Photo: Casco, Maine circa 2012. Taken on a disposable camera while Lauren and I were falling in love with the outdoors, enjoying our $7 tent share and snacking on Ritz crackers and peanut butter for an entire day and a half.
Thanks for joining me!
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter.
— Izaak Walton
Growing up I always loved being outside with my family, but not in the conventional way that I have the heart for it now. I grew up in Indiana where there is not much hiking. There are no mountains. There are no beaches. There is no skiing or snowboarding. But there were parks and trees and cornfields galore. My mom stayed at home with my two older sisters and me when we were younger. We did not have an abundance of money at the time, but that was okay because our favorite hobby was making up games anyway. My earliest outdoor memory was going to the local park, getting on the merry-go-round and having my mom hide her van keys in the sand while we closed our eyes and laid on our stomachs. She then would spin us around like crazy as we ran our hands vigorously through the sand trying to be the first to grab the keys, but sometimes purposely letting go just so the game could last a little longer. Being allowed to get dirt under my fingernails and on my face at a young age was magical. I didn’t need a mountain or hiking trails. I needed to know I could get filthy and climb as high as I wanted in the trees and that was okay. It was encouraged even.
I first began my obsession with the outdoors when I worked at a summer camp in Maine. Did I enjoy children? Absolutely not. But every 8 days we got a day off. Every 8 days my co-counselors and myself would pack up all of our belongings and a few cases of beer and let loose on the poor surrounding areas that had no idea what they were in for. We would play “Never Have I Ever” and lay under the stars. We would buy “Day Off Flannels” at Goodwill and not shower. We knew what highways you were allowed to camp off of and that all we needed was to get to a general location using my Atlas now covered in highlights and pen marks. I bought my first tent that summer. It was a three-way purchase with my friends Mia and Lauren and we each paid $7 for it. That little tent had seen so many places of the US before I realized it did not even properly fit two people, was not remotely water proof, and did little for the chilly winds. That summer being around other like-minded people just being away from the news and social media, our homes and friends, we all came together under the stars and it sparked something inside of me. That part of me had to lay somewhat dormant until I graduated and was able to move to Washington.
The Pacific Northwest: where there is nearly nothing that can give you a reason to remain indoors. When I arrived on the scene I still knew very little about backpacking. I still had that $7 purchase of a tent and my sleeping bag that I took to indoor sleepovers in middle school. I made next to nothing as an intern and used Christmas to ask for hiking boots and my birthday for a backpack. Armed with a semblance of gear, my now husband, our friend Patrick and I made it out to the wilderness for our first backpacking trip. The Olympic National Forest is something I could write pages about. But I will spare you. The fog was something I cannot describe, the landscape breathtaking, the company superb—and I absolutely hated it. My boots were soaked. I got stung by a bee. My plantar fasciitis was on an entirely different level. The incline and mileage was outrageously different than what I was promised and I had never hiked with what seemed to be a debilitating amount of weight on my back. And I knew we still had 8 miles out the next day. I could have cried. I think I tried but was too dehydrated. When we got to our camp that night we had packed ramen noodles and a jumbo can of baked beans. Nothing had ever tasted quite so delectable in my entire life. And I don’t think anything has since. I licked the bowl. My moral was slightly boosted, and I knew the magical healing powers of food.
Now, as a profession, I am a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. I worked in Washington for three years as a Performance Nutrition Manager for Washington State University Athletics. During that time I became a Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics and began my MBA program there that I later completed through their spectacular Global Campus while living in Okinawa, Japan as well as in Missouri. I am beyond grateful that I was able to remain at WSU for three years because I honed my skills under excellent tutelage on energy needs and activity. And most importantly, I was able to continue hiking and truly fall in love with backpacking. Each time I went I would get more creative with our meals. I would ensure all food groups were represented, weighing out the food to make sure we were not offensively weighing ourselves down. When my husband, Zach, began convincing me of our “need” to do the Appalachian Trail I calculated and contemplated all the miles nervously, but began to become very excited at the thought of planning all of our drop boxes. When we registered for our wedding at REI and one of my bridal shower guests accidentally purchased items off of Zach’s wish list instead, I received a titanium spork and an Appalachian Trail food planner. When I began reading it I was becoming more excited about the prospect of this challenge and all of the nutrition calculations I would get to do, while all the while becoming increasingly nervous knowing that this is now also a dream of mine.
I am thrilled that I can share my nutrition knowledge with other intrepid travelers that are braving multiple day hiking, triathlon training, day hikes, or just trying to make changes toward a healthy lifestyle. Nutrition is an item on the checklist that cannot be taken lightly. Your food on the trail is meant to fuel your body and soul.