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FEB. 9, 2016

Love at First Bite

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Marlin Sill, Wilderness Program Manager

There are many aspects of travel, adventure, and the wilderness that I love.  Being in new places, foreign lands, serene wildernesses, places I feel utterly alone, and completely surrounded.  The love of going with no true destination besides the journey.  Marching up mountains, slashing down powdery slopes, or splashing through tides and waves.  For me, travel and what I love about it, can be summed up by so many different factors, but there is a certain consistency through every trip, every expedition, and every day, that I’ve come to love just as much as the adventure itself, and that is food.

In my many years traveling both as a guide and on my own, I have encountered food on every single trip.  It seems that no matter where we go, or what we do, food follows and is a constant theme of continuing the adventure.  Unfortunately for some, food can become the bane and nightmare of the unprepared or unadventurous traveler.  But for those with a taste for things on the wild side, or even a good nose and creative mind, food can become part of the art of traveling.For me, I take every opportunity to explore new and tasty cuisines whether I’m in villages in the Galician countryside, or in a 2-man tent at 10,000 feet.  It all comes down to how you set yourself up.  I like to think I am not a picky eater, at all!  Even things I don’t like- for example: olives- I give them a try everywhere I go, especially in new places.  Every corner of our world is littered with flavors and combinations your palette has yet to discover.  So I give myself leave to take it all in every time I travel.

Fresh vegetables go a long way at the end of a long day in the woods

Fresh vegetables go a long way at the end of a long day in the woods.

Now, when you think of backpacking and packing light, you may not be thinking, “I can’t wait for my gourmet 1-pot meal”, but hear me out.  Sure things are easier when you’re visiting places like Madrid, or Banff, where restaurant and even Hostels can provide you “basic” meals or even a kitchen.  But being able to travel puts the kitchen in your pack and even in your pocket.  Not only do I pride myself in my very tolerant palette, but I took it upon myself at a young age to learn to cook for myself.  And I quickly took it upon myself to accept the bitter taste of failure.  Over time though, I grew my experience with cooking enough to translate recipes and combinations into camping and backcountry creations fit for the most lavish “glam-camping” kings and queens.

Potatoes au-gratin-Backcountry fine dining.

Potatoes au-gratin-Backcountry fine dining.

Once you know how to make potatoes au-gratin, and you take a few backpacking trips with dehydrated hash browns, powdered milk and block cheddar, you quickly figure out that a Fry-Bake is more than just a pan.  Twigs can be whittled into chop-sticks, plastic bags become mixing bowls, and before you know it, by week two, you feel like Gordon Ramsey gone wild!  And sure, there are those days when supplies are low.  The spice kit is long exhausted and you’re left with garlic powder and sugar, and the wrong turn 2 miles in put you at camp after 8PM.  But even on those most exhausting, trying days, you settle in for a nice warm bowl of mush; this glamorous bowl of amorphous goo, over spiced with garlic and slightly sweet at a long-shot attempt to resemble “sweet-thai-chili-garlic” flavoring. And what would have been utterly unappetizing to you in your cozy warm kitchen at home, becomes this amazingly fond memory of laughter and trial, challenge and good spirits.  And in the end “it doesn’t taste that bad”.  In fact it becomes the highlight meal of your trip.  A meal you will never forget, despite wanting to wipe it from your memory even before the first bite.  It’s a meal that fills you and warms you, and bonds you with everything and everyone around you, and lets you know, that despite how hard the journey, even this off-putting nourishment will be enough to hold you through and keep you moving.

Backcountry birthday cake on Hante Rocks & Rivers 2015

Backcountry birthday cake on Hante Rocks & Rivers 2015

So yes, for me travel is about the food, in all its glamor and failure.  In all the ways we rely on it, we do amazing things to make it more than just the slop we shovel into our mouths.

I take pride in every meal I eat and all the ones I cook, especially in the backcountry, and especially the ones that are over-salted and burnt, because these are the ingredients memories are made of.

Marlin Sill, Wilderness Program Manager