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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?"