Across the US in 9 Days

My wife and I began our new lives as full-time US travelers in mid-December 2016 with an immediate cross country sprint to California, since we wanted to begin our travels by spending the winter months in southern California.

Ideally, we would have chosen to disembark for our travels in spring, maybe summer, or any time of year with warmer weather. We began to prepare for our trip in early July, after making the decision that we were officially committing to the nomadic lifestyle. At the time, we were anticipating our departure date to be early October. We underestimated the amount of sheer effort required to remodel the interior of an RV, make some fairly involved custom modifications, prepare our house for tenants, and on top of these, restore the 1992 Jeep Cherokee that we purchased in October to serve as our tow vehicle.

Long story short, our October departure turned to a November departure, which turned to as soon as physically possible, which eventually landed us with a departure date of  the 15th of December 2016. It was a blisteringly cold Thursday afternoon when we completed all of our preparations, grabbed our furry fam, and set out on our quest to California. Thankfully, this was not the first time that I was driving our RV, as I had already taken the rig on a trip to North Carolina in July. With this experience, I was obviously already a pro. ?
We were on a fairly tight schedule during this initial portion of our journey, as we had plans to spend the holidays with some of Sam’s family in the LA area. Our goal was to arrive in LA by the morning of December 24th, in time to spend Christmas Eve with the family there. We also needed to make a “quick stop” in Sioux Falls, South Dakota to complete some paperwork. This gave us roughly eight-and-a-half days to complete the 2800 mile trip ahead of us. Piece of cake.

Our old home and our new home. Almost six months ago, we made a huge decision to quit our 9-5 jobs, go all in on our businesses, leave our home, our wonderful family and friends, and travel the US, full-time, in a 36ft motor home. Today is day one of our journey. Hours upon hours of careful planning and preparation have lead to this point. We feel as ready and equipped as we can be, and it is time to go. We're beyond excited, slightly nervous (ha!), and a bit sad to leave our loved ones. In the next 6 months you will be able follow us through California, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska. We are excited and honored to bring you along with us. Should be an interesting ride. ~B #PhileastheRV #WendytheCherokee #NautilustheCanoe

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By the time we had completed all final preparations and packed the remainder of our possessions into the rig, it was 4:30pm on the day of our departure. Next, we had to stop for some goodbyes with family, which put us at 6:00pm before we were officially on the road. That evening, we drove two hours into Pennsylvania before pulling into a rest stop to spend the night, planning to rise early the next morning to put in a long day on the road. When we stopped, we put our slides out for some extra comfort and our jacks down for stability. (There was plenty of space in the truck lot of this rest stop). When we awoke the next morning, lo and behold, our driver-front jack had now become jammed in the downward position. Awesome.

I won’t go into detail here, as this issue was covered in an earlier post, but this problem ended up eating 3 hours of precious travel time. Once we had solved that jack issue and we were back on the road, it had reached 9am.
Finally, we were on to our long day of travel. But we were not out of the woods yet… On the heels of the jack issue, we encountered several other problems that day, which resulted in our getting stranded in Lehigh, Pennsylvania, waiting for the completion of some mechanical work on our Cherokee.

So far, we weren’t off to a great start… The mechanical work caused us to spend two additional days in Lehigh, PA, only two hours from home

On Monday, December 19th, our Cherokee was finally good to go, and we were ready to get back on the road. Our original schedule of eight-and-half days had now been reduced to just five-a-half days. Despite this, we were optimistic and determined.

The next leg of our journey, which took us through the remainder of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, was thankfully uneventful. Despite the frigid weather, and the winter storms that were traversing the eastern side of the country at that time, we managed to avoid any amount of snowfall or risky road conditions.

We arrived in Sioux Falls the afternoon of December 20th, where our good fortune with the weather thankfully continued. While there, we enjoyed mild temperatures in the mid-30s. However, we were told by locals that just two days before our arrival, temperatures had been as low as -40! We quickly took care of some paperwork that same day and then spent the night there, desperate to leave before the frigid temperatures returned.

With our South Dakota stop out of the way, we were now on the road to our final destination of Los Angeles. This second leg of our journey began with the central plains state of Nebraska. I had personally always had an interest in seeing the central regions of the country, and Nebraska was a perfect taste. We drove south on NE-11 through one small town after another, each roughly 30 minutes apart, separated by endless expanses of farmland.

At one point, we made a quick stop in one of these towns to ship some of Sam’s Etsy shop orders at a post office that we had found en route on our GPS. It was around 12:30 in the afternoon when we arrived. Sam walked into the post office to find that there was no one present behind the small counter. After waiting a few moments to see if they had stepped away temporarily, she left and went into the bank next door to see if anyone there could help. When she asked the single employee present at the bank about not being able to find anyone at the post office next door, the gentleman informed her that all of the businesses in the town closed at noon.

Nearly 700 Miles Spent on I-70 and I-76

Almost 700 miles on I-70 and I-76

After passing through Nebraska, we finally reached the great state of Colorado and the longest continuous stretch of our trip, US-76/70. We drove two hours into Colorado before stopping for the night in Sterling.
The next morning, we were in for a bit of a surprise. In all of our planning and preparation, we failed to realize that the route we were on would be taking us directly through the I-70 Rocky Mountains pass in December… Conditions were still clear for us as we made our way along I-76 towards Denver and the Rocky Mountains beyond. However, not knowing what lie ahead of us, I was envisioning us trying to climb a steep uphill grade covered in ice and snow with our 25,000 pound rig, losing traction, and careening backwards down the hill. This was not exactly a peaceful image… Being the less-than-professional big-rig driver that I was, I was certainly not relishing this drive through the Rockies.
As we pressed on towards the mountains, Sam furiously began searching Google for upcoming road conditions. From the best info that we could find, it appeared that conditions were relatively normal and that we would not have much to worry about. This only marginally put our minds at ease, as we felt we couldn’t know the exact state of the road surfaces until we arrived.
We even went so far as to make a quick phone call to Sam’s father, who is a professional truck driver. He was able to provide us with some very valuable and helpful advice. This proved significantly more effective at calming our nerves than Sam’s Google searches.

We're crossing the Rockies now, wish us luck! ?? ~S

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By this time, we were passing through Denver and were about to begin our trek through the Rockies. Our impeccable luck with the weather continued, yet again, for this portion of the trip. Once we had traveled about 30 minutes into the pass, we realized that the roads were actually 100% clear and that we probably had nothing to worry about. Traffic was flowing at a normal pace, and it was a beautiful day in the mountains.

What we pictured in our minds as being a treacherous passage through blizzardy, mountainous conditions, turned out to be one of the most amazing and memorable portions of the entire trip. About halfway across the mountains, we reached a scenic overlook situated at an elevation that placed it above the cloud cover. We took the opportunity to pull off and take in the sights. The location afforded a breathtaking view of the Dillon Reservoir Valley covered in fresh snowfall. The sun was shining bright, and the air was a comfortable temperature. This was one of the first moments of the trip that made us stop and think, “Wow, this is why we’re doing this…”

An amazing view of the Dillon Reservoir Valley

A beautiful day in the Rocky Mountains

Enjoying Lasagna as I drove our RV through the Rocky Mountains

Enjoying lasagna while driving through the Rocky Mountains ?

One of the perks of traveling in a Class A motorhome is that you have all the comforts of home available to you while flying down the highway. This includes a full kitchen. After our stop to enjoy the sights, as I was navigating us through the downward portion of the Rockies pass, Sam prepared for us a home-cooked lasagna for dinner. Enjoying that lasagna, (which was amazing, I might add) while driving our motorhome through the Rocky Mountains made for a humorous, yet also awesome memory.

After our safe and successful passage through the Rocky Mountains, the drive through the remainder of Colorado was beautiful, but uneventful. That evening we crossed over the border from Colorado into Utah. After driving an hour into Utah, it began to snow. We thought this was a bit comical, as we had made our way from the frigid mid-Atlantic region, northward to South Dakota, across the plains, and over the Rocky Mountains, all without encountering any snow fall. It was only when we reached the desert for the first time on our trip that we found snow.
At first, the snow seemed light enough to stay on the road for a bit, so we continued driving another 30 minutes. At a certain point, it seemed that the snow was picking up a bit more, and Sam wisely suggested that we stop for the night. We made our way to the nearest rest area and settled in for some rest.

When we awoke the next morning, a solid 2.5-3 inches of snow had fallen during the night. We carefully made our way back onto the highway, and found that the roads were clear enough for safe for driving.
The 2.5-3 inches of snowfall that had accumulated overnight made for some spectacular views in the Great Basin Desert. We were thankful that we chose to stop when we had the previous night, so that we were able to enjoy this amazing and rare experience of the desert landscape covered in snow.

It's a white Christmas in the Utah desert. ?❄️~B

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The Utah Desert covered in a fresh snow fall

As we continued through this desert winter wonderland, we made a quick stop at Ghost Rock scenic area to enjoy what appeared to be one of the most spectacular views we had passed thus far. We were not wrong. I quickly made my way down a walking path through a grove of trees. When I emerged on the other side, I was greeted by an incredible view of Ghost Rock and the surrounding canyons. The fresh white snow contrasted against the brilliant colors of the canyon walls, all bathed in bright winter morning sun, made for a gorgeous sight to behold. We left this area with a slew of photos and some amazing new memories.

The View of Ghost Rock after the snowfall

Before finishing the last leg of I-70 and connecting with I-15, we passed through the scenic northern section of Capitol Reef National Park, followed by Fishlake National Forest. These areas were equally beautiful while covered in the fresh snow.

With the nearly 700 miles of I-70 behind us, we had reached the final leg of our journey, I-15, which would carry us through the remainder of Utah, across the extreme north-western tip of Arizona, across Nevada, through Las Vegas, then clear across southern California to our destination in the Los Angeles suburbs.

As we traveled on through these last few states, we enjoyed the continued beauty of the desert landscapes. Our course took us through expansive, open valleys, alongside rushing rivers, between winding desert canyons, and through tunnels beneath massive rock formations. This was yet another pleasant, scenic drive during our trip across America.

Once we crossed the border into California, we were now merely four hours from our destination. We became more than a little excited that this long drive was nearly over! At this point, the I-15 roadway began to produce some steep inclines as we skirted the northern border of the Mojave Preserve. At around 6PM, we pulled off into the Valley Wells Safety Rest Area to cook dinner. Seeing that we were only three hours from our destination from this point, we decided this would be a fine spot to spend the night, and we planned to complete those final 3 hours early the next morning.

The next morning was December 24th, Christmas Eve, and we were only three hours from our destination. We had made it. This final stretch of the trip on I-15 brought us across the Mojave desert, through the San Bernardino National Forest spanning the San Bernardino mountain range, and down into the “The Valley.” (AKA the greater Los Angeles urban area). This final section of the drive was enjoyably scenic in its own new way. The rapid change of climates during this short hop was impressive. In the span of three short hours, we traveled from the arid, open, and dry Mojave region, up through the green and luscious San Bernardino National forest where we encountered short bursts of sporadic rain, then finally into the warm and sunny LA valley.

View of the LA valley from I-15

We then checked ourselves into an RV park, which was conveniently situated just off of I-15 and only 10 minutes from the family we would be visiting. We hopped into our trusty Cherokee, sporting its festive holiday wreath, and made our way to the family’s house to let the holiday celebrations begin, which for us in many ways, was also the celebration of our safe and successful arrival in southern California. ?

Have you driven cross country before? What was it like? Feel free to share in the comments below!

About Brendan Binger

Brendan BingerI’m Brendan, the other 50% of Life Among Pines, and a self-taught designer and marketer. I enjoy the singular privilege of waking up each day to spend my time doing what I love. Recently, I have been applying my time towards growing my freshly founded web design and digital marketing agency: Quarry Design Group. When not working, you can find me riding triple fins or seven-plys, face down in the pages of a new book, or exploring the wilderness of the US.