Posted May 12th, 2015

During our bike touring adventures, two of the people we communicated most with were Tara and Tyler – another couple also going around the world at roughly the same time.

We’ve yet to meet them in person but always kept in touch and helped each other out with information as we travelled. One of the things that impressed us most about their trip was the inventive and delicious food that Tara would cook on tour, so we weren’t at all surprised when she published a bike touring cookbook after arriving home.cover

Bike. Camp. Cook. is a gem of a book – full of easy, inspiring recipes, clear instructions and beautiful photographs. If you like to cook and are embarking on a bike tour, we highly recommend it.

Recently we caught up with Tara and asked her to tell us more about her love of cooking and cycling.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you come to write this cookbook? What inspired it?

I am a writer and photographer living on fledgling homestead in the Green Mountain National Forest of Vermont.

A few years ago, my partner Tyler and I embarked on a two-year, mostly-bicycle-powered tour across Europe, parts of Northern Africa, and Asia. Prior to this adventure, I’d camped only a handful of times, and had never ridden a bike more than a few miles.

I was, however, an accomplished cook, baker, and avid foodie. While we were on the road, I prepared real meals for us nearly every day. For me, cooking was a way of connecting with the places we traveled: we frequently stopped at local markets, and I tried to use local, seasonal ingredients in all of my dishes.

The idea for the cookbook came early on. A few months into the trip, I’d finally gotten the hang of cooking on the road, and it seemed like the people we met were impressed by it. What I considered to be normal activities—whipping up dumplings for homemade soup, or making jam with foraged fruit, for instance—were actually fairly unusual.


Tara picking wild garlic.

Since I was not a cyclist, camper, or outdoorswoman when we left, I didn’t really have a sense of how other people ate on tour. I didn’t realize that folks subsisted on oatmeal, peanut butter, bananas, and bread. I knew nothing of those just-add-water packets either!

So, bolstered by folks’ interest in my culinary adventures, and inspired to share all the tricks and techniques I’d learned, I began writing the cookbook in earnest after finishing our trip.

2. You say the book is the “hungry cycle tourist’s guide to slowing down, eating well, and savouring life on the open road”. Why is it so important to slow down and eat well? Plenty of bike tourists cover 100km a day and survive on peanut butter sandwiches.

I know that many people feel a deep sense of accomplishment when riding long distances on tour. There is nothing bad or wrong with this, but do I think it is important to recognise the tradeoffs that follow this style of travel.

You captured my objection right in your question, saying, “Plenty of bike tourists cover 100km a day and survive on peanut butter sandwiches.” The key word there is ‘survive’. For me, the idea of bare survival on tour is not appealing.

I love riding, but you will never find me pushing to go further for the sake of mileage—that’s the antithesis of everything I love about bike touring. If I couldn’t stop regularly to interact with the people and landscape I’m passing through, I wouldn’t bother going at all.

Tara exploring local markets during a bike tour.

Tara exploring local markets during a bike tour.

I know some find their passion in the riding itself, but I do not. I believe something very special is lost when we go too quickly and don’t take time to really be in a place.

To go on a little tangent, I think the most rewarding thing about writing this book has been receiving emails from folks who’ve used it on tour. Often, they’re single guys who rack up a TON of kilometers, and have, historically, eaten really poorly. They proudly send me pictures of their latest adventures with my recipes, and I beam with pride. My secret wish is to convert all the bread-and-banana-eating-speed-demons into slow-pedaling gourmands. Ha!

3. Were you always a good cook, or does this book represent an evolution in your culinary skills? Could anyone cook the recipes in this book, even if they’re not a natural chef?

I’ve been cooking as long as I can remember, and have worked at a handful of bakeries. So no, this book does not represent an evolution in my culinary skills. That being said, this book is wonderful for those who don’t consider themselves to be natural cooks, or even those who don’t know how to cook at all!

When I was writing the book, my husband Tyler would edit it and do the recipe testing, pretending like he didn’t know a thing about cooking. He is actually great in the kitchen, but he’d force me to address issues I’d taken for granted. “What is a “roux”?” he’d ask. “How do you cut an avocado?”

He’d question everything to the point where I would get exasperated and say, “But EVERYONE knows how to cut an avocado!!” And of course, Tyler’s point was that not everyone knows about food. So, I’d re-write the recipe and make it more accessible for folks who have never cooked before.

Tara wild camping and rolling out dough for dinner.

Tara wild camping and rolling out dough for dinner.

4. You highlight many foods, spices and tools in the book. If you could narrow it down to a list of Top 5 things you couldn’t do without, what would those be?

  1. The spice bag. I carry an ample number of spices along with me, each in their own little baggie, then stored in a larger plastic bag. With my spice bag at hand, I’m able to transform any strange ingredient I find into something palatable. I’m also able to add local spices to my collection as we travel.
  2. A non-stick pot & pan. I use them for everything, and they make cleaning a breeze. I once tried switching to stainless steel for a month or two, and washing dishes suddenly became a horrible nightmare. To make cooking on the road a worthwhile adventure, you really need to use non-stick.
  3. My camp stove. I cook everything over the rugged MSR Whisperlite. It gets crazy hot and it sure is noisy, but it’s the main workhorse in my camping kit.
  4. Collapsible dishes. Sea to Summit makes a great set of collapsible silicone dishes. What I love about them is that the bottom of the bowl or plate doubles as a cutting board. Since I don’t generally have any kind of flat surface in my camp kitchen (no counter, picnic table, etc.), I rely on the hard surface for food preparation.
  5. A wooden spoon. I used to have a fancy set of camp cooking utensils, but they melted in the pan the first time I tried to use them with oil. You cannot go wrong with a simple wooden spoon! I bought mine at a grocery store years ago, and it’s still as sturdy as ever.

5. Can you share a favourite recipe with us?

Absolutely! Here’s my recipe for a simple but super-tasty granola you can make on the road:

This crunchy, caramelised, camp-friendly granola is extremely tasty, and far more exciting than its humble list of ingredients would seem to indicate. For more substance, add four tablespoons of nuts along with the oats and raisins. If you want to make more granola than the recipe calls for, make it in separate batches.

Cinnamon Raisin Granola (prep & cook time: 10 minutes; makes 1 cup)

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
A pinch of salt
12 tablespoons (3⁄4 cup) rolled oats
4 tablespoons (1⁄4 cup) raisins

First, get your ingredients ready: measure the butter, sugar, cinnamon, and salt into your large cooking pot.

-Measure the oats and raisins into a bowl and set aside.

-Now, get cooking: prime and light your stove, turning it to a low setting. Holding your pot an inch or two above the flame, stir the mixture together for a minute, or until it is completely melted and very bubbly.

-Dump in the oats and raisins, and stir continuously for about two minutes, or until the oats smell very toasted.

-Remove the pan from the heat—the granola will still look a bit damp at this point, but it will get crispier as it cools.

-Once cool, enjoy the granola with or without milk, or store it in a container to snack on later.

Tara’s Bike. Camp. Cook. cookbook is available from her website.

Posted in Cycling Trips, Food
Posted May 3rd, 2015

“It’s not about having time, it’s about making time.”

When people ask us what the hardest part of cycling around the world was, it seems they expect us to tell a story about some great hardship suffered underway. Troubles with people. Getting lost. Poor food. But our answer is simply this: the hardest part was making the decision to go.

Deciding to take the plunge is often the hardest part of any adventure, big or small.

Deciding to take the plunge is often the hardest part of any adventure, big or small.

Once out of the driveway, the rest was, frankly, relatively straightforward. The issues we encountered en route were usually easily solved, or at least seemed to matter a lot less than they did when we were sitting at home and imagining all the worst-case scenarios that could or might happen.

Now, six years on from the end of our world tour, our days of cycling the world for months on end are behind us (at least for now). We focus instead on weekend and summer trips. But the ‘trouble’ with bike touring remains, surprisingly, the same.

Getting out the door — actually making the decision to go cycling for a weekend — is difficult when you’re also trying to balance the demands of kids, full-time jobs, a full social calendar and (in our case) a new house that still needs painting and fixing up. Not to mention Baby #2 due in about 6 weeks…

This weekend however, when stress levels hit the roof, we made a snap decision to go. On Friday afternoon we hastily threw gear into panniers and headed out for our secret getaway — a tranquil forest campground just 1/2 hour by bike from our home. The following 24 hours were glorious.

Bike Overnights

We were away from home for just 18 hours but had enough fun to keep us smiling for days.

Within minutes of pedalling away from our home, we stopped worrying. We didn’t think about the messy house or the pressures of the office or the million and one things that needed to be done (aren’t there always more things on the to-do list than you ever have time for?) — instead, we focused on campfires and marshmallows and the simple joy of sleeping in the tent.

Campfire. Marshmallows. Tent. What more do you need?

Campfire. Marshmallows. Tent. What more do you need?

“It’s so quiet. I love camping!” said Luke, over and over. Why, we asked ourselves, don’t we do this more often?

Our brief getaway wasn’t extravagant or adventurous by most people’s measure. We cycled about 15km in total and spent just €20 including camping fees, coffees and cake. It was, however, rich in more important ways. When we returned home, just 18 hours later, we were full of energy and high spirited. Stress levels had plummeted, from approximately +1,000 at Friday lunchtime to -1,000,000 on Saturday afternoon.

We admit that doing more such trips won’t be easy over the course of the summer, since we’ll soon have to fit a newborn baby into the equation. But this trip was a good reminder that we just need to go. Even when it seems impossible, just go. Once out the door the rest is easy and the return you get on an investment of just a few hours away from it all and together as a family is immeasurable.

Posted March 8th, 2015

Three years ago our son Luke was born and our lives changed. When we started bike touring, it was hard to imagine that a few years later we’d be taking a third little cyclist along for the ride on weekend trips, across Europe and even as far away as Cuba.

Family bike adventures are certainly a far cry from the expedition-style touring we did during our world tour. We’ve swapped the 100km days of yesterday for half the distance or less, with plenty of stops at playgrounds, ice cream shops and swimming pools along the way.

This might seem boring to many but we love it. As fellow bike tourist Willie Weir says:

How many places have I sped through because there was no physical impediment to my fast-forward progress? How many interesting sights and experiences have we missed in the pursuit of arriving somewhere else? Bicycles are amazing when they are moving fast, but they are usually the best travel vehicles when moving slow.

bellyAnd it’s a good thing that we’ve settled happily into this slower routine because this year we’re likely to slow down even a bit more. TravellingTwo is expanding. Yes, that’s right — Luke is about to become a big brother early this summer.

This exciting development has us reconsidering our family bike touring plans (we’re hoping to sneak in a lazy autumn tour when the little one is 3-4 months old) and our mode of transport.

Our current bikes aren’t designed to carry two kids and while we could pair a touring bike (with child seat) with a trailer — both of which we already own — we find this a bit cumbersome for daily commuting.

Instead, we’re looking for the holy grail: a bike which can be used for touring as well as commuting, which can carry a baby safely from infancy onwards and which will allow us to transport two kids plus a little bit of luggage such as a tent or some groceries simultaneously.

Does such a bike exist? Maybe. At least we’re about to find out.

Onderwater Family Tandem

This weekend we’ve been testing out an Onderwater Family Tandem and while it’s not perfect, it’s the bike that so far comes the closest to meeting all of our requirements.

Onderwater Tandem with bak

Here’s what we like about it:

  • Can be used from approximately 2 months old with a special cargo box + car seat (with suspension under the cargo box to minimise bumps).
  • Can carry up to 3 kids, with room left over for shopping. Many configurations are possible, including an extended luggage rack for a back seat + panniers.
  • As kids grow, they can cycle too! The front seat allows a child to pedal from about 4-5 years of age. A smaller child’s seat, without pedals, can be added behind the parent’s handlebar for kids from about 3 years old.
  • Can be taken on trains in Europe — maybe not every train but enough to give us some options if we want to travel further afield.
  • Weighs “just” 30kg (approximately). This is clearly far heavier than most touring bikes but it’s not massively heavier than other longtail cargo bikes (they tend to weigh about 25kg) and is a good 15kg lighter than the lightest bakfiets-style cargo bikes (these can weigh anywhere up to 60kg).
  • Broadly high quality parts, though we’d upgrade it in a few places (see below).
  • Electric assist available, if you want it. We are leaning towards getting an e-bike version of this tandem, simply because we will want to do longer distances and e-bike charging points are reasonably easy to find now in Europe.
  • High re-sale value. If we want to go for another bike in a few years, we can recoup most of our money by selling the bike on to someone else.

On the flipside, here’s our list of concerns and potential upgrades:

  • The saddle that comes with it is terrible! Definitely needs an upgrade to a Brooks (or your favourite saddle). The brake levers and pedals also seem to be on the cheaper side.
  • The handlebars feel a bit cramped for our riding style. We’d like to replace them with something closer to the ones on our touring bike.
  • Only available with a maximum of 8 speeds, which is okay for touring in Holland and other flatter destinations but (combined with the weight of two kids + luggage) is unlikely to get us very far if we try and tackle the Alps.
  • We wonder if we could make the whole bike a bit lighter by getting a different back rack (the standard one seems quite chunky and heavy), seatposts and handlebars.
  • If we use it to carry an infant in a car seat, we’ll have to work out a way of protecting the baby from wind and sun. Protection from the elements would be better in a trailer or a bakfiets-style cargo bike.
  • The long wheelbase means that taking sharp corners isn’t as straightforward as with a shorter bike but the Onderwater tandem is surprisingly nimble for its length, far more so than we first expected.

Other alternatives for touring families might include the highly praised Hase Pino, Bike Friday’s family tandem, the Yuba Mundo or Surly’s Big Dummy. We’ve ruled all of these out for various reasons. In a few years they might be great but for the immediate future, none of them are capable (as far as we know) of safely carrying a baby in the way that the Onderwater tandem or a standard bakfiets cargo bike can, and this is an essential part of everyday family life in the Netherlands. We don’t have a car and we need a way not only to tour but also to make daycare, work and shopping runs as a family.

If you have another idea, let us know. Otherwise, it’s likely that we’ll be on an Onderwater tandem before too long!

Posted February 1st, 2015

We just spent a day wandering around one of Europe’s biggest cycling fairs, the Fiets en Wandelbeurs in Amsterdam.

Three-year-old Luke was tagging along and this limited our time to look around. We couldn’t honestly say that we stopped at more than half of the stands but we still managed to make a few discoveries, between snack and play breaks.

Here are four pieces of kit that caught our eye. More discoveries (in the form of bike paths and resources) will follow in another blog post.

#1. Sea to Summit Mats

Sea to Summit Mats








Sea to Summit has just brought out a new line of sleeping mats. These rainbow-coloured mats come in a range of weights, from 325g for the smallest, ultra-lightweight model to just over 1kg for the biggest, most insulating model with an R-value of 5.

Perhaps most interesting is that the red and silver mats (in the Comfort Plus category) have two inflatable layers, one on top of the other. Sea to Summit say that this has two main advantages:

If you are on uneven or bumpy terrain, then you can inflate the bottom layer of the mattress very firm at higher pressure as a barrier. You can then adjust the upper layer, using the fine tune valve, to a lower pressure to feel softer and more comfortable. The Dual Layer design also ensures a level of built in redundancy. If you do end up with a puncture in one layer of the mattress, then you can still get through the night with the other layer of the mattress intact.

#2. Frog Lightweight Bikes for Kids

Luke is just about ready for his first bike with pedals and of course we want to get him a high-quality bike: one with real brakes and one that isn’t too heavy for him to ride over longer distances. We were very impressed with bikes from British company Frog Bikes. They told us that on average each bike will last 2-3 years before the child outgrows it. Luke seemed to enjoy his first test ride on one of their balance bikes.












#3. Helinox Ground Chair

We’ve been fans of Helinox chairs for a few years now, so it was interesting to see the company’s new ground chair. It weighs in at just 520g — a full 300g lighter than the Helinox Chair One model we fell in love with three years ago.

Helinox ground chair











#4. Nigor Oriole 3

When we decided to upgrade to a ‘family sized’ tent this year, we had a tough time finding one that was roomy, lightweight and affordable. We finally settled on Decathlon’s Quickhiker Ultralight 4 but had we known about Eureka’s Nigor Oriole 3, we might have changed our minds.

Nigor Oriole 3










The sleeping area in the two tents is roughly the same (in other words, the Nigor Oriole 3 is HUGE for what’s labelled as a 3-man tent) and the Oriole 3 has the advantage of being lighter (3.2kg vs 3.9kg for the Decathlon QuickHiker Ultralight 4), designed for colder weather and made of better materials. The trade-off is the price. If you want a cheap tent, then the QuickHiker is probably still your best option but if you can afford to pay €800 then the Oriole 3 is definitely worth a look.

Posted January 11th, 2015

Have a week free this summer? Then you might want to check out the Alpa Adria Radweg, which runs 410km from the Austrian city of Salzburg to Grado in Italy, on the Adriatic coast.

Alpa Adria Bike Path

It’s just been named one of Europe’s top bike paths by the Fietsenwandelbeurs — a major, annual fair held in the Netherlands and focused on cycling and walking adventures.

The route is described as one that mostly leads cyclists over dedicated bike paths, and as one of the easiest routes over the Alps, thanks to an 8km long tunnel under the highest hills. The Austrian portion of is partially made up of the Tauernradweg and the Drau Radweg, while the Italian section follows an old railway line (rail trail).

The Italy Cycling Guide (itself a good resource) also highly praises the trail.

This is one of the very best of Italy’s long-distance cycleways with a high proportion on well-surfaced traffic-free cycleways. Centrepiece of the route is the cycleway on the old rail line between Pontebba and Chiusaforte, as it follows the river, criss-crossing it on a series of restored railway bridges. The cycleway takes you through a series of historic towns including Venzone and Udine, and on to Grado on the Adriatic coast via the World Heritage site at Aquileia.

Alpa Adria Bike PathThere’s a free information folder you can download, though at the moment it’s only in Italian and German.

German speakers can also buy a Bikeline guide to the path, and the official website offers a free download of the GPS track.

If you’re interested in more great bike paths through Europe, see last year’s list of nominees for Europe’s best bike path.