• Just a Bit From the Northern Forest Canoe Trail

    Even the slightest wave from any hint of wind seemed to splash water in the canoe. Ned and I knew the hazards of piling all of our stuff and our large bodies into a craft better sized for two pre-pubescent boys (which aptly describes our maturity levels but not our physical stature), but we figured, “Hey, the trip is mostly flat water, right?”

    We were on our last day of a four day trip on the Northern Forest Canoe Trail trying to keep up with our nearly twice our age friend as he began his 1500 mile paddling odyssey from the Adirondacks of New York to the northern-most point of Maine. From there he will switch from a canoe to a kayak, and start paddling out to the Atlantic Ocean on the St. John River and down the entire coast of Maine. Just writing that makes me tired, but John is still out there paddling as I sit in a warm coffee shop reflecting on the short portion of our trip.

    Paddling north on the Saranac River, we heard the water moving faster through the river channel and as we rounded the bend we saw the first set of rapids. A quick move around a downed tree on the right and we were fully into it.

    “Rock straight ahead,” Ned warned.

    “Yep, I see it. Give me a draw on the right,” I instructed.

    While Ned tried directing the bow, I made a big draw stroke in the stern but it was too late. We hit the rock, flipped the boat and were instantly in the cold spring melt-off of the river.  Too concerned with keeping all of our gear together, the temperature of the water didn’t even register.

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    Back in Maine, and before we left, Ned and I had been packing, repacking, calling outfitters, borrowing gear and finally loading up the car for the seven-hour drive from Portland, Maine to Long Lake, NY. We had made hasty plans to meet up with our friend, John, on his second day into a 75 day canoe and kayak trip dubbed the “PaddleQuest1500.”  At 60, John is a force to be reckoned with. He’s in top notch shape and his positivity is contagious. This trip had been a dream of his for a long time, and of course, Ned and I hatched ours over a few beers one night in the weeks leading up to John’s departure. We borrowed a boat, PFD’s, paddles, dry bags, paddling jackets and pants, and even next-to-skin layers made for paddling.  We obviously needed all the help we could get to pull off this trip. Thankfully our friends at Good To-Go, provisioned us with tasty meals to stoke our furnaces each night as we recounted each day on the water and zipped up our sleeping bags to stay warm in the 20 degree temps we saw each night in the Adirondacks. During this time last year, the lakes were still covered in ice and snow, but due to the mild winter, ice out came early this year and we saw ourselves paddling in 60 degree temps during the day, but anytime we dipped our hands in the water we were quickly reminded of the solid state these lakes were in just a few short weeks ago.

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    We met up with John in the small hamlet of Long Lake, enjoyed a delicious meal at the local inn, and crashed out early to get a jump start on our first day of paddling. We awoke to calm waters and were excited to get the boats wet.  Paddling north up the 10-mile lake was wonderful. It was as if we were traveling on a mirror the water was so calm.  Long Lake drained into the Raquette River and after a few more miles of paddling we came to our first portage trail.  With heavy packs on our backs we worked our way over a rugged and muddy mile to put back in on flat water. As the afternoon waned, we found ourselves at the three-wall shelter that would be our camp for the night. Water treated, stove cranking, hot food, bellies full. A bit of rain overnight kept things brisk and damp in the morning as we packed up and put back on the slow-moving river. We portaged the boats again and stood on the shores of Upper Saranac Lake facing a stiff headwind and whitecaps on the water. We all took a moment to be thankful we didn’t have conditions like this the previous day! After a quick lunch we launched the boats and didn’t stop paddling for what felt like hours, but it was realistically only 30 minutes or so. We’re strong like that. More portages, more paddling, a trip through the upper locks and we called it a day by the time we arrived to an island campsite on Lower Saranac. After Ned made a few casts that came up empty on the fly rod, John and I started up the stove to boil water for our delicious dinners of Thai Curry, Classic Marinara with Penne and Smoked Three Bean Chili.  Now you might be thinking, “These guys brought some serious fine dining cuisine with them!” and you wouldn’t be wrong, but preparing this dinner doesn’t take a full backcountry kitchen. In fact, you just add boiling water and wait a bit while you share stories of the day, the month, the year—whatever!  Of course eating food out of a bag is convenient, but rarely tasty. However, the folks at Good To-Go have done things right. All the ingredients are real and the dehydrated food comes back to life so much better than freeze-dried. Disclaimer time. I shoot photos for the company, but I promise my opinion is not biased. Even before I started working for David and Jen I was buying their food and relishing every bite. Seriously.

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    Sleep came quickly and morning came even quicker. We paddled through another set of locks onto Oseetah Lake and headed north to the town of Saranac Lake. We met up with the folks at St Regis Canoe Outfitters who helped shuttle our car and provided us tons of good info on the remains route for the next two days. Ned and I also arranged for a set of wheels to be dropped off at the beginning of the 5-mile road portage we had coming up the next day (and I tell you what, they made that walk a breeze!). We walked around town, had some lunch and a pint, and put back on the river for the afternoon. By the time we made it to Franklin Falls Pond, it was getting close to dusk and we were ready for more food and bed.

    A beautifully calm sunrise got us up and ready for the day. By the time we’d lay our heads down that night, we’d have a full-value day. We made quick work of Franklin Falls Pond, portaged around the dam, paddled across Union Falls Pond, portaged around that dam, and put back on the Saranac River. Lots of dams in the Adirondacks. Within two miles, the river grew louder, we hit the rock, and you know the rest.

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    Of course John was able to pull out into an eddy and help rescue Ned and me from our predicament. Unfortunately, in doing so he scraped the bottom of his kevlar boat to the point a serious fiberglass repair was in order. We still had a few more rapids to paddle before taking out for the five-mile portage, and after searching around for a bit and a bit of bushwhacking, we found the faint trail that took us out to the road. Ned and I found the stashed wheels (Thank you Mike Lynch!) and we made our way down the road. We discussed options for repairing John’s boat and determined the best course of action, with rain in the forecast that night, would be to hitchhike to my car, come back and grab our stuff and head into town for a night in a hotel where the fiberglass patch could cure overnight and John wouldn’t have to skip a beat for gashing his boat while trying to help Ned and I. After five miles of walking, I finally caught a ride and made it back to the car thirty minutes away. As soon as I started driving back to the guys, I saw Ned’s arm wildly waving out of an oncoming truck. We both pulled over and made sense of the situation. Ned had thought I wouldn’t be able to hitch all the way to my car and he had scored a ride to come help if it was needed. We got lucky catching each other, and the family driving the truck Ned was in invited us all back to their home for a superb meal of prime rib, grilled potatoes and veggies, and of course a couple pints. It was late by the time we loaded up John’s boat on my car and we made it into the closest town with a hotel by nightfall.  John knew the place from previous travels, but what he failed to mention was that there was an indoor water park attached to the hotel! We were as kiddy as schoolboys and with fifteen minutes to spare, we downed board shorts and received awkward looks from the presumably fifteen year old life guard on duty as we giggled our way down multiple waterslides until they kicked us out. Next stop was the brewery, again attached to the hotel, and after a few more pints we went to work patching John’s canoe and hit the hay soon after.What a wild day. When morning arrived, we ran some errands in town (after Ned and I hit up the water park again), and drove back to where John could put back on the water without missing a beat. We said our goodbyes and watched as our friend continued his amazing journey by himself.

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    It was such a wonderful time on the water with John, and we were so happy to share the tiniest bit of his experience with him. Knowing he’s still out there going strong makes me excited about the prospect of meeting up with him again soon!  Much thanks to everyone who helped us get out there: Good To-Go, Hyperlite Mountain Gear, Wenonah Canoe and DeLorme inReach!

    story and photography courtesy of: Brian Threlkeld and BST Photography

  • How to Pair Wine to Backpacking Food

    Let’s daydream for a moment. You just finished setting up camp on a sandy bluff above a gorgeous pine-fringed meadow, the golden hour just beginning its sexy, Instagram-worthy glow. You’re here with that special dirt-caked someone and want to make a good impression, so you gently lay out your best bandanna, then line up your sporks, unscrew your bear canister lid, and begin to boil some water.

    It’s time to get your backpacking grub on.

    Stirring electrolyte packets into filtered glacial melt might do the job if you’re sitting down to a sad dinner of sun-warmed tuna and string cheese, but when partaking in more inspired backcountry cuisine, you might consider classing up your beverage game with a delightful glass of wine. Lucky for you, I engaged in a round of deliciously extensive research and worked my way through a full stomach, gentle buzz, and slight hangover to help you navigate the wild world of grapes on the go!

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    STEP 1: SELECT YOUR VINO

    Since my oenophilic knowledge is firmly rooted in the esteemed schools of  “Does it taste like wine?” and “Is it on sale?”, I figured it was best to turn to Good To-Go’s co-founder and chef Jennifer Scism for some expert suggestions. According to Jen, wine simply “tastes better with food than whiskey,” and that’s more than just her opinion – she’s actually a certified sommelier who earned accreditation with the American Sommelier Association (“one of the most difficult tests I’ve ever taken; my college finals were nothing compared to that test”) and spent a decade selecting bottles for the Greenwich Village restaurant she ran with former business partner Anita Lo. Says Jen, “The part I loved most was finding wines that would pair really well with the food. There were always the standards that you had to have on the list, but then there were the gems that tasted amazing – and with the food, it was like they were made for each other.” Here are her tasty suggestions for Good To-Go’s four flagship meals:

    Classic Marinara With Penne

    Jen suggests pairing this with a Chianti Classico, a Sangiovese-based wine that features a “good balance of high acidity and earthiness.” While the word “Chianti” might immediately conjure images of Anthony Hopkins and fava beans for some, this is actually one of the most Italian of Italian wines, and begs to be partnered up with savory, equally acidic tomato-based dishes, like this comfort food classic.

    Smoked Three Bean Chili

    Jen’s pick is a rosé from the Bandol region of Provence; the full-bodied fruit lends a balance to the smoky, warm, “just off the fire flavor” of this dish. The wine also provides a relaxing atmosphere that allows you to believably blame any resulting flatulence on the altitude.

    Herbed Mushroom Risotto

    Here, Jen prefers a Sonoma Pinot Noir. This may seem odd to wine nerds, considering “there’s a belief that since risotto traditionally is served as a first course it should be paired with a white wine,” but since this creamy, earthy dish will probably serve as your main, this smooth, rich pick is a heavenly match. This pairing felt especially dreamy to me…until I opened my eyes and realized that I still had fifteen miles of trail crusted underneath my fingernails. Yum.

    Thai Curry

    Jen suggests uncorking a Riesling Kabinett, since this “slightly sweet wine” serves as the subtle yin to the spicy yang of this beautifully complex, aromatic dish. In my mind, it’s also a bit like having dessert with your dinner…although I’m an advocate of saving an extra glass for after dinner, too.

    STEP 2: GATHER YOUR TOOLS

    Most backpackers try to shed weight from their packs, not add to their loads, so carting around a bottle of wine often seems like an unnecessary (and heavy) luxury. However, all you have to do is think outside the bottle – sure, you can cart along a boxed wine, but companies like GSI and Platypus make lightweight bladders that up the portability factor even more. The containers can also be used as extra water reservoirs once they’re empty – important, since you don’t want to get dehydrated on your trip, especially if you’re hanging out in high altitude. Plus, if you want to earn real hardcore backpacking points, you can even inflate a reservoir and wrap it with a piece of clothing to use as a pillow while you slumber away in wine-soaked bliss. Note: I’ve never actually tried this, but it seems plausible.

    While you’re welcome to wrap your paws around the box or reservoir of your choice and chug away, the more civilized thing to do is pour the goods into a drinking receptacle of sorts. Here, the options are limitless: you can pull double duty on your coffee mug or Nalgene, tote a fancy camping-specific wine “glass,” or even slurp out of your cooking pot if things get desperate. Speaking of desperation, I recently shared a campfire with a guy drinking wine out of an empty Pringles container. He seemed pretty happy.

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    STEP 3: LET THE MAGIC BEGIN

    Now that you’re inspired and informed, it’s time to hit the trail! When packing your wine, keep the container close to the middle of your pack, near your back, to ensure the weight is centered. If you’re heading out on a hot day, you might also want to keep it chilled – my favorite method is to fill a Nalgene or Platypus container halfway with water (never more, or you’ll risk the whole thing bursting as it solidifies) and freezing it overnight; in the morning, I fill the rest with water, then place this next to or on top of my wine container. Whatever you do, just keep it out of the sun – hot wine isn’t nearly as exciting as hot chocolate. Trust me. Once at camp, I like to stake out my tent, start my water boiling, then settle in with a glass under the stars while my food rehydrates. My feet may be dirty, my shoulders may ache, but the feeling while sharing wine with friends under a canopy of stars is one of true happiness.

    Salute!

    written by: Shawnté Salabert

    photo credit: Shawnté Salabert

  • THE ELEVATED KITCHEN

    Each month we will post a new episode of this video series that will feature our very own Chef Jennifer Scism. The Elevated Kitchen will give viewers a fun and intimate look at Good To-Go, while offering tips on how to enhance your outdoor dining experience.

    In the first episode Jennifer, with a little help from her husband, David, explains why Good To-Go was started – out of necessity. Thai Curry is featured as a hand-made, healthy alternative to the standard freeze-dried, over-processed camping grub.

    Stay tuned for next month’s episode of The Elevated Kitchen!

     

  • ARIZONA HIKERS GUIDE

    What do you get when you mix a 4 star wielding, Iron Chef beating, New York based chef with a outdoor loving, adventure seeking husband and counterpart?  Good To-Go dehydrated meals. This Maine-based company believes that not all dehydrated meals are created equal. Good To-Go has one pointed goal, “to elevate your expectations of what trail food can taste like”. I mean, wouldn’t it be nice to be excited for your meal at the end of a long days’ worth of exploring? We think so and are here to see if Good To-Go is the company that can make us say “wow” after eating a dehydrated meal.

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    THE REVIEW

    Currently, Good To-Go makes four varieties of meals in both single and double portions. The meals include;

    1. Thai Curry
    2. Classic Marinara With Penne
    3. Smoked Three Bean Chili
    4. Herbed Mushroom Risotto

    FEATURES

    • Four meal varieties
    • All meals are gluten free
    • All meals are vegetarian (Thai Curry is pescatarian)
    • Thai Curry won the “2014 Editors’ Choice Snow Award” from Backpacker Mag as well as Gear Junkies “Top 2014 Picks”
    • Ingredients you can pronounce
    • No preservatives or additives

    My wife and I took these Good To-Go meals with us on a little desert excursion last week and had a great time reviewing and testing the product.  We left for the outdoors after finishing up our afternoon workouts and did some hiking on some pretty empty (and hungry) bellies.  We hiked for a while and then decided at sunset to make our meals.

    The directions were super easy to follow and are clearly labeled on the back of the package.  The only real difference from other backpacking meals I’ve tried was the 20 minute wait to re-hydrate the food, which I thought was a little long (but ultimately worth it).

    My wife chose the Herbed Mushroom Risotto while I had to find out if the Thai Curry lived up to its award winning status.  After the meals were prepared and ready we dug right in and let me tell you the Thai Curry was the best tasting dehydrated meal I’ve ever had… period.  I literally said “wow” after my first bite and I barely left enough for my wife to taste test.  I was quite shocked at not only the taste but also the fragrance, the texture, and the perfect amount of spices used.  I was more than satisfied with my meal choice.

    Casi and I both, on the other hand, felt like the Risotto left something to be desired.  It was a little bland and tasted more like a traditional re-hydrated meal rather than something cooked from scratch at home.

    At an average of about 375 calories, all the meals were filling, although I could have probably eaten a double serving of the Thai Curry because it was just that good! My wife was full after her meal and felt like the single serving was the right portion size for her.

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    WHAT I LIKED

    1. The Taste: The overall deliciousness of the meals were far superior than other meals I have tried.  The Thai Curry surpassed my expectations and really does live up to its “2014 Editor’s Choice Snow Award” and Gear Junkies “Top 2014 Picks”.  The Three Bean Chili was probably my second favorite.  Only one of the meals (the Herbed Mushroom Risotto) was “blah”.
    2. The Texture: Most of the time dehydrated or freeze dried meals are little broken up pieces of who knows what and one can hardly determine the contents inside the pouch.  Not with Good To-Go.  You can actually see large dehydrated broccoli pieces, mushrooms, cauliflower, and more.
    3. No Added Preservatives: Good To-Go uses no added preservatives which is awesome!  The dehydration process alone is enough to give the meals a two year shelf life.
    4. Gluten Free: My wife has a thyroid disease that prevents her from eating gluten.  Finding a backpacking product like this is a game changer for her. Nice work Good To-Go!

    WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE

    1. The Time: 20 minutes to re-hydrate a meal is quite long.  Although my meal was nice and hot at the end of the 20 minute wait, I fear that if I was backpacking in harsher conditions (snow or low temperatures) the meal could get cold before it’s ready to serve.
    2. The Price: I know, I know, you get what you pay for but at $6.75 for single portions and $11.50 for double portions it is a tad on the pricey side.  Good To-Go uses only the best ingredients so naturally the meals will be more expensive but I would have a hard time spending the $11.50 for the double portion of a meal just for myself ($6.75 for a single which wasn’t quite enough for me).
    3. Wheres The Beef?: Currently,  Good To-Go only offers vegetarian or pescatarian choices.  I did read, however, that the company will start producing a new line of meals with meat options (cross your fingers)!

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    CONCLUSION

    I only had to ask myself one question when reviewing this product; Would I buy these meals?  My answer is a resounding YES…but only as a reward for a really long day of hiking/climbing/biking.  The meals are tasty enough to splurge on for a special occasion, however, I don’t think I could justify spending $7-11 dollars on one meal every time I go backpacking.  With that being said, I could eat that Thai Curry every meal for a week and not get tired of it!

    This company is filling a much needed gap in the backpacking meals space with these high quality meals. If you are looking for a superior tasting meal with quality ingredients than Good To-Go meals are a no-brainer. You can purchase them straight from their website and get free shipping on orders over $75!

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    Check out Arizona Hiker’s Guide for more great gear reviews.