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Raw Food and Long Distance Backpacking

"Nature is our mother. Because when we live cut off from her, we get sick."

- Thich Nhat Hanh

Raw food is the type of food all wild animals eat – food fresh from the earth and still pulsating with her energy. One can think of ‘raw food’ as food that’s never been heated much above body temperature. To me, it is obvious that something vital is lost in food once it is cooked. You could call it the “life principle.” I think this ‘life principle’ is the most important ‘nutrient’ in food. Take a raw sunflower seed for example. Once roasted, it will not sprout. A raw, unheated sunflower seed, however, will sprout and grow into a beautiful flowering plant. In the process of roasting (heating), some important information is lost. Live bodies work best with live foods. This is really just common sense.

I got into raw foods because I wanted to eat foods full of the Earth’s magical energy. I believe unheated raw foods are very beneficial to eat. This has also been my experience. I’ve been eating a nearly 100% raw food diet consisting of fruits, vegetables and seeds and nuts for nearly 10 years now. I may not be the fastest walker or strongest athlete out there, but I feel better at age 41 than I did at 24. That’s pretty neat. In order to give proper thanks to this beautiful planet, which has graced me with vibrant health through its wonderful growing things, I am starting the Hike-a-thon on Earth Day.

A 3000-mile walk in a single summer is a challenging undertaking. To accomplish this feat, I’ll have to walk a marathon a day to reach the end of the trail before winter snows. This is a lot to ask of my body. I feel incredibly grateful for my body’s ability to carry me for an entire summer over the inspiring terrain which the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) traverses. Thus, I choose to love my body and express my gratitude by giving it the finest food possible on such a journey. This choice adds a number of complexities to my walk that other hikers eating a traditional diet don’t have to deal with. But it’s so worth it.

First, the CDT is primarily a remote wilderness trail. No one I know personally has the ability to walk 3000 miles eating only the food that was in their pack to start. And there is not sufficient time when walking a marathon a day, or wild edible food available along the CDT, for foraging to be much help. Thus, it is necessary to get off the trail occasionally and come into civilization to get more food. I have broken the CDT up into 30 segments averaging roughly 100 miles. Each of these segments begins in a town near the trail. Our Food Drop Coordinator (Cindy Schwimmer) will be mailing food boxes General Delivery to the post offices in each of these towns containing enough food to walk the next section of trail. As the trail crosses a road near the resupply town, I’ll hitchhike into the town and pick up my food box, restock my pack with food, and hitchhike back to the trail to begin hiking the next section.

While in town, I’ll also visit the local grocery store to obtain some fresh food to supplement the primarily dried food in my food box. Unfortunately, most of the small towns I’ll be resupplying in have little in the way of quality food to offer. Organically grown produce will most likely not be available. Often times no produce at all will be available. Many times on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) there was nothing at all I wanted to eat in a resupply town, other than what was in my food box. On the CDT, I’ll have to make due with what I have in my food box and settle for conventionally grown produce to supplement when available.

One advantage hikers on a traditional diet have is that they are able to purchase more food at the local grocery stores. Things like Pop Tarts and Snickers Bars and Skippy’s Peanut Butter are often available. This allows traditional food hikers to rely far less on shipped food. Long Distance hikers not focused on quality food, and willing to be creative with their meals (e.g., Peanut Butter and Cheese wrapped up in a tortilla for dinner), are often able to avoid mailing any food to themselves at all. This allows them to not have to worry about arriving in town on the weekend when the post office is not open. It also allows them to save some money. I choose to deal with the minor inconvenience of the post office being closed on Sunday. I also choose to spend the money required to give my body the quality food it deserves on the trail. I deserve it!

In my opinion, raw food is the most efficient fuel for the body. Many times on the PCT I witnessed hikers coming into a resupply town consuming enormous quantities of low quality, high calorie food. Once I saw someone sit down and eat a whole half gallon of ice cream in one sitting. Everyone seemed to be having trouble maintaining their weight and getting enough calories. 5,000 to 7,000 calories per day are the norm for a long distance hiker on a traditional diet. I consumed around 3,000 calories per day on my 2001 PCT through-hike, however, and lost only 5 pounds on the trip. I didn’t feel the need to overeat on high calorie food in town. I never even visited a restaurant. In my opinion, the enormous appetites of through-hikers on a traditional diet are a sign of insufficient micronutrients (minerals and vitamins) in the diet. The body isn’t getting what it needs so the brain keeps sending hunger sensations to the stomach. Low quality, high calorie foods are not the answer. The high mineral and vitamin content of enzyme-rich organically grown whole raw foods provide the best solution for long distance backpacking nutrition. To see what I’ll be eating on the CDT, read the ‘CDT Food Plan’ article.

" Now I see the secret of the making of the best persons, it is to grow in the open air, and to eat and sleep with the earth. "

- Walt Whitman

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