Base Camp: Make Yourself At Home
Updated: Aug 9, 2018
(Oli) Without doubt spending a year on a bike will be physically challenging at times. It’s not long before you feel lean around the ribs and chunky around the legs. But what often goes unsaid is that there is a reassuringly domestic side to long distance cycle touring. The small but significant daily routines necessary in order to keep moving forwards.
There are a number of different jobs and tasks that we set to like clockwork the moment we find a place to camp.
Tarp down. Tent unrolled. Bedding unpacked. Firewood collected. Lanterns and cookware laid out. It’s nice to know where stuff is instinctively before it gets dark.
If there is a water source of any kind we’ll then do laundry on whatever scale is required - and before long the lower branches of nearby trees will be decorated with dripping smalls and out-turned padded shorts, their brightly coloured spongey inners swollen like a bizarre range of wearable baboon arses; it would definitely win prizes for the weirdest village Christmas tree effort.
While one of us finishes off the basic camp the other often starts cooking. You have such a huge appetite when you’ve been cycling all day. Most of our campsite cooking equipment has come from two independent U.K. companies; Pannier and WildBounds.
Pannier cater more specifically for the touring cyclist and were introduced to us by a friend; Julian, who knew about them and liked what they were doing. Their website is a hub and magazine with an online shop attached. And their love is as much for the landscape your bike can transport you to as it is for the bike itself.
Similarly, it’s hard not to be inspired by the spirit of adventure evident on every page of WildBounds’ website. They are a small but specialist outdoor pursuits company based in Bristol. But although they come from a place close to home we didn’t have to spend long reading their articles to realise there can’t be many places on the planet that would be out of their reach. WildBounds are about going anywhere and doing anything - they’re about empowering people to enjoy any environment they might wish to discover.
Both companies publish great pieces of adventure journalism and reinforced our desire to set out on the bikes. I love looking at kit lists and planning trips; (I do have that anorak-ish side to me), but it was refreshing to find some of the best articles, photos, and kit shopping options all in one place. If these two companies didn’t also function as shops they are the people whose articles I’d be browsing and whose advice I’d be seeking regardless.
So in essence we feel very happy to be working with two such companies. Each time I delve into my back right pannier for the stove or position our neat little solar panel at the optimum angle to catch the final rays of sunlight, I enjoy knowing we’re part of a wider team of people undertaking exciting adventures around the world.
And setting up camp each day really is one of the most rewarding parts of the trip; you can only carry a limited amount of stuff so you’ll either come to love it or hate it. Although you sometimes just crave any old food when you’ve been riding all day, cooking up a meal with whatever the local area has to offer is a rewarding and cathartic part of the evening.
But as a rule if you enjoy preparing a meal in your kitchen back home there’s no reason you shouldn’t equally enjoy it when out and about in the middle of nowhere. You’ll have to be a little selective with your choice of kitchen implements in order to maximise what you're able to do with a more limited set-up; but boundaries usually lead to innovation, right? The main difference will probably be that the view from your kitchen changes every day and it might even feature a sublime sunset. There isn’t much better than sitting down in a comfortable patch of trusty dirt with your friends, somewhere out in the sticks, passing round a wooden spoon or spork, and tasting the first mouthful of a delicious meal.
We’ve made all sorts. And I'm excited about the day we eventually begin compiling the recipe book; each meal depicted will tell a story of people and the places in which they live.
Touring cooking becomes very seasonal; the loaded bikes are good ice breakers and people want to chat. We’ll roll into a village wondering whether there is a local shop or roadside stall we can buy some veg from and often roll out the other side laden with gifts of home grown produce handed to us by smiling locals as we pass their houses. This spontaneous food-based generosity has become more and more frequent the further east we’ve travelled. On top of this we’ve been able to make use of the roadside herbs of whatever country we're in to flavour a dish. Rosemary in Croatia, basil in Uzbekistan, and we could even smell wild garlic on the breeze in parts of Bulgaria, though in that instance we didn’t venture into the woods to pick it.
We carry a selection of basic seasoning. And some nice olive oil in an old plastic bottle that seals effectively. Glass weighs far too much and an oily pannier would be a nightmare.
Timing a meal can be trickier than in a conventional kitchen. We've found heating larger stones around the fire keep it in check and provide effective warm surfaces to keep the first parts of your meal at a nice temperature until the rest are ready and cooked. Similarly when cooking a grain like rice you can heat it to the point of almost being cooked, before draining it from the pan and immediately wrapping it in a tea towel. The hot rice will continue to slowly cook through in its cosy tea towel nest for a few more minutes minutes, getting nice and sticky, whilst you dedicate the pan to another part of the meal.
As for effective washing-up; we tend to save a little noggin of bread and work it into every nook and cranny of each dish, pan, spork and knife we've used. This usually makes the bread taste better too as even the freshest loaf dries out pretty fast on the back of a bike. Once the bread has done most of the work it only usually requires a splash of water for a final once over. It’s a task best done immediately after eating. A part of the dinner ritual. Otherwise what was once tasty sets hard like concrete and requires a lot more effort to remove. It also uses up a lot more water which may well be in short supply depending on your whereabouts.
What else to say? Over the last few years I've become a lover of breakfast and often fall asleep imagining what I might make and how it might fit into my routine. A fact true of my life back home in the U.K. that is no less true of our life on the bikes. Pottering around a fire in the early morning as we gently dismantle camp and organise breakfast is a lovely feeling. There is simply no incentive to rush off from the best of camp spots. To save on gas we often start a small wood fire as our little kettle doesn’t take much to boil. The night before we leave a pot of oats soaking and in the morning we add whatever fruits and nuts we have to hand before placing it on the hot coals and letting a spoonful of local honey ooze into it whilst we sip coffee. Our campsite-barrister method of choice was the Aeropress. It’s lightweight and brews a great cup of coffee. Plus the grinds pop out in a very satisfying manner and are great for cleaning oil and grime off your hands if it’s a morning you’ve decided to give your bike a bit of general TLC.
When it comes to striking a camp it goes without saying we believe in being respectful and kind to the environment, all the more so having been fortunate enough to enjoy our food in an ever increasing number of beautiful places. As much as it's rewarding to put together a spectacular looking campsite there's a great satisfaction to be found in leave-no-trace camping.
Mid-way through our trip we can safely say there’s no need to compromise on your standards of cooking, your choices of coffee, or your favourite domestic routines. A trip like this can be a boundless voyage of adventure, but your approach to it can make you feel right at home, wherever in the world you find yourself.