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Thursday, December 27, 2012

So....whaddya gonna eat?

Keith and I are often asked this question (sometimes with better grammar).  Some have asked whether we are going to hunt and fish for our meals.  Thankfully, we do not have to survive on our nonexistent hunter/gatherer skills. If we had any skill, that "thieving little bastard" as Keith likes to refer to the squirrel in our yard who steals insulation from under the house, would have been dead long ago.  Seriously, we would starve within the first week.

I like the question, because as a foodie and sometimes chef, discussions about food are always near and dear to my heart.  Traditionally, grub for thru hikers consists of  culinary delights such as ramen noodles, other dried packaged soups, rice-a-roni, etc., none of which take space in my pantry now and none of which will take space in my pack, I hope.  At the risk of offending some, the idea of eating ramen noodles makes me gag a little.  The idea of eating them over and over makes me throw up in my mouth. The main reasons for eating these kinds of food are convenience, simplicity, the light weight, and shelf life.  When you backpack, weight is a really important factor, since everything you need to live is carried on your back.  So, finding food that is light, convenient, and not going to spoil becomes a high priority.  But really, how many times can you eat the same thing before it becomes so repulsive that you can't force yourself to take even one more bite of it ever, ever, again?  If you are willing to pay a lot of money, you can purchase moderately ok tasting freeze-dried meals.  There is  a decent selection, but each pack is in the range of eight to ten bucks and only feeds one, even though the pack insists it is two servings.  I've done the math:  150 days times a minimum of $16/meal (just dinner) is $2400.  Well, we're going to be unemployed for six months and that sounds like an awful lot of money, never mind factoring in breakfast, lunch, and all the restaurant meals we're going to eat when passing through towns. So, what's a girl who likes to cook and eat good food to do?  I'm so glad you asked.  That girl buys a dehydrator 

(actually two dehydrators) and commercial-sized cooking pot and sets about cooking, dehydrating and packaging delightful meals for the journey.  First, of course, Keith and I started by making a list of dinners we like to eat and then dividing them up into categories - beef, chicken, pork, lamb, seafood, and vegetarian, so that we wouldn't end up with too many meals in any one particular category.  I can assure you, the task has been monumental - preparing 150 dinners (300 servings) of food takes a lot of planning, shopping, chopping, dicing, slicing, stirring,

cooking, cleaning, dehydrating and packing!  But the savings is well worth it.  The average cost of each dinner I prepare at home is between $3 and $8 each (for two very generous-sized portions).

We've had to endure some trial and error on the best way to prepare soups and stews so they're more easily dehydrated and a couple of test runs to figure out the best way to rehydrate the food.  Our last weekend backpacking trip we discovered the right formula and were rewarded with a spectacular dinner of rehydrated macaroni and cheese (four cheese, actually) at 11,000 feet.  We are now just over ten weeks away from the date we leave and have 129 days of dinners prepared, 33 breakfasts, and 9 packets of beef jerky.  We are hoping to finish up the dinners in the next couple of weeks.  I can hear you now:  "so answer the question...what are you going to eat?"  Here's a sample:  Lasagna, mac & cheese (with various additions), red beans and rice, chicken & sausage gumno, shrimp etouffee, shrimp creole, jambalaya, chicken pot pie, beef stew, spaghetti, enchiladas, chiken and white bean chili, lamb curry, and so on....twenty-three different dinners in all.  Breakfast will be granola,  
 oatmeal (some with baked fruit), scrambled egg wraps, and breakfast casseroles. In other words, we will NOT be eating the same thing over and over, and everything we eat will be so much tastier than anything store bought.  Since we prepared them ourselves, we know exactly what's in the package - no MSG, no dyes, no crap.  We are still working on breakfasts, lunches and snacks, but also want to leave room to purchase things in town to allow for cravings we might have at any given point along the trail.  We'll snack on bars, like Pro Bars (Superfood Slam is awesome!), which are nutrient and calorie dense.  Lunch will probably be peanut butter sandwiches, chicken salad sandwiches (yup, you can dehydrate chicken salad), and tuna salad for Keith (no cold fish for me). I know what you're thinking..."um, how are you going to carry all that?"  It's true that hiking all day burns a lot of calories and we'll need a lot of food. Each dehydrated dinner weighs approximately 10 - 14 ounces each, breakfasts and lunches 2 - 8 oz each and then snacks.   Obviously, we can't carry all that food at one time.  We have planned mail drops at predetermined stops along the way (see previous post), so we will be mailing all of the food (and it is several very large boxes) to a friend, who will be mailing between 6 and 9 days worth of food to us at each stop. The trail passes through many towns along the way, giving us the opportunity to gorge on restaurant food occasionally, fresh fruits and vegetables, and whatever takes our fancy at the grocery store to supplement the dehydrated food.  And hey, if some of our friends want to mails us some home-baked goods along the way (we're going to post mailing addresses and keep everyone updated on where we are), that would be icing on the cake, so to speak.  Most thru hikers experience significant weight loss on the trail.  I'm actually pretty excited about that prospect and have been working quite successfully at adding extra pounds in anticipation.  I have wondered briefly whether we might end up being the only thru hikers ever to actually gain weight on the trail. "-)  I guess time will tell!

Up next..."What's that on your back?"

Thursday, November 29, 2012

More about the beginning

So, I have been politely informed that the blog is too straightforward and does not have enough about the story behind the hike.  In my defense, I wrote it while I was sick with a kidney infection, so please forgive me for my lack of creativity and wit.  I've since tweaked the original post a little to add more information.   I had hoped to post more since that time, but exactly a week after my visit to the hospital for the kidney infection, I was on my way to work when I was hit head on by an SUV, which was inexplicably on my side of the road.  It has been a very trying, slow recovery, and has certainly reinforced that living NOW is so important.  My biggest fear in recovery was that I might not be able to carry my pack in March.  However, I have been assured that I should be back to normal (my normal, that is) in time for the hike. 

For those who want to know the back story about Keith and me, and the hiking experiences that led us toward this trip, read on.  For those who don't, you'll want to exit now.

So I guess we gave you a little bit about us in the beginning, but here's a little more for those of you interested in knowing a little more about what makes us tick. For as far back as I can remember I've always not only enjoyed, but relished the time spent outdoors. Growing up a military brat meant we moved around a little, (mostly in the Southeast, US) so there were always new areas to explore. A lot of my fondest memories are of playing in the woods near our homes, climbing trees, walking along (well mostly in) the creeks and of course family camping trips to the nearby lakes or parks. I guess that's where or how I caught this hiking bug. But you know even with all that time spent outside and the many camping trips my first real "hike" didn't come until 1998, a year after my divorce. No, I don't think there is anything to read into that, other than I was on my own and had some time. After all, there had been numerous camping trips over those years, just no hikes and certainly no primitive style camping. Pretty much the family style car camping route. Fun, but not the same. Looking back I'm not sure why I chose the A.T. for this first hike. Perhaps it was merely the close proximity to where I was at, at the time, which was Gulf Breeze, FL. Dina has asked me "well why not the Florida Trail?" to which I honestly don't know or remember. I guess I had read about A.T. hikes in both Outside, and Back Packer magazines and of course there was the fabulously funny "A Walk in the Woods" by Bill Bryson. Maybe that was it. Anyway, whatever it was I purchased equipment, most of which we still have and use, drove to Dahlonega, parked my truck in the Amicalola Falls parking lot, and after a night of camping in the campground there, began my first true hike the following morning. That trip lasted 4 days and covered 28 miles. No I certainly did not set any records, but did confirm what I probably already knew would happen. I was, am, and forever will be hooked on hiking. For those of you like me, you know that just a few minutes walking in the woods, through a field, along a beach, or pretty much anywhere outside can erase all the stress and troubles of the day. For those of you not in the know, I strongly suggest you give it a try. Just writing about all this makes me long for the outside. So with that being said, see ya! More later.
Dina:  I have always been an outdoors, tomboy kinda girl.  Like Keith, I have many memories of playing in whatever woods were near our home and climbing trees.

I had always loved camping and had been on many day hikes, but had never been backpacking until 2007, when I hiked the Appalachian Trail with a group of friends for a week.  The experience was life changing for me. On that very first trip, I resolved to someday do the entire trail.  Two more backpacking trips on the AT followed in 2007 and 2008.   At the time, I was living in Florida and when my house sold in May of 2008, I seriously considered starting a thru hike.  I didn't think I had enough time to plan (and given the many hours/days/weeks we've spent preparing, I was right) and I really didn't want to go alone.  I'm very glad now that I waited, so Keith and I can share the dream together.

Instead of thru hiking, I relocated in June 2008 to Colorado in the foothills, southwest of Denver, and the following year, Keith and I were married (outside, at the top of a rocky peak).

It has been amazing to be close to so many magnificent hiking trails.  Keith and I have been lucky to backpack and hike many times close to our home.  I am always amazed by the change that comes over me within minutes of being on the trail.  It's difficult to describe, but imagine being in the woods, with no sounds other than the wind in the trees, and the birds, and you breathe in deeply and the smell is of green and life and freshness.  The world is just right.  Your entire being is at peace.  You quickly realize that very few things in life deserve the priority we give them.  Backpacking is the perfect way to put your life in perspective.

 I love Colorado and the rocky mountains, but I'm ready for the next chapter.  Today was 99 days until our last day of our present jobs.  When we got home tonight, we poured a couple of shots to celebrate and Keith made a toast, with which I will close:  "To unfettering the ties that bind." 


2184 Miles - proposed itinerary

This is a work in progress, but here is our proposed itinerary.

Day of Week
Approximate Date
Amicalola Falls, GA
Walasi Yi
Fontana Dam
Hot Springs
Greasy Creek
Atkins, VA
Pearisburg VA
US 220/81 Daleville
Montebello, VA
Elkton, VA
Harper’s Ferry, WV
Boiling Springs, PA
Port Clinton, PA
High Point State Park, Sussex, NJ
Pawling, NY
Lee, MA
Manchester, VT
Bartlett, NH
Andover, ME
Caratunk, ME
Monson, ME
Mt. Katahdin!!!!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The beginning of the story...

For those of you who do not know us, an introduction is in order.  I work as a paralegal at a law firm in Evergreen, Colorado and until recently cooked at a casino, and Keith works for a natural grocery chain opening their new stores across the west and midwest.  Before we ever met, each of us had a desire to thru hike the Appalachian Trail.  We have section-hiked Georgia and part of North Carolina, and the dream of doing the entire trail has consistently popped up in our discussions over the last several years.  As often happens, life gets busy and gets in the way of the best laid plans.  I was working about 70 to 75 hours a week and Keith travels about three quarters of the year.  Spending so much time apart was motivating us to look at options to work for ourselves. We decided that if we were going to work so hard, we should work for ourselves.  Back in the spring of 2012, we had been working seriously on restaurant planning and looking for a location to open a small restuarant/cafe.   Plans were well underway, but we were questioning whether we were jumping from the frying pan into the fire.  Strangely, we were heading home after my graduation ceremony from culinary school when I asked the questions that changed our course:  "What are we doing?  We're talking about opening a restaurant, which we know will take over our lives.  What do YOU want to do?"  Keith's answer was simple, "I want to hike."  I wholeheartedly agreed and realized that and this was not like the times we had previously discussed a thru hike.  This was not just a fantasy discussion about what we wanted to do - it was real.  We went for lunch and number crunched on napkins.    Realizing we could make it work financially solidified our decision to thru hike the AT in 2013.  Since that time, we have spent many hours reading, planning, budgeting, and cooking (more on that process later).

We decided to take our retirement hike years before retirement.  We will have six months of hiking to decide what we really want to do and where.  For those who have not spent time backpacking, and perhaps think we are a little crazy (I'm not really denying that), there is a complete adjustment in the way you think about life when you spend days on the trail, carrying all your necessities on your back.  Your priorities change.  You suddenly realize that things to which you have given great importance are not important at all. We look forward to that shift in perspective.  We'll spend our anniversary (March 20) at Amicalola Falls and then begin our hike March 21, 2013 at the approach trail (which is a grueling 8 mile hike prior to reaching the southern terminus of the trail) in Georgia.  

We will journey about 2,184 miles, through 14 states over approximately six months, ending at Mount Katahdin in Maine.   Over the next several months, we'll post more about the planning process, the food, gear and itinerary.  We hope that you'll follow us on our journey.

Dina and Keith