Well, as you know hiking season (what could be salvaged from 2020) is starting to wrap up. Of course there is still some fall hiking available, but not the consistent months of travel and hiking that go along with many long trails. There is about a month or two before it gets too cold for a "thru-hike." Day and section hikes can always still be accomplished in this winter season, but the calorie tanks that are our stomachs no longer need unlimited calories daily. In fact, they have shown us and told us that they are done with that part of the year. As hibernation starts to set in the belly of many a thru hiker, let us tell you how to handle the off-trail hunger, because there are many strategies and many stages. We are beyond happy to finally announce that we are in a stage past the initial bottomless pit, but it took awhile to get here. Let us go along a journey into the depths of the thru-hiker stomach.
Where this journey begins, like many journies, is on trail. No matter what trail, what thru hike, what longevity, if you are hiking almost everyday for multiple months at a time, your body is going to demand calories. Usually this demand translates into food that in "regular" life is a treat every so often, or food that should generally be stayed away from. The food that is located in the aisles of a grocery store that are pretty packages and marketing, to try and hide what is inside of them. What we are trying to say is the thru-hikers diet is generally not a healthy one. It is a diet built around what will give you the most calories for the least amount of weight. The food that tends to revolve around this is chips, candy bars, muffins, and carb-o loading to the max! Not to say that there are not healthy alternatives out there such as peanuts, nut butter, and all the seeds of different trees, but at least personally it is hard to chew down that food month after month. There are many hikers out there that have gone this route, and it is extremely impressive, due to the fact that small towns usually do not provide all these healthy options. The planning that goes into having a healthy diet on trail is much more intense than going along and creating your diet for what you crave. We tend to go after something with a little more flavor, and a ridiculously high calorie packed punch. Hence, ALOT of JUNK FOOD.
A LOT OF JUNK FOOD.....
If you reference the above picture you will see what we are talking about. This was an especially unhealthy resupply due to being extremely calorie deficient in the previous section, but a picture is worth a thousand words. You can see here, carbs for all dinners, snacks are "protein bars" that tend to lean towards more sugar and carbs then protein, and then a lot of candy and chips. The answer to your question is no we are not proud of what we did here, and yes it did hurt our bellies during and still hurts our mind to look at this, but during that time on trail that is what our body demanded. MORE CALORIES!
So, while all of this food is extremely unhealthy and high in calories, it is the food thru hikers tend to gravitate to. You are expending so much effort day after day that if you did not consciously and purposely go for the high caloric food, you would come off the trail emaciated and very low on energy. Well many hikers come off the trail regardless this way, even while eating a plethora of junk food.
As hiking season tends to wind down, the food choices on trail for us personally tend to reflect this wind down. We have found this is what works best. There is no perfect solution to taming the beast that is your stomach after a thru hike, but there are ways to pacify the raw hunger. Our last few resupplies of the season, we tend to go back towards eating lighter and eating healthier. We got through the brunt of the miles, the weight loss, the calorie deficiencies, so our body is capable to finish, no matter what we put in now. Be warned though the stomach will protest at this drastic change in diet, and drastic cut down in calories. Having every calorie you put in your body being burned no matter what, reducing the fuel that your body runs off of is generally not pleasant, it can lead to more fatigue. In the long run though it will pay off, because we found if on trail you start to train for off trail eating, it is easier than the extreme of going right back into where all you could possibly desire is at your fingertips. Not to say we have not gone through every extreme of trail and error, we will get into that later.
Still not "healthy" by any other standards, but generally thru-hiker healthy
As you can see one of our last resupplies of the hiking season, we started to gravitate to more food that had substance not just calories. We went heavily into the fruit bars, protein sticks abundant, protein bars that had more protein than carbs, and then well.....yea we were still thru hiking so don't judge us on our candy lifestyle!
Okay, next stage of the thru hiker diet. Your hiking season is wrapping up, your generally very underweight compared to your usual body weight, and you have been deficient in quality food but not caloric food. As you tend to wean back towards everyday life, your stomach still is demanding to be fed. It has been fed a buffet of calories everyday for multiple months, this is what it knows, this is what it demands. You will listen to the stomachs demands or pay the consequences!!!!
Seriously, we joke around this point, but in all seriousness the body is still emaciated and still needs a high intake of food. Well we are happy to oblige, we will feed the body more. This time quality food, fresh fruit, fresh veggies, proteins, real carbs (not processed), and we will still sprinkle in some junk food, because hey we have some weight to catch back up on!
It would not be in full honesty if we did not also tell you about the ENTIRE CAKE that we ate within 1 night.... The system is a guideline for a reason, it is not perfect by any means, and will remain beautifully flawed, so if you find away around eating a ENTIRE CAKE within a day off a trail, please, please, please let us know. Our body will thank you. Okay fine, your really pulling out all the stops saying well what else did you eat, I know there was more than just the cake... Well fine then! We will also admit that off of the GDT (Great Divide Trail) when the last three days consisted of only (1) power bar a day to feed a extremely depleted body, we went a little haywire. We might have....well we did.... eat (4) dozen Tim Horton's donuts in 48 hours. If you do the math that is a donut an hour, counting sleeping hours. There might have been a few 15 minute windows that (4) donuts would disappear. Would we do it again? We would like to say no, but our mind is back in that state of extreme hunger and being honest we would have to say absolutely!!
We wish we could say this was a resupply.... but it might have been a grocery run, we wanted to cover all the cravings basis for being off trail.
We may have gone off track on how to eat healthy after a thru-hike, but hey you wanted all the nitty gritty real details so there you go, once again it is not a perfect system. You will eat like a thru-hiker when you instantly get off trail, but the trick is finding where and when that cut off point is. This is where we had to go through many off-trail lessons to learn. There were times that we would eat like a thru-hiker off trail, for a week, for two-weeks, and a gorging time that it lasted a month. Our body still demanded it and we could not say no, until it eventually said no for us, by being filled to the brim.
The weight tends to not go on too fast because of how much you lost and how fast your metabolism became, but your body still feels pretty heavy due to the extreme influx of food without as extreme output. When judging your eating