The year is 2003.
It’s summer, in the middle of July.
My oldest son had just gotten out of school and graduated kindergarten. The summer was upon us again, and we were on the trail once again multiple times a week. It was his first year backpacking with me (not just doing long dayhikes). He was outfitted up in some very awful vintage gear I had scrounged up at an REI garage sale, which included this very throwback external frame pack (the good news is 2 years later there would be a renaissance of good gear for children coming out). Until then…it was like 2 little legs and a backpack going down the trail.
The photos….Kirk had accidentally cleared my first 6 months of digital photos, back when storage was expensive, in late 2003. After my Mother passed away in 2006 I found a couple photos she had tucked away, that I had printed on paper, in B&W, on a printer. I scanned those in years ago. In the end all I had was 2 photos of this trip.
Our fledging hiking group was tackling a hike in the Olympic Mountains. It was a long day of hiking, that first day hiking up the Upper Dungness River to Boulder Shelter, on the back way to Marmot Pass.
Our tiny tent was the one to the left of Ford, in the photo. I got a lot of nights out of that tent. Paid $7 for it brand new at one of the REI garage sales. It was from the 90’s and they had found a pallet of them. That kid and I slept many nights in it.
And as dusk set in, I went to make us “dinner”. Up till this trip I often had commercial freeze dried meals with us. Pricey, sure. But I was just starting to feel comfortable out there, with a couple years backpacking under my pack belt. It was easy for me, and made feeding a kid be just done, with no cooking, and hoping I not have him bump into me while doing it.
So for first night, we were going “exotic” and having Chicken Polynesian. Being the newbie I was I figured if it was going to be just awesome, since after all I had found it hanging on the rack at REI. Oh, I was so naive then. You mean the stores were not looking out for our taste buds?
As I sat there in a subalpine avalanche chute below Boulder Shelter, I ripped the top off, and pulled the inner bag out (yeah, I am really dating myself here……), which were similar to turkey roasting bags, and had a cardboard collar you closed the bag up with, then shoved that bag back into the outer bag to “cook”.
As I ripped it open the aroma of the dried meal hit me. Like a wave of pungent vinegar. It smelled like the 90’s cleaning chemical spray used on sun tan beds….
I was dry hurling. I couldn’t get past it. But somehow, I still added water to it. And waited.
Pulled it out of the bag. Ford looked at me and noped it. I tried to put a bite in my mouth. My throat sealed up and it wasn’t happening.
It was literally the worst meal I have tried to eat while hiking. And I have eaten cold SPAM. So that says a lot.
I shoved it uneaten into our garbage bag, and we ate snacks for dinner.
And was eternally jealous of the Hill brothers, who were cooking steak on the wood stove in their tent…….I can tell you energy bars suck so much when you have someone grilling freaking steak. I learned a lot by watching them.
And that meal is what turned me into a backpacking recipe freak. 2 days later I was home and the first meals of FBC came to be. In a flurry, the next two years I would create hundreds of Freezer Bag Cooking recipes.
And it was a long time till I ate another freeze dried meal. What changed me was when PackitGourmet came onto the scene in 2008. It helped me conquer my gag.
But I can tell you….every time I rip open a commercial freeze dried meal, there is a second where my nose waits for that smell. And this is why you can trust my meal reviews…..because I have tried the worst there was.