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Coffee in the backcountry

Heating up some water for a mid-morning Cup O’ Joe on the Colorado Trail
Heating up some water for a mid-morning Cup O’ Joe on the Colorado Trail

On a three thousand mile backpacking trip, bringing a percolator or French press along isn’t always the easiest thing. Sure, there’s “lightweight” backpacking versions of both of these café essentials, but they typically weigh in the same ounces as my shelter—and keeping dry in a storm is a more pressing matter.

I’m all for on-trail luxuries, but getting in my morning bean can be easier than lugging around the kitchen.  Starbucks Via made headlines in the hiking world a few years back by providing a decent cup of caffeine for only a few grams weight penalty. It comes in a small pouch the size of Crystal Lite packages (another hiker favorite) and despite what the box says, is pretty good hot or cold. Starbucks’ less pricey counterpart Nescafe sells flavored versions in the same size packets for about half the cost. In the morning, I add a pouch to 6 oz of hot water and have instant morning comfort. During the day, I’ll pop a pack into a water bottle, shake, and enjoy it iced.

 

Just add coffee and you’ll feel back at home. Found on at Appalachian Trail in Virginia
Just add coffee and you’ll feel back at home. Found on at Appalachian Trail in Virginia

The penny pinching and potentially higher quality (not to mention environmentally and socially responsible) alternative is bringing your own ground beans out with you. As described by Mike Cleland in Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips: 153 Amazing & Inexpensive Tips for Extremely Lightweight Camping, cowboy coffee requires nothing but your usual camping cup and some patience. Made similarly to Turkish coffee, where you let the ground beans sink to the bottom of your cup and drink the liquid on top, it’s a way to drink your beans from your favorite hometown roaster even when you’re in the backwoods. On a winter backpacking trip, I packed out my local coffee shop’s roast and got a cup of home in the woods. Just set your home grinder for the finest grind it can handle. Or tell your bean supplier to make it Turkish.

If only I could bring this along with me on the trail…Yurt on the Continental Divide Trail
If only I could bring this along with me on the trail…Yurt on the Continental Divide Trail

The only drawback with the cowboy camping style is packing the grounds out. Leave No Trace Ethics tell us that dumping the spent beans in the backwoods is not cool—we don’t want any hyper caffeinated squirrels out there. At home, I usually slap my cup against the compost bin and get out the bulk of the goop at the bottom, and then rinse with faucet water to get the rest out. Similarly, in the woods, I can dump out the bulk of the beans into a trash ziplock, but something is always left at the bottom of the cup. One method is adding some water to the cup, swishing, and drinking the rest. It goes down rough, but I tell myself it’s the same as eating chocolate covered espresso beans… sans chocolate.

 

 

 

Thanksgiving post: A Long Trail reflection

Trail angels are kind people who let long distance hikers into their hearts. Many are compassionate locals who offer food, showers, rides to town, or housing to wary travelers. Others are former hikers who have received kindness from trail angels in the past and are trying to do the same good to others. Some trail angels are vacationers and travelers themselves, and yet still find themselves in a place to offer something to dirty, smelly, hungry hikers.

Trail Magic at Brown Gap from the Rat Pack, a group of trail maintainers
Trail Magic at Brown Gap from the Rat Pack, a group of trail maintainers

This summer, I end-to-end hiker the Long Trail, which spans from the Massachusetts-Vermont border to the Canadian border. It the oldest long distance trail in the United States and is considered one of the hardest trails in the U.S. Although my journey on the Long Trail was solo and almost devoid of people, my experience with a couple of trail angels made me reflect on the meaning of a long distance journey. Here is an excerpt from a letter I wrote them:

Thank you for opening your home to smelly, dirt encrusted hikers like myself. The beauty and the majesty of the trail is made all that more magical with clean feet (couresty of your kindness and shower). This is one reason why I hike—to be reminded what it is to be human—and meeting kind strangers and building mutual trust with others is fundamental to the human experience.

Pie Town, NM is a hiker favorite along the CDT due to the kindness of Trail Angel Nita…oh, and pie.
Pie Town, NM is a hiker favorite along the CDT due to the kindness of Trail Angel Nita…oh, and pie.

This hike has been mind-changing, humbling, and refreshing. Before I started the Long Trail, my body ached to return to hiking and it tingles with delight to again hear the call of the “Poor Sam Peabody Peabody” sounding call of the white throated sparrow and suck in the sweet smell of the balsam fir. I marvel at lichen flowers and purple spores—and to be so far north, and as it says on Mansfield, revel in the last vestiges of the former ice age.

Trail Angel Dave in Etna, CA on the PCT
Trail Angel Dave in Etna, CA on the PCT

No kidding has it been hard, even in good weather, especially to my computer-worn body. Sometimes, the human experience requires being humbled. I learn to respect when stopping ceases to be a choice but a foot’s demand. As difficult as a lesson as it was to grapple with, I know I am stronger, physically and mentally for it.

No kidding has it been hard, even in good weather, especially to my computer-worn body. Sometimes, the human experience requires being humbled. I learn to respect when stopping ceases to be a choice but a foot’s demand. As difficult as a lesson as it was to grapple with, I know I am stronger, physically and mentally for it.