Reflections from the road: On diet

6.06.2013

During my first month on the road, I've experienced and learned a lot. And while I've been doing my best to document everything I've seen, thought, and felt, my attention to the what, where, and when has often overshadowed the how, which is just as important. So this week, I'm aiming to publish seven reflections, each on a different aspect of travel, free from time and space. Here's the third.

Early on in my journey, I got tangled up in a passionate love affair with Ruffles potato chips. All along the east coast, those oily golden ridges were sold in abundance, small single-serve bags I'd enjoy heartily, sitting aboard Rousseau, as I let my muscles relax on the edge of the gas station, some several hours of continuous driving under my belt and several more on the horizon. I found those Ruffles to be my reward, I had earned them, my prize for getting from one gas station to the next, one junction to the one after that. And though my home diet had little room for junk food like Ruffles potato chips, I relished them while traveling.

As I worked my way south and then west, a strange thing began to happen. Ruffles were still available, they are nearly everywhere, but those little single-serve bags were no longer stuffed with plain old potato ridges; they now had sour cream or cheddar sprinklings on each and every chip. The original offering grew harder and harder to come by, until soon, and this I would never joke about, I found myself actually leaving one convenience store and driving down the block to the next to see if their Ruffles selection was any more varied. As I traveled through Texas, I could actually feel my dopamine levels surge when I'd spot a bag, salted but otherwise unseasoned, promise of a delicious snack to come in mere minutes.

The southwest had no better luck with its single-serve original Ruffles, but it provided another option for the addict, albeit an unhealthy one: the family bag, nearly ten times the weight of those offerings back east. And so, with no alternative, I'd buy those, and with my will power surprisingly weak in this realm, I'd consume their contents in just one sitting.

And this, I'm afraid, was my diet for the first stretch of my trip.

To be fair, it wasn't all Ruffles; though I'd regularly enjoy a family bag of potato chips for dinner, breakfast and lunch, when I ate them, were various combinations of Clif Bars and almonds. But I did not feel healthy, I did not feel well-fed and well-nourished, and so as my journey progressed, as my real hiking and tests of endurance commenced in the canyonlands, I made Clif Bars a heftier slice of my diet, reducing Ruffles to all but the occasional treat.

Clif Bars, in recent years, seem to have made themselves ubiquitous in every gas station in the country, and for this I am thankful, for they are not only healthy, but delicious, and vegan, and non-perishable, and available in a dazzling array of flavors. I have never come upon a gas station with enough shelf space to stock them all, and it's always a pleasure to see what's available, and to happen across a new flavor, something I hadn't seen previously, an apricot or blueberry crisp or black cherry almond or white chocolate macadamia, never a disappointment from the whole lot.

Nuts, I've mentioned, were my third staple, cashews early on before my body told me to stop that, than raw almonds as I made my way west, and occasionally trail mix or pistachios if I was feeling adventurous.

Huge chunks of the nation are food deserts, at least through the roads I'd taken, and so produce was frustratingly hard to come by until reaching California, where I began to supplement my dry foods with rich, sweet fruits, with oranges and grapes and apples and, at three for one dollar, countless avocados.

Occasionally I would eat at a restaurant, something more well-rounded, and I particularly enjoyed the act of eating alone, taking in the people and environment around me without the faintest distraction. When visiting old friends, of course, I'd generally eat out with them, sampling the best of the city, and that was always a welcome break from the tedium of gas station fare.

And that is the fascinating story of the sustenance consumed while on the road.

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