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Photo love: Mom and Dad move in

When you’re sitting on the floor surrounded by open prescription bottles, sorting through a rainbow array of (legal) pills because you’re packing your medical kit for your upcoming trip to Africa, and a high school student knocks on your glass-fronted door, hitting you up for football donation money.

…And then you tell him you don’t have any to spare, because you don’t, and he looks over your shoulder at your stash and raises his eyebrows.

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Ready to head to Africa in September!

You know you’ve made it as a travel writer when you’re headhunted to write about diarrhea.

 

 

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The #OOTD

I woke up the other morning in the back seat of my car, which was parked on a side street in Idaho Springs, Colorado. Still bleary from the Xanax I’d taken to ensure a decent night’s sleep and clad in the above attire, I stumbled to a small park populated by resident tweakers and assorted vagrants, in dire need of the public restroom. I looked- and probably smelled- like their kin, so it seemed right I not get hoity-toity about the toilet situation.

A shirtless meth head, his wiry, tattooed body muscled like a fist, saw me and smiled. “I love your outfit,” he said cheerfully. When I snorted in surprise, he said, “Seriously. It looks really cozy!” Never underestimate the sartorial assessment of a guy who’s been awake for three days.

Indeed my ensemble was cozy, because I’d slept in it. I’d driven up to Idaho Springs from a food conference in Denver the night before, having engaged in a bit too much day-drinking with my publisher and colleagues (I’d had every intention of driving home after manning our booth, but then the Bloody Mary’s commenced, and there was nary an affordable room to be had).

After a sweaty car nap on a sketchy block downtown, I was sufficiently sober to drive the 30 minutes to Idaho Springs, but too exhausted and night vision-impaired to make it home. Even the dumpiest motels charge extortionist rates once you hit the mountains, and what the fuck, I’ve lived in my car before (see, Summer of ’94, San Diego). I’d just conk out and hit the road in the morning.

Photo love: YouTube

This very scenario is why I keep my car-sleeping essentials in the back seat at all times. In addition to a sleeping bag and blankets for padding/emergency blizzards, I have an LED headlamp (you don’t want to drain your car battery, nor draw attention to the fact that you’re, you know, sleeping in your car) extra batteries, baby wipes (No shower? No problem), reading material, a pair of sweats and a winter jacket, drinking water and a sleep aid. I’m an insomniac of epic proportions- there’s a reason this blog is dedicated to a certain pharmaceutical.

I know I’m not the only dirtbag/cheapskate out there who actually enjoys sleeping in my car, so I’ve provided the following tips to make your experience a little more comfortable and a whole lot safer. And fyi, Idaho Springs is adorable- it’s just off the I-70 corridor so it attracts some nefarious types at the fringes. Solo female travelers who sleep in their cars are attuned to these things.

Without further ado:

Do your research
If you’re somewhere urban, be sure to scope out signage so you don’t end up ticketed or towed, or arrested. It’s a fairly well known fact that most Walmarts allow overnight RV parking. It ain’t the Ritz, but it works in a pinch.

A large cup
How do I put this delicately? Sometimes, you’re just not parked in a place where it’s feasible, as a woman, to pop a squat. I learned this while “living” in San Diego. All of the homes in the cul-de-sac had motion sensor lights and a lack of shrubbery, making bladder relief extraordinarily complicated. After complaining to a fellow car-dweller, he told me, “Dude, you totally need to get a Big Gulp cup.” Dude, it totally solved the problem. Just remember to dump it down a storm drain, and not on someone’s landscaping- you’re not a fucking animal.

A shower plan of action
Depending upon your situation, you can often shower for free at the beach (skip the soap and shampoo or ask a ranger or lifeguard if biodegradable products are okay to use), or pay at a rec center, gym or campground. I confess I’ve snuck into campgrounds before and poached a shower but I try to avoid such shady behavior, mainly because I’m afraid of getting caught. Also, keep a towel in your car-  you’d be amazed by how useful it is (providing traction when you’re stuck in the snow, anyone? Anyone?).

Lock your doors, but crack your windows
Don’t compromise your safety, but you do need fresh air.

Be sure your cellphone is charged and within reach
This is useless if you’re in an area without service (if you have an inkling that’s going to be the case, call, text, or email a family member or friend with your approximate location for the night before you get out of range). A phone can prove invaluable if you run into trouble. Sweet dreams.

Sweet Idaho Springs. Photo love: Mille Fiori Favorti

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When you Google your name, looking for an article you once wrote:

True story.

Photo love: Cafe Press

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Austin’s new Native Hostel. Photo love: Charles Reagan

I admit it: I’m a grown-ass adult who stays in hostels. This is less about my enthusiasm for sharing dorms with frat boys and contracting Athlete’s Foot, than it is a desire for a sense of place and community when I travel, combined with my modest writer’s income.

I’d rather spend my money on great food, outdoor pursuits, live music and a well-made cocktail or three than a pricey hotel room. Like many travelers, I’ve stayed in my share of hostels, and unfortunately, there’s a reason the term has negative connotations for most Americans.

Loft room. Photo love: Charles Reagan

I’m not alone, which is why North America is jumping on Europe’s boutique hostel trend (think stylish décor and innovative design, often with on-site restaurants and bars emphasizing regional food and drink). They’re more about creating a cultural milieu than the average hotel or budget hostel, and strive to provide guests with more of a “local” experience.

Enter Austin’s Native Hostel, which opened in mid-May. The nation’s only luxury boutique hostel brand, Native has already become a communal hub for visitors and locals, which I can attest because I had the good fortune to be the first paying guest on the books. I spent five nights there while attending Hot Luck Fest last month, and was subsequently asked to review the property for Austin Monthly (note that I’ve repurposed snippets into this post).

One of Native’s many lounge areas. Photo love: Casey Chapman Ross

My initial impression was that “hostel” was perhaps an unfair descriptor. When I later mentioned this to GM Margaret Burke, she understood. “(The owners and I) have had an ongoing conversation about our identity and that word, and we feel that the concept is integral to what we do,” she says. “We’re really community-based and the crux of our business model is about engagement between locals and travelers. We decided we couldn’t leave ‘hostel’ out of our name, so it’s about reinterpreting it, while staying true to the concept.”

‘Nuff said. Read the rest of the review right here, y’all.

Photo love: Charles Reagan

Photo love: Charles Reagan

The Parlor. Photo love: Casey Chapman Ross

“Twin Peaks” night includes housemade cherry pie and coffee. Photo love: Native Hostel

Photo love: Charles Reagan

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When I was seven, my parents took me and my older brother on a ski trip to Vail. The thing I remember most vividly isn’t schussing the slopes, but rather, a restaurant named after a convicted cannibal. If you know anything about my childhood, this should come as no surprise.

In search of a place for dinner one evening, we stumbled upon a creekside eatery called Alfie Packer’s- I can recall my parents cracking up at the name. I think I had a mouthful of cheeseburger when they explained the story behind the restaurant’s moniker, thus instilling in me a lifelong obsession with cannibalism and a lust for fucked-up survival stories.

Just to clarify, it’s a happy memory.

Alferd Packer. Photo love: Lake County-Hinsdale County Chamber of Commerce

For the uninitiated, the “Colorado Cannibal,” Alferd (née Alfred) G. Packer, was a prospector convicted of murdering and eating his five companions while trapped at the base of Slumgullion Pass, outside of present-day Lake City, during the winter of 1875. (read the dirty details in my post for 5280 magazine).

Packer was eventually released on parole, and became a Colorado folk hero of sorts. The embodiment of pioneer badassery, gumption and fortitude, he’s been immortalized in everything from film and song to food service (the University of Colorado Boulder cafeteria is named the Alferd Packer Restaurant & Grill; when it opened in 1968, its catchphrase was, “Have a friend for lunch!”). My brother lives in Truckee, and I’m fond of pointing out that California could stand to get a sense of humor about the the whole Donner Party thing (note that both of us live in areas infamous for cannibalism: Coincidence? I think not).

“Downtown” Lake City. Photo love: LCHC-CCC

This Memorial Day weekend, Lake City is bringing its defunct Packer Days festival back from the dead (sorry, had to). It’s less a celebration of cannibalism than survivalism, featuring events like a Run for Your Life Survival 5k, a Mystery Meat Cook-off, and Scavenger Hunt.

Lake City is worth a visit even if you don’t consider cannibalism cool; it’s a bitch to get to, but the region’s alpine lakes, outdoor pursuits and scenery are worth the effort. The town itself is just as alluring, nestled as it is in a pocket of the San Juan Mountains. It’s a legitimate relic of the Old West, boasting well-preserved buildings, a dusty main drag, and a handful of saloons, restaurants and a truly excellent museum; just up the road is the famed Alferd Packer Massacre site and Cannibal Plateau.

Ready for a road trip? Hit up the Lake City Chamber’s site for details, and don’t forget to pack some snacks- you can never be too prepared.

When in Lake City…

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Brook and Rose LeVan raise heritage turkeys on their Colorado ranch.

Brook and Rose LeVan raise heritage turkeys on their Colorado ranch, Sustainable Settings.

Every year at this time, my family and I duke it out over the turkey. It’s not about, “Should we brine it or deep-fry?” or, “Do we baste it with cultured butter made by blind Norman nuns or massage it with a dry-rub of hand-harvested spices grown on an 8th-century Kerala plantation?”

Sorry to disappoint, but with the Miller’s, the conversation always comes down to this (the following are direct quotes I’ve received from family members this month):

“I found a pre-brined turkey at Trader Joe’s. ”

“Why would you pre-order a turkey? You’re the only one who cares about its upbringing.”

So, despite the Butterball currently residing in my parents’ refrigerator (my flying in from out-of-state makes lugging a fresh turkey from a friend’s farm logistically impossible), I’d like to share my recent Edible Aspen article on pasture-raised turkeys.

In this big, complicated country of ours- where we have so many choices with regard to our food supply–  it’s about doing the best you can. Armageddon will not occur when said Butterball lands on the dinner table- but I firmly believe that as consumers all, we have a moral obligation to educate ourselves and our children about where our food comes from. As consumers, we deserve to have access to that information, regardless of our socioeconomic status. Wholesome, responsibly-raised and -grown food shouldn’t be a luxury for anyone, but realistically, we must rely upon integrated agriculture to feed our growing domestic- and global- population.

Worrying about how my Thanksgiving turkey was raised is a First-World problem, and for that, I’m thankful. Happy Thanksgiving, America.

Photo love: Epicurious

Photo love: Epicurious

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