I've been meaning to finish my little series on trail food for oh, months. But you know how it goes. Babies get older and start pushing peas around with their pointer finger and it's so endearing it knocks the wind out of you. So I've been set back a few times, but I haven't forgotten. Probably a year ago, I went through all of my pictures from the Appalachian Trail and realized how many I loved and wanted to re-see a million times. Here is a final sampling of photos like that, including the one thing (besides rain) that made all the difference in a good day of hiking and a bad one. Food.
The deli hop in New England. Completely blindsided us with how delicious and accessible subs could really be. Salami, pastrami, prosciutto, pepperoncini. Yes.
New York City food. We paid $8 for a tiny glass of orange juice that tasted like it was fresh. But it probably wasn't... The food was beautiful, and came out on even more beautiful and eclectic plates.
I ate a Reuben here. It was hard to do because someone once told me corned beef is only possible by dehydrating cows on purpose. That just sucks all the joy out of eating that cow. Anyway, good old Seinfeld.
I think it was this $13 burger in Connecticut where we realized we were spending way too much money on food. You can see that realization sinking in around Dustan's eyes in this picture. This was the same state where sodas came bottled - no fountain drinks. No free refills. And definitely no more biscuits n' gravy.
Vachon - don't even remember what that was from? But as we entered the Northern states, hiking became more and more job-like and predictable. We could look at an elevation map and get a good handle on what the day would hold before lunch, read a description of a shelter and decide to stealth camp, run into a killer view near a good water source and make camp early. It was so nice to be with friends all along the way, made lunching at a shelter and campfire talk so much fun. I could never understand the crazy-fast solo hikers for this reason alone. They'd be all lanky and quiet, pull a tiny energy bar made of seeds from their fanny pack and eat in solitude. At first I thought they were all elitist, and some were. But really, they just hiked too freaking fast to make friends and tell stories. We loved to find ourselves alongside Vachon and his sloping Virginia accent, different than mine which is from the boonies. His is more like old-school Richmond.
That was the most delicious Caesar salad I ever built at a grocery store in a town I begged to stay in because Dustan was watching thunderheads roll in. We spent the next two days hiking under pack covers.
Oh, Rutland. I could say so much about you. I'll leave it to Blaze, though. What I will say is this smoothie probably added eight solid months to my life, it was packed with so much goodness, and the people that made it for me were from the Twelve Tribes community. I think they're some form of Jewish/Christian but really neither. They kinda loved hikers, and we loved their food.
Here's a late-night planning meeting over dinner. Mac n' cheese (which somehow never gets old) and Brahma's all-time favorite side dish: peanut butter M&M's. I love that this picture captured my poor, sad thumbnail from a horse bite in Virginia.
Salt-encrusted hiking shirt, evidence of the amount of climbs in the sun we just tackled. Purple-stained lips, evidence of the grape slushies we consumed when rolled into this small New Hampshire town.
Pasta, by firelight and headlamp.
Ugh, such a miserable hiking day. We were pansies when it came to rain - big time. Southbounders passed us like warriors, with so many notches in their hiking-through-rain belt I'm sure they scoffed when we pulled out rain gear before the first drop fell. They were pelted, soggy messes. We northbounders just didn't have it as bad. So on days when we were required to not only walk in the rain, but set up camp and (God forbid) wake up to rain, we felt so sorry for ourselves. I remember this spot in Maine so well, because I was too cold to sit down and eat lunch. I was too cold to pee, or sign the shelter journal, or do anything but stand there stamping my feet, inhaling whatever snack I had stuffed into the hood of my pack, which turned out to be a whole bag of Cheetos.
Frito Lay, Kraft, Con Agra, Hershey - they served us well. Way to get off the beaten path and support The Man all the way to Maine! I love many things about this picture. How shredded my thighs were by this point, how my eyebrows were growing together, how I had band-aids on every finger, how I had snacking down to a science (find a warm rock, rip off your sweaty shirt and put your puffy on before the brisk Maine air could make you stiff and chilled).
We forded a river one day to discover this little gem, left for us by Hoot and Sundance, who, apparently carried a Sharpie in their packs? This was the kind of stuff that made you feel for two seconds like you were on The Amazing Race.
Here we are at Poor Richard's Pub, days after the summit of our final mountain had come and gone. Poor Richard's is the bar made infamous by Roy in The Office, when he threw a shot glass at a mirror because he got so mad at Pam. We couldn't drive through Scranton, Pennsylvania and not stop.
We also couldn't go through Philly without reuniting with the Awesome Amy Miller, our great friend from Williamsburg. She made us pasta, and the next morning we walked around and drank coffee, and this is the kind of thing you long for when it's 9:47am and you are shouldering a thirty seven-pound backpack before gaining a thousand feet in elevation with half a Milky Way in your tank. It's also surreal to come back to life and do these normal things, like coffee with friends. Because there you are, picturing what you would be doing otherwise, summitting a craggy height that splays out grandeur all around you, taking a swig of water that tastes better than life because you pumped it and packed it and earned it, and suddenly you pity the poor people that just drive to work every day and have coffee with friends.
Last meal worth commemorating - we hit up our family JJ & Don in Manassas when we entered back into Virginia, and they treated us to Viking food. Charred meat and frothy lager and more butter than bread.
We definitely did our share of card-swiping to make it from Georgia to Maine, but the number of phenomenal meals that were treated to us, prepared for us, laid before us, at all different times of the day and in so many different cities and tiny towns, in states all up and down the coast, from strangers and family and instant-friends alike, was really staggering and over the top. Whether it was succulent salmon in a restaurant or pancakes at a hostel, under the awning of a hoity-toity grocery store or beneath the eves of a pitter-patter tin roof shelter, with a smattering of dirty hikers or just us in the confines of our tent with our smushed Poptarts, meal times were the best times to relax and laugh and retell our favorite stories and learn about all kinds of different, inspiring, tiring, long-winded, gracious, audacious, benevolent, driven, charming, unlikely and always interesting people. Besides the hiking, that's the whole of the trail.