Last week in Dirtbag Gourmet, we shared bike endurance stud Mike Curiak’s secret sauce for caloric success during the Iditabike race (homemade cookie dough). This week, we bring you a piece written by Mike, a tale of two tastes that shouldn’t be mixed together – and what happens when they do.

In the 2002 Iditarod Trail Invitational (1,100-mile winter bike race along the Iditarod Trail) I had just left the native coastal village of Shaktoolik with a fresh resupply. We use the post offices as our checkpoints in that race, meaning that we ship whatever we think we might need a few weeks in advance. You never know if the villages will have stores, if/when you’ll arrive, if/when they’ll be open, what they’ll have (or not) on the shelves, etc. One year I arrived at the village store in Koyuk to find a pallet of Nutter Butter cookies (one of my all-time favorites) front and center by the door. A quick glance revealed that they were six years past their expiration date, yet still just as delicious as the day they were born. And a bargain at only $9/pack! I share this story as entertainment, but also to illustrate that you make a best guess on what you’ll need from a few weeks and several thousand miles away, then ship it. And pray.

Among my other goodies loaded into each box were batteries for my headlamp, dry socks, spare inner tubes for my tires, Bag Balm for my, um, bag, maps for the next section of trail, and lots of food. Salient edibles that I can remember from that year were Velveeta-and-bacon-filled tortillas, heaps of gummi worms (they’re excellent when frozen), and a treat from the missus: a quart-sized baggie full of chocolate-dipped dried apple rings. I looked forward to these more than anything else as I approached each village.

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In order to get a box to any of these villages, the post service has to use increasingly smaller aircraft to get from the hubs to the dots at the end of the line, and as such the boxes get handled many, many times – tossed into and out of the bellies of many small planes along the way. Often the boxes would simply never arrive at their destination; whether they were lost, stolen, or destroyed is anyone’s guess. When they did somehow arrive they looked like they’d been dragged most of the way from Colorado to bush Alaska. The box that I picked up in Shaktoolik was ripped, scuffed, and had two gaping holes in the bottom. It was obvious some stuff had fallen out and been shoved back in, and it was clear that not everything had made it back in. From the general heft of it I assumed there was enough food to make it a few more days to the next store, so I signed for it and then left promptly.

The Bag Balm had rendered the apple rings completely, terribly inedible. Still, I occasionally tried to clean them with snow or to just tolerate the flavor.

Outside the PO I haphazardly tore everything out of the box and stashed it wherever I could on the bike – inside of pogies, inside the frame pack, in pockets in my jacket, etc. Just a quick and dirty pack job for the moment, as I was leading the race and wanted to get out of town (and out of sight!) before any of the other racers arrived. That done, I hightailed it back onto the trail and headed for the sea ice of Norton Sound.

A few hours later, hungry from the exertion of flight and able to see about 10 miles behind me along the empty trail, I stopped for a snack. I sussed out the apple rings and was surprised to see a hole in the side of the bag. “No matter,” I thought, “at least they’re all still in there.” What I hadn’t noticed was that there was also a hole in the side of the Bag Balm ziploc and the Bag Balm had gotten everywhere, including all over the apples.

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They still looked oh-so-delicious and I took a bit, but I wasn’t able to get any down – the Bag Balm had rendered them completely, terribly inedible. Still, I carried them the next two days, occasionally trying to clean them with snow or to just tolerate the flavor, but I simply couldn’t do it. Each time, I got instant gag reflex at the taste of the petroleum-jelly-based Bag Balm. I ended up leaving the brim-full bag on a table inside of a shelter cabin near the Kwik River, figuring that someone might be in a survival situation and need to choke them down. Or, better, maybe they could use them to start a fire!

Three days go by. I’m back in Anchorage after successfully completing the race. The guys that finished 2nd, 3rd, and 4th are flying back from the finish, and I’m thrilled to meet them at the airport to hear all about their ride. Over the next few hours, in the course of much eating and storytelling, one of the three (a Brit) mentions how they found this indescribably delicious concoction some trail angel had left in a cabin. He went on to describe the ethereal flavor, something indescribable but very familiar, of apples dipped in chocolate, with a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ tying it all together. He confessed that he and his mate (another Brit) ate the whole bag while their traveling partner (a Minnesotan) slept nearby. They admitted they felt guilty for not sharing, but were too ravenous and overcome with the unique flavor to even consider stopping until there was nothing left to eat.

It’s been almost 10 years since that happened and I still get a good belly laugh out of it a few times per year. I can still taste the chocolatey Bag Balm, too.


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Mike Curiak is an endurance cyclist and wheelbuilder based in western Colorado. Read more from him at Lace Mine 29.