In retrospect, not much else could have been wrong, short of a wrecked boat or a drenching downpour. Twilight was descending swiftly over the endless curves of the Dead River, the time measured in stabbing back pain with every paddle stroke. Somewhere ahead on river left lay one last campsite. Here were no sandy beaches or rocky fir-clad bluffs, just mud and grass and tired alders.
In the end, the site was not too hard to spot, marked as it was by the dilapidated remains of an ancient dock. Even now, four years later, there is no need to look back into my journal to recall the misery. A steep and slippery bank to climb, the unpleasant evidence of roadside access, a dirth of branches for hanging my food bag, and THE BUGS, a solid cloud of black flies that made a terror of the outdoors. Supper that night was peanut butter crackers with water.
Luckily, few evenings feature all of these negatives, but many will have at least some challenges…bugs, a late hour, exhaustion, and sometimes rain. In planning food, these are the rule rather than the exception. So my mission this spring is to discover economical, nutritious, yummy meals that are absolutely the easiest to prepare.
An idea that had escaped me until I started watching all those backpacking videos, was the simple concept of cooking in a pouch. Sure, that’s what you do if you buy those expensive freeze-dried meals, but did you know that lots of thru-hikers are doing that with grocery store packages like the pasta in the photo above? The package may say cook for 7 minutes, but they are just dumping in boiling water and letting it sit for a while in a pot cozy. Super quick, with no dishes to wash.
My first experiment (other than successfully cooking instant oatmeal in its pouch) was salmon with parmesan spinach pasta. For one person, use the entire 2-serving pasta package (480 cal), a scant 3 tablespoons of instant nonfat dried milk (40 cal), 1 3/4 cups boiling water, and 2.5 oz. pink salmon (70 cal). I feel like this is a fairly nutritious combination, with the milk, salmon, and variety of vitamins from the spinach. The result was almost chowder-like and delicious, although some of the pasta was clumped together and chewy. I need to work on how to mix it more thoroughly and perhaps create a pot cozy to hold in the heat while it is “cooking.”
Another recipe came from the January 2010 issue of Backpacker magazine, courtesy of thru-hikers Ian Mangiardi and Andy Laub. For a one-person “Backcountry Thanksgiving,” combine half a package of stuffing mix (3 oz. dry and 330 cal), a 3.3 oz. can of chicken (70 cal), 1/3 cup of dried cranberries (125 cal), and 3/4 cup boiling water. Stir together, wait 5 minutes, and enjoy. (Both of these recipes could also include butter or olive oil to increase the calories and flavor, but they are fine without. The directions call for 1 T. butter with the pasta and 2 T. butter with the stuffing, adding 100 calories to the pasta and 200 to the stuffing.)