Chewbacca Legs on the Appalachian Trail, Andy’s Take on my Gear List

While discussing the essential gear I need to take on the trail, and keeping in mind that I have to carry all of it, I told my son I wasn’t going to take a razor. Why would I shave my legs at all? I’m going to be free in the great outdoors, and there is no audience I could offend with lycanthropic legs. He responded.

My son, Andy, AKA Willis, has a very warped sense of humor, which might be indicative of his upbringing. Anyway, in his humble opinion I should definitely take a razor. Why? Reasons are varied; he tries to look at all angles. First, he is afraid that I will summit some mountain and fellow hikers will mistake me for Chewbacca. If they are Star War’s fans, I might get kidnapped and taken to some convention in Las Vegas. Cryptozoolists might mistake me for a female bigfoot, and the Smithsonian would no doubt want me on ice. Star War’s enthusiasts might also think I’m an Ewok, since I’m short. Another convention kidnap. He isn’t afraid other humans will think I’m a Hobbit, because they aren’t real and they don’t wear hiking boots from REI.

He isn’t the least bit afraid for me, for ANY other reason. After all, I did live in Baghdad during the war. He is not afraid I will get lost, or tumble off the summit of Katahdin. He knows I have the gear to purify water. He helped me choose a bug net so he isn’t afraid of West Nile Virus. He is afraid; however, that I will look like Chewy.

Andy is my eldest son. He is currently in college and lives with me. You could say one of his favorite hobbies is tormenting me. He notices when I put my keys in the refrigerator. He laughs when I get lost in the town I was reared in. He remembers where I put absolutely everything because he knows he will have to find it. He also has a remedy for when I truly get on his nerves.

There is a newspaper ad, believe it or not it is true, for a free haircut when you place a family member in a particular nursing home. I’ve seen the ad; it is real. Anyway, when Andy gets a little frustrated with me, he has a habit of asking me, “Mother, do you want me to go get that free haircut?”

He will be glad to be rid of me for a while, but how do I know he isn’t worried?

Every piece of gear I have, he has tested. Even when my water purification system came in, he immediately poured tons of dirt in a water pitcher, filled it to the brim, and started pumping water in my brand-new Nalgene bottle. Then, he inspected it and tasted it himself. He knows it works.

I couldn’t afford a GPS, so he ordered all the maps of the AT, from Katahdin to Springer. He made sure he not only had my itinerary, but a PDF of my guidebook. He chose my cell phone. He bought my solar charger and made me demonstrate that I can use it.

He made sure I know how to tie the right knots.

He cinched up all the parts on my backpack to make sure it fit correctly. He checked zippers. He took my paracord for my bear bag and threw it, hanging my food in the tree in our front yard.

He ordered me “not to graze on the trail,” and to drink enough water.

He showed me how to use my trekking poles as a weapon.

Andy and I have switched roles. He is more like the parent and I am more like the child; however, I know I called him names, but I don’t think I ever called him Chewy.

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Update on “Night Hatchet” and Good Advice from Timothy Hodges

I’ll admit it. The “Night Hatchet” story had me a little worried. As I read Tim’s blog, my anxiety level rose to monumental proportions (I have PTSD so I expect that). Anyway, as I told him, my fight or flight response kicked in just reading about this character along the Appalachian Trail. I made mental notes of how to handle the situation. I asked my son to teach me to use my trekking poles as a weapon. I thought, “my little saw would make a great ligature.” If I am stealthy enough I can ‘delete his post’. Timothy was kind enough to respond to me, and put my mind at ease. Here is his response to me:

 

“I thought it might be useful to give some additional feedback about the “Night Hatchet” story.  The individual in question was an aberration and I have found that 99.9 percent of those encountered during a through hike are wonderful and safe people to be around.  
 
Personally, I feel the A.T. is one of the safest places for hiking.  Fellow hikers look after each other, and local folks are more than willing to be helpful when you’re in need.  There was only one time I did not accept a ride into town while hitch-hiking — I had a “strange feeling” about the man who offered the ride so politely refused and walked away.  It’s important to hitch-hike in a group or at least with one other person you trust.  Either way, most people offering a ride are doing so to help out.
 
Insofar as weapons are concerned, I would not take a firearm.  Too much weight, too much trouble.  When I’m on the trail my defenses are a good hiking staff or hiking poles, and I carry a pocket knife.  I have never, ever had a need to use these against another human being.  I have, however, had to coax a snake off the trail or use my hiking staff to ward off a bear getting into my food in New Jersey.  Seems animals were more an issue than humans.  
 
Many woman are backpacking solo on the trail, and it’s rare to have any incidents.  Some common sense guidelines include not telling others where you’re headed unless they’re fellow backpackers.  Also, camping in shelters more than a mile from road crossings is advisable, since partiers on weekends are common at shelters within a mile or two and it’s not fun to try to sleep with drunk and rowdy locals.  
 
I cannot say this enough — “trust your gut” and your “intuition” during your hike.  But there is no need to hike in fear or anxiety.  I have made most all my trips solo over the years, and simply take not of my surroundings when I meet day hikers or locals, and behave politely and honestly.
 
The “Night Hatchet” guy was disconcerting, but I was in a group of at least eight other hikers and we kept notice of him.  He turned out to be a guy who was not a serious backpacker (you can spot one easily); he had no pack, tent, was drinking and carrying liquor, and begged food from hikers.  He bragged about hiking the trail and would leave it periodically only to appear at other trail-heads and pester other hikers.  Still, he was a rare bird.
 
Thanks to technology, there are things such as a SPOT locator, which can be used either to summon help during a life-threatening injury, OR can be used to send a signal at regular intervals to let folks at home know you’re “checking in” and are OK.  My wife and I are discussing my using such a system when I head back out into the wild.
 
I hope this information is helpful and will allow you to hike with joy and confidence, relying on your information and instincts when it comes to walking any trail you choose.
 
Sincerely,
Timothy Hodges”
 
Thank you Timothy. Love your blog, and the psychotic urge to kill someone on the trail has evaporated. 🙂

Thinking about personal safety on the Appalachian Trail (“Night Hatchet” Pt. II)

Tales like this are good to know. Better to be prepared than be caught totally off guard when human predators are near.

Write in Front of Me

More fall leaves... More fall leaves… (Photo credit: life is good (pete))

We all survived the night and “Night Hatchet” was gone by daybreak, but it changed my view of people who came to the Appalachian Trail and their purpose.  There are —

Serious hikers and backpackers who intend to hike the trail.

Day-trippers and weekenders out for shorter hikes.

Multi-week/month hikers.

Locals or tourists taking a stroll in the woods.

Partiers who raid camps/shelters.

People like “Night Hatchet” whose agenda you cannot fathom and need to be wary of.

I did not see “Night Hatchet” again, but I did meet people and situations that “put my antenna” up.  It’s important to keep in mind that most all the people you meet along the Appalachian Trail are solid, decent, friendly folks, many of who are extremely generous and will help you if you need it.

It is also vital to realize that while…

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Thinking about “Night Hatchet” on the Appalachian Trail

“Night Hatchet” is the only example of an animal along the trail that frightens me.

Write in Front of Me

Jack-o-lantern

Consider this the “Halloween” post for Write In Front of Me.  It’s not my intent to fuel undue anxiety or alarm but I would be less than upfront if this side of backpacking the Appalachian Trail wasn’t addressed.  Specifically, I’m talking about safety in dealing with other hikers and people you will meet.

First a tale…a true tale.

Cold Spring Shelter along the Appalachian Trail was home for the night for myself and a handful of other backpackers.  We’d left Springer Mountain mid-April and were among the rear guard bound for Katahdin.  Most of us were getting our “trail legs” and starting to feel we were managing the tests the trail set before us pretty well.

What we weren’t prepared for was “Night Hatchet.”

“Night Hatchet” was a young local man, about his early twenties, who was hitching from trailhead to trailhead, hiking in to shelters…

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Hiker’s Sweet and Sour Shrimp

This recipe is a little on the expensive side. On Amazon, the 3-ounce packages of shrimp are around seven dollars each, making this entree a little pricey; however, when you are stuck in the middle of the 100 mile wilderness, and want something Asian, this recipe might do the trick. Here it is:

Hiker’s Sweet and Sour Shrimp (makes 2 servings)
2 3-ounce packages of dehydrated shrimp
1 cup Minute white rice
2 tbsp. dehydrated onion
2 tbsp. dehydrated peppers
1 ½ cups water (for 2 servings) or more

Sauce:
2 chicken bouillon cubes, unwrapped
2 tbsp. brown sugar
1 tbsp. Ultra Gel
1 tsp. dried ginger
2 tbsp. pomegranate powder
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 cup water (for 2 servings) or more

½ cup freeze-dried pineapple
1 cup La Choy Rice Noodles
2-pkts. Kikkoman soy sauce

Divide rice, onion, and peppers into two portions. Bag and seal. Grind chicken bouillon in a coffee grinder and mix with all sauce ingredients. Divide sauce ingredients into two packages and seal. Divide freeze-dried pineapple into two portions, and divide the noodles into two portions. In a large bag, add one package of shrimp, one package of sauce mix, one package of freeze-dried pineapple, and 1 package of rice noodles. Tuck in one packet of soy sauce and seal all with an oxygen absorber inside the bag.

On the trail: Bring ¾ cup water to a boil and add one package of shrimp, and one rice/vegetable pouch. Cover and simmer until rice has absorbed all the water. In a separate container, rehydrate pineapple and sauce mix in ½ cup water. When rice has cooked and shrimp are tender, stir the sauce into the rice. Heat through. Quickly stir in 1 package of soy sauce, and top shrimp with rice noodles.

Chicken Tetrazzini for the Appalachian Trail

Finding individual portions of protein is sometimes a challenge when packaging meals for the trail. Amazon has Sweet Sue Premium Chicken Breast in 3-ounce servings. Just perfect for one person. I don’t like to eat a lot of beef, even on the trail, so I have several chicken entrees that are hearty and tasty. Here is the recipe:

Hiker’s Chicken Tetrazzini (makes 2 servings)
2 pkgs. Sweet Sue Premium Chicken Breast
½ cup dry Mushroom Gravy Base                                    2 tbsp. Meyenburg Goat Milk
½ cup Parmesan                                                              2 tbsp. powdered butter
¼ cup dehydrated red pepper                                         2 tsp. dried parsley
½ cup dehydrated mushrooms                                        Salt & Pepper to taste
2 tbsp. dried Italian bread crumbs                                   4 ounces spaghetti, broken
3 cups water (for 2 servings)
Mix mushroom gravy mix, goat milk, parmesan, butter, parsley, and salt and pepper. Divide into two servings and seal. Divide spaghetti, peppers and mushrooms into two portions and seal. Divide Italian bread crumbs into 2 packets. In a larger bag, put one package of Sweet Sue Chicken Breast, one mushroom gravy packet, one spaghetti/vegetable packet and one crumb packet and seal with an oxygen absorber. On the trail: Bring 1 ½ cups of water to a boil. Add spaghetti and vegetables. When spaghetti is tender, stir mushroom gravy packet into the spaghetti. Simmer until heated through. Top with Italian Bread Crumbs.

Italian Lasagna for Hikers on the Appalachian Trail

Purchasing ready-made meals for long-distance hiking trips is prohibitive for most people. While some brands taste very good, others are less than desirable. I don’t want to find out which meal I have when I’m 200 miles in and very hungry. From a culinary standpoint, it just makes sense to create your meals at home, and try them first. Most of the recipes I have shared with my audience are my own recipes. Some, I adapt from other cook’s recipes. I will even post recipes and give full credit to other hikers who have done the same. The home-prepared meals are economical, delicious, prepare easily on the trail, and will make your mouth water in anticipation. Seal in fresh ingredients, and take the time to cook them on the trail. The effort is worth it.

While some hikers prefer to precook these meals and then dehydrate them, I don’t. I have tried it too, but you lose the savory aroma of the herbs. You need to add more salt for it to taste good. There is not much nutrition left in spaghetti that has been cooked, and cooked, and cooked again. The textures are unappetizing, and personally, when I first bagged up my cooked spaghetti with sauce that was dehydrated into a round mess, it looked kind of like garbage. My sauce was wonderful, but by the time it was processed, it even tasted like garbage….a dead thing…and was composted for the worms. Even when preparation takes a lot of time, the results are far superior to ready-made or precooked.

Hiker’s Lasagna for the Trail (very large serving or divide into two)
Sauce:
1/8 cup dehydrated ground beef
1/8 cup Honeyville freeze-dried sausage
6 tbsp. tomato powder
¼ tsp garlic powder
1 tsp. Harmony House dehydrated onion
1 tsp. Harmony House dehydrated bell pepper
1 tsp. brown sugar
¼ tsp. coarse salt
¼ tsp. coarse black pepper
1 tsp. Italian Seasoning
1 ¾ cups or more water

Cheese Filling:
1/8 cup dehydrated cottage cheese
1 tsp. Meyenburg goat milk powder
1 tbsp. Parmesan
1/8 tsp egg replacer
½ tsp parsley flakes or dehydrated spinach flakes
Water for reconstituting

Topping:
1 to 2 tbsp. freeze-dried or dehydrated mozzarella
1 tbsp. Home-made dehydrated garlic bread croutons

Pasta:
2 ounces Mafalda pasta (looks like mini lasagna noodles)

Seal sauce ingredients in a bag with an oxygen absorber. Combine cheese filling well and seal in a separate bag. Seal small bags of the toppings. Finally put the pasta into a larger bag which will hold all the ingredients. Fill this bag with 1 sauce package, 1 cheese filling bag, 1 topping bag (or 2, however many bags you use for them) and seal, preferably with an oxygen absorber.

On the trail, boil pasta first. While boiling pasta, rehydrate cheese filling with just enough water added to the bag to make a creamy, pourable filling. Pour the water from the pasta into another cooking pot and add more water to make 1 ½ cups. Add sauce packet to this water and boil, then simmer until meats and vegetables have rehydrated and sauce is heated through. Mix pasta with cooked sauce. With a spoon, open up spaces in the pasta mix to squeeze the filling into. Do this by snipping a corner of the bag, and simply squirting the filling into the pasta. Sprinkle mozzarella over it all and toss on croutons for your garlic bread. Voila! Hot Italian Supper on the Trail…

**While some people like to pour the starchy water off their pasta, I want to consume that starch for energy on the trail. Reserve the water for the sauce. If you want to drain away those calories, the herb Cleavers makes a very good colander in the wild. If you can find it, just curl it up into a bowl. It will stick together nicely and you can pour your boiling pasta right into it. Cleavers makes a very good tea as well.

Dehydrating Ground Beef for the Appalachian Trail

I could not find any USDA information for the safe storage or dehydration of ground beef. Please note that these instructions are what I do, but you should perform your own research before deciding to do this. Historically, meat has been salted to retard spoilage. Salt absorbs moisture and draws out moisture from meat, which is where the bacteria survive and proliferate. I cannot overstate safety precautions here. Scrub your hands as if you were going to perform open-heart surgery. Sanitize counters, stove-top, sinks, utensils, etc. Throw away old dish sponges near your work area. If this beef is going to be used to make your hiking meals, you want to make sure that nothing survived the processing so that later, a host of “them” will not make you ill. Even so, boil water with the meat, and added salt before using. Never put ground meat that has not been boiled in water into a cozy to sit around absorbing liquid. Be safe.

Dehydrated ground beef, when reconstituted with hot or boiling water, tastes very much like fresh. It is lightweight to pack in meals, and it still contains some nutrition as well as being a protein source. The problem with dehydrating beef is that the process must be done in a sanitary manner, the beef must be thoroughly cooked, and it must be dehydrated to the point you can use the back of a spoon to crush it into a powder. There is no skimping on the process if you want your food to be safe.

To begin, purchase the leanest beef you can find. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t cook well in a skillet, because you are going to wash the fat off of it anyway. Yep, you are going to wash it in boiling hot water….several times. But, before it is washed, it will be broken up into bite-size pieces and fried. Cook the meat, on medium heat, until it is slightly browned. While cooking the beef, bring a pan of water to a rolling boil. (You can use the tap on the hottest setting, but who wants to put chlorine and fluoride into their meat?) When the meat is fully cooked, put it in a colander lined with a cheesecloth. Pour the boiling water over the meat, using a spoon to stir the meat around. Get as much fat off the meat as you can. Rinse the skillet with super hot water (no soap) and dry with a paper towel. With the skillet placed on a medium-high burner, put the rinsed and drained meat back on to cook. Cook until the water has evaporated and the meat is piping hot. Have your next pot of boiling water ready. As soon as the meat is super-heated and the water evaporated, pour the meat into the colander again (new cheesecloth or washed cheesecloth) and rinse again. Do this at least three times, or until the meat no longer has a greasy sheen. The beef particles should look very dull and dry.

Line the bottom of your dehydrator with baking parchment because the crumbs will fall through. On each screen, spread 2 cups of meat crumbles evenly. Don’t worry about the ones that fall through. The clean parchment will catch them. If you use Teflex sheets, it takes much longer to dehydrate. This invites organisms, so dry that meat as quickly as possible, using a higher setting. Once the meat is dry enough that you can pound it to dust with a spoon, let it cool completely. Store in an airtight glass jar with an oxygen absorber until you are ready to use it.

One 1/4 cup serving is enough for an adult. Once you add water back to it, trust me, it will almost double. After all, it is only one ingredient in your meal. A little will go a long way.

If you package the beef with any other ingredients, add salt. If you add more salt than you want to consume, simply rinse the beef before you cook it. Another bath won’t hurt. Seal quickly, and use oxygen absorbers if you have them. A vacuum sealer is better than a Zip Loc for storage.

I have used beef like this many times. It always tastes great. The texture is the same as if you used fresh beef. Some cooking blogs say to add bread crumbs to it so it will rehydrate properly, but I have NEVER had a problem with re-hydration. **I have never used this process with chicken or pork, and will not do it until further study has been done on the safety of this process. Use good judgment and you should have delicious protein meals on the trail.

Macaroni and Cheese on the Appalachian Trail

In my home, macaroni and cheese is a staple food and is sometimes the entire entree. It is so versatile. Add chicken, vegetables, or ham. Ummm. Top with sun-dried tomatoes, bacon, Parmesan and bake. Ummm. It is the ultimate comfort food. Ultra Gel is a gluten free, non-GMO cornstarch that can be directly added to any liquid, hot or cold, for instant thickness. Ultra Gel holds up to freezing, canning and refrigerating without weeping, thinning, or breaking down. It is used in this recipe because it is added while the liquid is hot so the powdered contents stir right in. You can use bacon on the trail if you buy Oscar Mayer Real Bacon Bits, but you must use the entire package that day, so start with a breakfast of bacon and Ova Easy Eggs and Mac & Cheese for supper so the bacon does not go rancid. Here is my adapted recipe. The original is from Chef Tess from Honeyville Foods:

Mac and Cheese  2 servings
7 tsp. Honeyville Powdered Cheese                                          2 tsp. Ultra Gel
1 tsp. chicken bouillon                                                              1 tsp Harmony House dehydrated onion
¼ cup Meyenburg Goat Milk                                                     1 cup elbow macaroni
½ tsp Tony Chachere’s Creole seasoning                                1 tsp powdered butter
Salt & pepper to taste                                                               ½ cup Honeyville dehydrated

3 cups water (for 2 servings)                                                   Honeyville Cheddar Cheese shreds

Mix powdered cheese, bouillon, milk, seasonings, Ultra Gel and butter. Divide evenly into two servings. Divide macaroni and onion into two portions and seal them into two bags. Divide dehydrated cheddar cheese into two bags. In a sealer bag, add one pkt. Of seasoning, 1 macaroni pkt., and 1 cheddar cheese pkt. On the trail, Bring 1 ½ cups water to a boil. Cook macaroni until tender. Add seasoning packet and simmer until heated through. Top with crispy cheddar cheese shreds.