I have reached a point where I always want to eat. My whole life I have taken great pleasure in culinary pursuits, but this is something new: an insatiable animal need to replenish the thousands of calories we burn daily.

Pass the cheese
Pass the cheese

I had heard stories of the obscene amounts of food consumed on bike tours, but to experience it is something completely different. To be ready for a snack mere minutes after wolfing down five tacos, to come to the realization you’ve just eaten four bowls of baked beans, and are ready for another. Or to look at the calorie content of an energy bar and decide you will require at least six for the next day’s ride. We laugh about the amount of food we eat, and know that each bite of Snickers will carry ourselves and our loaded bikes up that next brutal hill.

Food has been, with good reason, a central focus of our days, and through this focus, we have made some incredible connections. As bike tourists, you sometimes feel that everyone you meet mothers you on some level — making sure you’re staying somewhere adequate, making sure you watch out for trucks on the road, but most importantly, making sure you’re eating enough. At the town campsite in Harlowton, we met Mama Ester, a very sweet woman who insisted we call her such, and bustled about in and out of her camper setting up for a family picnic. We quietly hunched in our corner of the pavilion, making a humble salad and lentils. Several times (at least five) Mama Ester and her family invited us to join their meal, and each time we politely declined, until Mama Ester sauntered over and insisted we eat her baked beans. I teased her that she obviously wouldn’t take no for an answer. She said she would take no for an answer, but smiled and went off to heat up the beans anyway. Later that evening she pulled me into a warm hug and told us all to be careful out there.

One of our stops coincided with the wedding of our host’s son, and for three days we were fed heaping mounds of leftover wedding food. Another lovely couple provided us with grass-fed burgers from a local rancher. A few days later, we were greeted in Roundup with a full-blown barbecue, and urged to eat as much as we could possibly stuff down our gullets. A few days after that, on a day where we strongly felt Montana’s vast wind resources, we met Richard Moe, a Wheatland County commissioner, who happened to ride up on his four-wheeler as we were taking a food break on the side of the road. We chatted for a while, gave our spiel, made a few connections with University of Montana professors, and said goodbye. Minutes later, as we were packing up to leave, Richard came back with a box of Cream of the West, a hot breakfast cereal made by a company of the same name that he co-owns. It was such a sweet gesture, and we ate it the next couple of mornings drizzled with honey.

It seems that when food is present, regardless of political leanings or feelings on energy or climate change, the sometimes tense and polarizing conversations turn light, and we’re all just humans sustaining one of our most basic needs. Food is one of the most simple and beautiful ways of connecting with each other, with the amazing things our bodies are capable of, and with the communities we’re welcomed into.

– Kaya Juda-Nelson