Lessons learned driving cross-country gluten-free

traveling with celiac disease

My younger Dudette (for this article and for the sake of privacy, I will call her Madison; that’s also her real name) spent the last 10 months working for Under Canvas in Utah. She bought a Subaru Outback while she was out there and since neither one of us was fond of her driving home to Asbury Park, NJ by herself, I decided to fly out there and make the drive with her.

You learn a lot being in the car with someone for 3 and a half days. For instance, I had no idea that I don’t like Madison. I always had a sneaky suspicion, but never realized it until this trip. Yes…I’m kidding of course. I never had a suspicion; I always knew it.

Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, I was going to write about lessons learned. I, of course, am 100% gluten-free and 99% dairy free. Madison is 100% gluten-free AND 100% dairy free. So we had our challenges in the 2,500 mile journey ahead of us. Upon returning home safely yesterday (on Mrs. Dude’s birthday!), I thought I’d give a little recap of our trip and the things we learned along the way (besides of course the fact that we simply do not like each other and most likely will not speak to each other again until after the holidays.)


Day 1: We left Utah at 6:35am and our day 1 destination was Boulder, CO where we were going to crash with my lovely niece Casey and her new fiancée (!!) Shai. We were supposed to leave at 6:30 but someone was five minutes late picking me up. Now…we talked about packing a cooler of lunch meats and snacks so we’d be set for the trip. That would have been the SMART thing to do. Instead, we figured we’d grab a bite along the way and we’d be fine. And it worked out. We found a great spot in Grand Junction, CO called Cafe Sol (soon to be added to the GD App) that did both gluten and dairy free right. We pulled in to Casey’s at 5:30pm, had a cocktail, ordered in from Bartaco and then crashed.

Day 2: On the road by 7:30, our day 2 destination was Des Moines, Iowa. There was a gluten-free bakery right in Boulder, but it was not open yet so we hit the road with the same strategy as day 1. BIG MISTAKE!!!! Once you get out of Boulder and head east on route 80, there is a whole lot of nothing. And don’t even get me started on Nebraska. I started counting cows but lost count after 1 million…and that was just the first mile. There was not one single place to eat the entire day. We ended up just buying crap snacks at one of the many “Kum and Go” markets along the way.

hangryBy the time we rolled into Des Moines at 8:00, we were hungry and beyond cranky. I think the kids call that “hangry”. We found a place on my app called Dirtburger and spent 30 minutes in silence as we woofed down a plant-based burger and fries. By the time we got to the hotel, we were cooked. Did we learn our lesson for Day 3? Stay tuned.


And we’re back!

Day 3: Our first stop in Des Moines was supposed to be Sweet Without Wheat, a GF bakery. We followed the directions and ended up in some neighborhood without a store in site. Not a good start. We hit the road with an aggressive goal of landing in Pittsburgh at day’s end. Did we learn our lesson from Day 2? Of course not. But we got lucky. There was a place in Iowa City (cool little town by the way) called Keto Kitchen and got there around 10:30, before the hunger set in too badly. The entire place is 100% GF (and Keto) and the owner was very cool (and loved the app!).

keto kitchenI ordered Avocado Toast with Egg (insanely delicious) and Maddie got some Chicken Tenders (also delish). You know how hunger can lead to bad decisions? I also ordered Cauliflower Risotto. Yes it has dairy. Yes it was stupid. Yes it was amazing. And yes I had an intense stomach ache for the next 3 hours. 100% my fault.

We hit some bad weather in late afternoon (snow, sleet, rain) and instead of pushing things, we decided to hole up in Cleveland. Smart move. We ordered some sushi and picked it up on the way to the hotel. We ended up sitting in the hotel lobby, enjoying our sushi and a margarita. Day 3 was a success.

gluten free in Asbury parkDay 4: Homeward bound! Learning our lesson from the previous days, we loaded up the car with food and hit the road. Just kidding. For some reason, we decided to wing it again. Don’t ask. While there were some good options along the way, they were too far off the highway and we just wanted to get home. We had a 7 hour drive and by hour 5, we needed food. We found an ACME and got a few things to hold us over until we reached the Jersey Shore and pulled into Asbury Park at 4:00 into the welcoming arms of Mrs. Dude (Deb). Safe and sound.


– If you have a choice between traveling across country with me or Mrs. Dude, I highly suggest Mrs. Dude. She would not only have the car packed with food, but knowing her, she’d find a way to bake GF cookies in the back seat of the car.

– If you think you can just “wing it”, think again.

– Kum & Go is such a bizarre name for a gas station / market. And they are all over the Midwest.

– Sorry for all of you Cornhuskers out there, but my god Nebraska was brutal to drive thru. Nothing to eat and unless you like corn and cows, not much to see either.

– The food at the rest stops across the country is ATROCIOUS. It’s no wonder we are such an unhealthy country. We should all pool some money together and open a gluten-free franchise so people traveling with food intolerances have a choice. We can call it “Dude Food”. Of course…I’m open to other suggestions. 😉

– For Deb’s birthday, we purchased one gift in each state we traveled through. Here’s the final list:

  • Utah: An Under Canvas sweatshirt.
  • Colorado: I’d rather not say, but hint: It’s only legal in a handful of states. And to be fair, this gift was as much for me as it was for Mrs. Dude.
  • Nebraska: We were one mile from leaving Nebraska and we had no gift yet. We found a bird sanctuary gift shop and bought her a bottle with lights inside of it. Hard to describe but pretty cool.
  • Iowa: Real slim pickings here, so we got her a “Kum & Go” t-shirt, which she promptly told us she will never wear outside of the house.
  • Illinois: See Colorado.
  • Indiana: A black Indiana shot glass.
  • Ohio: A scented candle from the Cleveland Candle Company.
  • Pennsylvania: A coffee mug with the PA attractions on it.
  • New Jersey: A stone coaster with the Asbury Park beach badge design.

– Utah and western Colorado are stunningly beautiful.

– Des Moines is a surprisingly cool city. So is Cleveland.

– You can get tired of GF power bars real quick.

– If you think you can just “wing it”, think again. Yes…I know I said that already. But trust me, it bears worth repeating! Maddie and I both said that not eating gluten or dairy is not the worst thing in the world. But the lack of spontaneity suuuuuuuucks.


conan needs a friend– Conan O’Brien is my new best friend. His podcast “Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend” is ridiculously entertaining. Not every one is a home run, but even the so-so ones are good. My top 3 that we listened to? Jim Gaffigan, Paul Rudd and Kevin Nealon.

– Speaking of Conan, listening to his podcast made me realize that 1) Doing a good podcast is an art form and although I’m only 8 episodes into my podcast, I have a lot of work to do; 2) His mind and his wit work in ways that I cannot even comprehend; and 3) I need to go back to adding more humor to Gluten Dude. A lot more. Passion is great. But without humor, it can be tiresome.

– I know you’re expecting a joke right now so let me see what I can come up with:

What does a dyslexic, agnostic, insomniac do at night? He stays up wondering if there really is a dog.

– The Gluten Dude app really helped us along our journey (and will help you along yours) but it desperately needs a map feature so you can see all of the listings on a map. That work starts today. Stay tuned.

– I would travel across country with Maddie again in a heartbeat.

– And I promise to be more prepared next time!!!

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5 thoughts on “Lessons learned driving cross-country gluten-free”

  1. I grew up in Nebraska and will attest to it not being much to drive through… cornfields and cows… and Iowa isn’t much better depending on which route you take… lots of Amish and cemeteries… at least you didn’t have to go through Wyoming… 2 cities, one on each end, and nothing at all in between…

  2. I was born in Nebraska and while the people are great, I would never live there for 5 reasons –
    1. No scenery (flat land is boring!!).
    2. Weather can be extreme (humidity, blizzards, tornados, etc.).
    3. Poisonous snakes (rattlesnakes, cottonmouths, copperheads, etc.).
    4. Bugs (mosquitos, ticks, beetles, etc.).
    5. Gluten free food is very hard to locate (both restaurants and grocery stories).

    I recently visit relatives this summer and feeding myself was the hardest part of the trip. The lack of knowledge about the disease was surprising, even in larger towns (talking about people, grocery stores, and restaurants). Very limited gluten free restaurants. It was a long two weeks having to locate safe food, educate others, and just watch everything folks were doing in their kitchen to avoid cross-contamination. I was emotionally drained by the time was over.

    It makes me so glad that I live in the Pacific Northwest!!

  3. I live in Pueblo – that’s about 2 1/2 hours south of Boulder – we are high desert, so a totally different landscape from the hogbacks of Boulder – by the way – isn’t it lovely there?

  4. It sounds like I-80 hasn’t changed that much since I was on it in the 90s and, even then, pre- gf, there were few places to eat and very few choices- no one ever heard of salads or decent fish (even frozen), and everything was greasy and disgusting- except for one place: Al’s Fishing Lodge on the other side of the Missouri River- the best and only time I have eaten wall-eyed pike- pulled fresh from the river and sauteed in butter. A meal I have never forgotten and, other than the steak we had a steak house in South Dakota, those two were the best meals in the 5 weeks we were on the road (13,000 miles) 80 all the way until we turned up to 90 to get to Seattle. On the way home we stopped at a Texas steak house and even that wasn’t great. Lesson learned- never travel more than a day without a cooler and food. And something resembling a plan. You are a good dad to have done that for your daughter.

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Who I am. And who I'm not.

Who I am. And who I'm not.

I AM someone who's been gluten-free since 2007 due to a diagnosis of severe celiac disease. I'm someone who can steer you in the right direction when it comes to going gluten-free. And I'm someone who will always give you the naked truth about going gluten free.

I AM NOT someone who embraces this gluten-free craziness. I didn’t find freedom, a better life or any of that other crap when I got diagnosed. With all due respect to Hunter S. Thompson, I found fear and loathing of an unknown world. But if I can share my wisdom, tell my stories and make the transition easier on you, I’ve done my job.

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