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  • Writer's pictureJay

Potatoes & Bag Wine, part 1

Updated: Mar 3, 2019

Hello everyone!

Here’s a funny little story about my first summer working outdoors and what I had to do to make ends meet. This is part one of a series of posts that reflect on two of my favorite topics: the outdoors and food. This is a series designed to give you a break from your daily stresses and just, chill out for a bit. Let's call it: Potatoes & Bag Wine

So pour yourself some tea real quick and Enjoy!


This is me running the Crosscut Saw (aka "Misery Whip") back in 2013 on some gnarly blowdown trees that summer

In 2013, I was on a backcountry trail crew as a young, fresh, not-so-hip 18 year old in Southern Oregon. We would go out on 4-6 day work assignments (called “hitches”) deep into the forest to clear trails, and during that time, we had to be self-sufficient: that means no Uber Eats, no GrubHub, nope not even Domino’s delivery. Daaamn, right?

This was the boonies - pure and simple. If we wanted ice cream, you’re eating that astronaut stuff. Closest thing to Facebook and Instagram is reading a book or watching the campfire flicker (caveman TV, it’s called).

So anyway, preparing all your meals and snacks for a week outside is a big task - lots of preparation, and it can also be expensive. The official backcountry rangers get ~$25 per night in the backcountry to offset the extra costs of backcountry food (stuff that doesn’t spoil after a few unrefrigerated days) on top of their normal salary of $15-18/hour.

An intern like me? My whole salary was $70 per week (minus tax, of course) to cover food back in the city AND during the hitches.

The Pinnacle of Caveman Cuisine

Each night, I’d watch my non-intern co-workers open up these beautiful pre-made freeze-dried meals. Biscuits & Gravy. Beef Stroganoff with Noodles. Chili Mac & Beef. Mac & Cheese. Scrambled Eggs with Bacy….

Those baby’s (Mountain Houses, or Mo-Ho’s) go $8 a meal, but man, that’s the stuff.

Bring some boxed wine and that cute hiker you met on the trail, and boom you’ve got yourself the boonies equivalent of a fine wine and dine sit down dinner for two (pro-tip: with a campfire, you’ve got dinner and a show).

But let's get back to my level, folks: Each night, I’d plop down in the dry dirt and make my own meal: instant mashed potatoes on a tortilla. Cost: $0.55 per dinner.

I ate over a hundred bags that summer. I'd find myself, four nights into a hitch and eight bags of instant mash taters later, while watching my team chowing down on Mo-Ho’s Chicken Teriyaki with Rice, silently swearing to myself that I’d have my own Mo-Ho’s next time. That tonight was the last night I’d eat instant f***ing potatoes.

Alas, a few days later I’d find myself in the dehydrated food section at the grocery store. Standing amid the $8 Mo-Ho’s and 4-for-$1 instant mashed potatoes, I’d check my bank balance. Cursing to myself, I would begin filling up my sad little basket with tasteless, dehydrated root vegetable.

Author’s Note:

Years later in 2017, I had my first Mo-Ho as I was climbing 14,410 ft Mt. Rainier in Washington. It actually gave me some of my worst projectile diarrhea, no joke. Totally painted the walls of that composting toilet (sorry). So, everyone, be careful what you wish for.

I haven’t had a Mo-Ho ever since.

Stay tuned for Potatoes & Bag Wine Part 2, when I’ll share some of my favorite backcountry meals I’ve made over the years since my first summer eating potatoes.


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