Chris LeBlanc measures water for a PackIt Gourmet Meal. Pam LeBlanc photo
This week’s mid-week, emergency, got-to-take-a-break from the politics and bad news before my head explodes mini-backpacking trip to Pedernales Falls State Park did more than sooth my frazzled nerves.
It gave me a chance to check out the primitive, walk-in sites at the park, and it allowed me to taste test a couple of new entrees from PackIt Gourmet. (Full disclosure: I love the Austin-based dehydrated meal maker so much that I called them and asked if I could be a sort of ambassador for them. They agreed and gave me some food to try!)
First, the park. I’ve camped, swum, biked and hiked at Pedernales Falls dozens of times, dating back to when I was a kid and, according to family lore, I ran across water when I spotted a snake in the river. I love exploring the falls, where the river slides over a huge rock slab and twists through intricately cut channels, and I also love the swimming area, especially when a light rain is falling and no one else is there. The park has some great mountain biking trails and equestrian trails too.
Lately, though, it’s gotten tricky to get passes or camping permits for the main campground. I’ve found it’s much easier to nab a spot in the primitive camping area off the Wolf Mountain Trail. I got a spot on a Wednesday night, and although we saw one other guy pass through with a pack on his back, we didn’t see anyone camping around us.
When you register for a backcountry site, you have to pick a site number. When you get to the area, though, it’s just an area – no designated sites are marked. It’s easy to see where people have pitched tents before. Just put your tent in one of those spots, to avoid impacting any more of the environment.
We arrived at the park at about 4:30 p.m., dropped by headquarters to check in (make reservations online in advance), and hiked up the gravel road to reach the campground. It’s wide and undulating; easy to navigate.
This is a great spot for beginners to practice backpacking skills or experienced backpackers to shake out new gear.
We popped up our tent (a Big Agnes Copper Spur), set up our folding chairs (Helinox), pulled our BRS 3000 stove (the size of a cigarette lighter!), and heated water for dinner. (We also poured a glass of wine, which helped with the stress overload.)
I tested these two meals from PackIt Gourmet. Pam LeBlanc photo
Chris LeBlanc boils pasta in a cooking pot. Pam LeBlanc photo
I fell in love with PackIt Gourmet’s food after writing about the company for the Austin American-Statesman a few years ago. (Read the story at https://www.statesman.com/NEWS/20161208/Austin-based-Packit-Gourmet-makes-meals-fit-for-the-back-country).
Sarah Welton had grown up camping with her family, and her mother, Debbie Mullins, prepared meals using food she dehydrated at home. When Welton got older, she didn’t like any of the freeze-dried meals on the market for backpackers. The two got together and came up with their own.
Really, it’s the Texas State Fair Chili that did it for me. It tastes just like the real deal, with ground beef and kidney beans, and even packets of corn chips and Monterey jack cheese to sprinkle on top.
Dottie’s Chicken and Dumplings sealed the deal, and I love the West Memphis Grits and Santa Fe Corn Pudding for breakfast. The Poblano Corn Chowder gets high ratings from me, too.
But the menu is long at www.packetgourmet.com, and I wanted to sample some of the other offerings. My husband and I stuffed a package of pasta beef Bolognese and a package of Shepherd’s Cottage Pie in our packs to try.
I give the Shepherd’s Cottage Pie a huge thumbs up, although it’s a two-step meal. You have to prepare the packet of mashed potatoes separately from the veggie stew stuff, then use a spoon to scoop dollops of the potatoes into the stew. Totally worth the ever-so-slight hassle.
The pasta was OK, but not worth the trouble for me. You make the sauce in one envelope, then cook the noodles in another with a squirt of olive oil (provided), then mix the two together and cook – which dirties the pot. (I like to eat my meals out of their packaging and keep the pot for heating water or drinking coffee or tea.) The kit came with a packet of parmesan cheese for sprinkling, too.
Chris LeBlanc enjoys some pasta while camping at Pedernales Falls State Park this week. Pam LeBlanc photo
PackIt Gourmet also sells groceries – everything from dried apples or ground beef to bell peppers, mushrooms, cheese, okra, beans and condiments – that you can use to make your own meals.
Temperatures fell to the 40s that night, just right for sleeping in a tent. Coyotes serenaded us. We got up early, made coffee and tea, then hiked out just as the sun started to warm the day.
The mid-week mini-backpacking trip worked its magic. Although I was gone for less than 24 hours, and back at my computer by 10:30 a.m., I felt happier, more productive and grounded.
Chris LeBlanc attaches a tiny camp stove to a can of isobutane fuel. Pam LeBlanc photo