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Backpacking Food to Drool Over!

If you’ve eaten much commercial backpacking food, you may consider the title of this post a contradiction. Not that there isn’t  some really tasty backpacking food out there, but much of it won’t make you drool in anticipation of eating it. I’ve found commercial backpacking food okay for a couple of days and nights in the wilderness, but after that the lack of variety can cause a loss of appetite just when you need nutrition the most. Even trail mix like GORP (Good Ol’ Raisins and Peanuts) gets old after a while. But because food is my friend, I found a solution to eating boring food in the bush.

Several years ago, I stumbled upon a book titled, Lipsmackin’ Backpackin’, now available in an updated third edition. It’s about how to make your own pack food and enjoy eating it. It’s full of recipes for the do-it-yourself backpacker, from pizza to burritos to tuna salad to breakfast bars to BMCS (Bagels, Meat, and Cheese Sandwiches). If you prefer, there’s a companion book titled, Lipsmackin’ Vegetarian Backpackin’ .

Because I enjoy preparing food, Lipsmackin’ Backpackin’ is perfect for me. Another bonus is that it extends my enjoyment of backpacking. As I prepare food for my pack, I dream of the trip I’ll be taking and how much I’ll enjoy eating tasty food in the toolies that I prepared myself.

A few caveats –

First, you’ll need a food dehydrator for the preparation of many of the recipes. When some of us think of dehydrated food, we might think first of fruit. But did you know you can dehydrate things like precooked pasta, onions, bell peppers, broccoli, and carrots? Liquids such as spaghetti sauce can also be dehydrated. Even extra lean hamburger can be dehydrated if done properly, and won’t require refrigeration.

Second, as you probably know, dehydrated food weighs more than freeze dried food (but not a lot more per serving), so if you jump into this do-it-yourself project you’ll have to figure on a little more weight in your pack. This is not for those who count every ounce in the pack. But the trade-off is that mealtime will be much more enjoyable.

Third, meal preparation will entail a bit more than just dumping some boiling water in a pouch of  freeze dried goop and telling yourself how good it is.

However, there’s one area where the commercial freeze dried backpack food has it all over the dehydrated stuff, and that area is ice cream. Did you know you can get freeze dried ice cream? Mountain House markets freeze dried ice cream that makes a wonderful desert. Food is my friend, but ice cream is my best friend.

Over the Mountains and Through the Woods

Some time ago I was watching some elk as they scampered up a 45 degree slope. They climbed that mountain as easy as I walk across my living room. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have 4WD like those elk?” Well, we can, or at least we can come close if we pick up a pair of trekking poles and learn to use them.

Copyright Mike L. Raether 2020

Trekking poles, for the uninitiated, are cousins to ski poles. Like ski poles, they’re used in tandem. And again like ski poles, they take strain off essential body parts like knees. I’ve used trekking poles for about 10 years, although I suppose I looked pretty silly in the beginning; back in the day very few people used them. A few of the other hikers I encountered at the time even smiled and asked about my use of “ski poles.” They can laugh if they want, but at 70 years of age I’m still tramping around the outback. And my knees are still holding up. Many are the problems that can afflict aging knees, but some of the relief I’ve experienced, I believe, can be attributed to my use of trekking poles.

I started using trekking poles when I reach The Big 6-0, and my knees were starting to complain. They stopped whining so much when I started using trekking poles. Although my primary purpose was to take some pressure off my aging knees, I’ve found lots of other benefits – 

  • They give me better balance.  I don’t have watch my feet all the time, which allows me to look around and enjoy the scenery (or spot more game if I am hunting).
  • They make ascending and descending slippery steep slopes safer and easier, especially when trekking off-trail. I look at trekking poles as preventative medicine.
  • If the brush is wet, a trekking pole makes a good bush whacker to knock off excess moisture before pressing through (another trick in this regard is to avoid being the first person in line when hiking with others. Let the other nimrod be the first to push through the brush and get soaked).
  • Trekking poles come in handy when crossing streams. When wade fishing, I remove the baskets and attach one of my trekking poles to a retractable tether and clip the tether to my wading belt. Bingo: a wading staff.
  • I’ve used mine on occasion as tent or tarp poles. Why pack extra weight? Comes back to the backpacker’s rallying cry: “Everything must have more than one use.”
  • My pair of carbon fiber trekking poles weighs in at less than 15 ounces. Accessories include rubber feet, mud, and snow baskets. I use the attached carbide tips for extra grip on the trail, but slip on the rubber feet for stealth when hunting. The mud baskets are good for, well, mud, and the snow baskets allow the use of trekking poles for snowshoeing.

At first the use of trekking poles might seem a little strange to some folks, but think about it: Hikers and backpackers have a long tradition of picking up a walking stick at a trailhead. In fact, I’ve often seen walking sticks stacked at trailheads as if to say, “Use me then return me here for someone else when you’re done.” Trekking poles are just the next step in the evolution of hiking, backpacking, and hunting aids. The final step is pack goats, but that’s another subject.

Interested? A good pair of carbon fiber trekking poles can be had for under $150. You can find trekking poles for sale online and at many outdoor recreation brick-and-mortar outlets. You can actually get into them pretty inexpensively, but like anything else you get what you pay for. Check out the standbys such as Amazon, Wally World, and REI. In my opinion you don’t need the kind with shock-absorbing springs that are designed to offer cushioning on downhill slopes. I think this feature is a nice touch, but in my view it just adds weight and another mechanical device that can fail.

Trekking poles? Try ‘em. You’ll might like ‘em. Mikey does.

The Best Sourdough Bread Recipe in the World

I am the sourdough king of the world. But as they say, it’s a small world.

My love of outdoor pursuits is almost eclipsed by my love of sourdough. I’ve  made sourdough pizza, sourdough cinnamon rolls, and sourdough pancakes just to name a few. But my all-time favorite sourdough bake is bread. And I’m quite good at it, if I must say so myself (see first sentence, first paragraph). Within this post, I shall share my recipe for the best sourdough bread in the world. Think about it: The best sourdough bread recipe in the world from the sourdough king of the world. Read on.

First off, you’re going to need a sourdough starter. You can buy sourdough starter from various Internet sources such as Sourdough International, a great resource for sourdoughs from around the world. But I prefer to make my own starter by capturing the wild yeast and essential lactic acid bacteria that invisibly share my home. This makes my starter unique from any other starter on earth. There are lots of places on the Web that will guide you through the no-brainer process of making your own sourdough starter, so this is not our subject. I really want to get to the recipe for the World’s Best Sourdough Bread.

But first, a disclosure. I do not knead the dough by hand. I use a bread machine on the dough cycle. THIS IS NOT CHEATING, at least not by much. And it gives me more time to spend outdoors. So win-win.

The World’s Best Sourdough Bread

The following recipe was originally based on a recipe in Classic Sourdoughs: A Home Baker’s Handbook, by Ed Wood, Ten Speed Press (November 30, 2001), p. 177

Ingredients –

About 3-1/2 cups all purpose flour, unbleached and/or organic if prefered. I use a blend of unbleached white flour and whole wheat in a 2:1 ratio: 2 parts white flour to 1 part whole wheat. I think this improves the taste and makes the bread healthier with the addition of whole grains.

About 1-1/8 cups water (247 grams)

1/2 cup active sourdough starter

About 1 Tbsp vital gluten (20 grams)

Time

Instructions –

First, you may have noticed above the reference to grams. This isn’t just a nod to our metric-minded friends; it’s very important to measure  the ingredients precisely. As a friend once told me, “Cooking is an art, but baking is science.” You’ll need a kitchen scale that will weigh in grams.

1. Place 1/2 cup active culture in bread machine pan with 113 grams flour and 99 grams water. Machine-mix on dough cycle for 15 minutes, turn off bread machine, and allow 6-8 hours for mixture to “proof” or rise and get bubbly.

2. Add 113 grams flour and 99 grams water to bread machine pan, mix on dough cycle for 15 minutes, turn off machine, allow 6-8 hours for mixture to “proof” or rise and get bubbly.

3. Mix 1 tsp salt with 49 grams of water, add to pan, mix on dough cycle just long enough to blend, then add 220 grams flour and 20 grams vital gluten. Mix on dough cycle for 15 minutes.

This next part is especially important. The dough must be at the proper consistency. It should be sticky, but not wet. The dough ball should stick slightly to the sides of the bread machine as it’s being kneaded by the paddle or paddles in the bread machine pan. If it appears too dry, add water about 1/2 Tbsp at a time and allow the bread machine enough time to knead in the water. If the dough appears too wet, add flour 1/2 Tbsp at a time and allow the bread machine enough time to knead in the flour. Keep a record, as the relative humidity in your home will affect the consistency of the dough.

4. When the dough is at the proper consistency, turn off the bread machine, and with hands dusted with flour remove the dough ball and place on a lightly floured board. Shape dough into an elongated shape to fit a standard 9X5X3” bread pan. Loosely cover with plastic wrap floured on one side or sprayed lightly on one side with non-stick vegetable spray. Place coated side down over bread pan. Allow dough to rise until it reaches about 1-1/2” above the lip of the bread pan. This last rise should only take about 3 hours at room temperature.

5. Place bread in cold oven and set temperature for 375 degrees. Oven temperatures vary, so check yours with an oven temp gauge and adjust the temperature accordingly. The purpose of the cold oven is that in response to the heat increase as the oven heats up, the bread dough will raise another inch or two. This is referred to as, “oven spring.” Set timer for 40 minutes. When time expires, check the internal temperature of the loaf at its’ center with a temperature probe. A temperature of 195 degrees means your creation is done. Less, and it means that your bread needs a little more time in the oven.

Cool, slice, and eat. Yum. And now that you have that starter, think of all the other sourdough goodies you can make: pizza, cinnamon rolls, and pancakes are only the beginning! If you have any questions or thoughts, leave a comment or shoot me an email and I’ll get back with you real quick!

 

Beating the Coronavirus Blues

“Not for Sale” copyright 2020 Mike L. Raether

I’m trying not to gloat.

As of yesterday, 38 states have issued stay-at-home orders. Montana is one of them. But I’m okay. The stay-at-home orders don’t bother introverts like me. Home is an introvert’s favorite place to be. As much as we love people, people wear us out. What I’m saying is that hermiting doesn’t bother us. Rather, it gives us the perfect excuse to stay home and veg.

However, some of the extroverts I know are having a tough time of it. Extroverts love parties, get-togethers, and other people-gathering events. Why? Because extroverts recharge by being around people. For example, I have a good friend who is an extrovert and married to an introverted wife. When I telephoned my friend a while ago, his wife picked up the call.

“Can I speak to Fred?” I asked.

“No,” she replied, “He’s gone into town visiting to get his daily ‘people fix.’”

However, after a while even introverts get bored with just hanging around the homestead. There’s a big difference with staying home as a choice and being ordered to go home and stay there.

So I thought maybe I’d head to the river and practice some “social distancing.” The powers that be in nearby Washington State have closed all sports fishing until at least April 6. However, our governor Steve Bullock (of who I’m not normally a fan) issued a modified stay-at-home order for Montanans which allows people to leave their homes for “essential activities.” Essential activities are defined as those required for health, safety, and for purchasing necessary consumer items such as groceries (and TP if you can find it). But Bullock’s order allows people to leave their homes for other “essential activities,” which he defined as outdoor-oriented pursuits such as hiking, running, and biking. My interpretation is that fishing is also an essential activity. It is necessary to my health, life, and well-being. If questioned on the riverbank by some nosey snark as to why I’m not staying at home and thereby doing my part to curb the spread of coronavirus, I’ll claim I’m a government official testing the fish for COVID-19. Yeah, that’ll work.

Of course, a guy can’t fish all the time (darn!) so I decided what I really needed was some humor, if not a good belly-laugh, to freshen up my attitude when confined to my home. So I went to YouTube and found some good things with which to amuse myself, and I hope you as well. Here are my suggestions –

The first is, “How Rednecks Prepare for the CORONA VIRUS.” This guy has some really helpful (and unique) ideas about how to protect ourselves from becoming infected.

The second is, “Seems Like The World Is Out Of Toilet Paper.” This vid starts with about a 5-second ad, which you can skip (have you noticed how many ads have suddenly appeared advertising bidets?).

One more:  “A Message From Corona Beer.” No wonder health officials didn’t name it the “Budweiser Virus.”

Oh, I just thought of something else I can do while waiting for this thing to pass: Take a nap. Or naps. Lots of them.

To Tell the Truth

“Fingers Crossed” copyright 2020 Mike L. Raether

It’s called the game of One-Upmanship:

“I caught more fish than you.”

“So what? I caught the biggest fish.”

When I was writing The Flyfisher’s Guide to Northwest Montana’s Mountain Lakes the pressure was on to catch fish. I even prayed to catch fish. After all, I was supposed to be the expert: what if I didn’t catch any fish?

I was asked this question by a campground host at a drive-in campground while researching the book. I’d chosen this campground as it was central to a few lakes in the area that I wanted to investigate, lakes with short day hikes. The idea was to car-camp while doing a few day hikes to check things out. While chatting with the campground host, I shared why I was there. That’s when the question came: “What if you don’t catch anything?Of course, the question comes in different forms depending on the outdoor activity – 

“Did you get your buck?”

“How was your turkey hunt last season?”

“How many geocaches did you find over the weekend?”

So when I was asked by the campground host what I’d do if I didn’t catch any fish, I paused for a moment, looked at my shoes, and said, “I’ll tell the truth.” Not that I’m bragging. I’ve succumbed to the game of One-Upmanship more often than I like to admit. Maybe I should join a support group where everyone sits in a circle and bares their soul: “Hello, my name is Mike and I’m a One-Upmanship-Aholic. My confession is I didn’t get my buck last season.”

Related to the game of One-Upmanship is the game of Making Excuses such as –

“I woulda got that monster wall hanger if my hunting partner hadn’t bumped my arm just as I shot.”

“I woulda got my gobbler but the hens kept getting in the way.”

“I woulda found a ton of ’caches but my GPS broke.”

What makes us throw in our chips to play the games of One-Upmanship and Making Excuses? Why are we tempted to exaggerate, lie, or justify? Why can’t we just enjoy the experience of _________? (You fill in the blanks).

So I’ve made a decision. I’m gonna tell the truth. Even if it hurts. By the way, speaking of truth, I didn’t get my buck last season. Or my elk. Or my bear. Or my gobbler. Of course, I have good excuses . . .

Fly Fishing and Life

Fly Fishing Fun on the Clark Fork. Copyright 2020 Mike L. Raether

You can tell a lot about a person by watching them fly fish. Are they patient or easily frustrated? Are they observant or heedless? Do they check their knots after changing flies, or do they recklessly hope for the best? Taking a look at our fly fishing habits will help us know ourselves better, and in the balance we’ll become better fly fishers.  Let me illustrate.

A while ago I was fly fishing the mainstem of the St. Joe River in Idaho, one of the best artificial-lures-only, catch-and-release  waters flowing there. I was fishing with a friend. This friend is not the most patient person in the world and is never really satisfied with the way things are: he is centered on change, and the more change the better.

As I concentrated on the pocket water in front of me, I lost track of my friend. After a few minutes I turned and looked downstream to see how he was doing. The last I saw of him, he was fishing about 50 yards below me.  I was surprised to see that my friend was now 100 yards downstream. I stopped fishing and watched him for a couple of minutes. He would make a couple of fruitless casts, then move a few yards downstream and try again. Soon he was another 30 yards downstream, and the only time his rod bent over was under the strain of a forward cast.

So we have to ask ourselves: Do I thoroughly work a piece of water or do I hurriedly move on if there’s no apparent fishy interest? Patience will put more fish in the net than hopscotching down the river.

How about this one: Do I carefully observe what’s happening in, on, and above the water or do I just fish my favorite fly and hope the fish corporate? Careful observers learn a bit about the local bugs, and consequently hook more fish.

One more: Are my knots snug and tested, or am I not really expecting to wet the net anyway? I’ve noticed that the size and strength of a hooked fish is directly related to how well my tackle is maintained. Big fish just seem to instinctively know if a knot is weak or a drag is set too tight. If I’m good to my stuff, my stuff will be good to me. Paying attention to the details will boost my confidence, confident fishers work harder, and–you guessed it–catch more fish.

Best of all, if I learn patience, practice observance, and form good good habits, I’ll not only be better served on the water, but these qualities will translate to other areas of my life where patience, observation, and good habits are called for.

Don’t you just love win-win scenarios?

 

 

If You Don’t, Who Will?

Copyright Mike L. Raether 2020

One of the things I really appreciate about Montana is that we don’t make laws to protect people from themselves. For example, if you want to ride a motorcycle without a helmet, it’s your business and perfectly legal. You’re free to spill your brains all over the highway if you like. After all, they’re YOUR brains. Where I live, as long as you have a sewer and electrical permit, your abode need be nothing more than a tarpaper shack.

The beauty of Montana is that you can do whatever you want. But that’s also the ugly thing about Montana: people do whatever they want. Which is fine, unless your neighbor has a dead car collection.

Here in Montana, you’re expected to police yourself which can have a huge negative impact on the environment if you’re a slob. For example, in Mineral County where I hang up my waders, there’s one game warden for all of the county. If I choose to hike into a mountain lake for some fishing, my odds of seeing that game warden are pretty slim. With nobody looking over my shoulder, the responsibility for being legal is mine. Should I decide to scoff the laws, I have to live with myself. As former basketball player and coach John Wooden once said, “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.”

I was reminded of this on a backpacking trip to an alpine lake. This lake offers a wonderful camping spot – or did, before it was trashed by some miscreants. The campfire ring contained some blackened tin cans. Someone had packed in a couple of cans of chili, then tried to burn the empty cans. Empty plastic water bottles defaced the place like pimples on a pretty girl’s face. Nearby I saw where a driftwood log had holes blasted in it by some firearm. I had to shake my head. Those empty cans of chili: Someone packed them in full; couldn’t they have packed them out empty? Same thing with those empty plastic water bottles: How much could they possibly weigh? A couple of grams each maybe? And then there was the piece of bullet-blasted driftwood. A gun range would have been a better choice for target practice, rather than explode the piece and quiet of this pristine place.

So it all comes down to the old adage: pack it in, pack it out, even if it means packing out someone else’s garbage. A little respect for the laws and environment doesn’t take away our pleasure; it adds to it. Let’s all do the right thing. Take home the garbage.

Ears to Hear

The story continues . . .

Copyright Mike Raether 2019

Last time I wrote about how to evaporate the gloom of winter. I suggested getting outside to be renewed inside. With January cold approaching, this may not be wise or even safe if you live in one of the northern tier states. Montana is no exception. If the weather here plays out as usual, 20 degrees below zero may usher in the Montana New Year.  With this in mind, but even if you live in sunny Florida, I suggest an indoor activity that will not only renews, but entertains and educates.

I’m speaking of exploring the diverse world of podcasts. Without too much effort, you can find podcasts on just about any subject that piques your interest. Just search online for “best podcasts about _______” (you fill in the blank). This is your ticket to some of the best entertainment and education available on the Web. Spend a few minutes poking about the Internet. Make a few notes to self, bookmark a few favs, and by the time the first birds of Spring raise  their voices you’ll be armed with an arsenal of tricks and tips. The Internet isn’t called, “The information superhighway” for nothing.

At the moment, I’m enjoying podcasts about fly fishing. In fact, I was interviewed recently for the Fly Fishing 97 Podcast. If you’re interested, here’s the link to my podcast interview. I’d be flattered if you listen, but please don’t stop there. There’s tons of righteous information on the Fly Fishing 97 podcast.

Now let’s share. Not about the good stuff we’ve learned, but about the podcast treasures we’ve discovered. Come back and share some of your fav URLs with us so we can jump on board!

Good Medicine

Montana’s Clark Fork River in  winter copyright Mike Raether 2019

What’s a fisher to do? The chill of another Montana winter is upon us. The shortest day of the year, winter solstice, is just around the corner. The mountain lakes lie buried under deep blankets of snow, so hiking to stillwater is out. The nearby river is floating ice, but the ice on the lowland lakes isn’t yet thick enough for safe ice fishing. But I’ve got an itch to get outdoors, and I have to scratch that itch, even if there just isn’t much to do out there at the moment.

At this time of year, it’s easy for me to get frustrated, discouraged, or even depressed. But I found an answer, an answer that might work for you, too.

My solution for evaporating the winter gloom is found next to flowing water, even if that water is floating ice. I find a comfortable perch next to the river, but without fishing rod in hand. I’m not here to take; I’m here to receive. I’m here to let the sound of flowing water cleanse my mind.

And I think. I remember. I meditate. As Herman Melville wrote in his novel Moby Dick,  “…meditation and water are wedded forever.” I let memories flow through my mind as the river water flows on. I remember fish fought, caught, and released. I feast on the memories of laughing wildflowers, the warmth of summer past, the turning leaves of fall, and the chill of that first morning frost.

As I remember, I am refreshed. I am restored. I am healed.  Cares fade away and are replaced by memories of seasons past and fine times. The river flows, bringing peace. Water is life.

What about you? Do you remember the time… Think back. Replay the film. Get outside and you’ll feel better inside. It’s the best medicine.