Calories, calories. Where to get calories?

Bicycling burns a horrible lot of calories. More, when you’re on the road biking fast. More, when you’re hill-climbing or on rough roads. More, when you’re pushing a fully-loaded rig (which, more likely than not, will be made of steel, rather than the lighter pencil-shavings of a modern racer). And more, when you’ve got your food – and a gallon of water – strapped to your back.

There are various formulae for determining calories burned. The end result, of course, is to compute How Hard You Worked. The prime relevant factor is Weight, followed by Speed, Time, Distance, and Heart Rate. There’s plenty of overlap among those four – speed+time=distance, e.g. – and so not all formula use all the factors. But they end result is about the same.

I’ll skip the partial credit what comes from showing my work, and assure you: a guy my size, pushing a well-loaded rig at middle speed, will burn something like 1500 calories per hour. Even if I were to light-load (14lbs) my carbon bike (16lbs and change) AND leave my CamelBak a-dry, AND only average 12 miles per hour, I would still burn four-digit calories – every 60 minutes.

If I do take that light load, bike six hours per day, and thus cover 65 miles, I will be burning about 7500 calories per day.

If I take a moderate load, bike 7 hours a day to cover 100 miles, I’ll be burning FIVE FIGURES worth of calories per day.

Ten thousand calories. A week’s worth of calories, burned in a day.

“Recommendations based on a 2,000-calorie diet” don’t even begin to cover it.

If I were to bike such a day and only eat what I normally eat – well, I expect that the phrase “hunger paralysis” would become eminently applicable. We’re talking Knut Hamsen territory. If I did live off the fat of the land – and somehow managed to keep pedaling, which I find awful hard to imagine – I would lose up to three pounds. PER DAY.

[One pound of human fat = appx. 3500 calories. Give or take, y’know, a lot, because mathematics is to biology what ballet is to a mosh pit.)

Thus, by the time I reached Seattle, I would have already reached the Hubbert Peak in re: fat-of-the-land. I would weigh about 168 pounds – which is about the skinniest a guy like me can weigh; I’ve been there. Healthy, perhaps. Aesthetically pleasing, possibly. But at the end, I would have lost 60 or 70 pounds in little more than a month.

The phrase “BAD FOR YOU” comes to mind.

Even then I’d have already hit the rock-bottom point, where I’d have no more fat to burn. I’d thus be up to consuming 10,000 calories a day just the same. Might as well start sooner rather than later.

No, if I’m burning 10,000 calories per day, a healthy goal is to consume 10,000 calories per day. Health, not weight loss, is the overriding goal. Health – and the ability to ride another day.

If I burn 10k a day, consuming even 9k will have me losing about two pounds a week. That will have me lose 32 pounds over the summer. 10k and 8k and it’s 64 pounds, AKA “jesus h christ.” 60 pounds in 4 months is still a very significant weight-loss, probably more than is healthy. However much it pains me to go by half-measures: the goal for this trip should be to eat about as much as I burn.

The only problem is… eating 10,000 calories per day is /hard/, man.


What, then, are my constraints in this?

1) The food must be healthy. If I eat 10,000 calories worth of Big Macs every day, I’ll be dead before I hit Ann Arbor.

2) The food must have an appropriate balance of nutrients. This means, above all, protein and complex carbs; but also all the micronutrients, their DVs adjusted upwards proportional to (ridiculous) total daily caloric consumption.

3) It should be as cheap as possible. I ain’t made out of money. I won’t have a stove in my pocket – not even a microlite stove, since I don’t think it’d help much. My options are restaurants and supermarkets. Restaurants would be convenient… sort of. It’s hard to get a buttload of calories at a restaurant. Harder still to do it healthfully. I’m sure I’ll be stopping at my share of all-you-can-eat places, as often as I pass them (leaving a trail of out-of-business Chinese buffets in my wake.). But apart from that, even if I get one meal per day at a diner or such ($10), that’s unlikely to be more than a thousand calories. The other NINE THOUSAND CALORIES PER DAY, I’ll need to make up at supermarkets.

4) If I am even to carry only one day’s worth of food at a time, it should be as light as possible. Caloric density is therefore of high priority.

So that’s what we got: hearty, cheap, healthy, not requiring preparation, and not too bulky.

Say it with me now: oy vey.


Let’s deal with restaurants first. The all-you-can-eat buffet will be a godsend, I’m sure. Preferably if it occurs at the end of the day, because after eating 5000 calories I’m guessing I’m not going to want to do much bike riding and/or being alive. A good such place – the sort of Chinese place that has at least a smattering of real Chinese cuisine, such as involves the steaming of vegetation, & offering of lean protein – will let me get enough calories, cheaply, healthfully, easily, and without adding to my burden. Woo-ee.

It will not be practical to get all my calories at once like that. And, hell, I wouldn’t be surprised to go several hundred miles, if not more, between such places. Not a lot of Chinese people in Montana, I’m guessing. I cannot refuel myself so easily with regularity. Alas alack.

Let’s turn to the other sorts of buffets: the Country Kitchen Buffet, the shitty Chinese buffet. These may very well be better than nothing. I can satisfy Cheap, Easy, Light, and Enough – probably passing such a place, I’m guessing, with fair frequency (but in North Dakota, Montana, Idaho… God only knows.) But what of Health? At best, this can be rather well accomplished: a diverse array of foods, vegetable matter and whole grains and meat or lean protein: top score. But at worst, it’ll mean eating a giant pile of greasy spare ribs and fried rice; or iceberg lettuce and death-boil’d white pasta; or the like. Would such a thing be worth it?

On the one hand: cheap.

On the other hand: eating crappy food and then exercising is excruciating. It makes me feel awful. And for good reason.

I think the answer has to be: a greasy spoon must be avoided. However easy. And however cheap.


Then let’s turn to restaurants. In order for this trip to be cost-effective, I really can’t spend more than $20 a day, gross. This *should* be limited to food, as I do not expect to accrue substantive other expenses: hence the tent and sleeping bag. But, of course, I may be wrong. I will not be leaving my Amex at home!

$20 must get me 10,000 calories.

A hot meal is a good thing. A hot meal is important from time to time. A hot meal will provide things not easily gotten elsewise, namely fresh vegetables. Also access to a restroom, wherein to clean up & top off a water-tank. Also, more’n likely, coffee. Which may end up forming a significant part of my sojourn – we shall see.

A three-egg-and-cheese omelet, homefries, toast, coffee, for breakfast at a diner: maybe $8 with tax and tip. Maybe 1000 calories, maybe. At that rate I’d need to spend $80 per day to get the fuel I need. Not cost-effective.

A whole pizza at a cheap pizza place: maybe $12. Maybe 2000 calories – mostly just bread. Not much worth it.

A big pad thai from a carry-out Thai place: maybe $10. Maybe 1000 calories – again, mostly just refined carbs. Nada.

Is there any restaurant that’ll much satisfy? Probably not. If I want a place to rest and relax, and charge my various electronic appendages, I might allow myself the luxury. But I cannot much justify it as being cost-effective. Not by a long shot.

The majority of my calories shall have to come from stores.

Let’s break this into 3 categories: markets – supermarkets – and convenience stores.

[Editor’s note: the amount which this resembles – et cet – is really just incredible. Enough that I can actually use an old fictional story of mine, as primary research for a future actual adventure. Delightmaking!

For certainly this trip of mine is rather an exceptional nod to Mr. Digibomber there. Sure this is the surrogate activity to end all… but by stripping down life to its essentials, by making it urgent and full of challenge and necessity, it will at least have the distinction of being a totally bitchin’ such surrogate activity. Much the same, I’d say, as Ol’ Man Kaczynski’s cabin in the woods. Just on two wheels. And without all that cumbersome terrorism.]


PRO: open late, if not eternally. Copious of dispersal. Lots of cheap little snacks.

CON: The food isn’t usually very good for you. And for the price, not very calorically intensive.

EXAMINED: in which Our Hero goes to the local convenience store and actually sees what his options are.

At a cheap convenience store, I can get:

$1 – a small bag of roasted nuts – 600 calories

$2 – a generis energy bar – 300 calories

$3 – a “protein smoothie” beverage – 300 calories

$4 – a jar of peanut butter and a loaf of whole wheat bread – 4000 calories

$4 – a block of Government Cheddar and a box of What Thins – 2500 calories

This might be a fine place to stop, from time to time, in order to purchase /emergency snacks/. But because of the high money-to-calorie ratio, I can only conclude that it is a siren best ignored. And not much of a siren. Because I really, really hate power bars.


By this I mean to refer to little bodegas and corner-stores: not a big-box Hannaford, but not a gas station neither.

PRO: Every small town has one.

CON: Often as not they’re not much better stocked than a good 7-11, nor much less expensive. Also they have a wont, at least in turistica New England, of being well-stocked with expensive pretensh, & thus not much good to me.

EXAMINED: So long as I can grab a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter, I won’t go hungry. But so long as I can only have access to peanut butter sandwiches made of pre-sliced bread and PB from a plastic tub, I am going to be on the order of a sad camper who is sad.


This trip might find me stopping at a supermarket every other day, or more, for my sustenance.

PRO: All the food that’s fit to sell.

CON: Might be fewer and farther between. Might require short detours in order to find. Might involve chaining my bike to a no-parking sign out front of a Wal-Mart, and hoping nobody steals the entirety of my worldly possessions. Also, so much of their food requires preparation – to say nothing of refrigeration.

EXAMINED: Here are some things that shall be a boon to me:

– a box of cereal and a half-gallon of milk. Eaten, most likely, out of the plastic bag in which the cereal comes. (You empty 4/5 of the cereal into the empty box, then pour in milk, then slurp it out. Repeat 4 more times. Delicious!)

– a bag of granola, washed down with some delightful, delightful water

– a tub of yogurt, eaten straight down with a plastic spoon

– nuts. peanuts, almonds, pistachios… pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds… nuts. food of the gods.

– dried fruit. raisins, prunes, apricots… figs and dates for quick sugar, dried apple slices or berries for more substantive fare.

– fresh fruit. apples and oranges, perhaps. but bananas are surely to be a major basis of my journey. I might buy a whole bunch, put ’em in my backpack or lash them to my bike, and then eat then over the next day.

– fresh raw vegetables. maybe I will pick up a few carrots and eat them down. when you’ve been riding for five hours, this begins to sound quite ambrosial.

-loaves of fresh bread – or, if not fresh, than at least whole-wheat.

…in this manner I will not starve, I will not need to cook, I will not break the bank. Also I will be eating Real Foods. I’ll practically be a raw vegan again. Ha!


That, then, shall be the intended basis of my diet: frequent stops at supermarkets to have delightful meals of yogurt and granola by the roadside. Constant ingestion of dried fruit and nuts. PBJ sandwiches until I hate them. Bananas by the barrelful like Donkey Kong approacheth.

And, whenever possible, denuding a Chinese buffet of its Chicken With Broccoli.


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