I grew up living next to a state park that was virtually in my backyard. My boyhood days were spent with friends hiking into the park, throwing rocks in the creek, sliding down the hills and later trying to climb back up. We would leave early in the morning and not come back until suppertime. It was a great way to grow up and even though I didn’t realize it, this opportunity of being close to a park was going to shape the rest of my life.
I would often have ten to fifteen friends over for a sleep-out in the backwoods that consisted of hours of playing capture the flag, eating hot dogs and hamburgers and then telling whatever scary stories we knew. During that time we shared many stories and adventures that would bind us together for the rest of our lives. As we grew older girls came into the picture and although we still went to parks to hang out, the food became more sandwiches, chips and whatever other junk food they could steal from their mother’s kitchens.
After graduation I went off to college and made friends with a wrestling teammate of mine who was into backpacking and camping. Our first trip was into the Smokey Mountains during spring break. There were six of us and it was a great trip hiking through the Smokies, camping under the stars and trying to get the most out of what little food we brought.
That first trip turned into trips to Glacier National Park and the Canadian Rockies. We would jump into a car, drive 40 hours non-stop, shop for food and head out for a week or two of backpacking. The sights were unbelievable, fishing was fantastic,and the opportunities to relive days hiking over a sometimes hot meal at the end of the day was always a reward. As I graduated and went into teaching I had all kinds of time to take trips again and talked a few different friends – sometimes guys I worked with and occasionally a girlfriend – who would almost immediately break up with me after the trip. How was I supposed to know they had never hiked twenty miles with a thirty pound pack before?
I luckily met a girl when I was in my late twenties who had the same adventurous spirit that I did and was willing to take those twenty mile hikes. We would spend all winter planning our summer trip, which because of being a teacher often lasted six or more weeks. We would sometimes go into the back country for weeks at a time with our two trusty Malamutes who would carry their food in – and our garbage out – in the saddle bags I purchased for them. After our first trip I knew she was going to be my wife and we got married a year later.
Many summers were spent backpacking, camping, and always eating around the camp fire at the end of the day. If we were in a campground with a cooler the meals were grand, with steaks or chicken over hot wood coals that just tasted so much better in the woods than at home. In the backcountry we lived on fish and at the end of the day my little Svea stove would fire up to fry up a rainbow or cutthroat trout we had caught earlier.
After six years of spending every summer camping we realized that we were missing something in our lives. It was kids – and although we knew it could change the way we lived, we wanted to have a family and would work hard to show them the pleasures of traveling and camping.
Our first trip my daughter was only nine months old. We left in a gray pickup truck with no air conditioning and Courtney sitting in a car seat in the middle. She traveled well and before we knew it we were at Green River Lakes in Wyoming. They didn’t make sleeping bags for babies so we would bundle her up in a winter coat and put her in a portable play pen in the tent. The first night was fine, but then she started to cry and continued to cry for a whole day. We took her into town to a local doctor, sixty miles away, and he said she was dehydrated. We later found out that the canned baby formula we had brought from Ohio had spoiled in the back of the hot truck. A couple bottles of pedialyte and she was fine and the rest of the trip went without a hitch. The next year Kelly was pregnant with our son, Frankie, so there was no family camping trip that year, but I did go for two weeks to Newfoundland with a friend of mine.
Frankie and Courtney grew up traveling out West and camping in the Rockies. As they turned five and six we did a backpacking trip about twenty miles into the wilderness. They did well and were able to handle the terrain and high altitude. The only issue was we could never carry enough food for Frankie. He was at the age where he wanted to eat all day long.
After the trip my wife and I discussed whether what we wanted was best for the kids. We decided to try out Colorado the next year and just stay in condominiums or hotels. We found a little town called Crested Butte that we just fell in love with. It was a ski town so prices were cheaper in the summer and there was still plenty to do. My wife and I got to hike, mountain bike and just hang out with the kids. Now food became especially important as Frankie and Courtney couldn’t get enough of the local pizza places like ‘The Brick Oven’ and a steakhouse called ‘The Idlespur’.
The next five years were spent in Crested Butte with my mom coming along to share time with us and the kids. It was an especially satisfying time to have the whole family together as we broke bread every night together with no disturbances like TV or wanting to go somewhere else. As time went on I invented games to keep the kids busy on the long ride out to Colorado. Their favorite game was trivia about either the best restaurants or what we ate at a particular town. Courtney would usually win and I gave them a dollar for each question answered right. I had to sneak some baseball questions in so Frankie could win some money.
Now the kids are grown up and Courtney travels the world tasting foods from countries I never dreamed of going to. She is leaving for Italy in three weeks to earn her Master in Food Sustainability. Frank just earned his MD and is doing his residency at the Cleveland Clinic in Cardiothoracic Surgery. They both are still foodies as I hear weekly of new restaurants or meals they discovered. My wife and I are two years away from retiring which will give us more time to travel. I look back at my Facebook pictures and a lot of them deal with Kelly and I and sometimes the kids eating a meal at a favorite restaurant. We still have that food bond that holds us together.
Here’s a favorite recipe from our backpacking days – it could be because I was partly starving but a rainbow trout fresh out of the lake into the frying pan is still my favorite meal:
Fresh trout cleaned and left with the skin on, then rubbed in bread crumbs. Heat 4 teaspoons of oil in a skillet and Cook over medium heat for 6-8 minutes, turning twice. Place on plate and peel skin from one side and lightly peel the meat from the bones. When one side is finished pull the backbone away from the fish and eat the other side. That’s about as good as it gets.
I’ll share a more accessible recipe for fish with you as well – a favorite of my wife’s and mine called: Sweet & Spicy Salmon.