|That's us...dog included! (Source)|
For this first edition, I'm spilling all the details on our three day drive up to Colorado Springs, our final destination. When we planned out this trip, I initially didn't waste a minute on worries. Sure, this was our first time traveling away from home in a car since "gluten free" became a necessity. But with a ice box of gluten free ammo and a list of restaurants at each of our hotel locations, the war against gluten seemed like a semi-easy win.
And, in some instances, it was. When my family drove away from the house Tuesday morning, our car might as well had been a gluten free bread box considering the amount of snacks we stuffed in the trunk. I spent the day before we left trapped in the kitchen, making hemp seed butter, pizza, pancakes, quinoa and overnight quinoa flakes baggies for emergency eating on the road. Not to mention we stripped Sprouts of its protein bars and pre-packaged snacks the week before C-day (Colorado day!).
As we drove through California, Arizona, Utah and - finally - Colorado, the hours of prep were definitely worth it! The fact is, no matter how far the gluten free fad has spread, finding safe joints to eat at at random places on the map isn't easy. In Utah, we drove for hours without seeing anything but a run down Subway that even the gluten-eaters wouldn't touch. So, for lunch we lived off our pre-packaged snacks and goodies without complaint. Dinner, when we scouted out the towns of our hotel, proved the most interesting.
As I mentioned before, I'd already made a list of possible restaurants at each of our stops. Nothing helps anxiety like obsessive preparation, right? Like most of life, though, things don't always go according to plan.
The first stop wasn't bad. Chick Fil A? Check. Delicious and safe as ever. Then, at Grand Junction, we decided to celebrate another day down by going to Outback, a restaurant that has always been outstanding with my celiac demands.
I'm embarrassed to say this was the first time I ever cried at a restaurant. I ordered my usual - a salad with Mahi Mahi and steamed veggies. First my salad came out with a suspicious piece of chicken sprinkled on top. First return to the kitchen. Then my waiter set down a plate of fish, veggies and seasoned rice that I was 99% sure wasn't gluten free. One question later, I was proved right. Skepticism before spoonful is the safe way to live!
The breaking point? When he returned a second later with fish and veggies on a plate, too fast for redoing the whole meal. The chefs had simply removed the gluten-filled rice, rearranged the contaminated fish and veggies, and expected it to be okay. Obviously no one in the restaurant - even the chefs - knew what "celiac" actually meant.
At the end of the dinner, I finally choked down some fresh fish that I prayed was safe. Physically, I didn't suffer any negative effects, but my spirit was definitely shaken. This was the first time I felt unsafe enough in a restaurant that I thought of walking out hungry. Anxiety is a normal part of eating out for me, but tears are not. That it was a chain I trusted made it even worse. It was a reminder of how far, despite all of our successes, the gluten free community still has to go.
Despite how miserable I felt during that dinner, I now view it as a learning experience. I shouldn't have let the long day of travel and dietary difficulties get to me. I should've asked for the manager or chef straight away.
Either way, our last day of travel was a new day with new chances for eating. I was pleasantly surprised at a rest stop by the Healthy Tomato, a gas station cafe that offered pizza with Udi's crust. While I didn't buy any, I did devour a bag of gluten free popcorn!
I took this as a sign of the delicious GF options Colorado would offer. And, as I'll share in my next post, I was 200% right!
What are your tips for traveling while gluten free? What's your best and worst experience eating out with celiac? Comment below!