Eating on the road – with Phil Hall

Motorcycle touring has so many rewards – it’s hard to even write them all down. There’s the freedom, the ability to choose your own agenda, to be able to go back and ride an especially enjoyable piece of road again, the closeness with nature – the smell of a newly-mown paddock, the tantilising aroma of a rainstorm on the way and the exquisite delight of the way the rain smells when it hits the hot bitumen. There’s the changes in ambient temperature, another joy that, along with those mentioned and many more, cannot be experienced, cossetted in air-conditioned comfort of a car.

But one feature of motorcycle touring that is always a bit of a lottery is the food that you have to eat along the way. I am reminded of the classic scene in “On Any Sunday” where they show Mert Lawwill and his mechanic travelling non-stop across the States to get to a race meeting, “hitting the gourmet diners along the way.” Here Lawwill holds up the most disgusting burger you could imagine and Bruce Brown continues the commentary as only Bruce Brown could, “If the racin’ don’t get you, the food will.”

So, if you will indulge me, a few words about eating on the road, (no, that’s not eating OFF the road, sit down that boy in the back row.)

Firstly, and most importantly, regardless of the weather, it is dreadfully important to remain hydrated. Carry a small bottle of water, stop often and drink and refill it as necessary.

Racing riders have their own diet regimens that are suited to the type of activity they do. They feature lots of carbs for high energy and proteins for strong, healthy muscles. Touring doesn’t have the same constraints.

When I’m on the road I always like to get a couple of hours riding in first up, in the best hours of the morning, before I eat breakfast. And my breakfast will usually be a light one, a cup of coffee or tea and a plate of cereal, perhaps some baked beans on toast. The golden rule with food on the road is, AVOID HEAVY, FATTY FOODS. They cramp you up, make you feel bloated and uncomfortable and, because you’re not really exercising, just sitting there, your body can’t deal well with them. They also adversely affect your concentration, something you can well and truly do without.

Lunch is also light. Remember, the more you eat, the more often you have to go to the loo and they’re not exactly in huge supply out on the road. A salad roll, or maybe a toasted sandwhich, some juice. Coffee or tea if you like, but remember that both of these are diuretics and you’ll have to stop more often to excrete the results. Riding with a full bladder while searching for a loo is not fun.

When touring I only ever have one main meal and that’s the one at night, once I’ve finished riding for the day. Now I know that nutritionists do not recommend this. They say to eat your biggest meal in the middle of the day so that your afternoon activity will work off the meal. But, as stated above, you can’t do that while you are riding. So, how do I get around having a heavier meal late in the day? Simple. I always carry a pair of joggers and, once I’ve eaten, I put them on and go for a brisk walk for a few k’s. This has many benefits apart from helping your body to digest the evening meal. It also helps you stretch and exercise the muscles that have basically been cramped up in the same position for most of the day, AND it also helps you appreciate the scenery in the town where you have stopped for the night, get a load of fresh air in and look for an Internet Cafe where you can post up your day’s ride on your blog site (did I say that last bit out loud??). There are usually some great photo opportunities so always take your camera long when you go.

As a general rule, I eat LESS when I’m touring than when I’m home. You might be different, but it works for me.

So, WHERE do you eat? Well, if you stay at a country hotel like I mostly do, sometimes they will provide breakfast as part of the tarrif. They may have a dining room that serves breakfast or have a breakfast bar where you can prepare some breakfast for yourself. Failing that, your walk around the town the night before should have enabled you to scope out a likely little cafe that will fit the bill. Travelling with my dad when I was a boy, he was always wary of country cafes, but time and better food regulations has overcome that caution (provided you’re careful, of course).

Oh, another word of caution here. Country cafes, being country cafes, often (mostly) tend to serve MUCH LARGER helpings than you might be used to in city eateries. I remember breakfast at a cafe in Cooma about 25 years ago. It was a freezing morning (!!!) and I needed breakfast. I ordered scrambled eggs and bacon and baked beans. “That should keep me going for a while,” I thought. I also ordered an orange juice and a coffee (I told you, it was COLD and I’d already ridden in from Adaminaby). The juice arrived first. The glass was probably 750ml to a litre’s worth. Almost immediately my breakfast hit the table. It was on a huge, white plate that I swear was about 35cm round and it was piled high with the biggest helping of the ordered ingredients that I had ever seen, or have seen since. As well, a separate bread and butter plate held 2 huge slices of toast and then a huge, steaming mug of coffee arrived.

I manfully demolished the lot, but regretted it later. I always have a little smile to myself every time I ride past that cafe. I say this only to warn you that, when you order, “Be careful what you wish for, as it may come true.”

I never do Maccas or any of the fast food chains. Yes, I know their food is reliable and consistent, but I much prefer to take a bit of a punt and eat what the locals eat (mind you, the Maccas at Kempsey is always crowded every time I ride by and they can’t ALL be tourists). There’s nearly always a little bakery in every town and many of them are now getting with the programme and providing meals as well as just selling bread and rolls, etc. Look out for them, they’re always friendly and good value and they are usually open pretty early in the morning if you want a quick danish or something before you hit the road for the day.

Dinner I nearly always eat at the Hotel bistro where I am staying (nearly every country hotel has one). The food is cheap (underwritten by the profits from the booze and the pokies) and cooked according to your order. A steak and salad for around $13 seems to be the go at the moment.

If you ride a particular route more than once, you’ll develop a network of places where you know the food is good and reasonably priced and the service is prompt. This last point is important. When you’re touring you shouldn’t be hurrying to get to a particular point by a particular time, but you often find that you ARE. Having to wait an hour for a toasted sandwhich can seriously eat into your timetable, so avoid eateries that are big on variety but are running according to a country timetable. 🙂

So, eating on the road is part of the adventure. Finding a little place where the food, the service and ambience is great is just part of the rich tapestry of touring. Do it right and it won’t cost you a bomb and you’ll be more healthy, more alert and you’ll enjoy the trip more.

Eating on the Road - Phil Hall
Eating on the Road – Phil Hall