Post # 267 Trail Mixing It Up

June 27, 2014 at 5:41 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Okay, short quiz here.  How many people who are reading this know that I like to hike?  If you’ve paid any attention to this blog over the last two years, you’ll know the answer is YES!!  One of my earliest memories is from when we lived in South Carolina while my dad was in the Marines.  We went on a family camping trip and slept in a pop up tent trailer.  The things that I recall most vividly are the trees were so tall; we got to eat cereal out of little boxes that opened up and became the bowls to put the milk in; there was a stream nearby that I would float down on a blow up mattress; and we got a brand new whiffle ball set that no one seemed interested in using and from which the ball disappeared almost immediately.

I like hiking and camping.  It’s sort of a family trait.  Everyone in my family likes the outdoors and moving around in it.  One topic that continually comes up is food on the trail.  At one time, I was steeped in the most up-to-date info about food on the trail.  I had (and still have) a food dehydrator.  I had a water purifier so I wouldn’t get sick on the trail.  I had three different pack stoves for various types of uses.  I knew how to sprout seeds on the trail to have fresh vegetables.

I have a friend in Virginia.  He’s quite a bit younger than me, and when we first met back in the 90’s he was in the Army.  He also liked to go hiking and get out into nature and see the kinds of things that I had seen around us.  We would spend hours getting “lost” on a trail in the middle of a city in a state park.  I’d be pointing out this plant was edible, or that plant could be turned into a salad, or that tree’s leaves were good to line a fire pit to steam fish.  He once joked that going hiking with me was more like going to the grocery store.

As we all grew older and wiser, the tenor of our trips changed a bit.  The food became more gourmet rather than Spartan.  Wine started featuring on the menu alongside cheese and fresh fruit.  Dehydrated foods and energy bars started disappearing while whole eggs, and fresh lettuce, and frozen but thawed choice cut meats became the norm.  “Car camping” evolved into the standard so the camping equipment changed.  I never had one, but a friend once had a margarita mixer that ran off the car’s power plug.  I’ve also heard rumors about mini fridges, microwave ovens, and that kind of thing.

Another guy I knew in Virginia came in to work one day talking about a hike he and his uncle had taken that weekend.  The hike they’d done was in Shenandoah National Park and is probably the most popular hike in the area.  It has spectacular views, plenty of woodsy shade, a natural staircase to make the climbing easier, and on any given day you’ll meet about 600 of your closest friends on the hike up and down.  It really gets so crowded that sometimes during the hike, the sight you’ll see most is the back of the person in front of you.  Most people reach the top of the mountain, look at the views for a few minutes, then head back down.  My friend and his uncle walked about 700 feet away from the main area, plopped themselves down on a boulder under a tree, nestled into the carpet of old pine needles, opened their packs.  My friend broke out a bottle of chilled wine and a plastic glass while his uncle pulled out a six pack of beer.  His uncle had frozen the beer the night before counting on it to thaw out on the hike.  He popped one open and slugged down a frosty cold beer while my friend enjoyed his wine.  They also ate crackers and cheese to the dumbfounded looks of the crowd.  My friend told me he could tell the pervading thought was “Why didn’t we think of that?”  Strictly speaking, alcohol is not allowed in National parks, and usually not in state parks either.  But they were on top of a mountain on a hot day with no rangers in sight.  They enjoyed themselves.  As my friend said, it was a lot easier going down than climbing up.

I was telling my sister that story the other night and she shared a similar one.  She and several people had gone on a rigorous hike here in Arizona in a mountainous area.  Mountain hikes here are different than mountain hikes almost anywhere else.  The desert never leaves the mountains, and the trails can be just as dusty and rocky as the desert floor.  One time, they were hiking a challenging trail and stopped for a rest.  They broke out the wine and only half a glass into their rest stop, it started to rain.  Rain in this area is not unheard of, but it also started to hail.  Large balls of frozen water started pelting them.  They looked around and found a rock shelf to hide under while they continued drinking wine.  After about ten minutes, the hail stopped and they packed up and continued their hike.  They found a sign at the start of the trail which they’d missed.  It gave the name of the trail and it’s length, difficulty, etc.  It was called The Hail Trail.  As they were reading it, several people came rushing up clamoring about being caught in the hail.  “How did you guys do?  We were caught right out in the open!”  My sister and her friends just shrugged their shoulders.  “We hid under a rock shelf and finished our wine.”

Years ago, as the age evolution set in, my sister and her friends started packing along the necessities of life.  They had to buy the equipment one piece at a time as finances allowed and they were thrilled when they bought their little espresso machine for their Coleman gas grill.  They planned their trip meticulously and looked forward to their morning coffee.  Problem was, when it came time for the coffee, their little espresso maker made a tiny cup of espresso, on at a time.  And they didn’t think to bring along any other coffee maker.  So they made one cup and shared it with everyone getting a small sip.  They kept making espresso one little cup at a time until everyone had had enough.

One time, a friend of theirs came along who didn’t ordinarily go camping and hiking with them.  He was unfamiliar with the routine, so he brought along the foods he usually took.  He had not hit the “evolving” stage.  He had a lot of freeze dried packages of soup and rice and things you wouldn’t ordinarily eat.  The first night, he made himself a pot full of freeze dried chili and corn chips.  The rest had chicken kiev done on the campfire.  The second night he abandoned his menu and ate along with the rest with lentil soup and flour tortillas.  The third night, when he had downed his second glass of wine from the box and was checking the veggies that were roasting in a hole under the embers, he looked at the rest of the people and said, “I don’t eat this well when I’m at home!”

My friend from the Army and I went out one day in January to hike to an overlook I knew about that he’d never seen.  Knowing it was cold, I packed along a surprise for us.  While hiking, I told him about when my sister and her friends first started their hiking food evolution.  They had done a day hike to the top of a mountain to see an overlook similar to what we were doing.  When they arrived, they spread out a large towel and arranged several small platters of cheese, crackers, and fruit along with a bottle of wine.  They were relaxing and enjoying themselves when two younger girls showed up from a different direction.  The two girls took in the sight of the wine and cheese and grapes and said, “Man!  All we have are Clif bars and water!”  They didn’t stick around for long.

My friend and I chuckled over that as we trudged through the snow.  We arrived at our overlook and he was suitably impressed.  I pointed out a couple of other places where he could get different views and while he wandered off, I set up our surprise.  I had recently received a new camp stove so I set it up and soon had a pan of water getting to the boiling stage.  I took out two large mugs and filled them partway with homemade hot chocolate mix.  Then I set out a small plate piled high with homemade chocolate chip cookies.  When my friend stepped back onto the rock we were set up at, he stopped short and looked at me.

“Hungry?  Hope you like hot chocolate.”  I poured the now boiling water into the mugs and stirred them up.  “Help yourself.”

Shaking his head, he said, “Only you could come up with something like this on top of a mountain in winter.”

I thought back to all the people I know who’ve hiked and camped and the creative ways they had of doing food on the trail.  “Probably not.” I said.


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