We used to think we had to make it home in time for a proper birthday party. It must have made sense to us at some point but a lot has changed since. A birthday on the trail creates a unique experience with a memory of the event that follows on forever. The standard of cake, candles and ice cream is replaced with a majestic view, a hard fought trail, a warm cabin, a dry tent, a raging river or a pristine mountain lake. Regardless, we are together as a family. Our bond grown stronger as we journey together one more time. These moments of closeness are perfect for a celebration of life.
Birthdays happen wherever you are. The challenge is to adapt to the activity and climate.
1. Precooked cakes are a messy disaster in most situations. They are easily crushed, heavy to carry, and worst yet – blow apart when tossed about violently, creating what the kids call “cake parts”. Hard to place a candle in cake parts yet a fresh cake can be quite yummy despite falling into pieces. For short trips in cool or cold weather you can freeze the cake ahead of time making travel in one piece possible. Save the frosting for after you arrive at the destination.
2. Biscotti offers an indestructible delight for nearly any wilderness occasion. Light enough for backpacking and tough enough for continuous jostling in the tool box of a snow machine. Mix it up with different flavors and be sure to get the sweetest most chocolate covered confection possible to satisfy a young palette. A cup of hot chocolate to dip the biscotti in can avoid a chipped tooth especially in cold weather.
3. Freeze dried ice cream is perfect for back packing. Light and sealed in serving size packages kids can eat right from the bag. This is a special treat that is fun to eat.
4. Freeze dried deserts made by Mountain House are incredibly delectable. Blueberry Cheesckae and Raspberry Crumble are equally fantastic. Simply boil water, pour in the package, stir and seal for 10 minutes. Time seems to stop when waiting for the berries to reconstitute. When its finally time to repoen the package and spread the remaining cookie crumble over the top, the desert is quickly inhaled. What happened to happy birthday? Did we even sing? This is a perfect trail food. Very light and serving sized. Despite what the bag says, a two person serving can be consumed by one hungry person. But be careful this stuff packs a sugar and calorie kick. And often ones eyes are bigger than their belly. Start by sharing a package and watch out for raspberry covered hands. The packages are deep for little fingers to reach in with a spoon. You may want to cut the top of the bag off.
5. Real ice cream on the trail is always a nice surprise. Easy to carry along in the winter it typically has to warm up for 30 minutes in a cabin before the frozen goodness can be scooped. In the summer there is always room for ice cream in a raft cooler and space can be made for a canoe or atv. Plastic containers are the best to keep the cooler water out. We bury the ice cream beneath a mountain of ice keeping it frozen and ready to eat for 3 or more days. Once it emerges it cannot return so eat up! Pack what you can eat in one serving and watch out for ice cream over doses. Several times we made the kids eat it all so it would not go to waste. Not one of our best parenting decisions. The sounds of the groans from kids lying on the ground asking “why oh why did you let us eat all that ice cream” was comical and disturbing at the same time.
6. Whoopie pies are my favorite for the trail. The best whoopie pies are made by mom. A close second can be found in Maine at Wicked Whoopies. These pies are so good. Packaged in individual zip lock bags the whoopie can take a beating on the trail. I prefer to dry them out on a plate above the fridge for a couple of days before packaging them up. This creates a hard shell on the outside and moist goodness below. I think they pack and taste better this way.
7. Little Debbies snacks and Hostess (RIP) snacks offer a more convenient personal sized birthday delight. We have eaten many a Ding Dong and HoHo on the trail. Despite being totally smushed in the package they hold up in nearly every condition except wet. I just cannot stand a sopping wet piece of cake so be careful not to let the snacks slip into the cooler water. Yuck! A totally destroyed HoHo can simply be opened and squished like tooth paste into your mouth. Yum!
8. Dutch oven baking is incredible. All sorts of confections and goodies can emerge from the cast iron. Starting out with a dutch oven takes patience and practice. Soon enough anyone can be making the most complex recipes. The tricky part is learning how to control the heat and caring/preparing the cast iron properly. Include the kids in the process of baking. The easiest thing to make is an upside down cake. Filling the bottom of a well greased dutch oven with an inch of fruit, pour a dry cake mix over the top. This is not a science however plan on at least one cake mix for a 10″ oven. Finish the recipe by cutting thin slices of butter, placing them on the top of the cake mix. The oven works best when consistent heat can be applied to both bottom and top. Starting out with charcoal allows you to learn to control heat. I love the anticipation amongst the kids that a cake baking over a campfire can create. A thousand “is it done yets”” makes the cake bake faster.
9. Practical gifts that can apply to the adventure make the most sense. This is not the best time to open a new Sunday dress, or porcelain doll. Rather, this is the time for a new knife, gun, helmet, or other useful tool. Grandma and Grandpa love to fill the gaps of civilization with the soft and pink things. Besides, what better time for a kid to receive their first knife then on the trail? Create rules for the tools – these are not toys. Lessons of responsibility begin immediately.
10. Adapting to the situation is critical to success. If the cake is crushed don’t despair, make it part of the experience. If it burns tell stories of the pilgrims or pioneers and imagine yourselves traveling across the continent in search of a new life. If it gets wet, set the slop out on a rock to share with the birds and sit back to enjoy the feathery feast. Birthdays become of blur as we get older. The wilderness will provide a moment of clarity in your child’s memory. Make it a beautiful one of the best your family.