To Cook or Not to Cook?

As I immerse myself in planning for this hike, I realize every day how many decisions there are to make. Every one will affect what my hike looks like, what my life looks like on a day-to-day basis for half a year! That’s a lot of days. And sometimes, it is overwhelming to think about, because what I bring or don’t bring with me could very easily make or break my trip.

The decision I’m pondering these days is whether or not to cook meals. This is a no-brainer for most hikers. The comfort of a warm meal after a cold day of hiking, or even just the ‘normality’ of cooking dinner every night, is important to maintain sanity in a grueling, often miserable, challenging experience. Of course, I’m not most hikers. I pride myself on my tendency to swim against the current.

There are a few things to take into consideration when  making this choice. If I decide not to cook food, what am I going to eat? Am I really going to be happy living on trail mix, cold oatmeal and coffee, pitas and peanut butter? Will I feel like I’m missing out if I don’t have those hot meals, soup and tea?

Of course, the fact that I rarely eat hot food even now, when I’m not living off what I can carry, is something to take into account. I go days without eating hot food, even in the middle of the winter. So is it really worth the time and effort of cooking, when that’s not something that I would even take the time to do in my regular day-to-day life, when I’m not hiking?

The weight of carrying a stove won’t make much of a difference, as cold foods generally weigh more than foods that you can cook. Things like powdered soup, instant mashed potatoes, etc. weigh next to nothing, so the added weight of the stove and fuel is not really any more than the food that I would have to carry if I don’t cook.

It should come as no surprise that the decision I landed on was, “somewhere in between”. I’m going to bring my tin can stove with me to start, and enough of my homemade tablets to last a few weeks, if I were cooking two meals a day. Of course, I’m not planning to cook two meals a day. I’m not planning to cook at all. Especially at the beginning of our hike, though, it’s going to be cold. And because of how cold it will be, I may wish that my coffee is hot, or that I had some soup with my dinner at the end of a long rainy day of hiking in wet shoes.

If, after the first two or three weeks, I find that I am cooking more than I anticipated, then I will buy or make more tablets. If, on the other hand, I find that I am not missing hot food, and cold coffee is fine (note – I do prefer my coffee cold, generally speaking), then I will get rid of my stove and tablets, and that’s one less thing that I’ll have to carry, and more importantly, less work that I’ll have to do.

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Fear and what to do with it

The past few weeks have mostly been spent preparing for the AT. Which, for a procrastinator and spontaneous adventurer like myself, is odd. But I have been doing research on how best to use the hike as a fundraiser, and starting to prepare content for social media for that component of our hike, and making to do lists and gear lists and attempting to start about a dozen blog posts that I don’t know how to finish… It’s basically taken over my life. And our hike will continue to be one of the biggest focuses of my existence for at least the next year. That’s big.

I’ve got some inner conflict happening about how I feel as I prepare for February 25th. I’m freaking out that it isn’t enough time, that I won’t be ready by then… But on the other hand, I don’t know how I’m going to make it through another five and a half months of waiting to leave. I am so excited for the purpose and drive that is inherent in taking on a trip like this, but also terrified of waking up freezing cold, when it’s raining or snowing, and knowing that I’m going to have to walk in that all day. There are so many comforts in my life that I really enjoy, like a closet full of clothes, a bed and a refrigerator, but I’m looking forward to getting rid of all the distractions, all the stuff, and just focusing on a singular goal, carrying nothing that I don’t need.

I have allowed myself too often to play the ‘what if’ game; What if one of us gets hurt, or sick, or something happens at home, or any other possible thing that could prevent us from finishing the trail? I recently watched “A Walk in the Woods”, and found myself wondering if I could live with not hiking the whole trail, once that’s what I set out to do. And yet, how is 2200 miles really any different than any other distance? I’m sure that once we’ve had a few resupply stops, and being on the trail is no longer new and exciting, that first wall is going to be a hard one to hurdle. The wall we will hit when it really sinks in that what we’ve been doing is exactly the same as what we will be doing… and the pain, hunger, exhaustion, etc. will feel as though it is outweighing the reward.

That. That is my biggest fear. Not failing, not quitting, but being miserable and losing sight of the adventure. I am doing this to push my limits, to see what I am capable of, to experience wilderness in a new way, to renew my energy and drive in life. And if I lose sight of those things, I will fail. Even if I complete the trail, I will not have succeeded.

Now that I have come to that conclusion, I’ve realized that I need to put things in place to prevent myself from forgetting why I am doing this in the first place. So I came up with a two-pronged plan. The first part is before we leave. I’ve got a list of all of the reasons I want to hike the trail, which I am constantly adding to. That list is on the home page of my phone where I see it all the time, and is also in my journal that I keep beside my bed. I refer to that list when I am having doubts about whether or not hiking is a good idea. I also have people in my life who believe in me, and who I can talk to about my fears and about my reasons for wanting to hike.

The second part comes into play when we leave. That list, that I am keeping in my journal and on my phone, will still be with me, and will definitely be referred to on a regular basis. I am also going to be bringing a small journal with me, where I will be recording small moments of joy and learning, that I can also refer to when I doubt why I’m on the trail. A very important part of this stage is that I am hiking with Lisa, and having accountability and someone who I can confide in when I’m losing faith in myself is going to be key.

I guess playing the ‘what if’ game isn’t so bad, as long as it results in making a plan, not in dissolving into a puddle of worry and self-doubt.

And then she slept for two days straight…

This week was long… and it’s only Wednesday. I work a job with many long hours (I put in 24 hours in the past two days), which I really appreciate when extra vacation time kicks in. But on weeks like this, there are days when the prospect of waking up the next morning is completely disheartening. So as I sit here at the end of a long, busy day, watching Beauty and the Beast with Lisa and having a cup of tea,  I am mentally reviewing the past two days, trying to think of ways I could have kept my physical energy up, as well as maintain a positive state of mind.

Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

1 – Don’t sweat the small stuff

A lot can happen in one day.  If I let everything that goes wrong or might bother me throughout the day get in my head, it would explode. There are some things that are worth putting time and effort into, and when it comes to everything else, I need to learn to let it roll off my back.

2 – Drink water

This is a pretty simple concept… a dehydrated person is a tired person.

3 – Maximize down time

I generally know what I should be doing with my time off, and often spend it doing something else. When I should take a nap, I play games on my phone. When I should do dishes or laundry, I do crafts. When I should be getting ready for summer camp, I watch YouTube videos. I have yet to come up with a good plan to make sure I actually follow through with the things I know I should be doing…

4 –  Laugh… a lot

Life is better when you laugh. Because science says so.

These are good things to keep in mind in life, but are also totally transferable to trail life. I know there will be days when I’m tired and grumpy, and anything and everything will get on my nerves. So learning to cope work that here and now will definitely come in handy then!

And now, a song that always helps me choose to have a good day!

road trippin’

Wednesday, April 22 marked the LAST DAY of my undergrad. I completed one final exam, shift at work, packed up all my things and left Peterborough for the final time!! What did I do with my new found freedom? Start the job hunt and do grown-upy things? NO! I went on a semi-spontaneous road trip down to Virginia! Because growing up is overrated.

My friend Anica and I decided a few months ago we wanted to do a road trip and knew we wanted to hit up the Appalachian Trail at some point. We are both planning on thru-hiking the trail next spring so it was the perfect opportunity to spend some much needed time back on the AT.

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Dashboard selfiezzzzz. Anica is a champion driver.

Friday, April 24th – ‘On the Road Again’

We left Toronto at ‘O dark stupid in hopes of avoiding border traffic (which was a total success). As we began to travel through New York we noticed the layer of snow on the ground was steadily getting thicker, we kept thinking “what are we getting ourselves into”. Canada had been getting hail and snow for a solid week so we hoped to find some nicer weather down in Virginia! But as we neared Pennsylvania the weather became significantly warmer – just as we had hoped!

We drove for hours only stopping for the occasional bathroom/coffee/McFlurry break (the necessities of course). I was in constant awe of the mountains that began to appear along the horizon. It was turning into a perfect road trip. But being a road trip, something crazy was bound to happen. We were following behind a transport truck when a large metal grate came loose and narrowly missed our car. It was absolutely terrifying but thankfully it didn’t get us or any cars behind us.

Harper's Ferry

Harper’s Ferry is BEAUTIFUL!

As we continued on our trip we saw signs for Harper’s Ferry and decided to take a detour. We didn’t actually know where the conservancy was located so we drove around the town (and saw a thru hiker!) and ended up stopping at Harper’s Ferry National Historic Park and admired the view. Eventually we figured out where to go and arrived at the ATC just after they closed. Luckily, a kind ATC staff member gave us a tour and let us look around. It was so fun to look at the pictures of thru hikers! Harper’s Ferry is a BEAUTIFUL little town. Eventually we got back on the road and headed for Waynesboro until we found a rest stop and basically made a blanket fort in the car  for the night.

Saturday, April 25th – ‘Reed’s Gap’

white blazzzze

The first white blaze!!!

We had a late start that morning and drove the last little bit in order to arrive at what we thought Reed’s Gap near Waynesboro. We were about a half an hour out and the gas light came on (classic crazy road trip event). By the time we arrived at what we thought to be Reed’s Gap it had started to rain. We began to see some signs for the Priest, thinking that wasn’t supposed to happen we turned around to look at the map in the parking lot. We decided we were in the right place we just started in the wrong direction. So we crossed the road and began the hike to Harper’s Creek Shelter. It was cold and rainy but we had a good time. Harper’s Creek is beautiful and even with all of the clouds the views were incredible. Two hours into the hike we found the shelter which seemed pretty quick. We just thought things like “man we’re so good, look at us go”. It turned out pretty well since Anica was quite cold. So we took out our sleeping bags and tried our very best to keep warm which turned into reading a bunch of old logbook entries. We got some solid advice, my fave being “that stump by the outhouse isn’t a bear, don’t worry it got me too”. After a few hours we were joined by a group of section hikers and a thru hiker named Lunchbox. The Safety Committee stopped by for a bit and we had some good talks about thru hikes. It’s so fun getting to meet all these cool people :)! The night ended with some Phase 10 and some good laughs. I’m really looking forward to this being my life next year.

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Harper’s Creek Shelter. Sleeping beside a creek is the absolute best!

Sunday, April 26th – ‘Not Reed’s Gap’

Lunchbox set out first thing in the morning while us section hikers were a little bit slower (okay a lot bit slower). Anica examined the map more thoroughly and figured out that we did not start at Reed’s Gap as we thought. We had spent the entire day trying to convince ourselves we were seeing all of those vistas and landmarks the trail outline had described to us. So instead of doing around 7 miles we had really only done about 2. Apparently we weren’t so good at hiking super fast (surprise, surprise). We had two options: 1) hike back to our car the way we came in, or 2) essentially hike the entire loop that day (which was completely doable). Since we drove for 14hrs to do this hike we figured we had better do the second option because really option 1 wasn’t really a good option at all.

map

What we did.

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What we were supposed to do

We set out shortly after. It wasn’t raining but it was a foggy, chilly morning which was actually really nice for the uphill climb we had. We eventually came to a beautiful vista where there was an incredible view of what I’m pretty sure was The Priest. As the day went on we even got some sunshine. The Mau Har trail led us down in a valley with some gorgeous waterfalls. I really liked being down there following along the streams. We made it back to our car by 4:30 that afternoon. We figured out the shortest route to a gas station and luckily ended up coasting most of the way!

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we hiked that. NBD. 😀

Monday, April 27th – Back to the Homeland
The rest of our road trip back to Ontario was relatively uneventful. We drove to Waynesboro for some food and beer the night before and made it to Maryland where we slept in a Walmart parking lot. After hearing about the wonders of American Walmart’s camping section we discovered how cheap you could find things like Sawyer Water Filters (which you can only get at ONE store in Ontario that might as well be in the middle of no where). We made a little detour to check out an REI since we fell in love with Big Agnes’ mtnGLO and Canada does not carry it yet. Also the fact that neither of us had even been to an REI before. Verdict: it’s pretty similar to MEC except for the membership perks. Which I’m actually pretty jealous of.

The remainder of the driving went smoothly. We ran into a little trouble with toll routes after spending the last of our American money on diesel but luckily they took our Canadian money. It was a funny moment of panic as we drove onto the highway only to realize that there were tolls literally right after we used all our money.

It was a rad adventure. It’s always to exciting to see the new sights and have things go not according to plan. SO FLIPPING STOKED ABOUT NEXT YEAR! I don’t know how it’s possible to wait!

Burning things

Once upon a time, a little over six years ago, I went on an awesome canoe trip with a lot of wonderful people. On that trip, we had some incredible adventures, saw a lot of amazing wildlife, and laughed a lot. We also got on each others’ nerves, got into some sticky situations, made some mistakes and learned from them.

One afternoon, we arrived at our campsite, and got out the food barrels to start making dinner. Unfortunately, we had made a terrible error in judgement and packed the fuel cannister for our stove in the barrel with the food. And of course, the lid had come unscrewed, and everything in that food barrel was now soaked in fuel. Yum.

Not too impressed, we cleaned out the pots and dishes, and assessed the damage to the food itself. Now, a lot of our food was dehydrated and came in waxy paper packages. To look at them, they seemed relatively unharmed, and when we opened the packets for that night’s dinner, it was dry. No harm, done, right? WRONG! That dinner (and a few other meals that week) had some extra flavouring, and it was not delicious. For days afterwards, I could taste it on my breath. Definitely not the highlight of my trip.

As a result of that enlightening experience, I have been extremely wary of fuel cannisters and camp stoves in general since then. So when I started doing some research for the AT, and heard that there were other alternative methods to cook your food, I was thrilled!

Of course, it would be silly to plan something as important as how to cook, without trying it first. Which is what Chrissy and I did, awhile ago. Here’s how our evening went:

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Using the wrong kind of candle for this job (I don’t think we need buttercream pumpkin scented fuel tablets) because we were eager to try this right away, we soaked wax into halved cotton balls. Apparently, this is enough fuel to burn for 7-8 minutes, and will be enough to boil a small pot of water. In our eagerness, we refrigerated the tablets, hoping they would harden faster, and then had a hard time getting them off the plate. Since then, I have made tablets and set them to dry on a piece of waxed paper, which was much less messy.

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Once our tablets were ready, we needed somewhere to burn them. So, like the creative improvisers we are, we made a small container out of tinfoil to burn it in, and placed that on top of a tin can, in the kitchen sink. To hold a tin of water over it, we  folded a wire coat hanger in half and balanced the tin on top of it, and held it above the flame. Very precariously. So far so good, it burned great, and we started feeling pretty optimistic about this whole experiment. Until we learned an important lesson:

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Tinfoil burns. And when it’s a tinfoil bowl full of melted wax, it burns really, really well. Which led to our next important lesson:

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NEVER try and put out a large wax fire with water! (Actually, we didn’t learn that one yet, we had to try it twice before it sunk in).

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Take 1 resulted in a scary fire, and a sad looking lump of cottonball in a tinfoil bowl of water. 😦

Time for take 2.

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This time, we omitted the tinfoil, and burned the tablet right on the tin. Much more effective, though a lot of heat likely escaped – we will definitely need something around the outside of the whole cooking system, to maximize the effectiveness of the flame. The tablet burned really well, and we took some cool pictures of fire:

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And then we learned our third lesson of the evening: Lighting fires in your kitchen sink makes your apartment very smoky, very quickly. So, we put this tablet out the same way we did the first one (not a good way – we should have put a tin over it, we had lots).

All in all, I think it was a successful experiment. I have almost definitely decided that I want to use these tablets as my fuel source. I haven’t yet decided what kind of stove contraption I want to burn them in, but I’m thinking a small tin can with a few holes punched in it looks promising. There are also some cool ones that fold up, but if the tin can works, it’s way cheaper.