Wandering Westward Vol. I

Posted by Robert on August 26th, 2020


“Go west young man.” – Horace Greely

ST. LOUIS— For the past several years I have spent three months each year touring guests and friends through various parts of Italy. On March 12, I was headed to Spain to tour 25 of our friends through that country— Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Seville, and Malaga. We were also going to film season six of our television show, “Palate to Palette.” Immediately after the Spain tour ended, I was heading to Tuscany to travel with three groups in three weeks, and then host a group of friends who were coming over to the villa for the final week.

Needless to say, none of that happened. COVID had different plans. This October I was scheduled to lead a group through Rome, the Amalfi coast, and Naples. Immediately following that group, I was hosting two more groups in Tuscany. Those three trips are canceled, too.

In addition to contracting a huge case of cabin fever for the past five months, I caught myself suffering from a terrible case of wanderlust sometime near the end of July. By that point, I just wanted to get up and go, and do, and travel, and see, and learn, and discover.

I have been blessed to have seen a lot of America and Europe. Though I have never been to Canada. I thought, why don’t I just grab the wife, load her up in the truck, and head to Canada. There are some beautiful Canadian locations that have been on my wish list for years. The timing would be perfect. I had just closed one restaurant, reopened another, and was getting ready to open an entirely new Tex-Mex restaurant and bar concept. It made perfect sense to spend a little time in the untamed wilderness of our neighbors to the North.

Unfortunately, Canada is closed for Americans right now so that will have to stay on the to-do list. Though by that time, I had already made up my mind to go somewhere. So I thought, maybe I could do the next best thing and just head to the Northwestern part of America close to Canada. I looked on the map and Whitefish Montana is about as far north as one can go and still be a place I have yet to visit. Whitefish is also located next door to Glacier National Park, of which I have never visited. That is how this two-week journey I am taking began.

I am not one to travel loosely. I tend to get a little Clark Griswold-like and over-plan details. I generate a list of things to see, places to go, and especially places to eat. The positive that comes from that is that my family gets to see everything, and we typically cover all of the bases on a trip. We definitely don’t miss any restaurants. The negative is that I end up in a position of cracking the whip and stressing everyone out because we’re not adhering to the schedule. It’s not relaxing. It’s not peaceful, and it’s not spontaneous. There is a time and place for that type of travel. Now is not that time.

I’ve been with my wife for 32 years and 27 of those years we have been legally bound to each other. We have been all over the United States and all over the world together. Though only one time in those 32 years have we taken a trip and just wandered— no plans, no destinations selected along the way, no restaurants pre-determined, just wandering through places we had yet to visit and discover. It was sometime in the mid 1990s, before our daughter was born. We just hopped in my car and headed out with a couple of relatives in mind that we wanted to visit in the Washington D.C. area. It was a great trip. I wasn’t in Clark Griswold mode and we took it easy and just wandered our way through the eastern US and the Appalachian mountain range.

Two weeks ago, I started thinking about a trip that would take us West. Yesterday we left on that adventure. It will take us three days to get up to Whitefish Montana. After one-night stayovers in St. Louis, Sioux Falls, SD and Cody, Wyoming, we’ll arrive in Whitefish where we’ll spend our days in and out of Glacier National Park, and our nights just visiting under the stars. We’ll then head to Jackson Hole, Wyoming for three nights and a few days of re-visiting Yellowstone. Then we’ll head to Aspen for three nights, to the hotel in which we honeymooned over 27 years ago. She’s never been to Santa Fe, so I’ve planned a single night there.

This isn’t a typical St. John trip in many ways. Most telling is that there is no list of restaurants to visit. I typically travel with a meticulously detailed itinerary of restaurants I plan to visit each day. Each restaurant on that itinerary has a back-up restaurant for that meal period just in case something happens. I plan trips to New York, not around the theatre schedules, but around restaurant reservations. Before I go to a new location, I spend days researching which restaurants I will visit to make sure and maximize my restaurant research time in a place. Not so today.

Last month, I planned a two-and-a-half-day Tex-Mex research and development trip to Houston with a few members of my team. We ate 17 meals in 11 restaurants in less than three days. It was all meticulously scheduled and planned. The only Tex-Mex R&D I am doing on this trip is during the last leg in Dallas, where we will have dinner at Javier’s and lunch the following day at Joe T. Garcia’s in Ft. Worth. The rest of this trip is a very atypical St. John journey.

We’re just wandering.

Driving doesn’t bother me at all. We usually get wrapped up in audiobooks or podcasts. We know the scenery will be spectacular, and in addition to discovering a few new locales, we’ll be discovering new restaurants and bringing home new ideas. Most of all, I’ll be spending two weeks wandering with the woman who has been putting up with all of this traveling and over-planning for the past 32 years. No matter how majestic the mountains, how reflective the lake, or how tall the tree, nothing will top that during these next two weeks.

Onward.

This week’s recipe: Cajun Spiced Nuts


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