Traveling during the holidays is something I wouldn’t do normally by choice. But, my best friend Elena and her family live down in California, and with the two weeks off from work I figured I better use the chance to … Continue reading
One of the best things about traveling is that it creates such great visceral memories. I can often remember the most mundane details of life as long as I was out of town when it happened. “Remember that time when … Continue reading
Eating on the road is definitely a challenge, especially if you have food allergies, or are just trying to eat healthfully. On the road, I tend to stick to fruit, mixed nuts, Lara Bars, and tortilla chips, but there were a few places we stopped that offered a wonderful, and much needed, hot meal. Here are some great, quirky restaurants that we found across the U.S.
1. Lotus Cafe
One of our favorite hang-outs in Wyoming was the Lotus Cafe in Jackson. The “organic bakery, bistro, and lounge,” offered excellent local, vegan, and gluten free food. The casual dining atmosphere invited locals to come in with their laptops for an almond milk latte or fresh made organic juices. We really liked to come in on a day off for a breakfast of eggs benedict, coffee, and gluten free, vegan waffles before a long day exploring the park.
Try: Bison Burger, Fiesta Bowl, Blood Orange Old Fashioned. They also make an excellent gluten free bread that you can buy by the loaf.
Find it: 145 North Glenwood Street Jackson, WY
The road gets you craving really greasy, All-American diner food. So, in a desperate move, we Googled “gluten free vegan diner Chicago” and this was the top result. We went without any further recommendation, dragging along my friend from studying abroad, who is now a graduate student living in Chicago. The Chicago Diner turned out to be a great find, outfitted entirely in 50s kitsch, with a huge menu of vegan versions of classic favorites. We were most blown away by the milkshakes. These soy concoctions managed somehow to taste exactly like their dairy counterpart. The soy whipped cream was a masterpiece. If any of you have ever tried the stuff in the grocery store, you know what a rarity it is to find something that even slightly resembles the real thing. We left with our craving fed, and our stomachs even more so.
Try: The “Milk”shake. Seriously.
Find it: 3411 N. Halsted, Chicago IL
I was napping my way through Iowa, when I woke suddenly before an exit sign. Still a bit dazed from sleep, all I could make out from the “Food Next Right” sign was “Organic Restaurant.” Given it’s odd location, I knew we had to check it out. We jumped off the freeway and onto empty dirt roads leading us through farm land. Just when we thought we might be lost, we came across a big white dairy barn, marked “LT Organic Farm, Restaurant, and Preventive Health Center.”
We walked in to find two long tables filling the white washed room, with unusual medical advice painted on the walls: “Only drink water when thirsty,” “Stress is good for the immune system,” and, of course, “Let food be your medicine.”
We took a seat at one of the tables, and had two plates of their daily “special”- the only dish available that day- 100% local, organic curried free-range chicken, gluten free falafal, roasted potatoes, wilted spinach, and wild rice. This delicious, Indian-inspired meal may have been our best on the road. We left energized and charmed by this strange little off-road sanctuary.
Try: Whatever they are serving up that day. Nothing that fresh and wholesome could be anything less than delicious.
Find it: 3241 Ute Avenue, Waukee, Iowa, I-80 at the Waukee exit
4. Taste Of India (aka the Truck Stop Indian Buffet)
We took another gamble with a road sign in New Mexico, and it definitely paid off. We saw signs for an Indian Buffet attached to a truck stop for several miles before we came to the exit, in dire need of gasoline. When we got to the gas station, they were completely out of gas. Baffled by this unusual situation, we decided to go inside to investigate this unusual place.
The front of the store was a plain old convenience store, selling Hershey’s bars and cigarettes. In the back, though, was a delicious smelling buffet that had just been laid out for the day. The restaurant was obviously owned by an Indian family, with men working in the front, helping customers and handing out naan, and women in the back cooking. We took one look at the food in the case and knew we had to stay.
We tried absolutely everything in that buffet line, and everything was wonderful. I was obsessed with the vegetable masala, and probably ate my weight in naan dipped in chicken curry. This buffet was a wonderful surprise and certainly worth the stop.
Try: It all.
Find it: I-40 between Amarillo, TX and Albuquerque, NM on Exit No 356 on west bound I-40.
I am excellent at navigating comically perplexing subway systems, making flights just in the nick of time, finding cheap hotels, and discovering great restaurants in the dusty corners of the country. But for all the gifts I have in the art of travel, I am most dramatically lacking a talent for coming home.
After a long exhale of relief – the familiar bed, the missed friends and family, the favorite hometown cafe – comes an unbearable stillness, where the air becomes so stagnant I’m unsure that I can coax it into my lungs. It’s unnerving to feel so wrong in such a familiar environment.
Reverse culture shock is a common phenomenon. I remember the way my study abroad adviser cautiously appraised me after I returned from a semester in France. “How’s the readjustment going?” he would ask each time I would pass by him on the campus walkways. “Just fine,” would be my inevitable response, even though I was often on my way to burst into tears the moment I entered my tiny loft apartment.
Returning home is always an isolating experience. No one at home can really understand what your experience was, or how it (dramatically or just slightly) changed you. And after the twelfth hour of reminiscing, no one really wants to try anymore.
I’m not sure why I am particularly prone to this shock, able to feel pangs after only a short time away. I don’t miss the endless Midwest, nor the dusty, raw Southwest. I do mourn the loss of a feeling of infinite possibility and the world we created for ourselves on the road– an imaginary land where we had taken up arms against the lung crushing force of white picket adulthood and we had won.
After 26 days on the road, 13 states, and 4,619 miles covered, we are finally back in Washington State. Right now we are in the midst of catching up with family and friends, many of whom are off to start adventures of their own.
It’s a strange feeling coming back in the middle of the summer. School will start here in just three weeks. Summer vacations have come and gone. Fireworks are long burned out, and everyone is starting to tire of the endless barbeque (or maybe not).
As everything is winding down, I am starting a new phase. A new apartment, a new job, and new goals. I’m excited for what comes next.
After a long day’s journey across the Southwest, we are relaxing at our last stop on our journey: my aunt’s house in Scottsdale, AZ.
We left OKC at 3:45 AM on Tuesday and completed a drive through Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. Unfortunately, these are probably the worst states to drive through in July with a car that has no air conditioning. The heat definitely adds to the experience, creating a sauna-like environment that complements the mysticism that surrounds the Southwest.
We decided it would be best to drive straight through as quickly as possible, but we did make one mid-day stop in Albuquerque. There, we got to cool off, get some coffee, browse a couple vintage stores, and try some New Mexico chili.
We are going to be in Arizona until Monday morning until we finally head home. Washington, it will be nice to see you!
We are back on the road again in the car that was born the same year I was. We made it to Oklahoma City with no problems and are enjoying a visit in a very different part of the country than we have experienced before.
On Sunday, Gus, his mother, and I went on a hike in the Wichita State Park. It was interesting to see so many facets of the landscape that reminded of me of places far away: the sagebrush of Eastern Washington, the red rock of Southern Utah, and the free grazing bison of the Tetons. However, as it always goes, as soon as you get too comfortable in the familiarity, something totally unique pops up. In this case, it was several brilliant yellow and turquoise lizards that scurried along the park’s carpet of boulders.
We spent yesterday touring Guthrie, a small suburb of OKC. It had a really charming historical downtown, with cobblestone streets and well preserved brick buildings. We also stopped for a pint at McNellie’s Public House, a huge Irish pub in OKC.
Oklahoma was a unique visit, but I am not very sad to see it go. We are starting our first long haul back west today, hopefully making it to Scottsdale, AZ before the day is up. I’m excited for my first (brief) visit to Albuquerque today!
A flat tire last night has kept us off the road and in Springfield, MO until this afternoon. It’s always kind of a bummer when car problems keep you from your plans, but we’ve had a good time in Springfield so far.
I’m a fan of Elsie Larson’s blog, A Beautiful Mess, so when I realized we were going through Springfield, I was pretty insistent that we stop at her shop. I’m so glad we did because her store was as quirky and delightful as I expected. I picked up some great khaki coveralls and a red plaid sundress that fits like a glove.
The Coffee Ethic
This cafe was a great find in downtown Springfield. We were greeted with a sleek urban decor and much appreciated air conditioning. The shop is “devoted to traditional drinks and sizes,” only offering 8 and 12 oz lattes, cappuccinos, mochas, and americanos. Their tactic paid off and my americano was the best I have gotten since I left home.
Gailey’s Breakfast Cafe
From the crowd at this little diner, it seems that it may be a local favorite. Originally a drug store built in 1937, this restaurant has plenty of retro charm. We all got super tasty omelettes.
We are getting new tires put on our car right now, and should be all set to go for the last half of our journey. We’re off to Oklahoma City this afternoon. Hopefully the Southern accent that Gus has picked up down here will be put to rest once we hit the Southwest!
Since we left Wyoming, we have sought refuge in the Midwest to stay with family. It’s been a strange experience moving from the mountainous Northwest and spectacular Tetons to the very flat and dry heartland.
We did a marathon drive through Nebraska and Iowa. We stayed with my friend in Chicago for a night. Then, we moved on to Indianapolis for a couple days to see Gus’ sister. Now, we are just outside of St. Louis, where we have been for the last 5 days. My aunt has been generous enough to let us stay with her and it has been great catching up with her and my cousins.
I love getting the opportunity to see a whole different part of the U.S., as well as see the day to day lives of my family. We got to see my Aunt’s chickens and goats that she raises on her farm and eat her awesome home grown produce. We went shopping with my cousin, Sam, and saw her beautiful university campus. We even went to a Baptist church service with my cousin, James, and his fiancé. What an experience!
We are heading down to Oklahoma in a couple days, and beginning the Southwest leg of our journey. I’m so excited!
Soon to come: eating on the road. I will fill you in on all my favorite restaurants we’ve encountered on our travels.
Everyone, I am sure, has been waiting with bated breathe to hear why we left the Tetons. I am going to offer the politically correct explanation here for now: there were things going on within the company that we did not agree with and did not want to be a part of. We came to the decision that we would have a lot more fun, make more money, and be more comfortable back in Washington.
Thankfully, before we left, we got a great hike in Paintbrush Canyon. I was writing a post about it before, but the chaos delayed my post. So, I am just going to post the originally planned text below.
Since we arrived, Gus and I have been itching to go on one big, messy, all-day hike. On Tuesday, we finally did.
The weather is finally warming up, making some serious elevation climbs a possibility. So we decided to pack up our (barefoot) sneakers and Lara Bars to head up 2600 feet through Paintbrush Canyon to Holly Lake.
The canyon was amazingly beautiful. At the beginning, you gradually gain elevation while hiking through pine trees, small streams, and wild flowers. As you climb further up into the canyon, your visibility clears and you can look up at the peaks that cradle the trail. Often in view are massive waterfalls created by the snow melt.
By the time we had climbed for about three hours, we started to hit snow fields. This meant I watched Gus scurry across the tundra while I scrambled up whatever boulders I could find in order to stay on dry ground.
At the final half mile, we came up to a massive, uphill snowfield. Unfortunately, scrambling up this was beyond my skill/confidence level, so I encouraged Gus to go on and take a peak at the lake without me. It was a bit frustrating to get so far up and not meet my goal, but hiking definitely fits the cliché: it’s about the journey, not the destination.
As we headed back down, we were tempted to jump into some of the frigid but stunningly clear mountain streams. Unfortunately, we were dead tired and lacking a change of clothes.
At nearly the end of the trail, we had to extend our hike because we came upon a black bear sauntering our direction. We had to back up our path slowly, and circle around String Lake to reach our car.
The end result was sore muscles and a satisfying post-hike picnic in Jackson. It was incredible, though, and I am so excited for our next opportunity to hit the trail!