Touring is a minimalist endeavor, trimming your life down to the basics. One of those unavoidable basics is staying well fed. But what’s the right thing to eat? Well, you wouldn’t put regular unleaded into a Ferrari, so why would you shove a convenience store egg salad sandwich into your face? Because you’re in the middle of Ohio, you’re really sick of trail mix and protein bars, you’re tired of this crap weather, and let’s face it, you’re no Ferrari.
What you plan on eating on the road versus what you actually will eat on the road are going to be two different things. When you plan your meals, you’re going to plan healthy: I’m going to eat oatmeal every morning, have some fruit and nuts to snack on, a sandwich for lunch, and maybe some lentils and beans for dinner to get some protein for my muscles. But when you see that gas station at the 50 miles mark of a hot day, all of your healthy fantasies go out the window: I’ll take that three-day-old ham sandwich, a pack of Skittles, and a Monster Energy.
You’re not better than this.
Your best bet at finding a happy medium is to only carry food you’re not embarrassed to tell people you have. That way when you get tired of what you have, you can guiltlessly eat crap. It’s a balancing act. And really, you don’t want your body to get too used to clean living because eventually you’ll get back to the real world and your garbage disposal diet.
So, what to bring? Well, that’s going to depend on if you’re cooking or not. If you are cooking, bring plenty of high energy dry foods. Oatmeal, lentils, MREs, couscous, rice, beans, and more are easy to cook, and most places you’ll camp will have water, so dry food will keep the weight down. Just remember to bring seasoning. Most dry foods are about as bland as it gets, but that can be remedied by carrying a few pre-made mixed seasonings (garlic + basil + oregano + salt = mangia). Also, you can stop and grab canned goods on a day to day basis so you have to carry that extra weight for too long. Hormel chili is a dinner of champions and can be found at many convenience stores.
Much like revenge, lunch is a dish best served cold. Even if you plan on taking long afternoon breaks, you’ll enjoy spending that time resting more than you would cooking and cleaning. For this, sandwiches are where it’s at. Peanut butter, honey, and raisin sandwiches are delicious, high in energy, and extremely easy to throw together. In lieu of bread, I recommend carrying a pack of tortillas. They take up less space and can’t really be crushed. Ortlieb panniers even have a pocket along the back wall that is perfect for holding them.
A delicious gingery, chocolatey, nutty mix that you will get completely tired of within a week.
You’ll also need to carry some quick fixes for grumbling stomachs or shaking hands. Trail mix, protein bars, energy blocks, granola bars, beef jerky, dried fruit, and other dry snacks are great for this. Fresh fruit is also nice, but you’ll need to buy your fruit on a day to day basis due to shelf life. All of these items go great with your meals, too. Especially a banana with that PBH-R (peanut butter, honey, and raisins, a dry-goods section classic).
The important thing to remember when loading up your food bag is to not overpack. The more you pack, the more you have to carry, and you’re already going to be carrying a lot. Pack enough to get you between refills, and not much more. You’re loading a pannier, not a bomb shelter.
As for stopping for food, feel free (as long as your budget allows). If you’ve packed non-perishable food, what does it matter if you get to it a day or two later than you planned? You’re probably going to pass a lot of unique places, so if a restaurant catches your fancy, stop in. Places like those serve good meals as well as good memories. Especially if they claim to be the home of the World Famous Five Pound Chili Dog.
Remember, calories are your friend on the road! As I’ve said previously, riding on low blood sugar is pretty awful. You will get very tired, very cranky, and nothing will be fun anymore. Well, at least not until the hallucinations kick in. But even those eventually turn unpleasant. Sure, the lightning bolts firing from your nipples will be novel at first, but then you’ll come to realize that there’s an entire horde of orcs chasing you, willing to stop at nothing to steal your electricity. This is why it’s important to stay well nourished. Because of the nipple-lightning stealing orcs.