Tour de Grizzlies – Food Obsessions

I’ve always relished the fact that calories consumed = fuel for a bike ride. That the act of bicycling can transform guilty culinary pleasures like mac & cheese into something as positive as getting around town without adding to traffic congestion is amazing. It’s also basic science, I know.

So it naturally follows that being able to consume lots and lots of food would be an appealing aspect of bike touring for me. All I had to do was sleep, ride, hike, occasionally bathe, avoid being eaten by bears, and eat? At the distances we would be riding, my body would transform into a calorie incinerator operating at maximum capacity!

Evidently, outside of the laboratory, calculating calories burned is notoriously difficult. Factors like body weight, years of riding experience, level of effort, and even headwind play a role. In the case of bike touring, the total weight of the bicycle plus gear is significant. Climbing mountains carrying panniers is no weekend cruise on a carbon fiber racer! While I’ll never know what the old gal weighed, 70 lbs fully loaded is in the ballpark. (Ride instigator Ben’s bike weighed a whopping 83 lbs, so I’m probably on the low end here.)

Bearing that in mind, our helpful friend Google turns up this formula for some quick calculations:

distance, in miles x (body weight + bike weight) x coefficient = calories consumed

For the trip from Jasper to Banff, that’s about 3200 calories for around 5o miles. Add in the daily requirement, and I was easily cranking on 5000+ calories a day.

Of course, there are many ways other than via mac & cheese to consume 5000 calories. It turns out, there are also many great resources (like this one from Outside Magazine) on optimal nutrition while bicycling long distances. I take my helmet off to any committed soul who sticks to that kind of plan because you a much stronger person than I. Because when I was riding, things got weird.

Real weird. Like starting to put mustard on everything weird. And imagining in glorious detail the slice of pie that I would have at the top of the pass weird.  Once, after spending the better part of an hour riding next to mountaintop glacier, I desperately craved birthday cake covered with a thick layer of icing. I swear the ice looked like frosting. If I had a dollar for every time we fantasized about donut holes (because there are Tim Hortons stores in the wilderness, right?), I’d be rich.

But the other thing is that when exercising that much, food actually tastes more vibrant, like Technicolor for your palate. Aside from the cravings, I distinctly recall many of the actual meals from that trip. Some – flatbread, tomato, avocado, and hummus consumed in the shade of a tree on the lawn at Lake Louise – are unforgettable for the scenery. Others – black pepper tofu, samosa asparagus rolls, roasted vegetable and quinoa salad, and grapefruit beer – stand out because they were truly stellar. Some still – microwaved bean burritos from a gas station or pizza and whisky for breakfast – are memorable for their sheer madness!

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