If your parents or grandparents were ever successful in making you feel soft and spoiled because you never had to face the home front struggles of sugar rationing and gas lines I offer to you as an alternative to your guilt: backpacking.
While I mean no disrespect to the realities of what our nation and the world faced in World War II, I will offer these parallels:
When you are backpacking, every possession you have is precious, carefully looked after and tirelessly repaired. When my hiking socks had holes worn in the heels I swapped them out with my evening socks. Rich’s hiking gloves that split down the seam were duct taped.
When you are backpacking, everything is rationed; food, toilet paper, the number of pages you read in your book at night. You obsess over the few possessions that you have and are constantly recalculating how long you can make them last.
During the day you hike past trail crews who are working to protect natural resources, a la a CCC project.
Nothing goes to waste; not used Ziploc bags, the last little bits of peanut butter left in the squeeze tube or the noodles you just spilled into the dirt.
Yes, the noodles you just spilled into the dirt.
It was one of the most tragic moments of my life.
Here’s what happened. We got into camp early enough to put the local stream to good use bathing and doing laundry before leaning against a log for dinner. I was listening to the purr of my trusty stove, anticipating my favorite meal, ¾ of a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.
The next minute I was roaring in despondent anger. No. No. Not my Mac and Cheese.
The entire contents of my pot were spilled on the ground. And this wasn’t a granite slab, or even grassy turf from which the noodles could be retrieved with some sort of decorum. No. This was duff. I’m talking about loose dirt mixed with tiny bits of leaves, pine needles and pebbles. This was the kind of dirt that will immediately attach itself to, and wrap itself around a wet noodle.
Although I wanted to scream and cry and throw a fit, to weep in my tent and cry out to God, “Why me? Why my favorite meal? Why when I’m so hungry?” I was brave. I pulled myself together.
The ancient Roman poet Horace said:
“Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents, which in prosperous circumstances would have lain dormant.”
Although I would never wish such an awful fate on any other person, I will say that I learned a lot from my trial. Because of the incident, that fateful moment when pot hit ground, I now know, and will forever remember, how to wash duff out of Mac and Cheese. I share with you the system I developed after a series of trial and error attempts.
- Pick up the noodles and return them to the pot, removing as much unwanted duff as your patience and the circumstances will allow for.
- Fill the pot with water.
- Stir the pot gently until the noodles sink and the duff floats to the top.
- Skim duff off of the top.
- Repeat steps 2-4 as necessary.
- Continue cooking noodles and be grateful you hadn’t added the cheese yet
So go backpacking. And remember; when faced with adversity to Use it Up – Wear it Out – Make it Do!