A Constant Eater
Take a leaf out of the endurance athletes' playbook: eat before you're hungry. Don't scoff down just any old thing, though. Choose carefully. Everyone has his or her own favorites, obviously, but the best choices are foods that pack a lot of calories into a nutritious package. I call these high‑energy, high‑quality snacks "bonk‑busters." The criteria for inclusion are pretty straightforward. Bonk‑busters have to survive the rough‑and‑tumble of transport in PFD pocket and day bag, while also being easy to eat on the go. Balance is important, too. You're looking for lots of carbs — with a mix of simple sugars for quick energy and complex carbohydrates for staying power — along with modest amounts of fat and protein. (Extra vitamins and minerals? They're not really necessary in a bonk‑buster. That's what your main meals are for.) If you like to buy your snacks ready‑made you'll have plenty of choices. But convenience comes at a price, and I'm not just talking dollars and cents here. Few of the commercial energy bars and gels that I've come across could be described as tasty treats, and some of them are pretty grim fare, indeed. Then again, you can't ignore dollars and cents altogether. (Well, I can't, anyway.) Store‑bought "fitness" snacks don't come cheap. Even on a short weekend getaway you'll find the cost mounting up.
The alternative? "Real" food, of course. The sort of snacks you like to eat at home. Go with what you know. Let your local HyperMart be your outfitter, in other words. This is my shopping list:
- Hard candies (not sugar‑free ones)
- Fresh and dried fruit
- Bread, bagels, crackers, and pretzels
- Granola bars
- Sports drinks (liquid or powdered)
- Honey, jellies, and fruit preserves
But don't think for a minute that you're limited to what you can find on the shelves. Here are a few ideas for bonk‑busters you can make at home and take with you:
- Cookies, brownies, and fruit bars
- Quick breads
- Journey cakes
- Baked potatoes (No, this isn't a joke)
- Rice cakes
- That old standby, the peanut‑butter‑and‑jelly sandwich
- Jam sandwiches (Split a roll or mini‑bagel and spread with preserves)
- Newt Nectar or similar homemade sports drink
I suppose it's no secret that I prefer homemade to store‑bought, given the choice. While commercial quick breads are fine in a pinch, they aren't hard to make at home, and you can add just the nuts and dried fruits you like. The texture's usually better, too. Farwell swears by my Hundred‑Mile Oatmeal Bars. That's a plate of them on the right, waiting to be tucked into plastic bags for the trail. They're hearty, healthy, and delicious. They're also easy to bake and stockpile. Just freeze them and thaw as needed.
You may have been startled that I included baked potatoes in my inventory of homemade bonk‑busters. They're not on most folks' checklists of snack foods, I admit. But maybe they should be. Look at the facts: Baked potatoes are loaded with complex carbs, they're easy to prepare, they travel well, and they make a welcome change of pace from sweets. In fact, they were standard fare for itinerant laborers well into the twentieth century, and I suppose paddling could be described as recreational itinerant labor. So there's no reason why twenty‑first‑century canoeists and kayakers shouldn't take advantage of this inexpensive treat, is there? I eat them like I eat an apple. Give it a try. You won't be disappointed.
Or maybe you like the idea of eating out of hand, but you don't care for spuds. Then how about the Eastern counterpart to the laborer's baked potato: the rice ball or rice cake? Mini‑bannocks and other journey cakes are also good choices. They can even be baked fresh each day in camp, if you want.
And then there's our old friend, the sandwich. Make up a batch at home, bag 'em, and nibble as needed. Peanut butter and jelly is on nearly everyone's list of favorite things. (Except for folks with peanut allergies, obviously.) Hearty white bread from a so‑called sandwich loaf works fine, though I prefer mini‑bagels for mine. Farwell carries the sandwich idea to its logical (or illogical) conclusion, tucking a small plastic squeeze bottle of honey and a hunk of cheese into a cyclist's musette bag, along with a stock of pre‑cut mini‑bagels. Then he makes his sandwiches to order while under way. There's just one problem: Though he's mastered the art of sandwich making on a bike — he can assemble a sandwich and eat it without missing a single spin of the pedals — he hasn't learned the trick of doing it while paddling. But then it's pretty hard to do anything in a canoe or kayak without first putting your paddle down, isn't it? Even eating while paddling is well‑nigh impossible. The best you can do is suck sugary sports drink through a hydration‑pack hose. This is fine for them as likes it, I suppose, but it doesn't work for me. I crave solid food. That said, sports drinks certainly have their place. They're a great pick‑me‑up on sweaty summer days, for instance, and while there's nothing wrong with Gatorade and other store‑bought drinks, I prefer to make my own, using real fruit juice.
Even my enthusiasm for DIY snacks has limits, however. I've never succeeded in reproducing the Fig Newton. Indeed, I've never wanted to try. Fig Newtons seem to be perfect traveling fare. They're just the right size, they offer a good balance of nutrients and salt, and they taste delicious. The only downside? They're not cheap. But Farwell thinks he's solved this problem, too. He buys the cheapest store‑brand Fig Newton look‑alikes he can find, and he swears that they taste better than the real thing. I have to say I'm not convinced, but…
Oh, yes, Fig Newtons (and their imitators) have one other drawback. They're made from figs, right? So if you eat too many in the course of a long day, you'll probably find that you're…how shall I put this?…adding more greenhouse gas to the atmosphere than is usually your wont. Farwell once ate nothing but Fig Newtons on a hundred‑mile bike ride, and while he insists that the ten‑mile‑long climb at the end was made easier by a fig‑fueled "jet assist," it's not an experiment he wants to repeat. The upshot? He's switched to Hundred‑Mile Bars.
You've been warned.
Back on the DIY front, I see I've omitted a classic. Or maybe it's the classic — the urbonk‑buster, so to speak. I'm thinking of gorp, of course. Good Ol' Raisins and Peanuts have been sustaining self‑powered travelers for decades. But I'm not one of its fans. I find raisins cloying, not to mention adhesive. They have an unnerving ability to pluck fillings from my teeth. And I'm not a big peanut eater, either. Farwell gobbles them down by the handful. Not me. I regard peanuts as a garnish, to be consumed sparingly and infrequently. So when I crave gorp, I resort to…
Updating a Classic
Don't get me wrong. I love nuts. Some nuts, anyway. And I love dried fruit. Some dried fruit. Moreover, I'm fond of M&M's, both the dark chocolate ones and the chocolate‑covered‑almond variety. Some years back, while scouting a long and particularly nasty drop, I went through a whole pound in one go. (I was sick afterward, but whether it was overeating or just fear is open to argument.) In any case, I'm older and I hope wiser now, so I no longer eat M&M's by the pound. And I assemble my own peanut‑ and raisin‑free gorp. Call it gooo, if you must. That stands for "good old other‑fruit and other‑nuts." Sometimes I mix the ingredients together. Sometimes I keep them apart. The only certainty? I can eat gooo hour after hour, day after day. And it keeps my motor turning over nicely, even on the hardest slogs. Here are some of the ingredients that go into my moveable feast: