Plant Based Cross Country Road Trip!

I'm writing this on a plane, flying home following 3 days of driving.  My son got hired for his 1st job as a teacher in a suburb of Seattle, Washington.  I jumped at the chance to help him drive his car from Michigan. It was our first road trip together without the rest of the family; a time to bond. Neither of us had ever driven that many miles and we were excited to get started. We packed every square inch of his Pontiac with his clothes, books and precious vinyl record collection leaving just enough room for the 2 of us, my carry on and my little paper bag of plant based food.

Which brings me to an interesting problem. With very limited space, no refrigeration, unplanned stops and a 3 day road trip ahead, how does a newly Vegan like me maintain a healthy diet? It turned out to be pretty easy and very cheap.  I did a little cooking the day before.  The homemade veggie burgers that I enjoy so much travel really well! I bagged 12 of them, 2 per serving, with no buns and cooked BBQ sauce right into them so we didn't need to bring any catsup. They are oil free/fat free/mess free and could easily travel through 9 states in 80 to 90 degree weather without refrigeration. Perfect for a long, 2300 + mile drive.  We crossed the Mississippi River before we knew it. What I didn't expect was that my son, who is not a vegan, asked if he could try one.  He ate 6.

I was so happy!  With each of us doing half the driving, I had no doubt half our stops would involve someone asking me: "Do you want fries with that?"  Instead I found myself asking him: "Do you want fruit with that?"  My wife had packed my bag with fresh cherries, grapes, pears, apples and nectarines along with a sodium free bag of a fruit and nut California medley. Raisins, dried cranberries, almonds, pistachios and whatever else makes a medley also travels very well requiring no refrigeration.  A few handfuls of that stuff with a cold drink of water is way more filling than a bag of potato chips. Avoiding the extra Sodium had the additional benefit of eliminating the tendency for my ankles to swell on car trips.  I found that eating light helped keep me from getting drowsy while driving as well.  When we stopped for the night, we had no trouble finding restaurants that had menu items we both could enjoy. We even went to a Mexican Style place where my son had his usual food and I had a plate of butternut squash, rice and black beans (hold the cheese) along with a salad using red wine vinegar, a touch of Tabasco Sauce and a squirt of catsup as my improvised dressing. When we finally stopped for the night in South Dakota, we were both well fed, tired out and slept great! 

The hotel had a complimentary breakfast the next morning that included lots of fresh fruit and oatmeal that was dairy free. I cut up a banana, threw in some raisins and grabbed a cup of coffee for the road.

Since my personal supply of food had proved to be so popular, we stopped at a local grocery store close to our hotel. They had a beautiful selection of fresh fruits and vegetables to add to our bag.  That powered us through South Dakota, where we took a detour and explored The Badlands National Park and went on to Mount Rushmore.

They are about an hour apart. If you get the chance to visit, don't pass it up.  They are both breathtaking! Bring your camera. We weren't planning any side trips and I left my Nikon at home. Fortunately for me though, I recently picked up an LG G4 from Verizon. It has an obscenely fine camera built in and I was able to keep everyone posted on our travels in real time through the magic of Facebook and Instagram!  Lunch for me was a fresh salad, a plain baked potato and more coffee.  We stopped a few times for gas and bathroom breaks through the rest of South Dakota and made it most of the way though Montana, me powered by fruits, nuts and water.  

  The night sky in Montana was spectacular! The Milky Way graced the sky with its bright band and the stars looked like they were so close you could reach out and touch them. We found ourselves a comfortable hotel in Helena Montana not too far from the I 90 expressway and said good night. I don't think we even stopped for dinner. We were both doing just fine on our bag of healthy goodies. 

     The next morning we had another hotel breakfast almost equal to the previous day's. We still had our fruit from the day before and most of the fruit and nut medley.  We filled the tank again, washed the bugs off the windshield and off we went!  We were both stunned at how beautiful everything around us was. When we had reached the hotel the night before it was after 11 pm and the only light was from all those stars.  We hadn't even noticed the Rocky Mountains surrounding us.

Now, in the morning light, we found ourselves marveling at the natural beauty around every turn.  Our cell phone cameras were kept busy and we kept taking turns driving, taking pictures and recharging our cells with the phone charger. When we would change drivers every 2 to 3 hours, neither of us in the shotgun seat chose to snooze. We were having too much fun taking pictures and sharing the experience. We crossed into Idaho without even noticing. If there was a sign marking the border we both missed it. At it's northern region Idaho is very narrow. We crossed through it without even stopping for a baked potato.

     We bought some more gas and were welcomed by a relatively small sign marking the border with the state of Washington. We were both surprised by how many wind turbines there were and how sparse the vegetation. 


The yellow, dry ground stood in sharp contrast to the irrigated farmland separated by straight lines.  It was like a desert there complete with tumbleweeds. I don't know if that's normal for the region or part of the hot dry weather pattern plaguing the west. We could see very large areas blackened by some of the wildfires that were keeping the fire fighters and broadcast media busy.  Fortunately for us, we never smelled smoke or saw a fire.

     We were both doing fine on our supply of plant based whole food in the car and very excited to have crossed 2/3 of the country before noon on the 3rd day.  We agreed that, since neither of us was feeling hungry, and my son was so excited to see his new home, we would drive straight through. We stopped for bathroom breaks and gas but totally skipped a lunch break that day. The mountains started to get closer and greener as we drove west. I wasn't thinking about eating as the much higher chain of the volcanic Cascade Mountains began to loom in the distance.

Somewhere ahead of us was a traffic accident on the expressway. Google Maps saved us over an hour of frustrating traffic by routing us through some of the most beautiful country side anywhere. My son was driving and I started taking pictures in all directions. In many of them you can see what were once bugs shmearing the windshield. Even through the window the photos were coming out fantastic!  One of my cousins commented on a post that it looked like a painting.  That's kind of how it felt; like driving into a pastoral painting. It was relaxing just watching the mountains get closer.

        Not A Painting!

        Not A Painting!

Our friends, who live in a southeast suburb of Seattle, were putting us up for our 1st night. They had a BBQ planned and had very kindly let me know lots of veggies would be there.  Google Maps took us right to their driveway.  We parked and virtually ran to their front door bearing Sander's chocolates and milk chocolate fudge topping, a Michigan favorite that's unavailable this far west.  My wife and family love this stuff and loved the idea of us hand delivering it as a thank you.

Almost before I could ring the bell, the door was opened by a very friendly, welcoming complete stranger. We introduced ourselves and asked if our hosts were there.  He told us:  "No."  there was a pause....."they live next door!"  We thanked him and ran up the next driveway. The address was blocked by some leaves.

As we approached, they threw open the door and welcomed us to their beautiful home!  We exchanged hugs and kisses,  got the grand tour and settled in.  True to her word, lots of fruit and vegetables were washed and waiting on the kitchen counter.  She even had veggie burgers out just for me!  We all laughed when I told her in the past 2.5 days we had eaten 12 of them.  Having read my blog, she stood back and let me improvise.  

This was great!  Water was already boiling on the stove for fresh corn.  I put 2 ladles of hot water in a pan with a little salt, cut an onion  into 1 inch strips , a handful of shredded carrots, zucchini, a tomato and mushrooms, added a dash or 3 of Sriracha and water sauteed it for about 10 minutes, adding a little more water as needed and stirring constantly.  I felt like something was missing so their charming daughter stepped in and stirred for me while I ran to my car and grabbed our bag of nuts, raisins and dried cranberries.  They were roughly chopped on the cutting board and added to the pan with some lemon zest, 2 cups of chopped lettuce, kale and about a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice.  No Agave nectar was on hand, but they had maple syrup.  As the nuts started to soften, I drizzled in a teaspoon of maple syrup, gave it a quick stir, let the little bit of excess water boil off and put it in a bowl to share.

Our host, my son and I enjoyed it but the girls weren't having any.  Neither of them will have anything to do with Sriracha.  Yes it came from their fridge but it was something that only the males of the family liked.  Bottomline, we all had plenty of food and a lot of fun!  The weather was perfect and unlike Michigan, there were no bugs so we sat outside and talked for awhile.

The sun was getting low and they wanted to go to the water to watch it set.  We were still a little early so they took us across the bridge to take some pictures with the city of Seattle and the Space Needle in the background.  

We jumped back in the car, crossed over Lake Washington,  walked along the beach, took some more pictures and let the Sun disappear behind the ring of mountains and clouds.  We stopped at Starbucks and I got treated to a Tall black coffee. They called me boring.  Seattle takes its coffee seriously. We stayed up a few hours talking, watching Netflix and trying to adjust to the 3 hour time difference. Everyone had to work in the morning so we didn't stay up very late, local time. For us it felt like 2 a.m.  I relaxed and fell asleep secure knowing that my son had been so welcomed by our Seattle friends.

On Monday morning we made plans to get together after work.  My son and I got a lot done that day. In addition to finding his apartment, unloading the car and finding a store that would deliver a bed the same day, we explored Kirkland a little. One of my friends who I knew in middle school through college even stopped by.  She was also so welcoming to my son, exchanging phone numbers and inviting him over for upcoming holiday dinners! That visit was too brief. 

There are a large variety of restaurants in the area. We picked a middle eastern place a few blocks from Lake Washington. I had a falafel with lettuce and tomato in a pita but hold the tzatziki sauce. I know they're fried in vegetable oil. I'm not perfect. I was on vacation! Don't judge. I feel guilty.

We got back in the car, found a Costco to stock up on basics, get a bunch of fruit, vegetables, grains and staples for his kitchen and then stopped at Target for more apartment essentials.  We were done!  Back we went to his place, unpacked his things and the truck pulled up with his bed right on time!  Dinner in Kirkland that night was full of charming company, great food and beautiful scenery. The greater Seattle area is loaded with vegetarians and vegans. Everywhere we went I had great foods from which to choose with very little or no modifications necessary.  My son was comfortable and although I knew we'd miss him being so far away, I left happy knowing that he was beginning this next phase of his life with good friends, a great job and a fantastic location.

The bottom line is, travel for a vegan like me is no more challenging than it was before I switched. The pre-travel food preparations that my wife and I made were helpful, but we would have been fine without them. Any anxiety I felt about maintaining my lifestyle away from home was unwarranted. Bonus!!! I lost 3 whole pounds in a 4 day weekend trip!  Lifestyle is 90% mental and 10% mental! Geography has no bearing. The only barrier is within you!