It was about two weeks into the USA cycle trip, whilst riding through another small town where fast food restaurants seemed to fill around 50% of the buildings, that we realised that we had not yet set foot in one of these seemingly North American icons. No McDonalds, no Dunkin’ Donuts, no Subway, no Starbucks, not one, not even to go to the toilet. At the time I was about 90% pleased with that realisation, 10% disappointed with myself – we are burning up calories in the centre of the fast food universe, with every excuse to tuck in to a different chain every night. But then two weeks turned to three; we spent over a week in Canada and cycled past approx 3500 Tim Hortons (ok that might be a slight exaggeration) without entering one. Back in the USA we are now over a month into the trip and are starting to wonder whether this is something we should actively try to keep up as long as possible. How far can we get across North America before we spend money in a fast food chain restaurant? I say spend money, because it’s close to miraculous that I haven’t needed to go in to one to use the toilet yet, and this can’t possibly last much longer.
Maybe the health conscious reader wonders why this is even a big deal. After all I never eat in McDonalds at home, so why would I start here?! As it happens the big Golden Arches are every cycle tourists best friend during difficult times. Toilets, water refills (with ice if you are lucky), air conditioning/warmth and wifi; one place to satisfy so many basic needs (admittedly wifi is a luxury – until you see a storm ahead and want to find a place to stay without riding around for ages first). And cheap calories if that’s what you want; or a cheap coffee if you just want to spend a bit of cash to access the basic needs. While we were cycling in Canada during the 2012 Olympics they often had the action on the big screen and we’re giving away coffee during the games so they became our daily break locations. As we again cycle in North America in an Olympic year, we will have to see if we can resist this pull.
Avoiding fast food chains won’t mean that we will be on some kind of health kick. This is North America after all, even the brown bread tastes of sugar. We do our best to eat as healthily as possible, but we also need volume and low cost. Our options for calorie dense snacks are limitless. We will not be wasting away, don’t worry. What it does mean is we can give our money to local/independent businesses where possible. Such as these delightful snicker doodle cookies from a small Mennonite house.
I almost gave in to temptation on our final day in Ontario last week after seeing an advert for cake batter flavoured milkshake at Mac’s, a kind of fast food chain but also a gas station brand. We had ridden 60kms with no shops and I was thirsty and hungry and clearly a bit weak at the knees. And who doesn’t like the sound of a cake batter flavoured milkshake? I told myself it wasn’t really a fast food chain; it was my birthday treat; I needed the sugar to keep going; and if all else fails, this would be a Canadian purchase so the challenge to not eat in fast food places in the USA could continue unscathed. Into Mac’s I went convinced that I was doing the right thing, only to find the milkshake machine broken. My heart sank. But then my mind cleared. It was a sign from the universe. I had come close to succumbing to a moment of weakness and only a mechanical problem had stood in the way. This was a let off. Be stronger next time!
So how long can we keep this up?