MOUNT VERNON — Kathy Turner poured mussels into a pot in her outdoor kitchen at Bay View State Park.
The Lake Stevens woman on Thursday afternoon cooked the shellfish on one of several grills under a tent in the 10-by-10-foot cooking space. She had about 25 minutes to cook the mussels and clams before a group of 60 bicyclists arrived for happy hour. Her husband, Jack Turner, picked halved oysters from a box and placed them on a grill nearby.
They would smell the seafood soon, said Kathy Turner, 51. She was right.
Not long after they started cooking, several hungry cyclists from a group participating in Cycle Washington, a bicycle tour organized by Adventure Cycling Association, started making their way toward the kitchen.
The more than 430-mile bicycling tour took the group from Stevens Pass to Wenatchee, on to Alta Lake State Park and Winthrop, and then to Rockport before stopping in Bay View State Park on Thursday. The riders continued into Langley on Friday and ended in Redmond on Saturday. The weeklong trip was the 65th tour that Turner has catered food for in the past 17 years.
“It’s a passion, I guess it’s why I do this,” she said. “The people are wonderful … and I enjoy making them happy with food.”
Turner owned a restaurant in Everett when Adventure Cycling first contacted her to fix a lunch for a tour group riding through Western Washington. The next year, tour director Tom Radley took over the ride and asked her to sign on to fix all the meals for some rides. Turner, who also likes to bike, hasn’t stopped feeding groups of people riding on tours west of the Mississippi River since.
Family members, including her three adult sons, have throughout the years helped Turner prepare meals, set up and tear down the kitchen and wash dishes on trips. She’s up about 4:30 a.m. to cook full breakfasts consisting of pancakes and scrambled eggs and cold cereals and granola and fruit. While the riders eat, Turner and her crew fix sandwiches that are sent with Adventure Cycling Association staff for the daily lunch stop. The cyclists head out and the kitchen comes down so Turner can drive ahead to the night’s camping site and begin to prepare dinner.
“It’s become kind of a way of life,” Turner said. “It’s kind of nomadic. We sleep in a tent every trip and we get to see parts of the country that are just amazing.”
She’s cooked meals for famished cyclists in Arizona, California, Oregon, Texas and Utah, among other states. Turner is the cook on an average of eight tours the organization offers from March to the start of October every year.
While she plans all the menus for the trips she caters, Turner said she enjoys picking up cookbooks in the places she travels and tries to use local produce in her recipes whenever possible.
The seafood happy hour and bourbon salmon dinner is unique to the Cycle Washington trip. Turner told the group days in advance about the menu, said Greg Harrah, 64.
The Sequim man was one of the first in line to try a paper bowl full of oysters drizzled with garlic butter.
“Mmm,” he said. “Divine. Everything is delicious. I’m going back to the end of the line again.”
Turner smiled and humbly accepted another rider’s praise after the bourbon salmon dinner with cooked vegetables, a green salad including strawberries, raspberries and tayberries, and homemade cookies for dessert. When asked if there were any other vegetarian options, Turner was happy to cook up some stir fry and tofu.
Turner plans menus that take into account special dietary needs and restrictions. It’s not always easy to make complete meals for such large groups of people though and she’s learned things on every trip, Turner said.
“When we first started doing fresh bacon and sausages the cleanup was such a disaster, it was such a mess that now we buy a quality precooked product and we just have to heat it,” she said.
Turner plans to cook for another Cycle Washington trip that begins Monday. Radley, who lives in Redmond, is planning to retire from his position as tour director after 16 years and the back-to-back tours were scheduled as his farewell.
Radley, 69, has appreciated Turner’s work along the way.
“It’s not easy. … She’s out in the woods in parks and she has to be real self-contained,” he said. “It’s really hard work. Besides being a good cook, she is the hardest working woman I have ever met.”
Turner keeps a blog, Feeding the Tribe, about her cooking and traveling adventures with groups of bicyclists at feeding-the-tribe.blogspot.com. She plans to keep cooking meals that keep bicyclists well-fueled and happy.
“I always tell them at the start of the trips that I’m in charge of the quality of the food and not the quantity they eat so it’s not my fault if they gain weight,” she said.
Amy Daybert: 425-339-3491; email@example.com.