I had the privilege of spending 10 days backpacking at Philmont Boy Scout camp in New Mexico. Some people think that I’m crazy to believe that carrying a 50 lb pack for 100 miles while only taking a couple of cold showers in 10 days, exclusively eating pre-packaged and dehydrated food, having no latrines, and sleeping on the ground in a small tent with another guy that snores as bad as I do is fun…oh well, I know better. For one thing, it’s amazing how few items one needs to be comfortable and satisfied. To take off the pack and boots at the end of the day and to sleep that baby sleep caused by exertion is heaven… No cell phones or any phones for that matter… no real schedule but clear goals… get from one place to the next, safely, by the end of the day.
However, there are two absolutes that you have to practice every day… keep hydrated… which means purifying and drinking a minimum of 8 quarts of water per day and secondly… take care of your feet. That means stopping if you start getting a “hot spot” and treating it. If you don’t, it can turn into a blister, get infected and you get sent home early… quicker than you can imagine, a little rub can become real serious…
Let’s get back to the food situation. I haven’t calculated the real number but I know that I ate probably 5000 calories per day and ended up losing 15 pounds in 10 days and never felt better. If you’ve never tasted the dehydrated food used for backpacking, let me try to describe it. You start with the packages that contain dry pasty noodles and white or lightly colored powder dotted with small hard squares that are supposed to be chicken, beef and/or vegetables. You boil water, which at altitude becomes lukewarm really fast, and add it to the dry stuff. In theory, the water is supposed to re-hydrate the dry stuff and make it look, taste and feel like you had a gourmet cook specially flown in to cook your meal that night. In reality, you get a lukewarm, half wet, crunchy, glop that has pockets of dry powder because it didn’t get mixed well and the water turned cold. Well, when you’re truly hungry, you will eat anything and it’s a good thing that one guy carried some Tabasco sauce. Ten days of this… heating water, stirring it in, hoping that it cooked and mixed, taking a bite and… more crunch powder and… well… dry glop.
The day we got back to the main camp was a day I’ll forever remember. In particular, I will never forget the feeling of anticipation of purchasing and eating a microwave burrito… you know… the type you buy at the local convenience store. Now at home, I never buy them and when I tried them in the beginning, I thought they were… well, disgusting… Sorry, I know that is strong but I had to help you understand how big a deal this was for me to purchase one of these. You have to understand that after 10 days on the trail, anything sounded good. Well, I popped it in the microwave, practically giddy with anticipation…1 more minute…30 seconds…DING! I cradled this hot, succulent food of the gods in my hands as I slowly walked to the picnic table sitting outside. The smell of the green chiles, warm tortilla and the meat mixture wafted up to my nostrils… What an incredible smell… I gently laid it on the table and very carefully started un-wrapping it. I could see cheese… melted, steaming cheese, oozing out of a small crack in the tortilla… The pure white flour tortilla speckled with the brown marks it had received when it was originally prepared… Was this going to taste as bad as I remembered? It couldn’t… this food that looked and smelled so good… I lifted the burrito to my mouth and with much anticipation, slowly bit into this warm soft food. The taste was incredible… warm cheese flowing on my tongue mixed with the tastes of real meat and chiles… I didn’t know anything could taste so incredible. I wanted it to last forever… but it was soon gone. But not the memory.