Ask any hiker what they think about on the trail and the answer is usually the same: food. Beer, milkshakes, burgers, pancakes. Or if it's me, beer, smoothies, veggie burgers, sweet potato biscuits with cashew gravy, smoothies, smoothies, smoothies...
Mud and I have been quite happy with our food supply so far. We have not yet gone hungry and are still feeling healthy and strong. All the hard work put into preparing date bars, organizing boxes, cooking and dehydrating high quality dinners, has certainly paid off. Dinner is one of my favorite parts of each day. I find myself looking forward to it sometimes even before 9 am. Curry vegetables and rice, sweet potatoes and beans, pasta primavera, spiced lentil stew... But aside from these wonderfully delicious evening meals, there is still much more eating to be done. We eat constantly. Mostly while walking. This limits our options to what we can pull out of our hipbelt pockets and eat with one hand (the other hand holding trekking poles). And that means bars. Date bars, clif bars, pro bars, zing bars, granola bars. There are times when the right choice of bar really hits the spot, but most of the time I am just eating to make the hunger go away. Experiences like that give fuel to my food fantasies.
A few mornings ago, I let my cravings get the best of me. Climbing through the alpine meadow of northern Oregon up to Timberline Lodge, my thoughts were once again drifting away to the perfect meal. Reality changes when you're on the trail. Without distractions, we find who we really are. Ourselves, our thoughts, and the nature surrounding us are the center of the universe, for better or for worse. In that moment, the center of my universe was a sweet potato biscuit with cashew gravy and a side of sautéed greens.
Timberline Lodge is famous in the hiking community for having the absolute best meal on the trail. I've been hiking on the PCT for three years now, and heard rave reviews from multiple people every year. I even experienced it myself last year. Despite knowing what the meal would be like first hand, the food had been so talked up that it was hard not to get my vegan hopes up again this year. I was absolutely convinced that this year, this morning, I'd find something other than potatoes. That is what we eat the most when in town. Potatoes and vegetables. Potatoes and fruit. Potatoes and toast. Potatoes and salsa. Potatoes are everywhere. They're a wonderfully nutritious food, but can grow old after a while.
We walked into the dimly lit dinning room of the lodge and sat down at a table after surveying the buffet line. Sure enough, there were the potatoes, alongside other chaffing dishes full of eggs, cheesy eggs, sausage, bacon. My hopes weren't shattered yet. I saw glasses full of smoothie at the end of the buffet table. Smoothies- one of the other centers of my hiking universe. But alas, they were made with yogurt. The disappointment set in. I enjoyed a meal of potatoes, some darn good fruit, fresh squeezed orange juice and by far the best coffee on the trail, but my spirits were low.
My disappointment was not only due to my own desire to eat food other than potatoes, but from the blatant reminder of the state of things. Sitting at a table closest to the buffet line, I watched countless people go through the line, choosing a meal heavy with animal products without giving it a second thought. At the "slice your own salami" station, a father's only concern was that his son not get his fingers too close to the blade as he turned the lever, not the effect of the fat-laden carcinogenic food, or that by encouraging this eating behavior he is reinforcing the disconnect between innate human compassion and gastronomic enjoyment. That people can be so distant from the reality of what is on their plates is disheartening. I was ready to go right back to the trail where the world is my own.
So, back to the trail we went...
I wouldn't trade my challenges as a vegan thru-hiker for any other experience. I feel stronger and healthier this year than any other, largely due to a diet of a higher standard. On previous section hikes, my diet leaned toward plant-based, but I still considered M&Ms a reasonable snack and ate cheese pizza in town. Trading in my M&Ms for dried fruit and cheese pizza for potatoes, I am a new hiker. Injuries that once got me off the trail are non-existent, I'm never sore in the mornings when I wake up - even after a 30 mile day, blisters never stay around to bother me (okay, maybe that's also due to the right combination of shoes, socks and tape), I am capable of anything. Most of all, I am living, walking and eating with integrity.
I have renewed hope that when I finally re-enter society after this trek, I'll be coming into a world that is moving towards a solution rather than blindly perpetuating the problem. As a future dietitian, I'll do my best to inspire change. Mud will do his best. We'll be working alongside hundreds of others all doing their best. I remind myself to stay inspired and stay positive, and keep on walking.
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