Friday, September 23, 2011

Backcountry Banquets

            Last night I stood in Elbel field’s parking lot cooking my dinner over a tiny backpacking stove. Those that wandered by often took a double glace at the spectacle that was 15 people running about the tiny parking area with pots, pans, and fuel bottles. It was 8:30 at night and I hadn’t eaten since 1. I was hungry. Grab some cheese! Get some veggies! Is the crust ready yet?! Soon enough the pizza was done, the dishes were clean, and we all left with full bellies and the confidence of knowing we could feed ourselves adequately and safely while backpacking in the wild.
            MOLS stands for Michigan Outdoor Leadership Semester, and is a series of classes designed to increase participants knowledge and skills on how to safely lead outdoors trips. Last night’s class was about cooking with backpacking gear, which is what lead me to that strange night in the Elbel field parking lot. We covered the basics of safety, equipment, and ethics in the kitchen, as well as which types of food to bring on trips.
            I work as a trip leader for Outdoor Adventures, a part of the University of Michigan, and as such am required to take some MOLS courses throughout the year. The requirement is really not that important because having lead trips in the past, I realize the impact of good food planning/execution on the overall enjoyment of trips (especially backpacking trips) and would take the class anyway.
Backpacking is a type of camping where participants carry everything they will use during their trip into the wilderness and travel many miles by foot each day with all of their possessions. Food is among the many things to be carried, and newcomers to the sport are often surprised with how heavy food actually is. Food and water are the two heaviest/bulkiest items to bring on a backpacking trip. As such, we try to minimize the weight and space that they add.
There are a two main ways to do this. First is by bringing water sanitation systems so we can collect water at our destination and don’t have to carry all the water we need throughout the trip from the start. Secondly, we make sure the food we take has a high calorie to unit area ratio. For example, bringing a loaf of bread would take up more space than bringing a jar of peanut butter, which would provide more protein and calories in a much smaller package to carry. Jason De Leon briefly mentioned this later method when speaking to what kind of foods Mexican immigrants buy before crossing the border. Cans of tuna in specific, which is a good choice for backpackers and travelers alike. Unfortunately, these people do not have the means to buy water filtration/sterilization systems which we use on our trips. If they did, they could safely drink water from the cattle cisterns in the desert. However, because they have no way to treat water, they must carry it which takes up a lot of space and is heavy.
The MOLS class that lead me to Elbel field’s parking lot was teaching me and others specifically how to avoid packing like those immigrants who prepare to cross the border. We practiced cooking foods that are easily packed and contain many calories. Ingredients used in making pizza are very ‘calorific,’ hence the spectacle last night. Not knowing to pack food and water smartly could leave people stranded in the wild with too much food, too little food, too much weight, and inadequate water supplies. In this instance, knowledge could really save a life, or at least save you from an unpleasant trip.

1 comment:

  1. I applaud your knowledge of cooking and leadership skills for use on backpacking trips. I do think that it is incredibly useful to know what to pack on a hiking/backpacking trip, and it is clear that this information would be useful in terms of how illegal Mexican immigrants traveling into the United States should think about planning for their trips. Knowing which foods are best to pack is important for shorter trips, but I do not think that this is as important for longer trips. That is to say, I believe that knowing how to gather your own food in the wild is more important to your survival on a long trip. If you know which wild foods you may eat, which ones are poisonous, where these foods grow, at what time of year they grow, and how to gather them, you will be able to sustain yourself longer than if you only eat what you can pack and carry. Having and utilizing the knowledge of how to gather food in the wild would cut down on the amount of food that you must pack for your hike. This would be especially useful if you did not know how long (both in terms of distance and time length) your hike might end up being. However, as we learned in a few guest lectures ago, making a successful backpacking trip depends not only on what you have to eat, but other factors as well. For instance, on any backpacking trip, one must know what is considered appropriate clothing, footwear, and other accessories (such as a white vs. black water bottle) in order to complete a successful trip.