travelogs

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As usual on the first few days of an US vacation, when a reverse jet lag is kicking in, I was up comparatively early (6am). I bought a calling card at the front desk, and checked out of my Motel6 in Carpinteria at 7:25am.

I would have plenty of time to drive north for about 300 miles along the Pacific on Highway 1 to Watsonville, and another Motel6.

The first leg of my journey that day proved to be comparatively boring - Highway 101 has four-lanes, there's fewer opportunities (and reasons) to stop, and I passed my time looking for vintage Mustangs, of whom there were a handful (certainly more than in Luxembourg).

After reaching Las Cruces, Highway 101 turns away from the ocean, and the turn-off to Highway 1 provides a more scenic, and lesser-travelled alternative.

Highway 1 rejoins Highway 101 at Santa Maria. Instead of heading towards Guadalupe on the former (which I remembered to be not too scenic from the last time I drove that part), I headed on towards Nipomo on Highway 101, where I refueled, had breakfast and did some shopping.

It wasn't far to Morro Bay, where I stopped for a while, but was quickly repelled by the touristy feel and a grey dullness courtesy of early morning clouds.

Beyond Cambria, the more scenic part of Highway 1 begin as the roads narrow.

A few miles after the Hearst Castle turnoff, some commotion could be seen to the left of the road. After parking my car (on a parking, road-side parking is strictly forbidden on this stretch) and a short walk, one could see several elephant seals on the shore and in the water. I stayed for a while, trying to get a good shot without getting close (this is where my 10x zoom comes in handy), but was ultimately hampered by my lack of photo storage space. I ended up only taking 22 pictures, but would have taken much more if my laptop had worked.

Shortly after noon, I headed up north again, stopping along the way a few times before reaching Salmon Creek; where I parked my car and hiked up about 700ft, and 3mi in total (1:40h total).

After a few more miles, and a few more stops, I arrived at Willow Creek Road. This is where the fun started. I mistakenly thought this was a different road, one that would just circumvent a bridge and that I had read about in my Lonely Planet California guide.

As I was heading up in elevation on a dirt road, I was still thinking that the road would turn around soon enough and head back towards the ocean. 10 miles covered, and I was still up in the mountains. At this point, I began to suspect that I had been wrong in my assumption. (And of course, making assumptions in foreign countries is not the way to go.) Still, I figured I should just move on, because pretty soon, I would be back on Highway 1.

This is the second time I cursed my laptop for not working at the airport.

The road became narrower and more demanding, with protruding rocks, wet spots and fallen trees lying across the road that had just been cut enough to let a car pass.

Sunset was coming closer, and I still was at too much elevation and hadn't seen the ocean for quite a few miles now. Still, if I were to backtrack, I would lose a lot of time as well, so I just decided to try my luck and head on. Worst case, I would just have to spend the night in the car (I wouldn't want to drive that road with just my headlights to guide me).

This proved to be the right approach, since after 23 miles of dirt roads and a growing desperation, I finally got back to a paved road. And it was going downhill in a western direction. I was saved. :)

This is when the car started making trouble. The road, paved as it was, went downhill in many turns and around a lot of corners. There were, after all, around 3000 feet to descent. This would have been fine, except that there was something wrong with the tires. Lack of air pressure or some other fault, they were screeching with every steering movement, even though I tried to go extra slow. I stopped two times to visually check them, and found them abnormally hot, but not otherwise damaged. So I headed on, very carefully, and was glad when I finally reached Highway One not too far away from Lucia, just in time to witness a most gorgeous sunset.

I still had about 2 hours of driving ahead of me when I took my last sunset picture, and I got another fright in a sharp turn when the car (a front-drive Cavalier) suddenly started tailgating . I suspect there must really have been a lack of air pressure on one side to create such a behavior so abnormal for a small front-drive sedan.

Needless to say, those last two hours were not very remarkable scenery-wise, as it had become dark fairly quickly, and I was all too happy when I could finally check-in at my Motel6 at around 8pm.

Written July 16th 2003 in Luxembourg.

Motel/Hotel Accommodation: Motel6 (Watsonville, CA): $37.39