“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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.