Over the years I eventually changed to a canister fuel type stove, but neither really has made eating on the trail any more enjoyable. For my 2013 attempt at a thru hike, I’m still trying to decide whether or not I’ll even carry a stove. I probably will, but how much use it will get is yet to be determined. You see, I don’t much care for trail food, which leads me to what could prove to be a discourse on “eating well while hiking the trail.”
When my first Thru-Hiker’s Handbook arrived in the mail, I immediately scoured the pages, noting all those that had an M on them. That M, of course, stands for places along the way where a real meal may be found. One hiking motto that I faithfully follow is “never pass a restaurant, reasonably close to the trail, without having a meal.” Before each of my section hikes, I’ve planned somewhat based on the availability of a meal. While hiking that CT/MA section, Alton and I were able to enjoy a restaurant meal almost every day. And another good thing about town food is that after you finish a meal, you can purchase another to take back to the trail with you.
I’ve even been known to hitch into towns for specific eating establishments. On our hike of Vermont, I hitched a ride into Bennington for take-out, knowing that there was a Friendly’s there. In New York I hit every deli listed in the handbook. In New Jersey our first two days were arranged so that we could stop at a steakhouse just a few yards from the trail in Culver’s Gap. And by hiking south one day and doing another section north the next, Alton and I actually had breakfast three consecutive days at the same McDonald’s in Front Royal, VA. I know there will be times when there is no restaurant nearby, and that cooking on the trail is part of the experience. Still I won’t pass up an opportunity to dine in when it presents itself. Plus with my senior citizen discount, I might wind up only spending a few hundred dollars more by eating town food rather than trail food.
Obviously each hiker will have his or her own individual preferences as far as food is concerned. Many will begin the hike, stoves in tow, looking forward to cooking their ramen noodles and Knorr or Lipton sides. I probably will as well, yet I do know that as I head northward, I’ll need all the good nutrition I can get. For this hiker, there’s nothing better than beginning or ending a day on the Appalachian Trail than with a great meal, unless it’s doing both.