I’ve been thinking about the food I’ll need on this year’s TGO Challenge. I don’t have many resupply options (or pubs!) this time, so I need to carefully plan what to carry and make sure I have a contingency for if a shop is shut or closed down or has been stripped bare by a plague of Challenge locusts.
There is a perpetual Challenge debate about food parcels. Some people like to plan weeks ahead and send parcels of their favourite (or diet dependent) food to one of their stopovers. I can see the attraction of taking some of the lottery out of resupplying but it’s not something I want to do. For me, this takes away some of the “self-supported” nature of the Challenge and I prefer to make use of whatever shops, pubs and cafes I can find along the way. However, I do try to reduce the risk of missed meals by finding out – before I leave home – where I can find reliable resupply points.
Having had a stove fail a couple of years ago, I make sure I always have some food with me that does not need cooking. And I always carry some water – usually less than half a litre, but just enough to survive the night if there’s a problem with the local water supply.
My desire for food is unpredictable after a couple of days on the Challenge. Sometimes I am ravenous eg Invergarry 2012. At other times, like Red Bothy a few days later, I don’t want to eat at all. I know that I have to eat and I find that having a routine helps to ensure I don’t skip meals because of tiredness.
On my wild-camping days, breakfast will be porridge and prunes. On my first Challenge, in 2006, I took ziplock bags of muesli with dried milk. I added water to the bag and ate my breakfast from the bag. It was OK at the time, but the thought makes me a bit queasy now. I have tried Stoats Porridge Bars which are nice but heavier than the equivalent oats would be. For the last couple of years I have been using Oat So Simple sachets, either plain or Golden Syrup flavoured. I used to add raisins but last year I added prunes and they made it more of a meal, but the sachets are small (27g) and I don’t think it’s a big enough meal to give me a good start to the day. The instant porridge market is HUGE and I know that there are different brands which have bigger portions but this year I have decided to do something radical and do away with the pre-packaged, overpriced convenience of instant porridge. This year I will take actual proper oats and make my own porridge.
I don’t mind porridge made just with water but, for extra calories, I shall be adding some dried milk. I have finally been able to track down some Nido full cream milk powder. I had to email Tesco to find the nearest store that sold it [Toxteth, if you fancy a trip] as I think it’s only available in their World Food section and my local shop doesn’t sell it.
Nido has 503kcal per 100g of powder whereas Marvel, being a skimmed milk, has only 348. Not a whopping difference but it will add a few calories to my porridge and coffee. I’m not sure I’ll like it in my tea but I’ll try it out before I set off.
Dinner will be packet pasta ‘n’ sauce. I used to alternate between pasta and rice, but rice takes twice as long to cook. To save on gas I prefer to boil up the pasta then put it in my pot cosy for ten minutes. I find that rice then needs to be brought back to the boil and I a) don’t want to waste gas, and b) can’t be bothered so I’ll stick with pasta. Or couscous, but I sometimes find a whole (“serves 1 as a main course or two as a snack”) packet of couscous a bit overwhelming . . . although one of the nicest Challenge meals I ever had was a freebie packet of couscous donated by someone who’d had to withdraw at Fort Augustus. Ah, the joy of free grub!
Last year, after buying a Best Before loaf for 15p in the Co-op, I augmented my cheesy pasta with a couple of rounds of white bread all mushed up in the sauce. Sounds disgusting? Well it was delicious and made me realise that I need more food. I’m not sure where the balance lies between a numerical calorific value and the physical “fullness” of a big meal. Would adding calories to my pasta, eg through milk powder or cheese, make me fuller?
Lunch will be oatcakes, or – more likely – other crackers, with a hard cheese. You can now buy various types of biscuits-for-cheese in individual portions which is handy as I seem to have become pathologically averse to oatcakes. I used to love them, but familiarity has bred contempt and the thought of having to eat the blooming things every day does not appeal to me. The same goes for the cheese. Whereas Primula used to be perfectly nice enough, I now can’t bear the stuff. I now start off with a block of rucksack-friendly Leerdammer and then buy whatever sliced cheese I can find. No, I would not buy pre-sliced cheese at home but, hey, I’m on my holidays and it does makes things easier.
Snacks will be dried fruit, salted peanuts and maybe Garibaldi biscuits or fig rolls. I’ll probably take some Macademia nuts too, as they seem to have one of the highest calorific values amongst nuts.
All of the meals above are what I would plan to eat based on a balanced ratio of weight to calories to volume in rucksack to tastiness. However, I can’t carry 12 or 13 days food from Day 1 so I will have to decide how much I need to take with me and how much I can pick up along the way. Packets of pasta are usually available from all grocery shops (even if I do end up having macaroni cheese every single night) so I don’t need to take more than a few days worth of that. And if the shop doesn’t have a Veggie pasta it will probably have soup or Pot Noodles. I’ll probably take a couple of cup-a-soups or Mug Shots as emergency rations.
I may take enough porridge for the whole trip – unless I find it’s taking up too much space in my rucksack before I leave home. I should be able to buy cereal bars or flapjacks at my resupply points. Lunch will be whatever I can get. If possible I will buy bread rolls, cheese and tomatoes and make sandwiches for the next couple of days. Hopefully I will find pubs, cafes, shops etc that I did not know about. It is a wonderful feeling when you find an open cafe that you weren’t expecting. In fact, most of my happiest Challenge memories revolve around food!
One thing I haven’t mentioned is pudding. I marvel at the three course meals some Challengers rustle up. I never plan a pudding but have found that The Glenlivet goes down nicely in the quiet hour between dinner and bed!