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Ride to Eat

A hundred miles before breakfast. 

It was founding Rider staffer Dick Blom’s number one road rule in the old days back in the Seventies before many of you were born. His number two rule was he never met a speed limit he liked.

He awakened us too early on a zero dark thirty October morning in Taos, New Mexico, with, “Boys, grab your socks and put on everything else you own, it’s twenty degrees out there”. For a brief moment I was back in the Infantry, but our drill sergeant wouldn’t have been that polite.

The previous day’s ride from the Aspencade rally in Ruidoso was a 260-mile golden Indian summer dream tour of the Old West. But abrupt weather changes in the high country of “The land of Enchantment” are par for the course.

And nobody knows wind chill like we do, right fellow riders? When it’s twenty degrees sixty mph is four below.

By the time we hit the Mexican place in Chama after a brisk 95 miles every extremity of mine was in painful pre-frostbite mode, but it was the world’s best chili verde, its fall-apart-tender spicy porky perfection intensified, as all great cooking is, by the appetizer of a particularly, uh, bracing scoot.

So many wonderful post-ride repasts are engraved in memory, too many to list here, but there are a few standouts I’d love to repeat:

Once after another long frosty day ride through the fetching circuitry that is Japan’s Izu Peninsula, local to Tokyo and much favored by city escaping enthusiasts, we ducked shivering into a noodle place and inhaled huge steaming bowls of udon, hefty homemade wheat flour noodles in a rich broth laced with local specialties that, trust me, gives loftier meaning to the term noodle soup.

I and a group of Moto Guzzi riders from the states riding the French Sea Alps during one of the coldest, wettest Aprils ever in that part of the world, removed our dripping gear and entered a gorgeous country home that had become a restaurant, and were immediately greeted with big baskets of just steamed langostines, prawns the size of small lobsters, with warm tureens of herbed garlic butter dipping sauce. There are meals that suggest heaven is right here on earth, that was one of them.

More years ago than I care to remember, when I was much younger and stronger, my dear German riding bud Hartmut Heiner led me on a six thousand kilometer blitz tour of his homeland. One evening in Berlin he said, you must try eisbein, which turned out to be a juicy roasted leg of pork the size of a football and gloriously encased in, sorry health fascists, a sinfully delicious layer of fat. When the generous mounds of it arrived at our table on plates as big as platters, an Englishman seated nearby said “My God!” in that unmistakable accent. I gave him a taste. He loved it.

I’ve never had much trouble crossing cultural bridges when it’s time to eat, in fact I crave the unusual, but there were a few occasions that caused me pause, like the meal I was sharing with a group of Kawasaki executives in Hiroshima when a ten-pound snapper from the Inland Sea was brought to the table alive, its gill plates still opening and closing, yet deftly sliced as with a scalpel so as to offer traditional portions of sashimi easily removable with chopsticks. The execs were watching me closely. Pride usually goeth before a fall, but not that time, it tasted so fabulous, with soy sauce and wasabi mind you, I ate with abandon. The one that stopped me cold happened during a ride in eastern China when we entered a popular mutton restaurant and a whole animal was brought to the table with all relevant body parts and organs available. I was eating happily and aggressively with my Chinese buds until I came across one of the kidneys that, at least to me, had the odor of a urinal that required cleaning. Since our ride was concluded for the day, I continued the meal with cold bottles of Northern Bright Pearl Red Beer, many of them.

Sometimes when I’ve been dining with people who have eating issues (let’s be kind and not call them disorders) it’s been a good thing because then there’s more for me.  It happened once during a group tour of northern Portugal when the big time nationally revered dish was brought to our table, a whole expertly roasted tender octopus that evoked some cringing among my co-riders. I think I even heard one of the women whisper, Yuk!) Yeah, I told them, I wouldn’t eat that either, not much of it anyway, but they saw my lie as I ate damn near all of it like a bear at a honeycomb.

How does Andrew Zimmern, the “Bizarre Food” guy on the boob tube, put it? If it looks good, eat it! 

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