On carrying food and water for four cyclists

“How on earth did you manage for food and water on the road? How did you carry enough fresh water? Food?”

A friend asked me that the other day. She’s traveling in an RV and was rummaging around trying to find additional space for food. In an RV. And we were on bikes. How indeed?

It takes a lot of food and water to keep four cyclists going

It takes a lot of food and water to keep four cyclists going

Packing enough food for the four of us was, at times, a challenge. Not as much of a challenge as carrying enough water for the family though.

As the team member in charge of keeping us all adequately fed and properly hydrated, it was my job to make sure we had enough food and water stashed on the bikes. Although there were a few times when I miscalculated, I have to say that I’m pretty darn proud that I managed to get all four of us to the end of the world healthily!

Carrying food for four hungry cyclists is a daunting thought. Carrying food for four hungry cyclists for ten days is even more daunting! Needless to say, there were times when I was carrying a lot of food. A heaping pile of it. Yes, it was heavy.

What did we eat on the road?

It varied widely depending on where we were and what was available. There were two basic categories of types of food I carried – snacks and meals.

Fresh peas

Fresh peas made for a delicious, healthy snack on the road

Snacks were what we pulled out throughout the day. They needed to be easily accessible and quick to eat. These are some snack foods we frequently carried:

 

  • Dried fruit and nuts – depending on where we were these were more or less available. I tried to stock up when I could find them knowing there wouldn’t be any for a long time. They are easy to carry and nutritious so I carried a LOT!
  • Fruit – when we left a town, I typically carried five pounds or more of fresh fruit. We ate that the first day or two out, then switched over to dried fruit. Granadillas and tangerines were great in Colombia and Ecuador; apples worked well up north and down south.
  • Granola bars – these came in an incredible array of varieties in the USA but in other countries was hit or miss. When I found them, I stocked up. It wasn’t unusual that I would have fifty granola bars of various types stashed in my panniers.
  • Crackers and cheese – we tried to get whole grain cracker if available. Cheese traveled well as long as it wasn’t blazing hot out. That means that cheese was a city treat throughout Central America, but a staple in the highlands.
  • Fresh broccoli with dip – that only worked up north; dip doesn’t exist down south.
  • Carrot sticks or fresh peas – very easy in the USA with packages of baby carrots. We had to cut our own farther south which was a hassle so it didn’t happen as often. All four of us love fresh peas straight from the pod so I frequently carried a couple pounds of peas for breaktime.
  • Beef jerky – this was a HUGE treat if we could find it. Good source of protein.
  • Yogurt – we needed to eat it at the first break which meant it was only good for the first day out. It was also a pain to pack so that it didn’t spill but oh, so worth it!
  • Boiled eggs – these would last a couple days as long as they didn’t get smashed in my panniers.
  • Sausage – especially in Argentina, the sausages were great. They were easy to pack, high in calories, and Davy loved them. The rest of us weren’t thrilled, but they were a great way to get extra calories into Davy’s growing body.
  • Bread – every tiny town had a bakery of some sort, so I stocked up with a dozen or more rolls. They were cheap and lightweight so a great item to tack on. If we didn’t eat them, I threw them away at the next stop.
  • Cookies – I hated the idea of feeding our bodies with junk but, truth be told, there wasn’t a whole lot of food in many of the places we visited and cookies were the only kind of portable snack food I could find.
Cooking dinner while camping

We enjoyed a hot meal after a long day on the road

We typically only cooked one meal per day – in the evening usually. If we were short on water, we didn’t bother – the amount of water needed for cooking and cleaning up was sometimes more than we could spare. On those nights, we ate more snacks.

 

We added canned tuna or other canned meat and some cheese and chopped veggies to any of the packaged side dishes to make them into a hearty, filling meal. These are some of the foods we ate for dinner:

  • Rice-a-Roni – lots of different varieties, and most countries had something similar
  • Instant mashed potatoes – these were very quick and easy. They were perfect for those days when we arrived into a campsite late and famished.
  • Pasta – we either used one of the side dish mixes with sauce included or bought plain pasta and a jar of sauce. We ate a lot of pasta in Alaska and Canada, but the scarcity of water made it difficult to cook in Argentina.
  • Soup mixes – we liked to add some sausage or other meat and some veggies
  • Fresh potatoes – we preferred real potatoes over instant so carried them whenever we were able. Because they are so heavy, I only carried them if I knew we would have water for our first night out so I could boil them.

When we left a city, I generally carried a few fresh vegetables to throw into the dishes above. The veggies were heavy, so I tried to use them in the first day or two. After that, we were down to only dried food.

I know what you’re thinking –

“How on earth did we carry all that food?”

And that is a very good question.

Carrying food while cycle touring

Although I was the main food-carrier, all four of us sometimes carried some

I was the main food hauler. When we left a city, I had my panniers stuffed with food. I mean STUFFED! I packed meticulously and managed to cram a lot of food in each of my two panniers that were dedicated to food storage.

But you’re right – sometimes that wasn’t enough space. I generally left town with a great big plastic grocery bag tied on to my rear rack filled with fruits and vegetables. And if we would be on the road for more than a couple days before hitting the next grocery store, Davy had a bag too. And sometimes I even strapped something to the back of the tandem.

Food was critical and we knew we weren’t going anywhere without it, so we lashed, strapped, or buckled in on our bikes wherever we could.

…and then there was water.

We carried a lot of water bottles. Between water bottle cages on the bikes and both trailers, we were able to carry twelve liters of water on a normal day. As long as it wasn’t too hot or we didn’t have too far to go, that was plenty for the day.

There were many days when it wasn’t even close to being enough.

Amazingly, for the first 13,000 miles of our journey, we never had to carry extra water. Throughout Alaska and Canada we passed many streams and rivers where we could filter water. Once we got farther south, we passed a small village or ranch house or posada (restaurant in the middle of nowhere that caters to truckers) at least once per day. Water was not an issue.

And then we reached Argentina.

For the first time in 2.5 years, we had to carry more water than our water bottles would hold. We started saving 2-liter Coke bottles to fill with water and strap to the bikes. Depending on how far we had to go before the next town, there were times when we carried an extra twenty liters on top of the 12 we normally carried. The bikes were really heavy then.

When we left towns, both Davy and I were loaded down

When we left towns, both Davy and I were loaded down

For the most part, we drank plain water while cycling. Our water bottles stayed cleaner without all the sugar to feed the beasties that tend to gather in them and we just felt better drinking water. Once we arrived in a town, we bought some kind of juice (if it happened to be available, which wasn’t often) or soda.

 

There were a few times when plain water just didn’t cut it. Throughout Central America we were sweating so much and losing so much salt that, even though we drank enough water, we were getting terribly dehydrated. We discovered packets of rehydration salts in the pharmacies that were a great help.

The dehydration salts tasted vile, but we felt the difference in our bodies immediately. We quickly learned to recognize the signs of dehydration and added a packet of the salts to a water bottle to ward it off.

Inca Kola got me through the Peruvian desert

And then we got to Peru. One day we had some Inca Kola leftover so I strapped it on my trailer. That day I took a few sips of it throughout the day and discovered that I felt a LOT better than I had been feeling. After that, I made it a point to pick up a liter of Inca Kola every evening and I drank it slowly throughout the day. I have no idea what’s in that bright yellow, bubble gum flavor soda, but it sure helped me fight the headwinds along the Peruvian coastal desert!

Overall, I think we did remarkably well given the conditions we passed through. Yes, we ate Oreos for breakfast a few times, but we did the best we could.

There were times when it was a major challenge to find food and water for the four of us, but we never went hungry and never collapsed from dehydration.

Sometimes, good enough is… well, good enough.

Carrying food and water while bike touring

Amazingly, we rarely ran out of food or water

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

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15 Responses to On carrying food and water for four cyclists

  1. Kelly September 8, 2011 at 9:46 am #

    Hey,

    I’ve been following your blog since very close to the beginning of your trip from Alaska down to the end of the world. It’s so fascinating to follow what you guys are up to.!

    I’m really interested in what you guys have done for food/water because I’m planning on starting some bike touring myself. I had a questions about access to different sorts of food, though. Next summer, my fiancé and I are going on our first “long” bike tour as our honeymoon. We live in Massachusetts and are going from our house up through part of Canada and back. I figure that food shouldn’t be that much of an issue where we’re going. But, I’d like to eventually bike through some places that aren’t first-world countries. The one reservation I have is that we’re both vegetarian and I have a gluten sensitivity. That means I can’t use regular pasta or bread as a staple in my diet. Do you think that someone would be able to find enough food that doesn’t have wheat/barley/rye or their derivatives in most places of the world?

    Thanks for your insights!

    • Nancy September 8, 2011 at 9:51 am #

      Oh gads! I think the combination will be tough. I know plenty of vegetarian cycle tourists and they generally do fine (there were a few places where it got tricky, but not too bad).

      The gluten insensitivity though, could be a greater problem. There is rice nearly everywhere, so as long as you are prepared to cook your own food, I suspect you will be able to manage.

      Good luck and have a blast on your honeymoon! It’ll be awesome! And congrats too.

  2. Amy September 8, 2011 at 10:14 am #

    Iam so impressed you could fit it all on the bikes…I had a bike trailer to pull my girls around in when we didn’t have a car for ages in the city…I didn’t really notice the weight too much on that, but I’m still wondering if that made you lopsided and harder to ride? You must have all been so hungry doing so much exercise, too.

    • Nancy September 8, 2011 at 10:19 am #

      We packed it all evenly so that we didn’t have the lopsided thing going on. As for the weight, we just got used to the feel of the loaded bikes. When we took them out for a spin without all our gear they felt awful!!

      We were famished for the first month or two while our bodies adapted to the demands of cycling, but after that I don’t think we ate all that much more than other people. We ate different kinds of foods (higher fat) but not significantly more.

  3. Richard Díaz-Cataldo September 8, 2011 at 4:20 pm #

    Great article! Did you ever took water from a nearby stream where you would’ve used water filters?

    • Nancy September 8, 2011 at 7:04 pm #

      We used a water filter all the time throughout Alaska and Canada. By the time we reached the mainland USA we didn’t use it any more, so we sent it back home.

  4. Lisa Wood September 8, 2011 at 11:24 pm #

    That is amazing that you never ran out of water or food 🙂 You guys were so brave, and so strong to ride that far. I am not sure that I could do that ever 🙂

    Did you notice that your body toned up with that much riding?

    With boys (we have five so I know how much they can eat) did you notice that on the days that they drank more water they ate less? Or did they eat more because they were so active every day?

    I love how you found so many places to carry water! Great planning ahead.
    Cheers
    Lisa

    • Nancy September 9, 2011 at 1:16 am #

      I’m convinced my body will never tone up 🙁 Darn!

      I didn’t notice a correlation between amount of water and food intake, but it was very, very clear when the boys were in growth spurts! That was SCARY!

  5. Mark - ramblecrunch September 9, 2011 at 12:35 am #

    Great post! Hearing about how you manage the food on such a trip is fascinating. We struggle with what to eat, and we have a campervan for pete’s sake. I wish my darling daughter like nuts. I LOVE them and you are right about the protein. (The pictures with arrows are funny). Cheers!

  6. wandering educators September 10, 2011 at 1:20 pm #

    who knew? those photos showing the water and food are worth a thousand words.

    • Nancy September 10, 2011 at 6:22 pm #

      @wandering educators,

      I thought the pics would make it easier to visualize where we stashed things. They are kind of fun!

  7. Kira July 9, 2014 at 4:12 pm #

    They put caffeine to inca cola, that’s why it works better than just water or just soda.

    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel July 27, 2014 at 10:10 am #

      @Kira, The caffeine might be part of it, but I think it was more than that. There was a definite difference between Inca Kola and Coke. I just thought it was interesting that it made such a big difference in how I felt out there in the desert.

  8. Christine Taylor May 30, 2017 at 9:20 am #

    Is it OK to reference this blog post in an ebook I’m working on?

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