attempting to make instant mashed potatoes a little healthier
This past week, in addition to our usual training at the gym and hiking, we added trying out the food we will be eating on the trail. For the last 5 days, we ate the foods we will be taking with us, and cooked it on our camp stove, even ate it out of our camp bowls with our sporks.
Now, we did not eat as much food as we will be eating on the trail. There is no way we can pack in that many calories with our normal daily activities, no matter how stressful my last week of work got. (Just kidding, it wasn’t that bad.) So, we were just trying out the types of foods, to see what we really liked, what got old fast, etc.
Here’s what I ate:
Breakfast: protein granola bars
Lunch: Cheezits, peanut butter, cheddar cheese
our stove and cook pot
Dinner: instant mashed potatoes most nights, and one night instant mac and cheese, with the following mixed in for variety: turkey jerky, chia seeds, pea protein powder, green food powder (lots of wheatgrass, spirulina, and other veggies), freeze dried green beans
Snacks: freeze dried apples, snap pea crisps, peanut butter
Jason ate a variation of the same, only with beef jerky and bacon jerky (yes, that is a thing, very salty!).
Here’s what I learned:
me eating lunch in my car at work, peanut butter on cheddar, yum!
I still could eat Cheezits every day of the week, but I don’t like them with peanut butter.
I don’t mind a spoonful of peanut butter for a mid-morning snack.
I quite enjoy using slices of cheese as “crackers” for the peanut butter for lunch (Instead of Cheezits, because those are just too delicious to eat with anything else. I may have a problem!)
I much preferred instant mashed potatoes to instant mac and cheese (this may surprise many).
Jerky isn’t so bad mixed in with stuff.
Freeze dried green beans are quite good and soften up in mashed potatoes.
We learned the best technique to stir water into instant mashed in a bowl that it just barely fits into (add a little powder, add a little water, repeat until full).
I did like the taste of the green food powders I was trying out. I’ll get a large bottle of it to divvy out in our food boxes to mail.
It takes about two days for my stomach to adjust to this new diet.
I’m gonna need a lot more snacks!
Another bit of training I’ve done that I haven’t yet mentioned is earning my orienteering badge –learning to use a compass, successfully read and better understand maps, and navigate a trail better. Jason is really an old pro at this, having earned his badge in boy scouts long ago, and can navigate quite well on and off trail in the world.
I, on the other hand, will admit, not so much. But I have successfully learned, I think, we’ll see; or hopefully, we’ll never have to see.
still lots of snow on our last hike! Though it’s finally starting to melt.
So, we have just about everything sold, stored, or packed into our car now. Next week we’ll be hitting the road! We’re driving to Oregon to drop off our car and stuff.
Fun stops we’re looking forward to on our road trip include the Upper Penninsula of Michigan, Badlands of South Dakota, and Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone. Stayed tuned!
Any recommendations of things to see and do, places to eat? We’ll be taking the northern route, a lot of I-90.
See you on the road!
Round Top, Belgrade Lakes, Maine. If you look closely, you can see the snow flurries.
You’re doing what on the what? We are thru hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. And if you don’t know what that means, read Part 1 here. Now I’ll continue the FAQ.
walking down to get the mail, practicing with my poles and pack
What’s the highest point on the trail?
Forrester Pass, at 13,153 feet in the Sierra Nevada. We hope to take a side trail to ascend Mt. Whitney, at 14,494 feet elevation, which would make it the highest point of our journey. It is also the highest point in the contiguous United States.
What’s the lowest point on the trail?
Cascade Locks, at 140 feet above sea level, in the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon.
How much will your packs weigh?
The base weight (base weight is everything you are carrying with you, including the weight of your pack, and excluding food and water) of my pack will probably be around 12 pounds. Jason’s will probably be around 15 pounds, because he is carrying the tent, and our cooking stuff. That means the full weight of our packs when we are headed out of resupply points will be me: 35 pounds, Jason: pushing 40 pounds. The further we hike away from resupply points the more food and water we consume; thus, the lighter our packs become.
How many miles a day will you hike?
We need to average about 17 miles per day in order to make it to the end of the trail before the snow falls in Washington. This average includes any zero days we’ll take. A zero day means a rest day; zero miles completed.
At the beginning we’ll start out at about 10 miles a day, slowly building closer to 20. Mileage will also depend on the terrain we’ll be traveling on for the day. We’ll make more miles during flat stretches, less when we are climbing in elevation. Making it to resupply points during post office and store hours is also a factor in how many miles a day we travel, and if we need to do laundry in town, etc.
multi-tasking -training while getting housework done!
How are you training for your hike?
It is the dead of winter right now in Maine, so although we are getting out to do some hiking, weather and work schedule prevent us from doing a lot. It’s pretty tough to simulate hiking miles and miles day after day. They say, the real training begins on Day 1 of the hike. Not until hiking the actual trail, do you really start to get in long-distance hiker shape.
That being said, there are still some things you can do to prepare, which, I feel, are pretty important. I am doing a lot of strength training, focusing on my core and legs. For those of you that don’t know, I tore my ACL last January, and will be about 1 year 1 month post knee surgery when we start the trail. So, for me, building the strength, balance, and confidence back up in my right leg has been very important. Luckily, I am friends with an amazing personal trainer who set me up with an awesome training program I have been doing for the last 10 weeks, increasing in difficulty as I get stronger.
This is what my weekly exercise plan looks like. Actually, this would be an ideal week, which hardly ever happens.
Strength training at the gym or a less intense home program, focusing on core and lower body, with a little upper body thrown in for good measure (2-3 times a week).
Endurance, which, when the weather is good, includes a hike. When it’s not, I spend a long time at the gym doing a combination of slow jogging, swimming, and biking (once a week).
Cardio Intervals. I usually do this on my strength days at the gym, but sometimes just by itself. I will do a combination of running on the track and treadmill (soon, with the extra daylight and warmer temps, I can start running outside again!), or a swim (2-3 times a week).
Rest day, at least once a week, but often, for various reasons, it’s more than that.
What else? We also wear our weighted packs around the house, while doing cooking or cleaning (I actually sweep more now that I’m wearing my pack!), or on walks down to our mailbox. I also have a pretty consistent yoga practice, which includes meditation. Although, I have to admit, since I’m exercising a lot more, some days this takes a back seat.
What has Jason been doing to train? Well, since he’s less schedule-oriented than I am, his training is a little (a lot) less regemented. He wears a heavily-weighted pack while pacing around the house, doing walking lunges, and various other strength exercises, runs on the treadmill a little, and of course, accompanies me on our hikes.
We also spend a lot of evenings reading books and blogs and researching for the journey as well.
Here’s a little more background on what the Pacific Crest Trail is and what we’ll be doing on it. I decided to write it in FAQ style, with questions I’ve been frequently asked; questions I frequently ask myself; and answers to some other interesting questions. Here ya go! (This got a little long, so I split it into two parts.)
Feel free to ask me more in the comments below and I will try to answer them in Part 2!
Note: I am, by far, not an expert on this subject. There are plenty of people who are, and you can find them through Google searches and some of the links provided below, like this one.
What is the Pacific Crest Trail?
The Pacific Crest Trail, or PCT for short, is a 2,650 mile trail that spans the states of California, Oregon and Washington. It starts at the Mexican border in Campo, CA and ends at the Canadian border in Washington. The trail usually runs along the ridgeline of the mountain ranges of the west coast. In California, it traverses the Laguna Mountains, San Jacinto Mountains, San Bernardino Range, San Gabriel Range, Sierra Nevada and other mountains, across the San Andreas Fault, through a stretch of the Mojave Desert, and parts of Yosemite National Park. Its Oregon section covers the Cascade Range, including Crater Lake, passing through lava fields, and near The Three Sisters Mountains and Mt. Hood. The trail crosses the Columbia River on the Bridge of the Gods going into Washington. In Washington, it climbs out of the Columbia River Gorge, continuing along the Cascades, with a close-up view of Mt. Rainer. The trail ends at the Canadian border, but has been extended for a seven mile stretch into Canada, requiring you to carry a passport to get back into the United States. This allows a quicker connection back to a road.
We are planning on the entire hike taking us between 4 ½ and 5 months. We will start our hike on April 19th and hope to finish sometime in September.
What will you do about food?
There are a few options for food. Typically, we will carry about 4-6 days worth of food in our packs between resupply points. A resupply point is a town, or sometimes only a small convenience store or post office that is off the trail. Resupply points are reached by walking or hitching a ride. Once we reach a resupply point, we will either stock up at a local store or pick up a package we have mailed ourselves ahead of time.
Not all towns along the trail have places to stock up on food, so often post offices and other places will hold packages for thru hikers. Some people put together all of their packages ahead of time and mail them out, or have someone else mail them as they go. We are choosing to resupply in town whenever we can, and do a few package drops that we mail ourselves along the way for more remote areas.
As for what we will eat, we have put together meal ideas that include highly calorie-dense foods that either do not require cooking, or are cooked quickly. Any “cooking” we do will be merely boiling water for instant foods on a little canister stove.
A sample menu for the day may look like this:
resting our packs during a lunch break on a recent training hike in snowy Maine
Breakfast: Protein bars or oatmeal
Lunch: Cheezits, peanut butter, cheese, pepperoni
Dinner: Instant mashed potatoes or instant mac and cheese with beef jerky, dried vegetables, and powdered milk mixed in
Snacks: bars, nuts, dried fruit, crackers
I also plan on carrying a good multi-vitamin, and spirulina powder and chia seeds to mix into things like oatmeal and instant potatoes for added nutrients.
And of course when we get into towns, we’ll pig out on whatever we want!
What will you do about water?
We are carrying a Sawyer Mini water filter to filter our water from streams, springs, etc. In the desert, we will often carry large amounts of water with us at a time, since water sources will be few and far between. We will also have iodine tablets as a back-up water treatment.
What about snakes, spiders, scorpions, bears, and crazy people?
These are all things one may encounter on the trail. Except for crazy people; that is a myth. As for the other creatures, they are typically not things you have to spend a lot of time worrying about. From my polling of many fellow hikers during my time in Arizona, I learned that rattle snakes never bite people unless you are drunk, or stupid; i.e. unless you provoke them. They do have a rattle that will warn you ahead of time, and you simply stay out of their way. They really want nothing to do with you.
The same goes for the other poisonous critters. You just watch out for them. Don’t put your hands in holes. Don’t put your feet in your shoes without checking.
Bears, again, typically want to leave you alone. You want to be cautious about protecting your food at night by hanging it or keeping it in a bear canister. In a portion of the trail through Yosemite, bear canisters are required.
trying out a tent at REI, not the one we got, a little too small, a little too expensive
On the trail, we will tent out at a combination of established camp sites, and wherever looks flat.
We’ll occasionally stay off the trail in places with actual beds, where we can also take showers, including hiker hostels, cheap motels, a couple splurgy hotels or resorts, and maybe with trail angels, and friends along the way.
What’s a trail angel?
A trail angel is someone who lives near the trail and helps out thru hikers, doing anything from giving them food, to a ride, to a place to stay, or maybe just words of encouragement.
Any other questions I should include in Part 2 next week? Jot them in the comments or shoot me an email.
Update (11/20/17): Wow, reading over that sample menu made me laugh! We ditched our stove and instant mashed potatoes (along with bear spray and other “essentials”) a couple weeks into the hike and never looked back! It made me realize how much you learn as you go on the trail. But reading good resources and thinking about pre-trip planning is helpful. Here’s another resource you might check out: Pacific Crest Trail 101, a good overview of the trail and things to think about as you start planning. But as always, you’ll have to hike your own hike.