Drinking Our Way Across the Country

For four years, we’ve travelled the U.S. and Canada, doing our best to learn a bit about local culture where we can. We’re not much for organized venues like visitor centers or museums, but we do love to ride our bikes in neighborhoods (this gives you a great feel for locals) and to check out craft drinking establishments (this gives you a great feel too, just a different kind).

If Tracy were writing this, he’d tell you about the best-tasting beers we’ve had, but I’m all about location.

Harvest Hosts

This Harvest Hosts thing is a membership for RVers. We pay them an annual fee, and they provide us with a list of companies that say we can park on their property for one night for free, with the hope we’ll buy something from them. When we first joined and this wasn’t as absurdly popular as it is now, we could book a night at a brewery that day as we were driving through, and we’d be the only RV parked in their lot. Now it’s a different story and we’re considering letting our membership lapse, but the good ole days were fabulous.

This is us parked at a brewery. No joke. It’s Melvin Brewery on the border of Wyoming and Idaho, right on the Snake River. We’d just left the Tetons, where we’d been boondocking something like a mile from where a vanlifer had murdered his girlfriend. (If you remember, he fled to his parents’ house in Florida, and her parents pleaded with his parents to cooperate in the search, which I think they did not.)

That’s not my point, though: my point is we found this place on the Harvest Host app, then enjoyed beers with this view and spent the night in our own home afterwards, right there. This brewery is unusual in that they’d just bought neighboring land that’s former BLM land with designated dry camping spots, so we were able to pull along a dirt road by the river and camp out by ourselves. Brilliant. But, other breweries offer unique camping experiences, too.

Check out the brewer at our very first Harvest Host stay.

He’s the owner of East Grove Meadery in Iowa, another place we would never have found but for the HH app.

We spent all danged afternoon in his brewing barn with just him, sampling and talking and, yes, buying an absolute ton of delicious mead. He grows aromatics on his farm, and some he sells to the health industry and some he uses to brew with. It’s a family business; his sons are in on distribution and are the beard models for his labels! This stuff even my not very sophisticated pallet knew was delicious.

This was our view for the night, with the barn being the brewing nucleus. The Harvest Host “rule” of being able to stay only one night is a bummer, but also maybe a blessing here, or we’d never have left. We would’ve had to get a job with this guy.

Beer on the Bayou for Halloween

Beer breweries are more standard for us, but this location was not. We were driving through southern Louisiana for the first time and had just one night to stop. Where do you get a feel for locals? Turns out your best best is Bayou Teche Brewing.

When we showed up, Tracy pulled the trailer over on the side of the really rural road and I ran in to see where we should park. There were a couple of dirt lots around the tiny brewery and a mobile home/coffee roasters next door, but nothing clearly for us. The pizza chef from the back came out and laughed at my uptight self and said something in a heavy French accent, like,

Sleep in your house anywhere you want!

We picked the gravel lot by the coffee roasters, and that night when rain poured down briefly, we walked our beers and what was left over from boudin-topped pizza to the trailer. When the rain stopped, we walked back and sat around as the staff smoked and danced by the open kitchen door. Laissez l’aluminum rouler!

Toe Drink

This one: not an unusal location, just an old bar on the Yukon/Alaska border. Not a delicious drink: just a shot of your choice. Not even a Harvest Host (but we did walk onto the ferry to cross the Yukon River to get to town).

Of course, I’m talking about the famous Sourtoe Cocktail served at the Downtown Hotel in Dawson City.

Now, the to-do over this drink was ridiculously overblown, with an Atlas Obscura entry and a video documentary my ex-husband told me about. All that hoopla made the drink itself underwhelming. Still, I can say that we abided by the ceremonial rules: “You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow, but your lips must touch that gnarly toe.” All four of us (we met Doug and Melanie there) got our certificates, and no one barfed. Or swallowed the toe by accident, even.

(If you don’t know about this drink, yes that is a preserved human toe on the silver tray behind Tracy’s Yukon Jack. All toes used in this drink come from a long list of donors who apparently cherish the traditional honor. It looks even more disgusting than you might be imagining. I believe I have pictures in my link, above.)

So, we’ve had notably delicious, complex beer in various craft breweries across the country, and we’ve shared good times with friends in some cool locations. I remember all those times. But, for the sake of story-telling, I think these take the cake. It’s too bad Harvest Hosts is such a mammoth operation now; walking back from a couple of beers to sleep in your home—in a new place each time!—is like no other experience.

The Knee Sitch

Every day as I prep for surgery I’m finding out what a tricky thing this is as a nomad.

Turns out I need pre-op clearance from a general practitioner, with X-rays, blood work, EKG, and more requirements I haven’t come across yet. So far, I’ve avoided the dreaded 8-hour trip to Houston for this stuff by A) finding a hospitable local GP who saw me quickly and ordered all the tests, and B) finagling the Houston hospital to conduct appointments over the phone. Each time, I need to explain what kind of weirdo I am to all these people, but I’ve gotten good at that.

And the knee, it continues to improve! That brilliant local PT has encouraged me to shed the crutches and the brace, and now I’m walking on my own! Okay, very carefully and with a festive cane Tracy bought me, but still. Take that, surgeon who said I wasn’t ready.

12 thoughts to “Drinking Our Way Across the Country”

  1. The idea of traveling around the country and sleeping at breweries could almost convince me to adopt your “weirdo” way of life. That field and barn! I may have to pass on the dead toe though. That’s a bridge too far. 🥴
    Great news about the knee. Maybe all that beer is medicinal.

    1. I thought you might like this travel idea! People do stay at Harvest Hosts when they’re not fulltimers, but a requirement is an RV, which I know is not your thing. Maybe you can tag along with friends to a Harvest Host one day. I do recommend!

  2. I had forgotten about the gnarly toe, and now you have reminded me of it again! But other than that, I love your brewery stops and your endless views. Thanks for sharing all of it.

    1. Thanks for being a sport about repeat posts. It’s very strange not to be taking photos of new things each day. This too will pass!