Thursday, February 8, 2018

The Great Supermarket Slink, or, Buying Trail Food

Ahh, the time is here again. The time when I slink into Safeway, praying nobody I know will see me and the cashiers won't judge. It is even worse than usual, because I used to be able to divide my trail food buying between two stores. Alas, we no longer have a grocery store in my little town so I have to drive to the Safeway the next town over.

The struggle is real: it is hard to have healthy food on trail. Especially if you aren't bringing a stove, or any dehydrated food at all, because California is in a massive drought and you are pretty sure you will be doing 40 mile water carries. That leaves no room for extraneous water. I see newbies all the time stating they will eat healthy on a long hike, only to devolve into the tortilla-peanut butter-salami--Oreo wrap. At the same time. Turns out, hiking twenty plus miles a day carrying six liters of water means that a steady supply of calories is necessary, and high calorie at that.

So I load up my cart with stuff I never buy in real life: Bars. Peanut butter pretzels. M&Ms. And also, a stab at being sort of healthy: Tuna. Almond butter packets. Shelf stable hummus. Nuts, even though I don't really like nuts all that much. Cheese. You also have to consider the relative weight versus benefit. Hiking a long trail is pretty much the only time you will see a woman, any woman, look at calories of an item and discard it because it is too little calories.

I used to bring turkey pepperoni (I'm not really a beef fan either) but it was always so salty and seemed too processed. Salami and jerky are faves of other hikers, but, not a big meat eater in real life, I couldn't stomach these after a few days. Also, I never eat jelly beans anywhere else but on the trail: but when you need a quick boost to go the last four miles, jelly beans do the trick. Dried fruit, if you can find it without added sugar (really hard to find at Safeway) can also help.

You can ask Good Stuff about the time I ambitiously decided I was going to bring kale for dinner. Kale in a wrap! After day three, it didn't seem like such a good idea.

Inevitably, someone I know will appear in an aisle, their cart full of organic produce. I sprint on by, hoping they don't judge my snack-full cart. It looks like I'm settling in for a month of Super Bowls.

I'm sort of kidding. I don't worry that much about what people think about the food I'm getting. Sort of. Wish me luck, I'm going in.

Trail food! What's a favorite of yours?

24 comments:

  1. at the beginning, I used to eat chips and beef jerky (I'm a meat eater!) plus ramen for dinner. The last two months on the PCT it was clif bars (6 or 10 per day) plus ramen and Idahoans (half) for dinner. Despite all this "good" food I lost 60 pounds!

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    1. Sixty pounds! I'd be in the hospital. I have seen that the women on the PCT don't tend to lose as much weight as the guys do. I don't think I could choke down that many clif bars.

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  2. Once I learned that spoonfuls of peanut butter can support life indefinitely, my pack became much lighter. A little added honey when you need some quick energy :)

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    1. Peanut butter for the win! I've seen people carrying big jars of it. I don't go that far, but I do have the little packets.

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  3. I tend to order my trail food online, or make my own, so I can get what I hope is fairly 'clean'. (I do this before fire season as well so I have something decent to eat). I have found sources for dried organic cherries with no sugar which I like to mix with raw almonds, and I love uncured bacon bars (meat eater here too). I like to make my own jerky (venison if I have it, grassfed beef otherwise). Sometimes I have homemade pemmican (dried pulverized meat mixed with fat (perferably deer which hardens at higher ambient temp) and some dried fruit) which can sustain me for a very long time. I also have some dried biscuitroot - there is a lot to be said for First Foods. light and high in nutrition.

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    1. Those Native Americans knew where it was at. I've never tried Biscuitroot--I'd like to. And if I had a source for venison I'd definitely try that. It is the domestic animal eating that I limit, mostly.

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    2. Wow I'm impressed with the biscuitroot too. I've only had pemmican a few times but it was great trail food.

      I'm also live on tortilla-pb wraps. If I get fancy I put dried fruit or candy on it too. Simple.

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    3. I do the same thing, I could probably eat pb wraps all day long. Glad I can eat gluten and carbs without a problem. Hiking low carb is hard.

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  4. Sounds like you've become an "expert" in foods you wouldn't ordinarily buy and eat. No dehydrated foods....that's a challenge. NO Joseph grocery store??....sad...they had good fruits and veggies in season.

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    1. It is supposed to reopen sometime with a new owner, but we'll see.

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  5. I never even peaked inside your cart. I was just so excited to run into you out in the "big world." A friendly chat and a hug was all I was looking for. Safe trip....enjoy that concrete river.

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    1. That is funny I wrote this and then saw a million people I knew in Safeway. I kept it pretty healthy though. Except for jelly beans. Must have jelly beans.

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  6. Ha ha, great post. Timely for me as well. Just yesterday I finished my shopping for my Iditarod drop bags and starting food. Limited to five pounds each this year, so I kept it really dense and protein-packed. Basically I made three pounds of trail mix — nut- and seed-heavy (but of course mixed with chocolate and peanut butter cups — a few bars, beef jerky, tuna, and a couple of freeze-dried meals. Mostly protein and fat, less sugar ... I'm fairly proud of myself. I used to worry more about the specifics of food on the trail, but I've learned that I get the hungry and will mow through most anything, but tend to crave protein.

    Since I had to buy Beat's food as well, I also went to three different stores when I probably could have picked most of it up at one ... but ugh, seeing all of that crap put together is never confidence-inspiring, always embarrassing. Also, I was looking for a deal on jerky. ;-)

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    1. I laughed when I read your blog. 5 lbs though? For all the calories you're burning? Mine comes out to about 1 pound a day or so but definitely not pulling a,sled in freezing temps.

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    2. Yeah, on these winter trips I tend to mow through calories — whether I'm burning them all I don't know. But I can easily eat 6,000 calories a day and feel hungry still. 6,000 is usually about 3 pounds of food, so I believe 5 pounds is not nearly enough for the walkers. But this is what the race allows now ... used to be 10, but I think they were getting a lot of waste from the bikers who blaze the course in 2 days. I'll start with a couple pounds of peanut butter as "emergency" food, and hopefully scavenge from those fast bikers. :)

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    3. Also, I wanted to note that I'm surprised your backpacking food only comes in to a pound of day. A pound of pure fat is 3,500 calories (famously.) I would need a least that much for a typical backpacking trip. At 20 miles a day, it would be difficult to glean enough energy from a pound of food. Calorie deficits always prolong recovery.

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    4. I know, I always lose weight. My appetite tends to suppress when I am doing these hikes, until about Day 10. Then I am a human vacuum. So I've carried tons of food and come home with tons of food. On thus trip we need to carry 6L of water and that's more important. That being said, I think we might pass by at least one cafe. Some of this section is not a wilderness trek. Despite all my years at this I have yet to really dial in my food.

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  7. I love the look people give me when I buy my backpacking food. It's a big mound of Idahoan potatoes, peanut M&Ms, and Chex Mix. Heck yes, I'm gonna eat all that! :) My backpacking menu is basically all my junk food favorites with a few packets of oatmeal and dried fruit for good measure. :)

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    1. I'm the same way. I used to get all creative with uncooked pasta, spices, vegerables...and cook it all at camp. Now I just can't be bothered.

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  8. Reminds me of a vegetarian friend often seen with a cart full of discounted meats and bones--for her rescued skijor- and sleddogs.

    Wear an old pair of shorts and hiking boots while shopping! It will probably get noticed this time of year....

    Tom
    Fairbanks

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    1. Haha, yes! Then people would know what I was up to. In trail towns I've seen hikers pushing carts with their backpacks in the carts. Not a bad idea either.

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  9. In order of decreasing likelihood...

    (1) No Cook Brownies

    - use powdered butter (available from Wally-Mart), powdered eggs (optional), powdered milk, powdered cocoa
    - add honey or sugar, peanut butter, dried fruit, chocolate chips
    - then add binder and bulk, such as...
    - corn flour (might be best to toast any flour)
    - or maybe some or all of these: oatmeal (may be partly cooked as it's milled / can toast if you wish), panko, instant potatoes (plain)

    - to prepare...

    - method 1:
    - mix dry ingredients, add water, mix more
    - air and/or sun dry (if you're on the road and don't have an oven)
    - cut into bars
    - portion out and bag

    - method 2:
    - mix dry ingredients thoroughly and bag
    - then, at meal time, add water, mix everything in the bag, and eat
    - no breakage or crumbling before eating this way
    - no worry about spoilage or being totally dry
    - guaranteed lightest weight

    (2) Pinole (requires a kitchen)

    I tried a sort of pinole. Looks good so far.

    Take ordinary yellow corn meal. Put it in a pan and heat on the stove, stirring constantly until it's about medium brown. Don't let it get hot enough to smoke. That's it.

    I've put about 1/2 to 2/3 cup into a bag and added dark brown sugar, powdered milk, and maybe four tablespoons of butter. On the trail I add boiling hot water, a little less water every time I try it. For 2/3 cup of dry pinole I'm down to just under one cup of hot water, and it still seems too much.

    This stuff does not cook or swell up, though it does soften a bit. The pan scorching does cook it in a way, and gives it a flavor I can't describe. I don't want to call it a "nutty" flavor but that's what a cook would call it. It isn't. It tastes like scorched corn meal. It's distinctive. A good flavor, but unique.

    The texture bugs me. It's like drinking wet sand. And since the water doesn't soak in, it's like having wet sand with too much water in it. Too bad. But there is a magnificently excellent part to this story, as far as I'm concerned.

    The excellent part is that this stuff, once eaten, simply passes right out of your consciousness. You get it down, drink a cup of tea as a chaser, get up, and walk. After several hours you slowly get hungry again. No farting, no stomach gurgling, no projectile crapping, no nothing else including no nausea, no retching, no second thoughts or doubts about what you ate. No sudden energy crash. Pinole just works.

    Which is about as good as food ever gets for me. Really. If you think of food as fuel. Maybe you don't, but that's your own lookout.

    (3) "Partly Organic, Mostly digestible." (Eat someone else's dogfood.) https://ultralighter.blogspot.com/2013/10/partly-organic.html

    (4) Mice.

    "How to Cook Mice

    "The cooking of the mice is very simple. The mice are gutted, boiled in plain water for about half an hour and salted. They are then fire dried until they are nearly bone dry. Mice are never cooked any other way.

    "Some do not know how to cook mice.
    "Some do not know how to cook mice.
    "Onion, tomatoes in the mice.
    "Onion, cooking oil in the mice. *

    "So goes the song about a silly young modern housewife who did not learn proper mouse cookery. She made a grave mistake. These ingredients are taboo in Zambian mouse cookery. Don't be an embarrassment on the trail. Learn how to cook your mice.

    "'Mice as a Delicacy: the Significance of Mice in the Diet of the Tumbuka People of Eastern Zambia', by Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph.D." See https://web.archive.org/web/20170702055243/http://www.bridgewater.edu/~mtembo/mbeba.html

    Fun accessory: Hazbro EZ-Bake UL (A new trail boy toy.) https://ultralighter.blogspot.com/2011/11/hazbro-ez-bake-ul.html

    Alt: I read about a Canadian couple on the Grand Enchantment Trail who ordered goods through Amazon, delivered to their next town stop, then they bagged the stuff up when they got there, and didn't have to depend on buying whatever was available locally. (postholer.com / Alistair and Gail)

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  10. Hmm, interesting. I like the brownie idea for sure. Think I'll pass on the mice. I'm not organized enough for the Amazon thing but if I were doing a longer hike that's not a bad solution. I hate sending resupply boxes because you do them all at once and by the time you open them you want nothing to do with that food.

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  11. Hey Mary, great minds think alike. I always carry jelly beans on boat trips, snowmachine and hiking, etc. I usually buy trail mix from ebay or Amazon. You can buy in bulk from them.

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