Journeys End Bound!

Most people hike the Long Trail from south to north. The guidebooks and maps are designed for Northbounders.  Since the southern section of the trail is less rugged and has less elevation gain, it gives hikers a chance to built up their hiking legs to prepare for the harder stuff in the north.  I am hiking it south because I like the idea of hiking towards my home state of Massachusetts and also because I am so excited for the big mountains and the remoteness of the northern half!  Since most of my hiking experience has been in the White Mountains I’m use to feeling like I’ve been shot out of a cannon so bring on the ups and downs. I’ve avoided checking the weather but Travis told me there are thunderstorms predicted all week.  Also I got my period.  Haha! It begins…


Food Prep and Consciousness

I have been slowly chipping away at food planning and preparations.  I’ve never had to figure out my menu for an entire month before.  If that isn’t tricky enough, add on the fact that all my food has to be lightweight and high caloric in order to sustain me going over those mountains.  The easiest and most affordable way to intake calories without carrying too many ounces is to eat highly processed foods full of sugar and chemicals.  This is challenging for me to wrap my head around because this is not how I eat.  My diet typically consists of mostly vegetables and we cook our meals mostly from scratch.  The only thing we eat out of a can is tomatoes when we are making our own tomato sauce.  Tracy and I bake all our own bread.  We have sour dough starter that Ayla started over a year ago that we use and feed weekly.  We ferment kefir and make it into smoothies everyday.  Our tofu is made right here in Jamaica Plain by this guy named Rudy and we buy large amounts of it once a month at a discount when shopping at our local co-op on member appreciation day where we also stock up on our dried beans, grains, flours, nuts, seeds, and spices.  Of course we still eat plenty of processed foods, especially pasta, crackers, tortilla chips, salsa, cheese, milk, nondairy milks, butters, oils, condiments, and the occasional tofurky slices or sausages and other random processed things.  While are far from eating “clean” or “local” or “vegan” or “oppression-free” or anything like that, we do make an effort to be conscious and intentional about our choices while also having fun cooking and enjoying food while trying to not take all these choices for granted.   Eating this way is economical and fun and feels good and its one of the many ways that Tracy and I connected in the first place.   I recently heard someone say that people are either conscious or unconscious at any given moment.  When we are unconscious we cause harm.  Consciousness is a practice that requires effort, maintenance and commitment that ultimately relieves suffering.  Hiking is one of the many practices I’ve found that encourages me to be conscious.  I want to foster this consciousness on the trail by eating foods that support my ability to be present physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally.

All this is to say that menu planning for a month-long thru hike is a challenge because the food has to be able to live in a backpack instead of a refrigerator and meals have to cook very quickly since I can only carry so much fuel.  This means that most of my food will be very processed.  SO I am using a harm reduction model meaning I am doing a combination of processing my own foods while spending a little extra on some products to avoid some chemicals.  Other foods I am just straight up buying off the shelf, some of which are full of chemicals.  I keep asking myself why I spent the extra dollar on the organic cereal when I also bought the most processed chemical ridden cheese crackers on the same shopping trip.  In order to move forward I just throw up my hands and conclude, harm reduction.  I am keeping it simple sometimes and practicing progress not perfection (while secretly hoping for perfection anyways).  I could sum this all up to say that menu planning for a month-long thru hike is a really healthy challenge and good practice for me.

Fortunately I am dinner sharing with Travis who is hiking the whole thing with me.  He is making and planning half our dinners and I am doing the other half.  Last weekend I soaked beans and then made a massive pot of chili and a massive pot of curried lentils. Both pots were full of veggies (which had to be either shredded or chopped very small in order to dehydrate properly).  I cooked a box of pastina (tiny star-shaped pastas) and put 1/2 the cooked pasta into each pot.  THEN, over the course of the past week I dehydrated all of each pot of food in single serving trays figuring that one and a half cups of cooked food is about a serving for a hungry hiker.  Tracy was vital as helping me figure out amounts and also just helping me out with the whole process.  She has loads of experience in determining food amounts because she has cooked for her kids and for lots of other people for lots of various reasons. She helped me with the planning and the shopping to determine details like how many peppers I should chop for a pot of chili that will feed 2-3 people 2-3 times.  The amounts are crucial because you want to be well fed out there but you can’t have leftovers as there is no tupperware or refrigerator to put them in.  They have to be carried out like any and all other trash or debris.  I have definitely forced down a bowl of unwanted leftover mac n cheese the next morning on a hiking trip and I hope to avoid that as much as possible.

The dehydrator takes 9-12 hours to fully dry out the food.  There can’t be any moisture left in the food or it can mold.  Once its dry it becomes flaky and dusty and I bag it up into meals for two (and meals for three for that first week with Stud) and then put them all in the fridge or freezer to store just in case.  In late July, Travis and I will get together with a month of food and box it up into week long supplies which we will then mail to ourselves to various post offices in Vermont where we can pick them up along the way.

Rehydrating Chili Update and Thoughts On Preparedness

Last Saturday Ayla and I got up early and headed to the Blue Hills.  I took her to my new favorite spots and we stopped for an early lunch on Rattlesnake Hill next to a tiny pond with a tiny beach where we sat on some rocks.  I fired up my tiny stove and boiled some water in my new tiny cook pot (a major update from my old clunky big heavy camp pot) and I poured in the bag of dehydrated chili I made a couple of weeks ago and within minutes it came back to life like magic.  It tasted as good as it did before I dehydrated it.  I spooned it into a couple bowls and Ayla and I ate it with much delight.  She then pulled out of her backpack a couple of cups and some instant coffee which was a lovely surprise.  Turns out that starbucks instant hot coffee will dissolve just fine in cold water and tastes great.  We lounged at this little beach and talked to fellow hikers who were enamored by our hot lunch on the trail.  Then we hiked for a few more hours and meandered along the sky line all the way to the eastern terminus where we turned back following a network of other trails back towards the car.   It wouldn’t be a hike in the Blue Hills without getting slightly lost so this lead us up this lovely little hill called Fox Hill which was so quiet and peaceful and Ayla greeted a giant toad up there.

On Sunday, Tracy and I headed to the Fells and looped in and around the reservoirs on the soft pine floor following these smallish paths along the water’s edge and weaving in and out with the skyline trail.  The ducks were doing their spring dance mating thing and we saw a Downy Woodpecker hacking away at a tree less than 10 feet off the ground.  It was truly peaceful with just the right amount of strenuousness.  The water was so sparkly and the colors changed from different spots revealing deep dark greenish blues that reminded me of Down East Maine.


I’ve been listening to a few different podcasts lately about backpacking and this has given me a lot to think about in regards to food, gear, Leave No Trace ethics, emotional and physical health, and all the information I take in keeps reaffirming me that there is no real way to truly prepare a newby for a thru hike.  Zippers break, Tents leak, Injuries happen, stuff gets lost, the post office doesn’t have that resupply box of food that was carefully packed and sent to that last town before the next long stretch, animals get into food, thunder and lightning gets in the way of crossing the next ridge line….all this stuff can’t be planned for.  So as much as I am trying to “prepare” for my thru-hike by upgrading some of my gear, meal planning, reading blogs, and reading my map like a tarot card, I know that at the end of the day, I will just have to take those first few steps from Journey’s End and turn it all over the Mother Nature and the Trail and try to take what comes at me with grace and humility.

My favorite podcast right now is called Sounds of The Trail.  It specifically follows a couple of women who are thru hiking the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest trail. These hikers make audio journal-style recordings from the trail and also interview other thru hikers that they meet along the way.  They send their recordings to the producer and she edits together some really entertaining stories and updates.  Its kind of like reality radio from the trail.  I love the wide variety of experiences that it has to offer.  It gives the perspectives from the younger and wilder crowds who are partying their way down the trail, as well as those who have more life experience and might be in a transition or finally fulfilling a long-time dream, and the soloists who are on a journey of self discovery.

This morning I listened to an episode about hygiene on the trail which talks about pooping, peeing, menstruating and trying to stay healthy while not showering for 7 days at a time without changing your clothes and at the same time, outputting some hardcore physical effort which means being sweaty all day, being rained on and getting muddy.  I smile while I write this because it just all sounds so gross!  I’m not the cleanest person ever and I quit deodorant in 1997 cause it seemed pointless.  I don’t shower every day and I get pretty grungy at work sometimes but I know that nothing can prepare me for the filth of trail life.


Yesterday I went off to work with my friend Seven who has a handy business like me.  We work together a lot, help each other out with jobs and are sometimes lucky enough to land jobs together.  She’s the best.  She’s got this friend she’s mentioned over the past few years since I met her.  Her name is Mildred and she is 96.  Seven has helped her out with various house projects and they have become friends.

Seven asked me to come help her out at Mildred’s house because the time has come for Mildred to move into assisted living and sell her condo where she has lived for almost 50 years.  Sadly, Mildred has to clear out 50 years worth of accumulation.  Seven has been helping her by coordinating with clean-out services, thrift stores, and helping Mildred sort through her stuff and find homes for whatever they can.

Mildred and I made our acquaintance and I looked around her foyer to discover lots of pictures of people on mountains.  Mountains that I recognized and I asked her where the pictures were taken and she said in the White Mountains and we started chatting.  Seven tells her that I like to hike too and Mildred lights up and tells me that she was just a few peaks away from being an official member of New Hampshire’s 4,000 footer club (A special club to recognize people who have climbed every 4,000 foot high mountain in NH).

Then she tells me that she hiked the Long Trail from end to end in 1943 on her honeymoon with her husband!!  I couldn’t believe it!  I was like, “No way!  Mildred, I am hiking it this summer!”  Well, wouldn’t you know she was all wide eyed and smiley and says “Come see my End-To-End patch and certificate from the Green Mountain Club!”  So I followed her to her office where she had both her and her husbands certificates and End-To-End Patches framed on the wall with a picture of Mount Mansfield in the background.  Next to that was a picture of her and her husband on top of Mount Mansfield (the highest peak on the Long Trail).  They are wearing matching buffalo plaid hiking shirts and what looks like leather-soled penny loafers on their feet.  Incredible!  Needless to say, Mildred and I had a LOT to talk about but there was lots of work to be done and even though I just wanted to sit down and ask Mildred about a thousand questions and sip tea all day hearing stories, there was much to do so I had to hold back at least until lunch.

Seven and I went to the basement to sort through some stuff and clean up down there and wouldn’t you know, there is her old backpacking cook-set.  It was so fun to look thru and I could just feel the history in that detachable pot handle.  I pulled out the two mugs from the set.  Not sure if I’ll bring these mugs on my Long Trail hike but they will definitely come with me on some adventures.  We also found some old wooden snowshoes that are as tall as me.  They had rope wrapped around the rims and were just massive.  Seven and I couldn’t let those go so we took them.  Seven said I should take them in case I get a cabin so I can hang them on my wall.  I told her she should hang them in her garage since who knows if I’ll ever have a cabin.  Mildred came downstairs at some point to check out how the basement was going and saw the snowshoes in one of our various piles.  She said “Oh please don’t throw those away!”  Seven told her we were saving them and that Seven was going to hang them on her wall.  Mildred smiled and was relieved and started telling us how she had climbed over so many of the White Mountains in the winter with those snow shoes.  We also found an old ice axe.  Seven took that to hang with the snowshoes.

While Seven and I worked, Mildred was working on a five course lunch for us!  I was nervous about lunch because I don’t eat meat but it turns out that the whole lunch was vegan including the ice cream so that was great!  She made all kinds of delicious food and she was just so sweet.  Lunch gave me a some time to get to talk to Mildred about her hikes.

I asked Mildred what she ate on the Long Trail.  She said she carried steaks, potatoes, and oranges.  I was like, “Mildred!  How much did you pack weigh?!”  She said that her pack weighed 65 lbs and that her husbands pack weighed 85 lbs.  She said it was really hard.  In 1943, hikers cooked over an open fire and carried steaks.  I had a lot more questions but we had a lot more work to do and I was unfortunately on a schedule with a class to teach that afternoon.  Mildred kept apologizing for being so slow.  Seven told her that her speed is actually perfect and that the rest of the world is way too fast.  I agreed and we both appreciated the reminder to slow down.  Mildred hugged me when we left and told me, “We hikers have to stick together”  She remarked on how hiking mountains has done her well.  Did I mention she is 96?  Yeah.  And she was practically jogging up and down the stairs to the basement.

Mildred has a lot going on right now with the move but as soon as she gets settled I hope she’ll let me visit her and bring my updated map and guidebook and that she will tell me some Long Trail stories as well as her Mount Washington stories (which she says she has a bunch of, including some descents in the dark!)

Mildred, if you are reading, I am delighted to have met you and I hope to see you again soon!  Thank you!