Why Should Food Become a Paddler's Best Friend
By Anne Desjardins
I have three major passions: nutrition, cooking and kayaking. So I geared toward making a living out of it more than 15 years ago by becoming a food and travel writer and journalist. Paddling has been an obsession for almost a decade, discovered while on a trip to Cape Cod, which is a true paradise for day-long outings thanks to its numerous coves, tidal rivers and secluded ponds. I often thank JFK for having created such a huge natural reserve that kept 43,604 acres of shorelines in pristine condition. When I took my first class, I had no idea that kayaking would take me across North America. I've paddled along the coast of Vancouver Island, on rivers in Vermont and New Hampshire, on the Maine Coast, in the Great Lakes, Georgian Bay and the frigid Saint Lawrence waters, with whales and speed boats for partners; I loved every single minute of a trip to the Florida Keys and to the amazingly beautiful Saguenay Fjord. I worked on my skills in all possible conditions ranging from still waters on perfect 85 degree sunny afternoons to multi-day expeditions under rain, wind and strong tidal currents, where I secretly prayed the gods for help. Like most paddlers, I love kayaking because it gives me a chance to get up close and personal with wildlife and gain access to very secluded places. Kayaking means freedom, fitness, peace of mind. But like most paddlers I've also learned that such freedom makes careful planning crucial, especially when it comes to food choices. Because they ensure good performance, security, comfort and… pleasure!
A Sport With Food Rules of its Own
I came to love meal and snack planning for expeditions on the water, no matter what length, because each of them challenges my creativity as a cook and my knowledge of nutrition and food safety. At first, kayaking or canoeing may not seem different from any outdoor sport when it comes to refuelling. You need plenty of water, a lot of carbs, some proteins and a bit of fat to slow the digestive process and to make the most out of your sport. But when you take a closer look you realize that paddling has its own rules for food storage and consumption and its own potential for gourmet cooking. Because weight and bulk are not as much an issue as in backpacking or cyclotourism, you end up with a lot more options for fun, creative gourmet meals, which are also the nicest way to reward yourself for your hard work after a long day spent on the water. On the other hand, careful planning is paramount since you might very often find yourself picnicking in a remote area full of wonderful wildlife but with no convenience store in sight. Not to mention numerous times when you will have to satisfy your hunger using your deck as a dining table, while bobbing like a cork in the swell, because there is simply no other option available.
In this wet world water-proofing is another must that can make meal planning a little whimsical. At other times you will need a quick fix right in the middle of a very rough paddling session to face the next set of big waves awaiting you in a strong head wind that's just kicked in without warning. Emergency fuel. In these conditions, you can't even grab the granola bar that's secured in your PFD pocket without the risk capsizing or losing precious momentum. Sound familiar? Any paddler who plans outings on large bodies of water eventually finds himself in such unpredictable situations. Paddling has rules of its own when it comes to food. Better be prepared, right?
There is Life After GORP
Over the years I've seen too many kayak and canoe aficionados surviving almost exclusively on jars of chunky peanut butter, GORP and orange powder beverages for days because they didn't know what to carry and how. Others spend an awful lot of money on pricey dry meals that often taste terrible because they don't know the basic principles of effective and safe cooking in the outdoors. Those folks are great paddlers who don't know much about their culinary options. But our options are numerous thanks to kayak and canoe storage and carrying possibilities.
I'll always remember a trip I took in Northern Saskatchewan with two skilled guides who could not believe what I had brought for our 4-day paddling expedition: Chinese venison fondue with wild mushrooms, rosé wine and a fresh bell pepper salad for the first night; frozen cabbage rolls in tomato sauce for second dinner, followed by smoked oysters and salmon tortillas with a celeriac-toasted walnut salad for supper number three. Of course, the boys were more than happy to leave their canned Irish stew and powder milk in the bulkheads of their boats to devour my angel cake drenched in a butter-rum frosting or a vanilla pudding laced with local berries instead. The table cloth and candles were also on the house. This memorable excursion was the kick start of a lasting friendship and of a new hobby of mine as a kayak trip cooking planner…
A Demanding Sport
With this in mind consensus should be within easy reach: to make each trip on the water safe and fun you need to plan each meal and snack carefully, If not you might find yourself in trouble or, at least, get totally bored with restrictive food choices. That would be unfortunate since paddling is also about collecting precious memories, and unforgettable outdoor meals are definitely among those. Let's not forget either that kayaking or canoeing can easily burn between 600 to 800 calories an hour. The only way to meet the high energy requirements of those sports is to eat often ant to eat well: good quality and varied food loaded with precious nutrients, colors and flavour. Easier said then done? Not quite. Basic principles are easy enough to learn and to apply. That's why I'll be back every month with some of my favourite packing, grocery shopping, sexy cooking tricks, recipes and time savers, all designed to make your life more enjoyable. I've been given a mission by the paddling.net folks: to bring the GORP era to an end and to free all paddlers from the tyranny of the peanut butter and jam sandwich ...
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