We Are Afraid of our Food

Gluten-free has taken off because we don’t spend any time making our own food or even learning about it. Has anyone baked bread recently? Who knows that gluten is a key part of raising bread? My favorite theory is that the fear of gluten is mostly a product of us eating a lot of super-processed junk food–fast rising bread via the Chorleywood process and doesn’t give the yeasty beasties and their associated bacteria friends time to pre-digest your bread for you.

Some decide to take on the paleo diet, to reject that fiend gluten, and the more committed among us are into the idea of hunting and getting in touch with our meat. Noble, certainly, but we could also get in touch with our food by learning to grow and cook it, whether animal or vegetable. “Paleo” is just another way to avoid learning to cook or bake, because our cave ancestors were supposedly too busy running from the saber tooth tigers to slowly braise that mammoth ham or wait for a loaf of bread to rise. So it becomes an excuse.

We are also thrilled by the idea of kale, because it supposedly has a million vitamins in it and is something of a challenge to eat. It’s tough to eat sometimes, so we determine that it’s “healthy.” There are so many other deep greens to eat and get similar vitamins out of–you don’t have to eat your daily dose of kale if you eat your vegetables otherwise. But in the interest of efficiency, we choose kale and call it a “superfood.”

For all the attention that food gets these days, people really don’t seem to have a clue about the details. How is a super-processed, but gluten-free, cookie good for you? It’s like when candy gets labeled fat-free. Who cares? It’s still junk food. I saw Kombucha labeled gluten-free yesterday. In what world is fermented sugar-tea not gluten-free?

Learn to cook and bake and grow a vegetable other than invincible kale!


The JMT, or, at least we went to the Steinbeck museum

“I wonder why it is when I plan a route too carefully, it goes to pieces, whereas if I blunder along in blissful ignorance aimed in a fancied direction, I get through with no trouble.”–John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley

Take note: our Long Trail trip was completely half-assed, and it worked out splendidly. The John Muir Trail, not so much. We planned the crap out of that trail, then S got sick about 3-4 days in. At first glance, maybe it was altitude–sea level to 7,000 feet isn’t nothing, but whatever the situation was, it didn’t improve at lower altitude.

So I soloed a section, and Tuolumne Meadows was amazing, and it was a novelty to me to have any snow on the high passes on a sunny warm day (I KNOW California and the Sierras saw a low-snow year but still a novelty to someone whose high peaks are 4.000 feet).

But also noted: a solo means that you get to stew about things, because there is nobody to think it’s funny when you trip over a rock or there to tell you the stupidest jokes when you are feeling salty about a thunderstorm-hailstorm at 10,000 feet. It does mean you get to enjoy your own company, which obviously has some advantages.

If I had planned that trip as a solo adventure the whole time, it would have been different. But the trip was thrown off after I set out by myself, just because it felt weird to be on my own. It’s a well-traveled trail and I ran into plenty of other hikers, but it’s a different sort of company.

Also the quantity of sprouts I was growing was for two people to crunch on and then I ate them all. Lucky I had my dehydrated hummus to spread on a tortilla with said sprouts. Good lunch.

So I made it into the solo section followed by a California trip, and the highlight of said trip was tacos in Los Angeles (I managed to get back on the west side of the Sierras). Next time I’ll bring more clothes.

Gear Refinement

Ok first, all y’all should also go read the other half of Snail Patrol’s blog while we’re on the topic: Busy Walking because hiking IS an Awful lot of fun. Now, Let’s discuss the things that the Long Trail encouraged refining. That leaky drom bag is not coming along, for the record.

Shoes: Backpacking boots are heavy, and it’s not like they prevented me from spraining my ankle anyway (not on the LT). Other folks with questionable ankles have advocated low hikers/trail runners because it makes your ankles work harder, thus strengthening the whole thing. No waterproof for this guy, either, because if waterproof shoes/boots get wet on the inside, they never dry. And then they give you wicked blisters with their dampness. Rumor has it we’ll be looking at some stream crossings that you’d want shoes on for. Unless the drought is preventing that altogether.

Pack: Keeping the same pack, which might be a little bigger than I *need* but at least I won’t be wondering if a bear canister will fit in it. I’ll just try to keep it light.

Stove: Sorry, whisperlite, it has been real, but at 11 oz, can’t totally justify it. So we’re going canister this time.

Water: Still going with Aquamira because crumbs build character but viruses do not. Also I thought the Aquamira droppers were less breakable than a filter, but then the bottles apparently can crack and leak everywhere. I’ve never had that happen to mine, but it CAN happen. So I’ll probably bring some tablet backup for overnight water purification, because those take longer anyway. Also got a 3.0 L water bladder to not carry nalgenes. Nalgenes are apparently for amateurs because they weigh 6.2 oz each (the 1L ones). Water bladders are also apparently for amateurs, according to the people that advocate using soda bottles. I think 3.0 L of water per 3.8 oz of water bladder weight is still a serious upgrade. And anyway, if a 1 L soda bottle is about an ounce anyway, we all win on capacity.

Clothes: In the interest of not bringing too many clothes, I’m going to wear my dorky convertible pants in beige. However, I have upgraded to a merino wool t-shirt, because polypro is my stink-nemesis. Normally in the backcountry you just go about your business oblivious to your own stink, but the damn polypro makes itself known. At least natural fibers stink exactly as much as I do, no more. Obviously cotton is not an option. I’m going to bring a giant hat because sunscreen is disgusting (can you imagine using sunscreen and then not showering for multiple days? Gross.) but I’ve heard that high altitude is excellent for sunburns. Rainwear: considering the rainskirt option, got a lightweight rain jacket because the rain jacket I had on the LT wasn’t really waterproof anymore, thus ruining the purpose of having it in the first place.

Sleeping gear: Big thanks to my NOLS friend for lending me a super light down bag and pad. I had cut my foam sleeping pad in half earlier this spring and figured I’d just use that, but then he offered the sweet sleeping pad too. I think he’s leading big awesome alpine trips this summer. Other advice from the helpful former NOLS employee included making sure to hit The Mobil in Lee Vining. Apparently their fish tacos are Ah-Mazing. I will think about those tacos when I’m eating this dehydrated multi-bean soup.

Book?: Probably not, because the book I brought on the LT lasted about 4 days until I could hand it off in the first town. The Joke Book, on the other hand, was totally worth the weight. Maybe I’ll bring it or just study hard so that I have good jokes to tell other people in camp, especially when they’d prefer comparing pack weight. Oh, your pack is 50 lbs because you are carrying video equipment? Well, did you hear about the two muffins in the oven? One muffin said, “Man, it’s hot in here” and the other muffin turns to him and says “Holy shit! A talking muffin!” I’ll bring tiny notebook(s) instead to entertain myself. Plus, there are huge advantages to just spacing out. We might get to see good stars!

The best part about the LT is that it was in my backyard, and a person really could just GO, with or without perfect gear. So just going, sans big planning, had a lot to recommend. Now that we got those JMT permits back in January and getting to the trail is a big production for both of us, you can sort of justify the planning and thinking about how much my damn rain jacket weighs. I don’t regret anything about freestyle backpacking, though. That was awesome in its own way, because you just had to show up and you really don’t need fancy gear to get outside. So now we’re doing a bit more planning and refining, but if nothing else, the LT was excellent for half-assed “planning” and just taking the stuff you already have.

Now, go watch Yosemite HD II because it explains everything.



Some planning ahead (things are about to get real)

Oh, hey there, blog. Didn’t see you there. Now I am going to post photos of gear and food in preparation for naturetime this summer, mostly in order for me to quantify things and not forget important stuff. Because that is where my brain has gone. It’s one thing with the LT where all I had to do was show up, yet another to plan ahead to go cross-country.

Some planning ahead (things are about to get real)

Study Outside

We have a number of fine examples of fossil fuel divestment campaigns, but how many of those students spend a significant amount of time outside? In my experience of an (excellent) environmental studies major, we spent a lot of time talking about going outside, but more time still sitting inside eating cookies and drinking tea and writing papers and wearing our Chacos in a noble attempt at proving that we were indeed outdoorsy.

Studying abroad is considered essential–learning how to operate in another culture is valuable–but in this time of economic and ecological uncertainty there should be a serious academic encouragement, if not a requirement, to study outside. This could be dismissed as mere fun or messing around, but playing is valuable.  Exploring is essential for kids of all ages. We need to understand what we have in order to be more effective at protecting it. And the stresses of college will seem a bit more insignificant if we can also prioritize life outside, where there’s no internet to check and worry about.

College ought to require or seriously encourage a wilderness study program like the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). Learning the principles of Leave No Trace on a backcountry trip can carry over to leaving no trace in life. Once you take a minimal amount of stuff with you backpacking, and you do just fine, maybe you won’t want so much junk in regular life. If you feel a personal connection to the canyons or forests or rivers or deserts, any instinct you have to protect natural resources comes with a greater relevance.

We should follow the classic and oft-quoted Ed Abbey directive: “It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space.”

As long as we are filling our brains with literature and new experiences in college, we ought to deliberately learn about spending time outside before we get too comfortable sitting inside at the computer.

Greenwashing the Slopes

I’m just learning to snowboard so I don’t have skilled snowboarder commentary here. As a beginner, I may also be missing the point of the resort while attempting to link turns consistently.

My local resort and its base area are corporate and pre-fab, or everything I tend to avoid. Until now, when I subject myself to it mostly voluntarily.

Do I live in Vermont for the shopping malls?

Ski resorts have no excuse to not sign onto the missions of organizations like Protect Our Winters and Climate Reality’s I Am Pro Snow campaign, both supported by pro skiers and riders. You would think that skiing and riding, and the ability to do so in 50 years, would take some precedence. We have “Sustainable Slopes,” supposedly a “green” ski industry organization, but what exactly does it do beside make people feel a little better for driving hours to get to a resort?

If the ski industry doesn’t work a little harder on climate change, it’ll be clear that skiing and riding are but secondary to conspicuous consumption. Maybe we can admire your new Range Rover and then go shopping at the mall in the base area, because there will be no more snow on the mountain. Shopping is at least a year-round activity.

Maybe the point of going to a ski resort is really doing everything but skiing (some resorts have waterparks now!), because you won’t be able to ski anymore. Snow guns are but a stopgap measure–you won’t be able to make snow when it’s warm out.