Naturally, as we enter the last stretch of trail in the desert, we are forced to think about water more than ever before. In our daily life in Seattle, water is something we take for granted... or even wish we had less of (if it's falling from the sky). Not here. Here, water is life.
I've taken to carrying more water than I need. Even though my back is sore every day from the weight, even though I know I can technically survive for at least a day without any of it, I carry it. Mud's philosophy on water carrying is to drink as much as possible at each water source, and then not to walk with more than you might need. Being thirsty for a few hours is no big deal. It's not worth the weight and physical strain. Just keep walking, and eventually there will be water. This is all true, and a worthwhile strategy. However, he is more skilled than most at avoiding the panic that naturally comes with being thirsty in the desert.
We can tell when we're close to a water source when the plants start to become less thorny and more leafy. Green willows surround the source. Suddenly, a quiet landscape is filled with the sound of chirping birds. The terrain comes alive. Bees buzz around happily in the mud. Like us humans, every cell in their bodies needs that H20 molecule. It's amazing what has come to be all because of the abundance of hydrogen and oxygen in a perfect 2:1 ratio.
But we willingly walked out into this vast, dry desert. It's no surprise that we're so focused on water. The tragedy of drought really hits home when we come into civilization. Riding into the town of Lake Isabella, we came around a bend to see the lake that the town is named for. It looked shallow and empty, sprinkled with dead trees rising out of the water. They looked naked, exposed, like they never expected the water to be so low that the world would see their existence. The man giving us a ride told us that the lake is at 5% capacity. I assume it has been drained to send water to the city, or the LA metropolis. In my thirsty, exhausted state, this breaks my heart.
People talk about the drought. The media highlights ways for people to conserve water. There are even TV shows now about how to make your home more water-efficient. That's all great. But there's an obvious solution that no one mentions, and it makes me crazy. Stop eating meat.
While fruit orchards are shutting down due to the rising cost of water, the millions of cows raised for beef and dairy are drinking up to 30 gallons of water a day, each. No one is talking about that. No one mentions the 2,500 gallons of water used just to make one pound of beef. This takes into account water that goes into growing grain to feed the animals, the water the animals drink, and the water used to clean dirty and bloody carcasses before they become a meal. We cold stop showering for 2 months and it would be the same amount of water used to produce one hamburger. Sure, we can replace our toilets for a more efficient one, but we can also stop breeding animals that drink more than 20 times as much water as we do. While the numbers are highest for cattle, raising other animals for meat is also significantly less water and energy efficient than simply eating plants.
If we can't sustain life without water, why are we ignoring such a big problem?
So, if nothing else, let's start talking about it. Get educated. Watch Cowspiracy! Talk about it.
If you want to do more, please consider making a donation of any amount to A Well Fed World. We are so appreciative of those who have already donated and are hoping to still raise a bit more money. We have 450 more desert miles to walk. As we get weary and thirsty, we hold on to the hope that this hike is making a difference and turning the world in a more positive direction. Be part of the solution with us!
We are treking through the desert with long water carries, prickly plants and giant fuzzy spiders! While we haven't had access to a computer recently to do a proper blog post, we are excited to share the article below for your reading pleasure.
Anna/Bug wrote this a few months ago. It was recently published in the Vegetarian Dietetic Practice Group (of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics) quarterly newsletter. Her first published article!
How to Pack a Balanced Diet in your Backpack
Long distance backpackers, pursuing thousands of miles on trails such as the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail, have increased calorie needs to fuel long hiking days. Hikers tend to load up on junk food for its high calorie content, overlooking the importance of nutrients. However, a plant-based, nutrient-dense diet can make all the difference for maintaining energy during and recovering after a day’s hike. Here are some steps I’ve found useful to sustain a plant-strong diet on the trail - for both the short and long hikes.
1. Eat carbohydrates - Carbohydrates are the most efficient fuel. Some good sources for the trail include: oatmeal, granola, instant rice, beans, mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes, rehydrated hummus, tortillas, rice cakes, couscous, and dried fruit. For a shorter hike, you may have the luxury of packing some whole grain bread and fresh apples, oranges, bananas, pears and other fruit!
Eating oatmeal in the morning is one of the easiest ways to start your day carb-strong. In a ziplock bag, pack a mixture of quick oats, rolled oats, flax seeds and chia seeds. Place in your pot, add plenty of water and simmer on a camp stove for five minutes. Top it off with a little sugar, walnuts and cranberries. If you're lucky, you may even find some wild berries to add some freshness to your breakfast.
2. Don’t Stress About Protein – A high calorie intake naturally leads to a higher protein intake. There is sufficient protein in a balanced, plant-based diet to support the needs of endurance athletes without the need to supplement or shift away from carbohydrates to favor protein. Protein sources on the trail include: instant beans, rehydrated hummus, nuts, seeds, protein bars, and vegetables and grains.
The bulk section of a natural market is a great place to find things like instant beans (usually black or pinto, or refried), quick soup mixes and hummus. Carrying small baggies of beans, instant mashed potato, corn chowder (made by Taste Adventure) and various seasonings allows for flexibility. Combine them in various ways to make some delicious mush that goes well wrapped in a tortilla.
3. Eat Frequently – A good strategy to maintain energy is eating at least every hour, or at the very first hint of hunger. This prevents energy crashes. Most backpackers keep snacks in the side pocket of their hipbelts, making it easy to snack without stopping. Some great snacks include date bars, ProBars, dried fruit, pretzels, nuts and seeds.
Try making homemade date bars! Mix one cup of Medjool dates (pitted) with a half cup of oats and a half cup of nuts (cashews or almonds work best) in a food processor. For variety, try adding flavoring such as chocolate chips, ground coffee, Matcha powder, or other dried fruit such as apples and cranberries. Spread the mixture on a cookie sheet covered in parchment paper, let harden in the freezer for one hour, and slice into even rectangles. Wrap them up in wax paper, seal with tape and they're ready to go!
4. Pack in the Fruits and Vegetables – Dehydrating home-cooked meals is an ideal way to incorporate a wide variety of vegetables on the trail. Products such as Barlean’s Greens, or other powdered vegetable concoctions, are perfect supplements. Dried fruit and dried seaweed are always wonderful options. Lastly, learning to forage for edible greens and berries is a fun and satisfying way to connect with nature and eat fresh produce at the same time. To learn more about foraging, find a local class or check out the book: Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West by Gregory L. Tilford.
To make delicious trail-ready home cooked meals, just cook up your favorite one-pot recipe (Creamy Cashew Polenta, Lentils and Rice, and Pasta Primavera all work well) and load it up with vegetables. Chop all vegetables as small as possible so they both dehydrate and rehydrate faster. Spread thinly on dehydrator sheets, let it dehydrate for 8-12 hours or until dry and crunchy.
Bag it up in a ziplock bag. For longer storage, place in an air tight Mylar bag with an oxygen absorber.
When you're ready to eat it after a long day of hiking, place the meal in your pot, cover with water by about half an inch. Bring to a boil then let sit for 10 minutes.
5. Stay Plant-Strong in Towns – It may be hard to find vegetarian options on menus in small mountain towns, but most restaurants are able to serve steamed vegetables with potatoes on request. Alternatively, make a meal of side dishes. Hashed browns with salsa, wrapped up in a tortilla with veggies and a glass of orange juice is a favorite of mine.
6. Plan Ahead - For hikes longer than 100 miles, mailing resupply boxes of food to towns along the way is necessary. Post Offices in towns near the longer trails are accustomed to holding packages for hikers to pick up. There are also small stores, lodges, gas stations and even bars that will accept hiker packages. Some people even open up their homes, not only allowing packages to be mailed to their address but inviting hikers to camp in their yard, have a shower and do laundry, all for free or a small donation. These generous folks are called Trail Angels, and brighten the days of countless weary travelers.
Soak in the natural beauty of the earth and carry with you the uncompromised values of a plant-strong diet.
by Mud and Bug
It's hard to describe what it feels like out there. It's quiet, it's hot, it's cold, it's high, and it's rocky. We watch the landscape change around us as we gain and lose elevation. From forests and creeks to rocks and lakes. We can tell when we are above 10,000 feet when the air gets thinner. Climbing becomes harder with the sun beating down on us and our lungs working harder for oxygen. When we reach 11,000 feet, there are few trees left around us. Slowly, the landscape becomes nothing but rock and a few resilient patches of grass. At last, 12,000 feet leaves us nothing but rock. No water. No green. The only life around is us.
It's such an innately unfamiliar environment. It begs curiosity. Yet we don't stay long. We go down and down... Seeing the progression in reverse. Patches of grass, patches of trees, then finally forest and creeks where we can camp, drink and cook. It feels like coming home.
It's hard to believe we are entering our third month on the trail, with less than 1000 miles to go. This life feels normal now. As we pause for a moment to take it all in, one thing is for sure - we are not in Oregon anymore. The days of endless forests and copious amounts of sunlight are over, exchanged for rugged climbs and long periods of darkness. We've reached the Sierras, and fall has come.
Our first few days in the Sierras, following a respite in South Lake Tahoe, offered us majestic and long-awaited scenery. The dramatic views were matched by dramatic weather - wind so strong we were derailed with every gust, cold nights and cloud covered days.
We wake in the dark and walk with our head lamps for an hour before breakfast, eating oatmeal as the sun peaks over the mountain tops, inching warmth onto the rocky cliffs. Then we climb and descend. Up and down we go, fighting winds with every step. The higher we go, the stronger the wind. So strong at times that our trekking poles are forced sideways and our feet land inches away from where we intended.
The wind blows in clouds and light rain. We walk to stay warm, eat dinner before the sun goes down, walk some more, then set up the tent and take refuge. Being out here so long, through the light and dark, hot and cold, the dry and the wet, we gain an intimate understanding of the power of nature. It's not all flowers and sunshine. Sometimes it's turmoil. Sometimes it demands more from you than you think you're capable of. This raw connection to nature connects us with life. The mountains and the weather are simply a reflection of ourselves. It's not easy, but it's always beautiful.
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