Beyond the issues dealt with in part 1 of resupplying and eating your town meals, there are other times when (of course…) veganism will impact your off-trail experience. This article will explore a little of what to expect from some of the other aspects of a thru-hike besides resupplying.
Trail Festivals: There are actually quite a few of these all along the Appalachian Trail. Most of them are loosely tied to the schedule of a thru-hiker (Southern festivals in the spring, New England ones later on). And then of course there’s Trail Days in Damascus. Every hiker is different, some like to go to as many of these as they can, others intentionally skip them. Here’s a little of what to expect: big crowds, lots of drinking, and most likely not many vegan options.
Festivals are usually near town so you can stock up at a grocery store (and buy some heavier things because you won’t have to carry them!). This is what I did at Trail Days. It was nice to have soymilk every day with breakfast, for example; something I never carried out of town.
Trail Magic: There must be a memo that goes out to anyone that gets the idea to feed thru-hikers that all we eat are hamburgers… When I first met one of my friends, who happened to be vegetarian, he was eating a potato chip and ketchup sandwich on a toasted bun at a trail magic!
I am not being ungrateful! Sometimes on those real hot days all I wanted was a soda, and then there it was! Usually accompanied by some wonderful folks to boot. There were quite a few people who offered veggie burgers, which was always exciting (hope they stick to Boca burgers, many other brands aren’t vegan). But of course it was always cooked on the same grill, so you can try asking them real nice to at least wipe it off first.
I found most people offering trail magic to be super-nice and many were genuinely disappointed at not having something more substantial to offer me. I was always humble, it’s not always about me. I would advise that you not try to make them feel bad, but you can hope that if they start seeing enough veggie hikers they’ll bring something next time. When my mom and I did trail magic as we were passing by her home in New York, we had veggie burgers and I cooked an Indian curry.
Hostels: They always vary of course, but hostels often provide the rare opportunities you’ll have to cook during your thru-hike. If you are anything like me you cook most of your own food at home; a real kitchen was one of the biggest things I missed during my hike. Many hostels have stocked kitchens, so you can buy veggies and stuff at the grocery store to cook. Ask around in the hostel, too. You won’t be the only one who wants to cook, and at least among the folks around me, even the omnivores were craving fresh vegetables.
As you may have noticed, thru-hiking vegan is a challenge. It’s not like home where you can just go back to your kitchen to cook and you know where all the vegan-friendly restaurants are. During your hike you will often find yourself eating the same things over and over again while in town. You will probably find yourself just having soda and snacks at trail magic and even at festivals. Again, try to stay positive, this game is all mental! Since trail magic is usually a surprise, I was always happy to have some extra unexpected food to add to my lunch or dinner, even if it was just more snacks.