As Backroads leaders, we wear many hats in a given day: concierge, mechanic, translator, chauffeur, navigator, motivator... the list is infinite. One of my favorites to don, however, has to be that of "chef," because that's when we get to perform the magic that results in the famous Backroads picnic lunch! Any Backroads leader can tell you that food is a huge part of what makes travel so enticing. Who goes to Italy and doesn't try the pasta? Or Maine and skips the lobster? Culture gets created around what happens in the kitchen, which is why Backroads puts high importance on finding incredible restaurants for meals on our trips. Eating well is also a vital part of staying happy and healthy while being active, and a cycling or hiking vacation is the perfect way to guarantee you'll always have an appetite for the next amazing meal. A Backroads picnic lunch is special because it allows us as leaders to bring this cultural and culinary experience on the road. Before a trip even begins, we head to local grocers, farmers' markets, bakeries and delis, filling our carts full of fresh produce and fun, regional treats. Then we pack everything into the "kitchen" portion of our Backroads trailer. Suddenly, we're a café on wheels, able to whip up full lunch spreads on the fly no matter where we go or how far we may be from the nearest town.
This "café on wheels" is actually a key factor in making Backroads trips truly unique. Most great walks and rides are not necessarily near excellent restaurants. Rather, they go from a trailhead deep into a canyon or high up a mountain; they venture out into remote ranchlands or rural farm fields, across high plateaus or expansive deserts. A Backroads grand picnic means incredible food in incredible places, no matter what; it can be enjoyed at a scenic
overlook, a small family farmstead, a river-side state park or anywhere in between. There's no need to sacrifice the quality of an activity for the sake of a good meal if the spread can come right along with us. And as any leader or past Backroads guest can tell you, these picnic spreads are not messing around. There are checkered table cloths and vases of flowers. There are coolers full of icy sparkling drinks and craft beers from local breweries. And then there are the bowls and platters of nutritious food, hand-prepared earlier that day by your very own Backroads leader team. It's a moveable feast! (We laugh sometimes that one of the most useful, if unanticipated, skill sets Backroads has given us leaders is the ability to feed dozens of hungry people without batting an eye, and to present that food with style. No family gathering, no baby shower, no birthday barbeque will ever be approached the same way after time spent perfecting our garnishing techniques and charcuterie board arrangements!) Some of my personal favorites from Backroads picnics are the salads and the desserts (opposite ends of the spectrum, I know...).
I love salads because they highlight the seasonality and personality of a region's food supply. In Oregon, where I'm working now, it's berry season, so we're tossing handfuls of ripe marionberries and blackberries on top of fresh "volcano greens" salad mixes (from a local grower whose lettuces benefit from the volcanic soil of central Oregon). Add some fresh goat cheese crumbles from Rogue Creamery... et voilà! A small drizzle of Oregon honey and a splash of olive oil, and I'm in foodie heaven.
I love desserts because.... well, it's dessert! But also because nothing implies care, attention and love more, in my mind, than a perfectly baked pastry. Desserts also tend to be extremely unique from place to place - macarons in France, pavlova in New Zealand, mochi in Japan, alfajores in Argentina - which makes finding them as much an emotional treat as an edible one. In Bend, where the Oregon trip begins, we frequent The Sparrow Bakery and Bad Wolf Bakery & Bistro, two wonderful shops with amazing goodies like the ocean roll and the dark chocolate chip cookie with sea salt (um, YUM!). Even as I write this, I'm wondering if the coffee shop down the road might still have a couple at this point in the morning... So I think I'll leave you here, hungry, I hope, like me, for your next Backroads adventure and the picnics that are so much a part of our recipe for success!