It’s All About the Bars

I’ve done something new while training for the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). I’m trying out lots and lots of bars. Food bars that is. Nutrition is one of the most challenging parts of a long-distance backpacking trip. I struggled finding healthy, easy to pack and yummy food during my Appalachian Trail thru-hike. Thank goodness for the proliferation of  protein bars, breakfast bars, or whatever bars. Simple to pack and easy to eat. By the end of my hike, there were a lot more bars in my life than when I started. And that turned out to be a good thing. Then I came home and discovered Thunderbird bars, which are made right here in Texas. Seriously?! I could have had them all along? Aargh.

You can’t imagine how long I would stand around in stores wishing I had better options. Even stuff I liked to eat became loathsome when faced with the same items at every store for months on end. Trail towns are usually quite small and always one of three particular chain stores determined your selection choices. Add in factors like portability, no refrigeration, little prep needed, etc. and your choices became a pathetic array of the same old stuff. Every time I walked into a store to resupply, I searched the shelves trying to find something new. I tried pudding cups and they was okay, but too heavy, and the containers didn’t squish down well once empty. I bought hard cheeses and those lasted a couple days before all the oil separated out. Even trail mix often came in large, heavy bags, or the same four mixes in snack bags.

All that time I could have enjoyed a dozen DIFFERENT flavors of Thunderbird bars, if only I had known about them and sent them in my resupply box.

Somehow I missed discovering them last year. Then my wonderful husband put a few in my Easter basket this year and I tried them. Pretty good. Made of real food, too. This summer our local grocery ran a special on them and I tried some more. Yum! I went to their website. Oh my goodness there were lots of different varieties and flavors. Right then I decided to pack a bunch into each of my mail drops for the Pacific Crest Trail next year.

While looking through their website, I found they offered an Ambassador Program and decided to apply. Ambassadors promote the brand and receive discounts and perks for doing so. I thought my experience reaching big outdoor goals as well as motivating others to reach theirs would make me a good candidate for their program. And guess what?! They agreed. So here I am, a newly minted Thunderbird Real Food Bars ambassador. I think it will be a good fit.

Next week, I kick off this ambassador role by hosting a giveaway. Thunderbird bars sent me a mixed box of bars and told me how to set up an Instagram giveaway. Hosting it will be another first for me. So if you are on Instagram, look for the giveaway posted by @lorriegirltx. You might find yourself liking a new kind of bar, too!

Day 47 – Bears

We have been warned about bears pretty much consistently by every Ridgerunner, park ranger, and other experienced person along the trail for six weeks now. We diligently hang our food bags (even though it’s really hard sometimes to hang on a high branch), and use the bear containers or bear cables whenever they’re available. One time we used a very secure back door to a trash bin to keep all our food. Mice were our primary concern at that shelter.

These videos show you how much work it is to hang food bags, which for some reason we call bear bags. Ironic, isn’t it?

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Sometimes a Shelter area will have bear cables, which make it much easier to hang the bags well. They are on pulleys and have handles to pull them up and down, with clips to hold them in place. Bears haven’t figured out the pulley system yet. Look closely and you can see the cable system in this photo after a freezing rain.

I have to admit most the time I think I’m hanging my food bag to keep the mice from getting my food more than worrying about bears. Still, all those past stories of bears dragging hikers out of their tents because they had a candy bar in their pocket come back to haunt me as dusk settles and I snuggle into my sleeping bag.

A couple of days ago we were near an area closed due to aggressive bear activity, and when we stopped to pick up a friend’s mail drop at a nice hostel and campground, we decided we would just camp there. It would be 7 miles before we were completely out of the bear zone and we didn’t want to hike that far after 4 o’clock.

A fellow thru hiker, Smoke, decided to hike on and made it to the outer edge boundary of the Bear zone. He was the only one camping at his campsite, and in the middle of the night he heard something large moving around his tent. It became pretty plain it was two bears circling his tent and looking for something to eat. While he frantically googled what to do about bears, they continued sniffing around until they found the source of the smell that lured them to his site.

It was his food bag, which was not too close to his tent and hanging in a tree about 10 feet off the ground and a few feet from the branch and trunk. He thought he had done a pretty good job of hanging his food bag, but in the morning it was gone – not a trace of the bag, the food in it, or even the rope he used to tie it off. The bears had snatched it all and taken off.

Although there was much consolation that they just took the food bag and didn’t bother him, he was about 17 miles from a road. His guidebook listed a barbecue place that would deliver meals to that road crossing, so his plan was to hike as hard and fast as he could and make it by dinner, order two meals to be delivered and hike on to Damascus the next day, another 21 miles.

Fortunately for him, there were trail angels at that highway who had tons of food, fed him well, then gave them a lift to town where his dad could come meet him. He must’ve been doubly lucky, because his dad had already planned to come meet him the next day and wasn’t too far away. Many dollars later, he had a new food bag, cook stove and food, and his dad was bringing him back where he left off just as we were enjoying the same trail angels’ generosity the next day.

We all quizzed Smoke about how he hung his bag, where he was, and what it sounded like. You can believe we are much more careful to hang our food bag according to protocol now.

I’m glad we hung our bag so well that next night, because although nothing happened on the forest service road trail where we were camped, two other friends who camped right on the trail had bears prowling around their tent that night. They didn’t have their food bag stolen, so I guess we are becoming better at hanging food bags!

Day 16 – Food

Pretty much the only things we think about while hiking are: where is the water, where should we camp tonight, and food.

We are always thinking about food. One reason is we need to eat so much to hike like this every day. We’re not just hiking 11 to 15 miles a day; we’re hiking over mountains. We’ve hiked over 24 mountains so far and that doesn’t even include the peaks called knobs or tops – some of them are pretty darn close to as high as the mountains.

We need about 3000 to 5000 calories a day to keep our energy up. Whenever we are in a town we load up on big meals, but that’s only every 3-5 days. We keep protein bars, dried fruit, and high sugar high fat snacks easily accessible during the day, and generally cook breakfast and dinner in our backpacker stoves.

Food is heavy. We carry about 2 pounds per day. Today I picked up my mail drop, which had what I thought was 4-5 days food and I swear to goodness it weighed more than 10 pounds. It probably did. I started eating dried fruit and beef jerky while rearranging my pack to hold it all. Thankfully, Blue Jay received a new bear bag today which can hold some of my food too, because mine far overflowed the bear canister and stuff sack I usually use.

Everyone else felt the weight of their mail drops too. We all sat in the sun by the laundromat waiting our turn to do laundry while sitting and packing food. Finally I had all mine in my backpack, and could almost close the cover over it.

Then we hiked a mile uphill to our campsite. I fantasized about eating the heaviest items first all the way up that hill.

It’s good to be loaded down with food though, especially as we head into the Smoky Mountains tomorrow. It will be 41.9 miles before we cross a road and can hitch a ride to Gatlinburg or Cherokee for resupply. By then, my pack will be at least 6 pounds lighter.

If you are planning on sending us a little treat for the trail, don’t worry about weight. There are plenty of hungry hikers willing to help lighten our loads and we all love treats!