The Wetfoot Blog

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Good Intentions Pave the Road to Success, Intentional Trail Cooking

Should trail breakfast be pancakes or granola? The question matters more than you think.

Walter wrote earlier on this blog about the question of route choice, noting that one’s route can emphasize miles, lessons, or some point on the spectrum between the two.

The concern behind that question is key. Choosing a route is part of the bigger frame of goal-setting and intentionality. Good trip leaders explicitly define goals for their group and make intentional decisions that work toward those goals.

When I was learning to lead trips, my training trip leader intentionally chose an easy route so that she could ensure that each of us learned the hard skills of packing, cooking, and portaging. I intentionally chose a difficult route for my campers to build their confidence and teach perseverance. In both cases, the route facilitated a larger goal.

Mapping out a route is an obvious place where intentionality matters, but every aspect of the trip experience becomes more fruitful when approached through the lens of a larger goal.

Menu choice, for example, should be about more than weight and perishability. Such pragmatic considerations matter, to be sure. Canned peas might further a particular goal, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to lug eight cans of them around the Northwoods.

Within these constraints, however, there remains space for decisions that promote particular goals. The question becomes: what do you hope to see occur as a result of your food choices?

Let’s take granola as an example. Granola’s low weight and speedy preparation makes it a popular option, but to pack it only for those reasons is to miss something.

I take granola each trip for two reasons.

First, it empowers my campers’ decision-making. Giving my campers agency over when to consume each meal teaches them to reason through trail decisions. When we plan together, they can usually identify that granola is best matched with their longest day because it requires no cooking. Correctly making this relatively easy decision emboldens them to take on more complex situations.

Second, a granola breakfast bolsters campers’ confidence. I usually time our morning pack-out, and that time inevitably improves when the day begins with granola. The campers get excited about their new record, and, knowing that they got a boost from a quick breakfast, they are inspired to consider other ways to improve their pack-out efficiency.

Intentionality can also influence the variety and strangeness of food taken on trail. I am conscious of picky eaters because I want to introduce trail as a joyful way of life and good food helps bring about that joy. At the same time, I want to ingrain a sense of exploration in both miles and meals.

For this reason, I’ve avoided cooking the classic “Ickabrunch.” Ickabrunch is a delicious mash-up of eggs, bacon, hash browns, and cheese, but its looks are, admittedly, unappealing. I want my campers to know that trail breakfast need not be porridge-like, and that similar ingredients can be used in different and creative ways.

So we have breakfast burritos instead. These filling wraps still use eggs, bacon, and cheese, but each is prepared separately and I stow along a bottle of salsa and a full spice kit. Campers assemble their own burritos, and I can count on the power of positive reviews to convince my picky eater to branch out—“Oooooh, this is great with curry!”

All meal choices can be intentional. Are you bringing grilled cheese because it’s a fast choice on a long day, or because even the youngest campers can cook their own sandwich? Are you bringing gado-gado because it shows that complex flavors are possible on trail, or because it teaches campers to dabble with a recipe until the result is just right? Are you bringing candy to celebrate triumphs, to bolster bad moods, or to cap off a big day?

Any of these answers can be perfect in the right context. The key is to know your group, define your goals for the trip, and be intentional in choosing meals that promote those goals.

Pancakes or granola? It matters.

Sara Knutson has been a Trip Leader and Outpost Administrator at Camp Manito-wish YMCA.

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