“Let’s ride bicycles to San Francisco!”
I had been mulling the idea of a bike tour for a long time. An everyday cyclist whose rides are mostly for simple daily transport, my touring experience was limited to a handful of two to four days trips when I was younger and pedaled on the back of a tandem, and we didn’t carry our own gear. But earlier this year my third book was published, Hello, Bicycle, and a bicycle book release seemed like as good of an excuse as any to go on a cycling tour. The publisher of the Hello, Bicycle is based in Oakland, and with the Bay Area as the final destination, planning a few book events along the way turned it from a regular bike tour into a pedal-powered book tour.
But can you just go on a bike tour? I had gone weeks without really telling anyone that my husband Luc and I were going on a cycling tour. Most of that was a fear of admitting to the fact that I had never really toured and here I was taking on a 3-week, 1,000 mile trip as my first go at it. I didn’t want the “well what have you done to prepare?” question.
Preparation came with good intentions, but then - as it often does - life got in the way, which is how I found myself on day one of the tour with very few long rides in the legs, and certainly no training rides fully loaded. Lao Tzu was a little before the bicycle’s time, but just like a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, it also begins with one pedal stroke, and if there is one thing that bicycle touring will teach you it’s that you just need to pedal.
Of course, pedaling is made easier when there is a goal in mind, and what better goal than food? On day three of the ride, I texted a friend who a few years ago had ridden across the United States. I wrote out the laundry list of items that we had ordered at dinner, a list that to the untrained eye would have looked more like a dinner for four or five than a dinner for two. “Eating is half the job of bike touring,” he responded.
It’s a job that’s easy to excel at. Our days were usually in the 40-80 mile range, nothing overly strenuous, and with plenty of time for coffee breaks. Because if you don’t have time for a coffee break, what’s the point? Just a few days in, it became clear that we had adopted an unofficial Bike Tour Bakery Policy. The policy being to stop at practically every one; one treat for now, one for later.
One for now...
... One for later.
My mother hails from Sweden, and in Sweden the coffee break is holy. Fika as it’s known is a coffee break that’s usually paired with a baked good. On the bicycle, I lovingly refer to it as bika. In Astoria, Oregon we stopped up at Blue Scorcher Cafe. I stuffed a few cardamom and almond pastries into my handlebar bag. Later on a sun soaked picnic table in Fort Clatsop we brewed two mugs of coffee, our only items on the day’s to-do list to eat and get to Manzanita for a book event later that evening.
Ride, eat, ride, eat, ride, eat. There’s a good reason bicycle touring is addictive.
“Oh no, it’s only a wholesale bakery...”
In Northern California we had made some new cycling friends who we rode with for several days. Fortunately, Tyler and Sophie were also amenable to the Bike Tour Bakery Policy (who wouldn’t be?). I gave them the “I promised you baked goods but now I can’t deliver” look. On the Fort Bragg Bakery window, there was a listing of cafes, restaurants and markets that sold their goods but unfortunately, it wasn’t a bakery we could walk in and buy directly from.
Promise a fellow rider a baked good and there’s some disappointment when things don’t go your way. We debated on what to do next now that our bakery plans had been foiled. The door opened and a dog meandered out, followed by a tall man. “Cyclists!” he exclaimed. He asked where we were coming from and where we were headed. We learned that he too loved to ride bicycles. His name was David and the dog’s name was Blossom. Blossom prefers when he pulls the mountain bike out of the garage as opposed to the road bike, because it means that she gets to tag along.
“I think we might have a leftover loaf if you guys want it,” he said.
“Yes,” we responded in unison. I leaned my bike up against Luc’s and followed him into the bakery.
“It’s only a half loaf,” David said apologetically.
“We cyclists will take anything,” I responded and smiled.
He sliced it and put it in a bag.
“How much do I owe you?” I asked
He just shook his head and looked at me. “Nothing, you’re cyclists.”
We walked back outside, kept chatting for a bit. “Oh wait, do you guys like dense bread? I think there’s a rye loaf in there too.” David went back into the bakery and came out with yet another loaf, this one a dark color and covered in seeds. Again, he wouldn’t take payment. We were part of his tribe and he wanted to contribute to our adventure. We thanked him profusely, and mounted our bicycles.
I went into this bike tour feeling a bit run down emotionally. The last few months politically have been fueled with hate and fear, global events a constant reminder of how fragile the world can be. It’s easy to want to crawl into a cave at times. But generous people like David weren’t part of a minority; they were everywhere. Whether it was the offer of dinner, or a bottle of water when we were stopped on the road for some maintenance, the view of the world from my handlebars was a much needed dose of what humanity looks like. People want to talk to each other, they want to help. All we can do is continue to put good into the world, and eventually it will come back to us.
Those two loaves, split between four of us lasted for several days, and made their way into various lunches and appetizers. My favorite one was a couple of nights later, further down the coast on a foggy and chilly evening. Wool socks were on and a campfire was a necessity. We slathered the slices in goat cheese and drizzled them with honey, then left them on the grill over the campfire to toast.
Sweet, savory and smoky, they were perfect. I only wish that David would have been there, so that we could have returned the favor.
RECIPE: Grilled Goat Cheese and Honey Tartine
Tartine is just a French word for open-faced sandwich, and while throwing French into the title may bring an added element of class, this recipe is as simple as putting a few ingredients on a slice of bread. Of course, the recipe is only going to be as good as your base ingredients. Chances are you might already have a little honey with you in your food bag. That brings us to goat cheese and bread. Find a bakery, buy a loaf of dense sourdough that will last you through a few lunches and dinners. Any goat cheese will do, even the supermarket kind, but if you’re lucky enough to stumble upon a farmer's market, treat yourself to a good hunk of it. Grilling these over a campfire adds a smoky flavor that’s unbeatable, but if a fire isn’t in the plan, grill them in a pan or a pot on your camp stove.
Spread the goat cheese on the bread slices, then top with a spoonful of honey. Place on the grill over a campfire, and grill until the honey becomes runny. Sprinkle a little sea salt on top and serve immediately.