BOULDER — Between the sleeping bag, tent and extra socks in Doug Walsh’s backpack, there will be a tiny, 4-ounce food grinder and half-pound seed sprouter. Not your average backpacker’s load.
But this is not your average backpacking trip, either.
Eating only raw foods, with a mission to raise awareness for his alternative diet and money for some of its biggest advocates, Walsh set out on Earth Day to hike the entire Continental Divide Trail over the next five months, starting in New Mexico and ending in Canada.
Walsh has been a raw foodist, someone who does not eat cooked or heated foods, for the past 10 years. He is determined to prove that even the most stringent of regimens can be supplemented with a raw-food lifestyle.
“There’s no comparison. I feel better at 41 than I did at 24,” he said about his health.
In addition to raising funds and drawing attention to the benefits of raw foods, the outdoorsman will also be fueling his love of the wilderness and passion for exploring it.
“I’m in love with the Earth,” he said. “So I like to eat food that’s full of the Earth’s energy.”
Walsh will use his miniature grinder and sprouter to preserve and produce raw foods that have what he describes as the “life principle.” To explain this concept, he used the example of a sunflower seed that, in raw form, can sprout into a plant. After that seed is cooked, he argued, it loses that growable property.
“There’s some kind of information present in raw foods that is no longer there when we heat it,” he said. “It’s something that’s essential to our life.”
As a graduate of the Living Lite Culinary Arts Institute in Fort Bragg, Calif., a gourmet chef’s school for preparation of raw foods, Walsh is walking to raise money for the school’s new permanent building. He has raised more than $5,000 already and wants to give his alma mater as much money and attention as he can.
During the 3,000-mile trek along a trail that very few people attempt to hike in totality each year, Walsh will stop at 30 previously planned resupply points. His food will be shipped to him at post offices at those spots.
“I’ll just hitchhike into town and pick up my box of new food,” he said.
Staples for the trip include nuts, dried fruits and sprouts. Walsh made himself crackers — by mashing nuts and other ingredients into a paste, spreading them thin and drying them out in a dehydrator — as well as raw bread and even pizzas.
Walsh will be carrying a digital camera, cell phone and portable e-mail device to send updates back to sponsors and fans. Though he said a few friends might hike sections of the path with him, he anticipates being alone most of the time.
“I’m to the point where I can hike 20 miles a day,” he said.
Walsh expects to encounter snow and cold, dehydration and heat, unmarked trails, numerous stream crossings and other unexpected wilderness adventures during his time on the divide.
Using a box called a drift box, Walsh also will be able to drop off or pick up any extra tools he might need for a certain section of trail. The box of gear will be waiting at each post office so he can collect or discard things before sending it ahead of him again.
While he’s taking his raw-food diet to the extreme, he said anyone can enjoy the same without being an adventurer.
Steve Phillips, a local raw-foodist and owner of the Longmont Co-op Market, has been eating only raw foods for about a year and a half. He said raw foods are as appetizing as cooked foods, and better for you.
The secret to being able to strictly eat them is proper preparation skills, he said.
Phillips said he and his family made a wonderful pizza the other night with dried tomatoes on top.
“Yes, it takes a little time, but once you figure out how to make a few things, you just go from there,” he said.
“I’ve had cake that’s every bit as good as how I remember cake to taste,” he said. “There are entire raw gourmet meals.”
But raw foods do have a few drawbacks. Not only is an all-raw diet “still socially unacceptable,” according to Walsh, but too much of a good thing can be damaging to one’s health as well.
Walsh suggested being careful not to eat too much raw fruit, especially when it’s out of season, because some raw foodists do develop dental problems.
Though Walsh still believes wholeheartedly in the raw way of life and wants to open other people’s minds to it, he readily admitted that it’s not for everyone. Though it works for him, Walsh said that in the end, only doing something near to one’s heart, like hiking the Continental Divide Trail, is going to bring health and happiness.
“It doesn’t matter how you’re eating; you’re not going to feel better if you don’t find what excites you in life and go out and do it,” he said.
Mikenna Clokey can be reached at 303-684-5336, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.