Christopher Neely covers a mixed beat that includes the environment, water politics, and Monterey County's Board of Supervisors. He began at the Weekly in 2021 after five years on the City Hall beat in Austin, TX.

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Christopher Neely here, enjoying the blue skies and warm weather that define Monterey County’s coast during late September and into October.

I thrive off the energy of busy streets, sidewalks and restaurants, but locals' summer is a nice return on investment for navigating quotidian tasks through the height and hype of tourism season. It does feel sweeter that locals' summer comes with objectively more beautiful and pleasant weather than tourists' summer.

What to do with all this sunshine and relatively open roads? Take advantage of where we live! This, for me, means going camping and enjoying the unparalleled natural beauty of Monterey County.

For the paper this week, I wrote a feature on how best to dine among the trees, in which I tapped into the wisdom of Jacqui Bergner, a former coordinator with the Ventana Wilderness Alliance who colleagues considered a camping food wizard. Bergner was gracious enough to offer her Backcountry Burrito recipe, which is included in the paper, as well as some cardinal rules around clean-up and which foods are built to last.

This is not a science, of course, and I am a journalist, so I relied on the wisdom and perspective of those more experienced than myself to guide the piece. I also turned to the Big Sur Land Trust for some guidance and they offered some wonderful ideas that I'm certainly implementing on my next camping trip.

Corinne Calhoun, youth outdoor programs manager, tells me she likes to make meals ahead of time, package them in bags and then heat them up in hot water. "Throw an Indian curry meal over 5-minute couscous and you’re golden! Pro tip: make the couscous in water with bouillon cubes. Great two person meal in a bag!"

Beth Febus, conservation projects manager likes to do breakfast tacos with a few ingredients like eggs, salsa and black beans, or fancy s'mores, with Nutella or peanut butter cups subbed in for chocolate.

"My advice would be to keep it simple," Febus says. "I plan all breakfasts and dinners in advance to make sure we have enough food, and for lunches we just snack or make sandwiches."

Ashley Gora Owens, development manager, offers a depth of wisdom that can only be obtained by experience. "The most important thing to me is not to eat any food that your body isn’t already used to so that you don’t end up with an upset stomach—to be avoided at all costs when camping," Gora Owens says. "Bring plenty of water and/or ensure you have water treatment tablets plus a water source nearby."

And before you head into the forest ready to dine like a backcountry royal, development coordinator Jose Carlos Navarro Solis asks us to be aware of the amount of plastic we might bring into the wilderness.

"I backpacked for the first time when I was 30. … in the Sierras. The satellite train passed above us in the night sky. We wondered about the path of humanity," Navarro Solis says. "I reflected on us carrying plastic backpacks full of conveniently plastic-wrapped foods, sleeping in plastic tents and in sleeping bags made of plastic. We have selfishly given up creativity and common sense for plastics. Is there a way to enjoy the furthest corners of nature without the aid of plastics?"

If you have any pro-tips when it comes to wilderness cuisine, I'd love to hear about them through email. 

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