the hiker hunger

One of the biggest things I’ve learned out here is the very real and important difference between knowing something intellectually and knowing something experientially. For example: I knew I would be hungry on the trail. I knew numbers like “you burn 6,000 calories a day”. But I didn’t know .

The serious hunger hit me during the Smokies. All of a sudden what I’d been eating for breakfast, what had been lasting easily until lunch, only got me an hour or two down the trail. When we had Mountain House dinners previously, Eric/Learnin’ would have to finish mine. But now I’d eat one and still be hungry. I’d eat one plus desert and still be hungry. Large quantities of food, so large I never would have dreamed of thinking about eating them before, just disappear into my stomach. For someone who never had a good appetite before and used to wish for a nutrition pill instead of having to consume meals, this is a big deal.

Also, we started having to supplement our dehydrated meals, because the portions we made were not enough. We’re mixing in mashed potato powder or mac and cheese to each one now to bulk it up. It’s pretty funny actually, because doing that completely negates the purpose of making the dinners in the first place. We made them because I had/have a lot of stomach issues and couldn’t digest carbs without lots of unpleasantness. None of the doctors realized the cure was simply walking fifteen miles a day with twenty five pounds on my back. Yes folks, out here I can eat whatever I want with no stomachaches, for the first time in years and years and years. Granted, a lot of it is terribly unhealthy so I have to pause the part of my brain that cares about that stuff. Which is most of my brain. But it’s really fun. I can drink beer again, and there is lots of good local microbrew in North Carolina, so I’m making up for lost time. I can eat potatoes in all forms, including fries, which along with beer used to be one of the worst things for me. Also spicy Cheetos, a particular favorite from my youth. It’s not sustainable of course, but for the next five months I’m going to enjoy the hell out of it. For the first time in a while, I really like eating.

I also really like thinking about food. You’d think with all the hours I spend just putting one foot in front of the other each day I would contemplate deep questions and figure out my life, but actually I spend most of it trying to get ridiculous songs out of my head (why would “Here Comes Santa Claus” be stuck in there for days and days??) and thinking about food. In fact, on the day the weather got good again in the Smokies, a lot of day hikers were out. After awhile I realized I was starting to get irritated with them because every time we passed one we’d have to say hello and some of them wanted to chat a bit, and I wanted them to just be quiet and go away so I could go back to thinking about apple pie in peace.

I’ve also had some pretty intense food dreams. In one, I was hiking, just like normal, and I came to a small shelter-like structure. Inside was a platform with a sign that said “The Leaving Table”. And on it was all kinds of amazing stuff. In particular, someone had left these HUGE strawberries, each one the size of two fists, deep red and obviously juicy. Man, it was sad to wake up from that (to a guy peeing in the middle of the floor).

Some people have tried to tell me I must be malnourished because I’m dreaming and thinking about food so much. But I don’t think so. It’s not an unpleasant fixation where I feel tortured by thoughts of food I can’t have. It’s actually quite pleasant. In town, I eat a lot, often to the point of being unpleasantly full. And also, we eat damn well on the trail. Healthily, I mean. While everyone else has another Knorr’s pasta side with more tuna stirred in, we’ve got homemade chili or shredded chicken with sweet potatoes and carrots and coconut oil or ghee.

And, for our mothers, we weighed ourselves in Hot Springs. One month of hiking down and not a pound lost between the two of us.
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3 thoughts on “the hiker hunger

  1. carol says:

    Ahh, you know your mom needed to hear that last sentence about your weight staying the same at least. Good for you regarding the freedom of eating. I hope you can maintain stomach ache free existence. Enjoy it all ….. Both physically and mentally.

  2. The weight is a bit of a dodge. You’ve certainly lost weight, but you’ve picked up muscle in the process. For any ladies actually you’ll put a little weight on due to muscle being heavier than fat.

    Now here’s the kicker – you still might not be getting enough food. If your body is burning off fat reserves it’s because it needs it for energy. That means you’re in calorie deficit. What happens when you reach the end of the usable fat reserves? You start burning muscle – and that’s when you smell the infamous ammonia stench. That smell is an indicator that you’re burning muscle. Not a good thing.

    This is why you have food binging in town, people are trying to make up for lost calories. So listen to your body. If it’s still hungry after you eat dinner pack more food out. Get it full. I’m not talking about the painful full feeling of a buffet, but the satisfied full of a good meal. Carrying the extra weight of food is worth the health.

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