My Bicycle Tour Diet

In the age of COVID-19 there are uncertainties in planning a bicycle tour. When planning for my most recent self-supported tour from Pittsburgh to Washington DC on the GAP and C&O trails, I was concerned about the availability of places to eat on the route. It was a seven day trip, beginning on 12 September. I decided to carry enough food to sustain me through one or two days in case I could not find a grocery store or restaurant. I had one pannier dedicated to food.

In that spirit, I carried two spare bottles of water. The water was not enough to go much beyond a day, but I reasoned that water would be more common and that I would find it easier to get. As a hedge I carried an ultraviolet water purifier since I would almost always be close to a river.

My size and the weight of my panniers drove my appetite significantly. I am 6′-4″ tall and weigh 225 pounds. The weight of all of my food and gear was about 55 pounds. My bicycle is a Surly Long Haul Trucker that is geared for touring, but me and my stuff needed to cover a lot of ground each day and burn a lot of calories.

When I started out my food pannier load consisted of

  • One pound of hard salami
  • Jar of peanut butter
  • Squeeze bottle of honey
  • About six four-packs of Nutter Butter cookies
  • Package of flour tortillas
  • Can of Hormel chili
  • Can of meat spread
  • Two cans of tuna
  • Two avocados
  • One orange
  • One package of pitted dates
  • Two packages of beef jerky
  • Ten packages of mayonnaise
  • Two 10-packs of Babybel cheese.

The hard salami was fine for my first dinner in camp. By the time I got to Williamsport I had enough of the salami and threw it away. It did not spoil, but the taste of it did not appeal to me any longer. I prefer a darker hard salami and if it had been Oscar Mayer salami, I might have kept it. The meat spread was also a bad idea and I threw it out as well. The Hormel corned beef hash would have been a better choice for another canned meat.

There were some food choices that were based on their ability to survive being in a pannier. Avocados are a great source of fats and vitamins. They do well in the pannier as long as they are not too ripe. I was able to eat them just before they turned soft. Oranges are very durable and apples would also work. The tortillas travel better than any kind of bread and provide the same kind of food value. Each piece of Babybel cheese is packaged in wax and lasted very well on the trip.

Along the way I was going to replenish my food supply. That turned out to be not necessary for breakfast and dinner because of other food sources that came up along the way. I did replenish my snack foods. At the end, I had most of my cheese, a can of tuna, a can of Chef Boyardee spaghetti and meatballs that I purchased along the way, and a few tortillas left over.

Planned camp sites were the Uniontown KOA near Connellsville, PA; Husky Haven Campground in Rockwood, PA; Little Orleans Campground, MD; Snug Harbor KOA, Williamsport, MD; and Brunswick Family Campground, MD.  I ate both breakfast and dinner at the camp sites.

Two meals happened that were nice surprises. On my way to the KOA near Williamsport, I stopped at the Sheetz gas station in Williamsport. I opted to buy some food there rather than eat the food that I had in my pannier. The KOA also had a little diner that was preparing takeout and I ordered chicken wings. I had too much to eat, but the wings were good for breakfast the next morning.

In Brunswick at my final camp site, I was going to pitch camp, shower, and ride to a grocery store in town for some food. To my delight, the local pizza place delivered to the campground. The leftover pizza also made a good breakfast to start the next day.

I always tried to have both orange juice and a coffee drink in my food pannier for each breakfast. The Starbucks Mocha Frappuccino was great because it gave me my caffeine, it was a nice chaser for peanut butter, and there were some serious calories in each bottle.

On the trail, I stopped every hour for a carbohydrate hit. I liked to carry at least one bottle of chocolate milk for my mid-day stop. I varied my snack stops among Nutter Butter cookies, cheese cracker and peanut butter snacks, dates, Fig Newtons, Famous Amos cookies, and beef jerky.

There were opportunistic stops to replenish water and to have ice cream. I never had a problem finding a source for bottled water and I also used potable water from the camp sites. When I replenished water at a store, I would often find the orange juice and Starbucks Mocha Frappuccino at the same time.

My diet on this tour sustained my energy level better than I have experienced on previous tours. This was the first time that I used this particular daily regimen for nutrition on a tour. The regimen was breakfast, water every ten minutes of so, rest stops with carbo  snacks every hour, and dinner at the end of the day.

It seems that I should have found this regimen much earlier in my bicycle touring career, but I did not for some reason. I was satisfied with less frequent rest stops and snacking. In the past I did not hydrate as much as I should. I placed too much emphasis on breakfast and dinner alone as sources for calories.

This time I did some research before I headed out and tried to emulate some of the advice by other bicycle tourists on the Internet. This is my experience and what I did worked well for me. I was able to sustain my energy levels through each day and many times felt that I could ride another ten or twenty miles. Give a lot of attention to your personal dietary needs when you plan your bicycle tours. It pays off.

MealFood
12 September BreakfastOrange Juice, breakfast sandwich, coffee from the hotel snack bar
12 September  DinnerIced tea beverage, avocado, hard salami/tortilla wrap, Babybel cheese
13 September BreakfastOrange juice, peanut butter/honey/tortilla wrap, Starbucks Doubleshot
13 September DinnerWater, avocado, tuna/mayonnaise/tortilla wrap
14 September BreakfastOrange juice, ham sandwich, Nutter Butter cookies, Starbucks Mocha Frappuccino from the local gas station convenience store in Rockwood
14 September Dinner Salad, crab cakes, and a ginger ale at the Baltimore Street Grill in Cumberland
15 September BreakfastSausage, scrambled eggs, toast, and coffee at the Fairfield Inn in Cumberland
15 September DinnerA can of Hormel chili with beans, tortilla, pitted dates, and a ginger ale
16 September BreakfastOrange juice, peanut butter/honey/tortilla wrap, Starbucks Mocha Frappuccino
16 September Dinner Chicken salad wrap, cheese/apple slice snack package purchased at the Sheetz Store in Williamsport;  – ten chicken wings from the KOA diner
17 September BreakfastOrange juice, leftover chicken wings, Babybel cheese, and a Starbucks Mocha Frappuccino
17 September DinnerPepperoni, onion, green pepper, and mushroom pizza, a salad, and a can of ginger ale
18 September BreakfastLeftover pizza, Starbucks Mocha Frappuccino

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