Sunday, April 10, 2011

Food in South America

One of the posts I never got around to writing whilst away was on the subject of food. Like anyone doing a significant amount of exercise a day, we needed a large amount of food to keep going. One of the main differences we found between this tour and previous, shorter, journeys was the amount of food we needed. We always joke that we go to work for a rest and recover between holidays, but it is probably more true than we realised. We suffered in the first few weeks for lack of food, but once we started to eat (and sleep) more, things improved. On shorter trips we probably run a food debt, which we recover when we return. We would normally tour during summer when we are in a better fat burning condition too, which would help. We started this tour having done very little cycling for a few weeks due to the Christmas break and bad weather, and combined with the very tough first few days we ran into trouble very quickly.

A significant problem was that we weren't eating enough protein and so weren't recovering from each days cycling. Getting enough protein was one of the biggest challenges we faced in terms of food. While I love cheese, eating it at every meal does become a little tiresome, and in hot weather it can become quite manky after a few days in a pannier bag. Tins of tuna were quite widely available, but as I don't eat fish that wasn't a lot of help. Tins of meat or pulses were only found in some very large supermarkets, and are bulky and heavy. We found dried pulses in supermarkets, but we only used them when we had plenty of time, water and fuel for soaking and cooking them. In future I might take a rigid screw top container which could be used to soak pulses, and used to carry leftovers (if there are any). We rarely had leftovers on this trip, mostly due to the fact that our pans weren't large enough to accommodate them! Something else to change before our next trip.

The availability and range of food available varied hugely on the trip and was dependent on geography as well as population density. Region XII of Chile is effectively cut off from mainland Chile, and all supplies generally arrive on the weekly supply boat. This means that 'fresh' food is anything but! I'm fairly certain that the lettuces I saw in Puerto Natales had been cut for more than a fortnight. Not surprisingly, there weren't many salad options in the restaurants! As all the shops were stocked from the same supply ship, the only real difference between shops was price. We didn't ever get to go into the largest supermarket in town though (it was closed all the time we were there, probably due to the civil disturbances), so it's possible that they had a wider selection of food, although it wouldn't be any fresher. The quality of the fresh fruit and vegetables available in shops didn't really start to improve until we reached the fruit growing region around Chile Chico, and even there it was very variable. When it was good, it was very good though!

We ate a lot of bread on the trip, eating it most days for breakfast and lunch. After the first week, we bought chilli sauce and sachets of mayonnaise to help keep the sandwiches interesting. Having an avocado or tomato handy also helped. Bread is generally sold by weight in both Chile and Argentina. In Chile bread is mostly found in the form of flat, circular baps whereas in Argentina it is more likely to be longer rolls, and generally fresher tasting. Further north, loaves were becoming more popular, especially at campsites. Bread was sold in some shops, but was not available in some smaller supermarkets or shops. If the town/village shop didn't stock bread, they could point out where it could be bought. Often, this was a normal house with a sign outside. Fresh bread was generally not available until about 10am, but rolls from the previous day were generally available before then (if the shop was open) .

In smaller communities it was rare for shops to advertise their opening hours. Early in the day, this could make things feel a little awkward as some shops would keep the door permanently locked, and you had to ring the door bell to be let in. In a country where a significant proportion of the population doesn't seem to get out of bed before 10am (especially at weekends), ringing a doorbell at 9:30am could seem cruel.
The smallest shops would just have biscuits and soft drinks for sale, but it was rare to not to find a shop selling the basic necessities in the main centre of habitation in an area. It did take some finding sometimes though.

Most people we met on the road seemed to look at what was available in a shop and just buy what was necessary to get them to the next shop. I assume they would also carry emergency rations. We found it difficult to plan exact meals days in advance, and so took a different approach, although it did mean carrying more food overall. We effectively used the our dried food store as you would a cupboard at home. This gave us the flexibility to choose what we wanted to eat on a particular day based on what fresh items were available, if any, and vary the quantity according to how hungry we were. Adding in whatever fresh food we could find along the way helped keep our menu interesting.

Two of the serious addictions we returned to the UK with were for soft drinks, and mayonnaise. In both Chile and Argentina small bags of mayonnaise were available in all but the smallest of shops. It was generally used in our savoury sandwiches at breakfast and lunch, and occasionally added to our evening meal. The packets were relatively small compared to a standard jar, but it was quite a challenge to finish the packet before the hot weather got it. The soft drink addiction was mostly formed while we were in Argentina. The tap water was drinkable (and treated) almost everywhere in Chile. In Argentina it was less good, especially as we got further north. At campsites in the south, it was common for the water to be taken directly from rivers or streams, without treatment. We got into the habit of filtering water whenever we were dubious about its origins. Soft fizzy drinks were very widely available, and so we began drinking less water and more coke /fanta/local equivalents. In the UK, the only bottled soft drink I tend to drink is lucosade sport, and only when cycling. I do drink squash too. In the south, where there was plenty of water, we used the south American alternative to squash/cordial - sachets of powder in an enormous variety of fruit flavours to mix with cold water.

One of the things that the locals found odd about our camping habits, was that we didn't always light a fire. All campsites we visited had a fogon (fire ring) for every pitch. In both Chile and Argentina, the assado (BBQ) was very important, and much more than a cooking device. We saw groups lighting fires for breakfast, lunch, onces (tea time), evening meal and for company at night. It seems common for for families and friends to regularly gather around the BBQ. Very sociable, and good fun if you are invited along too!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

3Down audax: 1 down, 3 to go!

We survived the 3Down 300km brevet. The weather was as close to perfect as you could ever hope for in an early April date, warming up by midday, but then a little overcast as we got onto the New Forest moors. The wind was south to south-east all day, meaning a fairly tough headwind as we got onto the more exposed parts of the forest, but it did deliver a healthy hand pushing us back through the second half.

This event is typically only run in PBP years (when the calendar generally holds more events), so this is the first time we'd participated. The route is ideal, leaving the conurbations in the early hours and following some quiet roads. By midday we were getting into the New Forest, which is a much nicer place to be than around busy town centres on a Saturday afternoon. Overall we barely touched major towns, skirting around (e.g. Winchester and Basingstoke) or controlling on the periphery (e.g. Fordingbridge) which saved time and hassle navigating one way systems.

This was quite an important ride for us, as since we cycled to York in November we've not done a single day's riding over 120km. Further, we'd not yet started our PBP qualification campaign, so this was our first step towards that. PBP qualification requires one ride each of at least: 200km, 300km, 400km, 600km. We're unable to make any of the remaining 200s, so the 3Down will fill that gap.

Having spent two months cycle touring we were reassured to find we were not entirely out of shape. We started out at a high pace, as we always like to, as it's a fully attended event this allowed us to get clear of the biggest bulk of the strain on the early controls. Once we hit a couple of small climbs before Pangbourne we settled into a more reasonable pace, dropping back from the lead groups but still riding with several different groups that we saw throughout the day.
As we left Pangbourne we spotted Mel K grabbing some food outside the corner shop, along with Steve Abraham and a couple others. We shouted a quick "hello" as we left, and Mel jumped on the bike and joined us. Really good to catch up with Mel, we always find him great company on rides. After a few km he glanced at his GPS and suddenly exclaimed where we were leading him? Of course, we were taking the scenic detour in the route, whereas Mel had intended to take the mainroad (A4) route out of Pangbourne as he'd just been explaining to us he'd come out without descent lighting on the bike due to a last minute change, and so wanted to minimize time spend cycling in the dark. Opps. Anyway, not the first time Mel has ended up on a scenic detour!

We made it to the 150km turn around point without too much problem, but by that point had only eaten cold food (sandwiches etc) so when we arrived in Alresford for the 219km control, rather than seek out the recommended Tesco Express, Emma spotted a great little tea room just as we arrived in town. As we were there well within 11 hours (9 hours remaining for 85km) we decided to have a good feed, and so banqueted on tea, soup, beans on toast, and cakes.

Predictably enough, the next stage was fairly slow and hard going, as we digested that lot. Around the 225km mark I was really starting to feel like I was about ready to stop for the day. This is equivalent to a bit over-distance 200, and seems to be a fairly natural point for the body and backside and legs to feel like they'd had enough. It's amazing how you can recover from these lows though, another 30km down the road we were going as well as any point. I guess our base fitness and endurance is in pretty good shape, we're just quite out of practice at being out on the bike for such long periods all in one go.

The final 20 or so kilometers we were able to lift our pace a little. We often like to do this even more than going out fast at the start. Partly the anticipation of finishing draws us on, but more over it's a nice way to explore what sort of untapped reserves the body still has hidden away even after a long day out. Reserves you know you'll need to call on on your next, longer, ride so why not test them a little!
Weaving through Maidenhead at 9pm was probably the low point of the route; not an awful experience but busy enough to remind you how tranquil the day had been up to that point. Some point after that we came across a couple of the other riders who we'd been playing tandem leap-frog with all day. They were struggling to navigate in the dark and feeling the effects of a long day out too, so were grateful for a tandem-assisted tow back to the Arrivée. Complete with dual stoker and GPS powered navigation, we made good progress. The final bonus was as we approached Gerrards Cross, still with a presumed 12km to go, Emma pointed out the route was only 307km not 315km. It may not sound like much, but finding out there's 8km less than expected and we were so very close to the end was such happy sound to my ears at that point!

In the end this was a very good start to our PBP qualification campaign - just 3 more to go!

Friday, April 1, 2011

First Audax in 4 months

It's amazing what a few months away from audaxing does to you. It's taken about 4 hours this evening to re-find all our critical cycling clobber and gather it ready for tomorrow's 3Down ride.
Whilst the route is reasonably flat, and the weather is promising to behave, it could still be a bit of a challenging ride, as besides not audaxing for 4 months we've not ridden over 150km in a day in all that time (tomorrow is a 300km!), and we've barely been on the bike at all in the last month! On top of that, this is the first of our PBP qualifier rides, so we really don't want any mistakes...!
I'm very glad we had some time off this week, so at least the bike is well prepared, and we've both caught up on our sleep ready for tomorrow's 4am start (eek!). I even think we may have both shaken the worst of our colds now too...