Long Distance Hiking: the All You Can Eat Diet

…The only catch is, you have to carry all the food on your back. On the PCT I plunged the depths of cravings. Now I’m a few weeks out from attempting a thru-hike of the 468 mile Colorado Trail. So, food is the first topic to be addressed in the ensuing trail oriented entries.

Anyone who has hiked any distance knows the fantasies. You’re 3 days out when your salivary glands spring a leak as a hamburger the size of a mini-cooper floats into your mind, and sticks (body says, “protein, please”). I remember taking 3 Zero Days (days of no hiking) in Northern California during which our predominant activity was watching the Cooking Channel. Food Porn.

Because water is heavy, and weight is always a factor when backpacking, most trail food is dehydrated. Produce will last a day or so before it gets squashed in your pack by errant gear or you forget and sit on your pack. Cheese can last up to a week, but store it deep in the cool recesses of your pack, otherwise it gets warm and greasy.

As it turns out, bagels and Idahoan mashed potatoes do not satisfy all dietary needs. My body ate 40 lbs of herself over the course of those 5 months on the PCT; and everyone knows self-cannibalism is creepy. Though I’ve been happily building up stores of fat recently, my aim is to maintain a better balanced trail diet this time around. So…

For the past few months my dehydrator has been working long hours, reducing vats of Lentil Soup, Shepherds Pie, Chicken Alfredo, and burrito filling to nutritious, crumbly concoctions. I then divvy the meals out according to weight, as per the USPS letter scale at work. Making trail meals is the new skill I’ve decided to cultivate for this adventure. I’ll post the recipes and instructions once I’ve completed the trail and gotten Granite’s permission.

Thanks goes out in part to my sister for sending Lipsmackin’ Backpackin’, Andy and Leda for advising the same, then loading me up with oats by which to home-make granola, and most of all Granite, who spent hours relaying dinner recipes, answering a plethora of questions and fielding sporadic texts and calls when I got nervous about ingredients, process, or outcome. When your Chicken Alfredo comes out of the dehydrator all brown colored, it gives a gal pause! Doubts which can only be wholly allayed by a Truly Trusted Trail Tutor. He gave me sound advice in the kind of language I understand. For example:

When asked how to flavor meals-“You should taste it and think, ‘mmm, this is delicious’.”

When asked how to tell when a meal is done drying – “Dehydrate the f*%# out of it.”

A practical secret to mixing a meal- “Dehydrate veggies separate from the rest of it so they retain some semblance of their natural consistency and flavor. And they keep their color, and that makes it pretty.” Also, “Use turkey instead of beef” (it’s more lean and dries better).

I have begun testing the meals to figure out whether they are actually edible, what are proper water ratios, etc. My only concern so far is that it takes nearly 10 minutes for the meals to rehydrate. 10 minutes may as well be 10 years after a 20 mile day! Therefore I will either be eating crunchy meals, or will learn patience; only time will tell which.

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