“Did you eat any meals on your road trip that you will always remember?” My mom asked me that question near the end of our journey. I rambled for twenty minutes. How can I distill our journey into one favorite meal?
My wife and I drove from Boulder to the West coast and back, towing a pre-loved 2006 Airstream Safari 20’ camper. Sometimes I wish I could eat just for fuel but I’m not wired that way. I’m a simple guy who lives by simple math. I crave order and cleanliness. I get my dirt fix on my mountain bike, followed by a saucy sloppy meal. I also suffer from deep anxieties and fears. They hit me like forces of nature, tornadoes of regret, disappointment, and sadness. The heart is short trip to the stomach where these emotions take their revenge on the food I eat. We were about to set out for 4 months of variables. We would be traveling to uncharted territory with our sweet but old dog in tow. I would have to give up control, and I was scared. The memorable meals turned out to be the messy meals that warmed my belly, calmed my mind, and soothed my heart when they were needed most.
Don’t even try to fight a deep primal instinct. Carnivorous mountain bikers wants to tear meat apart. So does this traveling salesman. The BBQ ribs at Bitterroot in Seattle scratched that itch. The modern dining room suggested a more elevated approach. But the ribs arrived looking savage. The dry rub of spices and house BBQ sauce formed an shiny coating, like an armor against unhappiness. Four other bottles of unique sauces were brought to the table. The control I had over the flavor of my ribs was exciting. I dove in up to the wrist like a caveman in a dress shirt.
Pulled pork and rose gardens: the treasures of Gearhead Deli in the town of Quilcene, WA. The converted gas station was a joy after a hike in the Pacific Northwestern woods of the Olympic Peninsula. The warm humid forest shielded me from my normal daily stress of this unfortunate modern world. I wondered if the dinosaurs were happier creatures than humans. The dining room overlooks a peaceful, manicured rose garden. One of the best pulled pork sandwiches ever arrived on a metal tray in this manicured setting. Generous piles of pulled pork steamed on the ciabatta roll, topped by piles of cabbage slaw. The meat, sauce, and slaw were more than the roll could hold! This structural disaster waiting to happen was also a delicate balance of sweet spicy flavor. I bit into the sandwich and felt the sauce soak the bun and my fingers. The cook saw my eyes glaze and pointed to the back of the patio where the smoker nurtured the pork until just before I ordered it. I washed the meal down with local beer the color of sunshine and looked out at the roses.
I finished a mountain bike ride in our last stop of the summer, Durango, CO. By now I was suffering from chronic insomnia caused by a summer in a weird tiny bed. My faculties were compromised. I smelled the bread just outside the trailhead gate and skidded to a stop at the garage door to the Jean Pierre bakery. Inside I saw loaves neatly stacked on cooling racks. The owner saw me staring, invited me in, and broke off a chunk of walnut banana bread. Warm spices and sweet aromas floated from the buttery dough. The smell made my head swim with joy that only comes from treats after a tough bike ride.
The summer was not all fun and games, and barbeque sauce flowing like wine in the streets. The smoke alarm screamed in the trailer kitchen more than once. I ate too many bags of potato chips behind the wheel. I suffered through too many food regrets that were really other emotions in disguise. We worked our day jobs in between exploring. In doing so, we discovered exciting new flavors. We got pissed off at each other, but we learned alot about each other and ourselves. We challenged ourselves every day and won most of the time. I didn’t get to try all the places or eat all the things, and that’s for the best. I learned about the joy of travel. There will be many more most unforgettable meals.