“You’re going to carry liquid fuel?”
The 20-year-old shop assistant appears incredulous, as if carrying liquid fuel was sacrilegious in camping and hiking circles.
When I entered the store, he was very excited to help me. Give him 5 stars for initial customer service. I tell him I have a list of items to look for. That makes him very excited.
But once I tell him my first item is a 500ml Trangia fuel bottle (to safely transport methylated spirits in my pannier), I get the above response.
I reply, “Well, yes. I’ve got a Trangia and don’t want to carry the fuel in a coke bottle or anything.”
“Oh, I’m a Jet Boil man myself.”
And so he should be. The store has a huge Jet Boil display. But I did heaps and heaps of research on backpacking stoves before deciding to go with an ethanol stove. And I’m pretty certain in that decision. The only reason I’m here is because they’ve got the fuel bottle for 40 percent off.
I wonder if the butane cannister people look down on the ethanol stove people like bikepackers look down on touring cyclists. I really did not expect there to be such division on how flame was produced.
My research tells me that ethanol stoves are the most environmentally friendly. They’re extremely quiet and very low maintenance. It’s easy to find fuel for them in grocery stores and lots of other places. Plus the fuel bottle fits better in my pannier than a fuel cannister(s). There are other pros, but those were the ones that sold me. I just hope Jet Boil Man punches those gas cannisters and then recycles them – they need to be depressurized before recycling and a lot of people don’t bother to do that (I know this from my previous job!).
STOVE PRACTICE – Suggestions Welcome!
And so… I’ve not been on the bike in the last 3 weeks. I’m in way too much pain. I can manage walking for about an hour, but most of the time I’ve been reclined in bed, trying to find some position that is mostly comfortable. At least for a little while. The 28th can’t come soon enough.
However, this has meant I’ve been able to practice a lot with my stove. I’ve never carried a stove before, and when I used to go backpacking with friends back in uni days, I helped carry the weight but let the stove owner do the cooking. Back in those days, all of my friends had MSR Whisperlite type stoves that also required carrying a fuel bottle. Those stoves seemed so fiddly and noisy that I didn’t really think I wanted that kind now.
So I’ve never cooked with any stove on the road before. And the only reason I’ve purchased one now is because I think the weight disadvantage starts to even out at about 5 days of travel. And I really want to be able to head bush for 7-10 days without needing to resupply. Plus, now that West Nile, and all that came after, has screwed up my digestive system… I am limited in what I can eat and need to stick to nutritious foods. The stove just makes sense now.
That’s the long way to say… I’ve not used one of these before… so any tips, suggestions, recipes or any other ideas are VERY WELCOME.
Below I’ve detailed the set-up and some of the things I’ve cooked so far. At this point I am super impressed with the set-up and how easy it has been to cook good meals! I haven’t burned anything yet 😊 and everything has been really tasty. And that’s really tasty with no physical exertion – everything tastes better when you’ve ridden a bunch of kms and are very hungry! So I’m really happy with this investment.
Here is my whole stove set-up.
- Firebox stove is 113 grams (you can also burn wood with this, if I were to run out of ethanol)
- Trangia spirit burner is 108 grams
- Titanium pot set (400 ml fry pan/lid and 800 ml pot) 168 grams
- Silicone collapsible bowl 70g
Here are all of my utensils – weight of all is around 150 grams minus the pliers (which I carry in my tool kit anyway to pull crap out of my tyres when I get a puncture).
- Paring knife with cover
- Small serving tongs (you can get these at Kmart 2 for $2)
The tongs and pliers are used to pick up the simmer ring on the spirit burner with the pliers and then use the tongs to adjust the cover which adjusts how much flame there is.
- Teaspoon – because you can measure any spice with this one size and also use to measure 3 teaspoons of water to add to the spirit burner so the metho doesn’t soot up the stove so much. This also means I can keep the stirring/eating spoon out of the spices.
- Plastic spoon (I need to get a fork, too)
- Lighter (I will take a cigarette lighter with me, but this is what I have at home right now.)
- Plastic, flexi cutting board cut from a larger one (weighs nothing and I can put on the back of my pannier for a hard surface if a rock or log can’t be found).
THE SPICE BAG
I’m not planning on carrying oil or other liquids, so Asian stir-fries are out unless someone has an idea for how I can do that without gluten free tamari, lemon juice, etc.
However, herbs and spices are light and take very little room. So the plan is to put the herbs in snack size ziplocs within a larger Ziploc.
You can do Indian, Morrocan and Mexican with different combos of paprika, cumin, coriander, turmeric, ginger, curry powder and garam masala. Here’s the combos I use at home that I think I can translate to the road.
Mexican – chili powder, garlic powder (or both fresh, they’re light), cumin, smoked paprika, ground cumin, black pepper, oregano, cinnamon
Moroccan – curry powder, coriander, ground ginger and cumin, black pepper
Jamaican – onion powder, thyme, salt, red pepper flakes or chili powder, black pepper, cinnamon (allspice but prob leave that out as I don’t use it for anything else)
Indian – garlic, coriander, cumin, turmeric, chili powder, black pepper, ginger (curry powder or garam masala depending on which curry I’m doing)
FIRST EXPERIMENTAL MEALS
I’ve been cooking with veggies and carbs that I think will travel well and that should be easy to source in most small town IGAs. I think garlic, onion, chili peppers, carrot, broccoli, zucchini and cherry tomatoes in their container all seem quite transportable for at least a few days. I might get 2 days from mushrooms. I think one large carrot will do 4-6 meals and will travel the longest with the garlic and onion. I’m still experimenting with other veg and their amounts. (Any suggestions?)
The feature photo shows red lentils with carrot, garlic, onion, cinnamon, paprika, coriander, cumin and black pepper. This was really good and quite filling (though my appetite is very small right now).
One small tub of tomato paste will do a couple meals – perhaps on the first couple days out from a restock. I made a marinara type sauce in the pic below, but I think tomato paste would go well with red lentils in an Indian-style curry or to make a veggie stew with some beef stock.
I’m going to have a closer look at the available thai curry pastes and consider weight and ingredients, too.
It will be really easy to steam veggies with pre-soaked poha and a little bit of chicken stock for something super easy.
Never heard of poha? Neither had I until I went looking for dehydrated Minute rice. Oz does not have that. But it does have poha, which looks popular in Indian cooking (indeed, this came from the Indian section of the international aisle). Poha is dehydrated rice flakes.
Western cooking suggests using this as an alternative for oatmeal for those who can’t tolerate gluten. So I tried that – hoping it would be good cold with some honey, peanutbutter and bananas. It would be a bit like Bircher muesli and easy to do on the road. But it was pretty nasty. It was okay once heated, but pretty awful cold.
The poha was fine though cooked with the asparagus. The texture will take a little getting used to, but for the uncooked weight, it is quite value for money and nutrition to add to veggies. I think soaking it for a couple hours instead of overnight would help the texture, too.
You can get brown rice poha which would be much better nutritionally and for glycemic index. However, it is hard to find even in a city of 30,000. So I don’t hold much hope for that on the road. Plus, the brown rice poha is sold as a health food, so it costs $5.00 for 500 grams. This white rice poha only cost $1.75 for the same amount.
Anybody cooked with poha on the road before?
It looks like I can cook two meals and heat dishwater for those meals with 125 mls of fuel. So I think I should be able to get about 8 meals and washing up water carrying 500ml of fuel with me. That is excellent. I won’t use the stove except for one hot meal per day at most. And I won’t necessarily eat a hot meal every night. I’m quite happy with peanut butter and rice crackers or some salmon on rice crackers for some dinners. You could get a lot more meals out of that fuel if you were just rehydrating packet meals or doing instant soups – but I need to actually cook real food.
So I think the fuel situation is good. I think it will get me out for 7-10 days.
INGREDIENT WEIGHT and THOUGHTS
Now I just have to experiment with the weight of ingredients for that number of days. I can’t eat wheat, gluten or dairy anymore, so regular pasta, ramen and instant pasta packets are out.
The instant rice meals also generally have stuff in them that I can’t eat without digestive distress. The Continental instant rice meals (like Lipton or Rice a Roni in America) have only a few flavours to choose from here, and I can’t eat any of the ones I’ve looked at so far.
The poha is something I think I can get used to (but not as an oatmeal replacement!), but I likely will not be able to restock that very often. I don’t foresee it being available except in larger regional towns. I should be able to find rice noodles most places though, and these could substitute in that case.
Pulse pasta (there’s heaps of different ones) and red lentil-based curries with different spice combos will be quite do-able for days on end though, so I think I won’t starve and I should be able to get adequate nutrition. I will certainly be hanging for fresh veg when emerging from a week in the bush though! But that’s no different to carrying cold/ready-to-eat meals anyway.
Everything right now is contingent on getting this f**** gastroscopy done and some sort of diagnosis and treatment happening. I’ve now been in pain for 6 months and it’s getting worse and worse as time goes on. So I need to resolve this before heading too far bush. I do now have a PLB, a solar panel and appropriate power bank so I can disappear for as many days as the food holds out.
I am heading up to Bathurst in mid-November with Nigel to see him do his race car thing again (pending COVID not screwing that up). If possible, I would really like to ride home from near there. That ride would probably be about seven days and would not require the stove, as I would be passing through towns every day or every other day to acquire food. We’ll see what the pain is like, but I’ve got a rough route idea for a ride home if that works out.
But, really, I can’t plan much until I can eat, sleep and just generally move without being in so much pain. So keep your fingers crossed the gastroscopy goes ahead on the 28th, they find something that is easily treatable, and treatment can start very quickly. I am so desperate to get out on the bike and feel like I am on holiday instead of sick leave!