Well, it’s finally happened. I actually went on a hike. Not a nice stroll on a trail, but an honest to goodness, bona fide hike. And I didn’t die, pass out, or get eaten by a bear. As many may know, I have never really embraced the great outdoors. In fact, I mostly give it that polite air hug. You know, the kind you give people you know, but don’t really know.
This year, I’ve been determined to change that. We live in one of the most beautiful hiking areas in the world. I’ve know this for years. Which begs the question, why have I been so reluctant to get out there?
To put it succinctly, bears. I’m terrified of them. I know, I know, I can hear the collective groaning and titters, as well as see the eye rolls. I live in Alaska, there are bears, get over it. Well, I’m a city girl, I didn’t grow up with bears, and it’s a hard fear to conquer. And to those of you who say, “Oh the bears are more afraid of you than you are of them.” I can honestly state that is not humanly possible. I cannot eat their faces off and rip them to shreds. Of course, this is such a rare occurrence in our neck of the woods, I am hard pressed to find any true evidence that this has actually happened. But, why should I tempt fate, right? I just know that with my luck, I’ll be that statistic. Headlines reading: “Cooking Diva Mauled by Bear”, subtitle reading: Bacon Snacks Not Recommended on Hikes. See where I’m going with this? Bears are out there. If I stay in here, we’ll all be better for it.
To help me face my fears, I enlisted my dear friend Elizabeth. I strongly suggest that when starting on a new endeavor, you take a friend. Especially someone who is about your physical equal. This means, if you’re new at hiking, don’t go with someone who has hiked Mount Rainer carrying an 80 pound pack. Your pace will probably be significantly slower and they may leave you behind in their zeal to get to the top. Leave. You. Behind. Alone. With the bears.
Choose that hiking buddy wisely. I do not choose to do a lot of hikes with The Captain. He’s really tall. His gait matches his height. We measured our steps one day. I take three, count ‘em — three — steps to his one. This makes me a bear snack. He’ll get so far ahead of me, I’ll be wandering around like Hansel and Gretel. No, go with someone who walks about your pace, and has a similar endurance level. I’ve found this works better for me because we enjoy the time together, encourage each other, and there’s no guilt when we have to stop and catch our breath. There’s no hiker shaming going on here.
For me an essential item to take on a hike is bear spray. I am certain I will never need it, but it’s always good to be prepared. As we were heading out the road for our honest-to-goodness hike, we stopped by Western Auto to get said bear spray. Here’s the thing: there are dozens of kinds of bear spray in all sorts of sizes and prices.
I asked the very nice young lady working that day where in the store would one find bear spray. She replied, “What kind are you looking for?” I’m thinking, kind? There are kinds?
“Uh, the kind that will keep the bears from eating my face,” I said.
“Oh, so not the honey barbecue kind,” she said with a grin.
“No, definitely not, “I laughed, appreciating her sense of humor.
Last week we decided to up our hiking game and go on a trail with a challenge. We went on the North Tee Harbor Trail that was up and up and up. We packed our backpacks, mine a hot pink outdorksy pack. I had the bear spray, some water, and of course my phone. Elizabeth’s was blue camouflage, because it blends in with the sky, I suppose. She carried the snacks, equally as important.
As we started on our trek, we thought the trail would be a bit of an incline and then level out. How wrong we were. It’s the first time I’ve ever truly hiked or walked uphill both ways. I didn’t know that was actually possible. I’m here to tell you it is. And for short legs like mine, it’s a lot of work. But so worth it. By the time we made it to the mid-point of the hike, we were exhausted and hungry. Elizabeth planned well and brought some apples and almonds. We sat on the point, watching sea lions play, eagles flying, and just enjoyed the amazing wonder of where we live.
By the time we got home, we were so proud of ourselves, we sat on the deck and enjoyed a nice, cold Alaskan White beer. It was a perfect day.
The next day we were surprised to feel that our legs weren’t as tired and achy as we thought, so we headed out on another great hiking adventure. Fortunately, she had cooked dinner earlier that day. By the time we had finished another scale up a mountain, I was exhausted and cooking was the last thing on my mind. Imagine my thrill when I learned she had made a good old-fashioned dinner, navy beans and ham. The perfect thing after a long weekend of trekking.
She had used the remaining ham bone from Easter dinner the weekend prior. Elizabeth removed the bigger pieces of meat and slow cooked it with the beans and bone. I made some cornbread and we had a feast. Over dinner we laughed and shared our adventures with Michael, Elizabeth’s husband. We also discussed the importance of getting a good ham with a good bone. There’s a lot of flavor in dem bones. Don’t waste it. Whether it’s ham, beef, or even chicken. A good soup needs good stock and the best stocks come from the bones.
This week I present a recipe that came from the remainders of a fantastic meal, and made another wonderful dinner. The soup was filling and flavorful and perfect for us outdorksy kinda girls: Navy Beans and Ham.
As we get into summer and the weather is warming, I encourage everyone to get out and explore Alaska’s trails. Did you know that in Juneau we have more miles of hiking trails than drivable roads? Maybe I’ll see you on one. Don’t worry, I’ll have the bear spray.
Until next time…
Eat and enjoy,
Navy (white) beans with ham (bone)
2 pounds dried navy beans
1 large hambone, trimmed, skin removed, bits cuts into bite-sized pieces
2 tablespoons oil (olive or vegetable is fine)
1 yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 – 2 tablespoons Konriko (or other Cajun Spice)
1 can chicken stock
Green onions, chopped
2 cups cooked rice.
Preheat large soup pot to medium heat. Sauté onions and garlic in oil. Add beans, ham, hambone, chicken stock, and. Cajun seasoning. Add enough water to cover the beans and bone. Bring to boil, cover, and turn down to a low simmer.
Cook low and slow for 2½ – 3 hours. Check the pot in about 45 to see if more water needed. As the beans absorb the stock and soften, the liquid will cook down.
Serve over rice. Top with chopped green onions.