Motorcycle Touring – Part 3
Everyone needs to eat. On the road you, the touring motorcyclist, have two choices. You could buy food in a grocery store and prepare it yourself, or you can pay someone else to prepare the food. You cannot just go to the refrigerator and grab something, or drive to your favorite restaurant. While touring by motorcycle, you'll have to get food wherever you can.
A surprising number of people are even “pickier” about food than they are about their lodgings. On the road you cannot afford to be too selective about where and what you eat. If you're too finicky, you'll either starve or spend a lot of time looking for food (and there's a good chance you'll still not find something that meets your requirements). This may be okay if you're a professional journalist on a restaurant tour, but on a motorcycle tour it can ruin the experience.
When to eat
When riding a motorcycle a rider must be alert. To be alert, one has to be well nourished, hydrated, and well rested. For me to stay well nourished, I have to have a fairly rigid eating schedule, which is quite different from my normal at-home workday schedule.
On the road I make it a point to eat breakfast first thing in the morning. I get up early and try to be on the road before the thick of traffic. I eat a real breakfast, not just cereal. I want eggs, hash browns, toast, sausage, coffee, juice – the works. This meal has everything I need. I don't have problems with cholesterol or high blood pressure; as long as I don't eat this way all the time, everything is just fine.
The point is to have a big meal early in the day. All touring motorcyclists need the energy. Riding a motorcycle for an extended amount of time requires a fair amount of work. Riding a heavy, powerful touring motorcycle on twisty “invisible” West Virginia roads is even more work.
I do prefer good food over bad, and I have opinions about what is good and not-so-good food. Given my touring style, I'm usually in relatively small towns when looking to eat. In smaller towns the choices are pretty limited.
The restaurants in small towns are either in a separate building or in a storefront. By storefront I mean a restaurant that is in a part of a larger building, or in a separate building that is so close to the adjacent structures that they all seem to be one big building. You usually find storefront restaurants in the downtown or central area of the town.
The stand-alone type restaurants are usually of the “home cooking” variety and have mediocre to awful food. (Beware of those “home cooking” signs.) In larger towns, the stand-alone restaurants can be part of a chain like Denny's, or smaller regional chains. Chain restaurants have better food at reasonable prices, although some of these chains are still pretty mediocre.
The storefront restaurants are usually the best bet. Almost all of the really good meals I've had on the road were in places like that.
There are several varieties of storefront restaurants:
1. Bars that serve food – These can be pretty good or mediocre. If you're just looking for simple food these are a pretty good bet. It's hard to judge these places without actually eating the food, but the best indicator is the relative size of the eating area in proportion to the bar area (bigger food area is better) and the quality of the furniture. My favorite pubs in Dublin, Ireland, come to mind!
2. Cafes – This is the most common type of restaurant and the quality will vary all over the place. They are usually okay for breakfast; lunch and dinner are a bit riskier.
3. Conventional restaurants – This type of place is a bit less common than the bars and cafes. They are usually only in the larger small towns. These are the best bet for good food.
In the past few weeks of summer, I read the book Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon. This book is about the author's travels around the U.S.A. in his van. Blue Highways refers to the blue color that some map makers use to represent the smaller minor roads. In his book, the author uses “calendar count” to measure the quality of the food in a restaurant. By “calendar count” he means the number of calendars hanging on the walls. The more calendars there are on the walls, the better the food. Calendars in the front window are worth bonus points.
After reading Blue Highways, I started to try and correlate calendar count with food quality and found that there is something to this. It will take a bit more research but it's worth considering. Generally, you will only see calendars in the storefront cafes.
If there are a lot of pickup trucks parked in front of a cafe in the morning, you’ve found the place that the local farmers and business people go for coffee and breakfast. The place may have a crowd because they have good food, but it may just be that it's the only place around, or else it's cheap. One other indication I find to be fairly reliable is the police. If there is a local police car parked at a restaurant, the food is usually fairly good.
There are no guarantees in where to find decent food while on a motorcycle tour. I've had good food in the most unexpected places and had not-so-good food in supposedly good restaurants. I've tried asking locals, but this has not been all that successful; perhaps the people in a lot of towns have just gotten used to crummy food.
I've gotten to the point that I just look at the food as part of the motorcycling adventure, and, as with all adventure, there’s the good and the bad.