Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Crazy for Koko (not the Puffs)

Just before the proverbial poo hit the fan in the Bronski household...with Kelli's car accident and Marin's eating challenges...I was out of town on assignment for Denver Magazine. My buddy, Dave, and I headed to western Colorado to do an unsupported ride of the 142-mile Kokopelli's Trail, a mountain bike route through the desert and canyons of western Colorado and eastern Utah from Fruita, CO to Moab, UT.

My buddy, Dave, on Day Three of our trip, past the halfway mark of the journey

My account of the trip will appear in the upcoming June issue of the magazine. Meanwhile, I wanted to offer a little insight into how I plan for and manage food on expedition-length trips like this one. From a food standpoint, one of the main challenges is how to meld my gluten-free dietary needs with a trip partner who adheres to a very different diet that's off limits for me. On short day trips, this isn't a big deal - everyone carries his or her own food. But on expedition-length trips, certain group gear is shared...tent, pot, stove, fuel. And when sharing cookware, that immediately brings up the concern about gluten cross-contamination.

The most common scenario, and the easiest to deal with, is when my trip partner(s) bring dehydrated backcountry meals (like those reviewed here). They only require boiling water, and they're "cooked" in their own bag. I'll boil enough water for my partner's meal and mine, pour one half of the boiling water into his or her bag, and use the remaining water to cook a gluten-free meal for myself - usually a rice noodle soup supplemented with extra goodies.

Arriving in the Fisher Valley, Utah

When planning for what foods to bring overall, I follow a maxim I learned years ago in my early days of high altitude mountaineering: sticks, twigs and logs. The analogy refers to how quickly and for how long a given fuel burns on your "fire." Sticks burn rapidly, providing immediate and quick bursts of energy. Twigs take a bit longer to burn, tempering the spikes of energy that can be associated with sticks. Logs take the longest to burn, providing sustained energy. The three types of fuel roughly translate to simple sugars, complex carbohydrates and some proteins, and proteins and fats.

How that works out in practice on a trip like the Kokopelli's Trail is that I brought: bacon, fresh apples and oranges, dried fruits (like raisins), nuts (like peanuts), GF chocolate, tuna fish, rice noodles, GF energy bars (the Balance Pure, which I reviewed here), and since this was an endurance trip, I also brought along some energy chews like those reviewed here. The combination of foods kept me feeling strong day after day.

As a final note, I wanted to offer some feedback about the gluten-free energy chews for endurance athletes (Sport Beans, Sharkies, GU Chomps, and Honey Stinger). While my previous posts about these chews talked about which ones are and are not gluten-free, what flavors they come in, etc., I hadn't yet had a chance to field test all of them. Now, I have, and I have some pretty strong opinions about which ones are best.

First, I rated them based on three criteria: performance (how well did they fuel my body), taste, and texture. Texture is an important component, because it varies with environmental conditions such as temperature. I've used the energy chews in conditions ranging from 80 degrees Fahrenheit and sunny (on the Kokopelli's trip) to 5 degrees Fahrenheit with a subzero wind chill (in ski mountaineering races this past winter).

My overall favorites are the GU Chomps and Honey Stinger. They offer the best combination of all three variables. Honey Stinger's cherry was the best rated purely for flavor. GU Chomps rated a close second. Some of GU's flavors are intensely sweet - too much so to be enjoyable if you tried them at home - but in the context of an endurance activity, you don't notice. Sharkies, while tasty, had a habit of sticking to my teeth, making it difficult to eat them, making me thirsty, and taking my focus off the race. Sport Beans got much too hard in the cold - their texture is too variable based on weather.

- Pete


GFE--gluten free easily said...

Wow, Pete, what an excellent article! I'm still in awe of your endurance feats! These pictures are wonderful. They really add so much to the post. We can see the types of terrain you were up against and the beauty you got to enjoy as well. :-)

I love how you shared the simple way you avoid the cross contamination factor. And, great point on the products varying greatly according to environmental conditions. You truly "road test" these products for everyone!

Best to Kelli and Marin,

peterbronski said...

Glad you enjoyed the post, Shirley! Definitely check out the article in Denver Mag when it comes out...it'll be posted on their website. It was quite the journey! An epic adventure, and an awesome mountain bike route.

Yeah, I learned the texture-varies-with-temperature thing the hard way. In a ski mountaineering race this past winter, my Sport Beans turned nearly rock solid. I had to pop 6 or 7 in my mouth, and continue racing while they thawed until they were soft enough to chew. Not ideal!

Cheers, Pete

GFE--gluten free easily said...

Pete-Post a comment here when the article comes out and then I and others will know to look online. :-)

You gotta wonder how they can keep the Sport Beans soft in all temps though. Although the basic flavor ones are the color of anti-freeze, aren't they? LOL


peterbronski said...

I'll definitely post a link to the article, Shirley! Yes, the lime flavored Sport Beans are a fluorescent shade of green, and a dead ringer for anti-freeze. I've also had the orange and fruit punch, both of which could be used to round out a Crayola box of neon colors. =)

Cheers, Pete

glutenfreeforgood said...


We need to get together one of these days (I know I keep saying that and don't do anything about it) as I've got some great GF trail foods I've created for times like these. I made all my own dinners last summer when my son and I backpacked half the CO Trail. I'm the GF camp queen. :-)

Great post. I loved reading about your adventure and I'll keep my eye out for Denver Mag. You've inspired me to get my mountain bike tuned up.


peterbronski said...

Glad you enjoyed the post, Melissa! I look forward to learning about your GF trail foods...I'm always on the lookout for good new ideas and recipes, and for diversifying the foods I bring along!

Until the Denver Mag article comes out next month, anyone that's interested in checking out more photos from the Kokopelli's trip can check out a gallery here:


Cheers, Pete