Ian Kosten is a thru-hiker currently hiking the Appalachian Trail. Here are the lessons he’s learned about nourishment and joy along the way.
I have drastically changed the way I view nourishment since starting a thru-hike attempt of the Appalachian Trail.
I’m not a picky eater. In fact, in my normal life I’m content to make one big meal and eat it for the next week. Being okay with both bland and spicy foods. I viewed food as fuel only–eat as much as I need - sometimes more - and I’m set. All that changed for the Appalachian Trail, a footpath running nearly 2,200 miles from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mt. Katahdin in Maine.
I held the assumption that I would gradually move towards being less choosy about my meals. Intending to use food and water as well-worn tools, I planned to ensure that I was meeting my caloric and hydration needs, and nothing more. Reality intervened, leaving me caring more than I ever have about what I eat.
On the trail, what you choose to eat and how you prioritize food really is the only external experience that you have much control over. I’d like to dive into how to spark joy on the trail by using food.
So far (mile 800 out of 2200), I’ve uncovered three keys to sparking joy with food on the trail.
It’s simple: you will get tired of what you’re eating. Thru-hiking can provide the rare combination of time and inspiration. Take this opportunity to try every candy bar and every protein bar, each Pop-Tart and fruit snack. Compare every peanut butter (and don’t skip the fluff), cookie butter, and - if you’re more adventurous than me - every butter butter. Try ALL the energy gels, even flavors that seem odd (what’s a bergamot?). Going to a real grocery store will leave you feeling immensely aware of the glut of options available. Get creative, and have fun taking whatever “real food” you can persuade yourself to carry; I promise it doesn’t go bad as quickly as you think.
Next, we have foods to brighten your day. Pull the ripcord on these when the weather hasn’t let up in days, when you only seem to have one gear, or when you realize that you’re miserable to be around. For some it’s a treat of caffeine, for others it’s a hand-rolled cigarette. Some save chocolate and some bring strawberries. It doesn’t matter if it’s “good” or “bad” for you; you have three more months of walking and there’s no point being miserable if there’s an easy fix. A time may come when misery has no quick fix. Patience.
Bring Enough Food to Share
Food is worth sharing. The trail is about forging relationships: with yourself, with your environment and with people. Sharing food is the perfect way for people to spark a connection. With the gifts of generosity and gratitude, we recreate ourselves and allow for new friendships and relationships to blossom–sometimes for a day and sometimes for a lifetime. Get a little extra and find someone to give it to.
Nutrition is actually simple: listen to your body. Your body knows what it needs; let it speak. Calorie dense foods that meet the above criteria work fine, and there are surprisingly few companies that have the variety, flavor, convenience, and share-ability that MUIR does. If you have a dream pursuit, give it a shot and on the way you’ll find what works for you.