Monday, 25 February 2013

A Glimpse Into One Family's Canoe Tripping Culture

Our family has developed a sort of rhythm for who takes on which jobs on our trips. The kids help plan the route and navigate, and take care of general site pick-up when we are about to leave. My older DS now carries one of the boats and sterns one of them as well.  DH does the driving and carries the heaviest pack and usually the second boat. My main jobs are carrying the barrel and adult clothing packs, trip planning and food preparation. Upon arrival at our site, the kids set up the tent(s) and find the thunderbox or an appropriate spot for such things, and then take over pumping water. DS starts unpacking food items and sleeping pads & bags which the kids lay out in the tents. Then he hangs a rope for the food pack and barrel, and sets up the stove. I set out food to soak before cooking, help with unpacking and then take over pumping water until the food has soaked enough to cook. Then one of us cooks the meal and we relax for the evening. DH usually does the dishes in an area he usually finds when scouting for an appropriate place to hang the food. If we are planning on having a fire that night (we usually have one per trip), then he uses the fire pit. It is difficult to believe, but some people still pollute lakes and rivers by washing dishes directly in them. Since we do our best to practice  low impact camping, we do not.

When we get up in the morning on a regular day, everyone packs their sleeping bags before leaving the tent. I stay in and pack up the rest of the tent items (flashlights, pocket knives, hats, sleeping pads etc.) while DH starts breakfast. The kids start gathering up all our items from around the site (TP, food rope, tarp, etc.) then start taking down the tent(s). We eat, then finish packing, pack the boats, pump some more water for the morning, do a final site check (where DO all those socks that seem to grow in backcountry campsites come from??!), then head out.

Quicker mornings when we wish to get an earlier start skip the hot breakfast and grab an energy cookie and some gorp either in the boat or shortly before heading out. Everyone packs on these days in a sort of assembly-line fashion.

This year we are planning a longer trip (for us). Since we will be gone for two weeks and are strict vegetarians, we will not be killing any fish to supplement our meals. We also have two adolescent boys who can pack food away like nothing I've ever seen before. The trip will travel on three different river systems with some "interesting" portages, so keeping things light and compact is a major goal.

After along, hard day of hiking, portaging and/or battling strong winds, nothing tastes as good as a home-cooked meal. Over the years we have experimented with many meal options--from pre-packaged Harvest Foodworks dehydrated meals and grocery store finds, to my own homemade recipes. I have learned how to dehydrade fruits, vegetables and even tofu.

Packing food is even more challenging when you have a fussy eater on board. We have one child who generally plans and prepares his own meals to accommodate this fussiness. At camp, this is less practical, so we spend a lot of time experimenting (because pasta or eggs every night is NOT an option!). Recent one-two pot successes for this "do not mix my food together" guy include sweet and sour stir-fry and curried lentils & couscous. Who would have ever guessed that?!

So this year I am going to try a few new things regarding our trip food.

I'm going to try dehydrating grated potatoes using instructions from this website:; dehydrating sweet potatoes using instructions from this website:, and I'll make some yummy sounding carrot-pineapple salad from this website: I'm also going to replace the Uncle Ben's Bistro Express rice with my own cooked and dehydrated organic brown basmati rice to save money, weight and bulk.

I'm also going to experiment with a couple of easy dessert items. Note that these have not been tested at all yet! Once that has been done, any successes will be posted on my website.

Dessert idea #1: Chocolate Oatmeal Coconut Balls (no cook)
1 teaspoon cocoa powder
2-3 teaspoons hot chocolate powder
2 tablespoons each instant oatmeal flakes and coconut
1.5 teaspoons sugar (or add honey at camp)
Add (1 teaspoon honey) and a little water in baggie a little at a time to good malleable consistency and eat.

Dessert idea #2: Fruit Cobbler
At home: set out a package of lady finger cookies for a few hours to let them dry out, then use a blender or food processor to chop them into cookie crumbs.
Take 3 tablespoons each dried apples and dried blueberries or other berries and grind two of each in the coffee grinder to make a powder. Leave the other whole for texture. Add 2 teaspoons sugar and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon to the powder and whole-berry/apple chunk mix and seal that in a baggie. 
At camp: pour fruit mix into a pot and add water to cover. Bring to a boil and turn off heat while stirring. Stir in the crumbs and eat.

I will also be taking along an "odds and ends" food bag that will include some basic ingredients such as: sun-dried tomatoes, dried onions, garlic/ginger/salt spice mix, cinnamon sugar mix, dried blueberries, dried apple bits, dried strawberries, m&m’s, alfalfa seeds for sprouting, powdered sun-dried tomatoes, raw sunflower seeds, raw pumpkin seeds, cooking oil, cider vinegar, powdered milk, dried mushrooms, dried peppers, instant soups, bannock mix, dried tofu crackers and hummus mix. We'll carry a small selection of dried herbs and spices and sea salt. Pita bread, tortillas, dried cooked rice, dehydrated potatoes and dried cooked beans will round it all out. From this, we will put together our last few suppers and lunches based on the flavours we are craving most at that point.

One food we often crave is cheese, and for this we will bring along some Baby Bel for later on in the trip. A bonus is the leftover wax. You can make goofy "lips" with them, and it makes a great substitute for playdough during a trip. Another great use for that wax is to make your own survival candle/firestarter.

I'm also going to try sprouting alfalfa seeds about halfway into the trip. I know some people use a nylon stocking for this, but I'm going to try a peanut butter jar with the lid cut out (like a mason jar) and line it with mesh instead. I hear the trick for avoiding spoilage is frequent rinses, so I'm crossing my fingers that it will work and give us that elusive "fresh veggie crunch" mid trip.

We will also bring along a couple of instant soup mixes, powdered drink crystals, herbal tea and hot chocolate powder. 

Our breakfasts are not very creative; they include instant oatmeal and my own rendition of "Holy Crap" (hey, I didn't name it!) cereal. For the first day, we sometimes bring along muesli breakfast pitas. On days we want to move early, we often grab an energy cookie, then get into gorp in the boat. We lack breakfast creativity at home too, so this isn't a hardship for us.

Different people have different tricks for organizing and packing their food. We prefer to separate the food into "meal types" rather than daily rations to allow us more freedom of choice as we go. We have a breakfast bag, a snack bag, a lunch bag and a supper bag. On shorter trips we put the snacks in with lunch. On the coming trip, we will likely add the "odds and ends" bag as a fifth bag.
When we re-pack the barrel, we shift the food so the next needed bag will be on top. Each meal that requires preparation instructions has these written on using a permanent marker. 

Our trip is not for several months now, but I promise to issue a full report on our successes (and failures) once we have returned.