On the trail, I learned a new attitude toward food.
When Jan and I started planning our trip, I imagined twenty-five days of oatmeal for breakfast, peanut butter for lunch, and rice and beans for supper.
“We need variety,” she said. “And texture.” She was polite about rejecting a constant diet of mush.
Since Jan has a great deal more experience at extended backcountry expeditions, I acquiesced. “But we’ll make our own meals,” I insisted.
“Absolutely,” she agreed.
So we did.
Obsessed by Food
In my off-trail life, I’m obsessed with food, so inventing portable, quick-cooking, one-pot meals was a challenge I liked. I fired up my dehydrator and made tomato leather from homegrown tomatoes. I explored the grocery store in search of polenta that cooked in three minutes, ramen that cooked in four, and brown rice in ten.
In addition to growing, preserving and preparing food, I love to feed family and friends. In fact, the weekend before we started our hike, Jan and I feasted with college friends who traveled to Vermont to see us off.
As much as I love to feed others, I often resent how much time I spend thinking about and tempted by food. I love to eat, but I sometimes feel burdened by the variety and abundance of good food available from which I have to choose. I want to eat everything! Just seeing food can trigger my desire to eat even when I’m not hungry; it’s a daily struggle to not overeat.
We Couldn’t Overeat.
We couldn’t overeat on the trail. We could only eat what we carried with us: six days’ worth of granola for breakfast, crackers with bean spreads for lunch, and stews with venison jerky, dried salmon, or beans for supper. We also ate calorie-dense snacks several times a day: sweet snacks in the morning, and salty ones in the afternoon.
We ate when we were hungry. As soon as one of us said, “I need a snack soon,” we learned we needed to stop now. Despite our high calorie diet, we were both losing weight; without reserves, hunger could slam on our brakes.
We also each drank at least four liters of water daily. Filling our water bottles offered another strategic chance to rest and soak up the simplest of pleasures: a running brook, clean water, slaked thirst.
Since we were on our feet most of the day, we always sat down to meals, which in itself was a pleasure. At breakfast, we sipped our surprisingly good instant French roast and assessed the plans for the day. Lunch was a chance to slide off our packs, and dinner a chance to rest and reflect.
Thanks to exhaustion, I was more tired than hungry at the end of the day. After walking and talking for hours, we often fell silent while we waited for the water to boil and dinner to cook; we bent gratefully over our steaming bowls.
I ate slowly and savored my food, especially dessert. We carried just enough dark chocolate to enjoy a square each after dinner, which we chased with a swallow of bourbon at night.
The Lesson From the Long Trail
On the Long Trail, I came to appreciate food as fuel, and learned that surprisingly little can carry me a long way.
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