Adventures in Dehydration – Errr, I Mean Dehydrating (Part 1)
It’s back to hiking in the desert and I’m doing my best to stay hydrated out here. When I’m not actively chugging water or shoving my face full of snacks, I’m likely daydreaming about cold drinks and what food I’m going to wolf down come next town visit.
Life on trail is a simple one – but it does become slightly more involved when you have dietary restrictions, want to hike the trail low-waste, and your solution to these things is to pack yourself 35 boxes ahead of time. Yup, 35.
In earlier posts, I mentioned ways in which I was working to make my thru-hike more sustainable. I also briefly mentioned how my food preparation tied into this mission. But I didn’t talk about the why or the how.
So, let’s talk food. Generally speaking, the beloved “hiker trash” community is infamous for eating pretty much anything and everything. Dishes like “ramen bombs” (instant mashed potatoes mixed with ramen), Little Debbies, and Pop Tarts are extremely common. Things like this are justified when you’re burning upwards of 5,000 calories a day.
However, I recently found out I can no longer participate in such festivities. Over the past several years, I’ve developed several food sensitivities and digestive issues. It stinks, but rather than dwell on the negatives, I decided to take the time to reframe how I’ve traditionally viewed meal planning and resupplying for the trail. I started thinking about the potential positive outcomes that could come through this challenge.
Around this time, I also discovered Ana Lucía aka “Eco” aka “wastefreepct” and learned about her incredible journey in 2021. I took notes on her resupply tactics, and noticed that a large part of her on-trail nutrition included prepackaged meals from companies that used home-compostable packaging. Reading about everything she was able to accomplish on her journey gave me hope that I could accomplish something similar. I believed that I could start on my own unique food journey – one that would both meet my dietary needs and have far-reaching benefits that extended beyond myself.
As I started to make plans, I realized a few things. For one, I wanted to learn how to dehydrate my own food. This would allow me to address my specific dietary needs and it would be relatively inexpensive. On the flipside, I realized this would also likely require a big chunk of time. And still more questions remained – how would I avoid using plastic to package my food once I (hopefully) successfully dehydrated it? So many questions.
And so the quest for answers began.
I poured through countless articles explaining the how-to’s of dehydrating and all the necessary steps. One of my mother’s friends kindly offered to let me use her old dehydrator that had been sitting in her attic. The contraption was ancient, but it did the trick once I did some experimenting and figured out what the different temperature ranges were on the unmarked dial. (You have to dehydrate different foods at different temperatures to have a safe and successful end result).
I collected a bunch of recipes that I thought were beginner-friendly and practiced making different things. I bought ingredients in bulk quantities from the local co-op and went to work. I was stressed at times, hoping that I was doing things correctly (wouldn’t open the food on trail several months later only to find it all moldy and gross). There was a bit of trial-and-error, but miraculously, it ended up working out.
One thing remained – I still didn’t know how I would package all of this glorious food for the trail in a low-waste manner. All of my food was lined up, ready to go in jars and tupperware that I had stockpiled before/during the process, which was awesome, but definitely not carry-on-the-trail friendly. I had read and researched at length, but literally everything I read seemed to claim that vacuum-sealing or using plastic/mylar bags were the only safe means to reliably store food long-term! Which in my mind, kind of defeated the purpose of doing all of this in the first place. Ugh.
So, I turned to the experts for help. I hoped they would share some words of wisdom and in turn, I figured I could fill in the remainder of meals I needed (roughly 1-2 per week) by purchasing some of their meals. I reached out to a company that had supported Eco on her journey and crossed my fingers that I would hear back from them.
Not long after reaching out, I received a notification that I had an email in my inbox. Who could it be?
Stay posted for Part 2 of this story…
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