Work Anywhere Road Trip, Part 3: Colorado to California

Get inspired about the limitless possibilities of working from anywhere at anytime — read this blog series about a 11-day, 2800+ mile cross-country journey, from Virginia to San Francisco

Have you ever had the perfect weekend getaway and come back fully rejuvenated? 

My stay in Boulder was like that (see part 2).

I got a chance to rest up after the first three days of driving, work at some of my usual spots and get some nice work-life balance in the mix, with daily hikes and a music concert at Red Rocks. 

If you’re thinking of doing a cross country road trip, you could breakup your journey midway (as I did) or take daily breaks with less driving along the ways…or a combination. It comes down how much time you have and where you want to spend it.

I was ready for the second leg of the journey, from Boulder to California, and even more excited about it, since it involved less driving than the first leg fand included gorgeous scenery and cities I love.

In my opinion, the scenery on the west coast is unmatched by the east coast. As you can see in the Google Map below, the terrain begins to change dramatically on the western half, largely due to the Rockies (spanning six states). 

If you live on the west coast or have been there, I’m sure you have your favorite places.

Some of my favorite places on the west coast include: Utah parks, Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, Big Sur, Muir Woods, Golden Gate Bridge, Seattle, Oregon…it’s a long list!

My plan was to spend one night in Salt Lake City before continuing on to Lake Tahoe and finally ending up in Palo Alto for the last two nights of this trip. 

I was looking forward to so many things on this trip: 

  • Lake Tahoe: Chilling out, taking in the scenery and working remotely
  • Bay Area: Seeing my friends in the Bay Area. Working and dining in Palo Alto. Getting my daily walks at Stanford University. Sightseeing (Golden Gate Bridge, Pacific Coast Highway).

It was time to hit the road, again!

The Drive To California

As you can probably relate, we get more comfortable doing things after the second or third time time.

I was much more confident and relaxed about this second leg of the road trip and came up with the following plan:

  • Origination: Boulder, Colorado.
  • Destination: San Francisco, California. 
  • Journey: 1250+ miles. Approximately 23+ hours of driving, including Tesla supercharging.
  • Overnights: Thursday (Salt Lake City), Friday and Saturday (Lake Tahoe), Sunday and Monday (Palo Alto).
  • Return: Ship car back and fly back (in a pandemic!)

I had charged the car the night before, so I was ready to grab some Starbucks and start driving.

Charging Tesla Ahead of Long Drive Next Day

I decided to break up the journey into shorter, under two-hour, drives to enjoy the ride. I was starting to really like this mode of traveling, that is, smaller chunks of driving and taking breaks. (Being an Agile software development guy, I found it analogous to two-week sprints; i.e. shorter, frequent chunks.)

I made it to Salt Lake City around 5pm local time, so there was plenty of daylight to enjoy the day. Craving to do something outdoors, I asked for suggestions at the front desk for a late afternoon hiking spot and immediately got the recommendation to see Antelope Island. I’m glad she was so confident I would like it because it was an amazing stop. 

Since “a picture is worth a thousand words,” I’ll let the photos (and video) below illustrate the beauty.

Dozens of Bisons at Antelope Island
Beach at Antelope Island

I did get stuck for 10 minutes between bison crossings but it was worth the adrenaline rush.

Stuck Between Bison Crossings at Antelope Island

The next day, I was determined to get to Lake Tahoe, approximately 10 hours of driving (including Tesla supercharging stops). 

Along the way, I managed to get a nice 6,000+ step walk at one of the stops.

I didn’t realize I would be driving through the Great Salt Lake Desert, a pleasant surprise. I decided to get out and step into the salt — big mistake, since my shoes were covered in grey, wet mud that took like a dozen wet wipes to clean off…but it was worth the experience.

Great Salt Lake Desert

The remaining drive was hours of seeing nothing at times, with the occasional feeling of deja vu, since I could see for 10-20 miles in some areas, then an hour later, I would be on a similar road again.

Nothing To See For Miles

I didn’t seem to mind the long drives, thanks to hours of music on Spotify. I’m not sure if you agree but classic rock and long distance driving through America, go so well together.

Hours Of Countless Music On Spotify

The drive went smoothly and I reached (North) Lake Tahoe around 6pm local time. I decided to drive around after checking into my hotel. 

North Lake Tahoe

I spent a couple of wonderful days at Lake Tahoe and enjoyed hiking, dining and driving around the lake.

Squaw Valley Summer 2020

It was surreal seeing Squaw Valley in the summertime with so few people (~10% capacity), having skied here just last year…with the lodging fully sold out. I wanted to get some productive work done, while getting some for some R&R, so I didn’t mind the smaller crowds and quiet.

Squaw In Winter 2019

Feeling completely rejuvenated from my Tahoe stop, I was ready for the final few hours of driving…to literally the west coast, to mark the end of this road trip. 

My plan was to visit some friends in (SF) East Bay area then drive to see the Golden Gate and get some nice shots of it.

After leaving Tahoe, one thing I found interesting are the “Elevation” graphs from Teslafi; I never quite visualized the drive in and out of Tahoe like this before, even though I obviously knew about the elevation:

Approaching Lake Tahoe (source: Teslafi)
Leaving Lake Tahoe (source: Teslafi)

On my drive to the Bay Area, I could see the unhealthy air people had been talking about — a result of over 500 fires statewide due to nearly 12,000 lightning strikes in a week

Unhealthy Air Due To California Wildfires (August 2020)

I love California and always hate to hear about the suffering these wildfires can cause but this year was particularly bad because of the sheer number of fires…in the middle of summertime during a pandemic, when outdoors is one of few entertainment options.

After visiting my friends, I drove to my final planned destination for this road trip: San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a thrilling accomplishment to realize that I had just completed a coast to coast drive!

Mission Accomplished. Reached San Francisco! View From Marin Headlands.

Coming back on the Golden Gate Bridge, I used Tesla’s Autopilot feature to grab a snack. I suddenly realized how close and well, my car was hugging the left shoulder (see below) — I was in awe and nervous, simultaneously.

Driving On Autopilot on Golden Gate Bridge

Working Anywhere

I wasn’t sure if I was more excited about working in Boulder or California (mostly, Tahoe & Palo Alto) — each had its own appeal but California has so much diversity when it comes to the geographical terrain. I mean, you can go from snow covered mountains of Lake Tahoe to a beach in a matter of hours.

I’ve often wondered if the terrain has anything to with the fact that so much technology innovation comes out of the west coast, perhaps the terrain draws a certain type of talent to that area or perhaps it’s due to all the tech history in that area (military technology, Silicon transistors, computer networking, Stanford). 

There are so many well known tech giants on the west coast: Airbnb, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Uber… according to Harvard Business Review, 18 of the top 20, internet companies, as measured by market capitalization

An investor once told me there were more tech companies in the Bay Area than the entire east coast put together! This becomes fairly obvious, if you visit the local coffee shops and restaurants (during non-pandemic times) — many conversations are about startups and stock options.

I had planned to work at Tahoe during my two night stay there, then again in Palo Alto, also a two night stay.

Working Outdoors

At Lake Tahoe, I worked at convenient outdoor seating areas around my hotel. 

One morning, I found a great spot to work at — nothing like getting in a couple of hours of productive working hours, with a gorgeous view and perfect weather…topped with a delicious latte to jumpstart a power-packed working session.

Working In Squaw Valley, Lake Tahoe

Working On The Go

I’m not sure if this is a good habit but I often work on my daily walks. I wouldn’t recommend it, since you can get hurt doing this but I find when I get an idea, I don’t want to forget it or lose the creative moment I might be having right then.

I switched exclusively to G Suite from Microsoft Office sometime between 2008 and 2012. Ever since Google introduced the mobile versions of G Suite, it’s made editing documents on a mobile device not only possible but actually quite productive.

Add to this, the growing number of robust mobile apps in the past decade and you can be very productive.

Working on iPhone/G Suite on a 8k+ Steps Walk

A great example of working on the go was when I was out on my morning walk and suddenly got a reminder for a 7am meeting…at that very minute! I tend to set at least two reminders for each meeting but I must have missed both likely due to my do-not-disturb setting or because I hadn’t had coffee yet.

This was an important meeting with the CEO of NowSecure, Alan Snyder, a meeting I had scheduled a month ago, before deciding to take this road trip.

Last Minute Meeting Reminder

One minor problem: we had planned to use Skype (our tool of choice for video interviews), I didn’t have the app installed on my iPhone and I was already late!

Luckily, I had a good internet connection, was able to download the Skype iOS app in seconds and was up and running by 7:02am. We had a great conversation about his interview topic (listen to the interview on Establishing Culture After An Organizational Change).

Talking To Alan of NowSecure Over Skype iOS App

Working At Stanford University

I found a nice shaded spot on my daily walk at Stanford University’s Palm Drive and the weather was perfect, so I ended up working there for almost three hours, using Stanford’s campus wide visitor WiFi.

Stanford University
Working On a Bench at Stanford University

Working At The Hotel

Many people work in their hotel rooms but you often don’t find that many people working by the pool, particularly in the evening. However, I was in the mood to do an hour of writing, so went with the flow and worked by the pool with a cold bottle of beer.

Working By The Hotel Pool

Working On Air Travel

Working at the airports has been a fairly prevalent thing for many years and WiFi is available on most flights, so you can get a productive couple of hours of work in or decompress with some digital entertainment (music, show). 

I organized the trip’s photos and videos, while working on the blog, at the airport and on the flights.

Working At The Airport
Work On The Flight Using WiFi

Work-Life Balance

To me, the west coast epitomizes work-life balance since there’s so much to do outdoors and weather can be decent year round (depending on where you live). 

Wellbeing

Given the choices of outdoors activities, it was no wonder that my average steps per day increased by ~800, in this leg of the journey.

Able to Get Usual Daily Exercise

I managed to get nice hikes and walks in the Tahoe area, Half Moon Bay and around Palo Alto.

Squaw Valley
Lake Tahoe, Emerald Bay
Dunes Beach, Half Moon Bay, California
One of my favorite walks around Palo Alto: Palm Drive, Stanford.

Dining

Due to the pandemic, as expected, there wasn’t much of a vibrant dining scene anywhere. 

Whenever I visit Palo Alto, I tend to go to some regular places like Philz Coffee, Starbucks (on University Ave) and restaurants in downtown Palo Alto or Mountain View. It was depressing to see how dead downtown Palo Alto felt due to the pandemic and the fires. 

Palo Alto Downtown (in a Pandemic)…Sad 🙁 

My sadness was temporarily lifted with one of my favorite hummus dishes and a regular stop for me whenever I’m in the area: Oren Hummus in downtown Palo Alto. I was glad to discover they were open and food as delicious as always.

Oren Hummus, Palo Alto Downtown…Delicious! 🙂 

Heading Back Home

After a couple of awesome days in my most favorite tech city in the world, Palo Alto, it was time to head home.

It was a bittersweet moment since I was ready to get home to my family after so much alone time but it was sad to see this absolutely amazing journey, come to an end.

I had arranged my car to be picked by Ship a Car Direct. I believe these car shipping companies do the online marketing and dispatching and get an approximately 15% cut for that; the remaining is paid directly to the drivers, upon delivery. The whole operation was extremely efficient.

Having Car Shipped Back From California to Virginia

Since I had to meet the shipping company approximately 12 minutes away due to the size of their vehicle, it suddenly hit me that I would be taking my first Uber, since the pandemic started.

Staying in hotels was the first taste of getting out from the safety of my own home during the pandemic but sitting in someone else’s car was a bit nerve-wracking.

My First Uber Since The Pandemic Started — Mask Up, Windows Open

The only thing more nerve-wracking was the notion of flying for hours, with strangers in a cabin. However, after reading up on air travel, I was slightly relieved to learn that the risk of catching a virus was low.

Not surprisingly, SFO airport was pretty empty but I didn’t expect it to be this deserted. I felt both sad and happy since the lack of people was becoming a familiar sight but also less people meant, less chances of catching the virus.

SFO relatively empty compared to normal

Conclusion

What can I say…I’m absolutely thrilled I took this road trip. I thanked my wife (again) for allowing me to do it and my whole family for encouraging me. 

My overall takeaways from this trip were:

  1. Travel: Cross-country is not as scary as it might seem to some people. If you have enough time and do the proper planning, it’s actually quite an enjoyable journey, especially in a beautiful country like ours with the diversity of terrain across the various states.
  2. Work: You can literally work anywhere as I’ve proven in this blog series. Of course, you’ll need to plan around your meetings, required work hours (e.g. 9-5) and so on but that’s easily doable by carving out days for travel/fun versus work.
  3. Productivity: Nowadays, I prefer getting a couple/few hours of deep work, instead of eight hours of busy work. I worked in Fortune 500 companies for many years and I found 50% of the meetings unproductive, since it left very little time for focused, asynchronous work.
  4. Balance: Work-life balance is achievable on a road trips like this. In my opinion, if you can maintain work life balance on a regular basis, then working on weekends or after hours doesn’t feel so bad. I believe strictly 9-5 type of work hours are largely based around the need for synchronous work in meetings versus carving out some percentage of that for asynchronous/independent work. Not to mention, 9-5 originated from labor unions and the Ford company, for a different era.
  5. Pandemic: I felt I was about 10-20% more paranoid about the pandemic than I needed to be (e.g. staying in hotels, walking around the airport). I’m very particular about wearing a mask and might have been the only one with a face shield at the airport but after getting out on this trip, I felt watching the news versus getting out there, are very different things.
  6. Tesla: What can I say…after two years of owning my car, I fell in love with it all over again — Tesla has reinvented the car! In my opinion, it is the best car built to date, for long trips and local driving.

This pandemic has significantly impacted our lives. However, we don’t need to be a prisoner to it. If you look at the science, follow the local laws and trust that the X% capacity in restaurants and hotels are carefully thought through (in most states), then there’s a lot you can do, safely and responsibly.

Also, this pandemic will be behind us at some point and I’m confident it’ll change the business landscape. On one hand, there’ll be pent up demand to work in person, on the other hand, some percentage of the workforce will never go back to work in the offices. 

Whether you work remote or in physical offices, working anywhere is not an all or nothing proposition — there’s nothing stopping you from working anywhere…occasionally, temporarily or permanently. 

Get out there and enjoy the journey!

Read Part 1 | Part 2


Read other parts of this multi-part series.
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