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Rogue River Lodges Food Diary, Part I


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If you enjoy hiking, gorgeous backcountry, the company of new friends, and real American food, but you don't like sleeping in tents, shitting in the woods, and packing in a week's worth of food on your back, I've got a great trip to tell you about.

My friend Jim Jackson and I co-lead this trip, under the auspices of the Sierra Club, most every year (I've done it with him 5 of the 7 years it has happened; unfortunately, every so often, my work gets in the way -- Sierra Club trip leaders are volunteers -- so he finds another assistant leader). It's a week-long trip on a 40-mile trail through the Rogue River Valley.

Over the years I've photographed the Rogue River, the trees, wildflowers, breathtaking vistas, people, waterfalls, lodges, wildlife, rafters, rapids, rain -- you get the idea -- but I never photographed the food for the Web because I didn't want to carry a big flash with me on the trail and I never before had a digital camera with a brawny enough battery to last a week and take several hundred photos -- yet the food is truly one of the highlights of the trip. This year, armed with a better digital camera and the mother of all memory cards (the 1-gigabyte IBM Microdrive), I bit the bullet and brought proper lights so as to be able to bring you a Rogue River lodges food diary.

The way it works is that you hike all day, and then at each lodge you get dinner, breakfast, and a packed lunch for the next day of hiking. You also get a hot shower and a real bed. It's five-star hiking all the way.

The food is simple and hearty. It is real American food, with all the good and some of the bad that implies: much of it is delicious, stick-to-your-ribs stuff, comforting, fueling, and delicious, but there is the occasional overcooked frozen vegetable or other faux pas that would make a Frenchman (or Bux) cringe.

The first day is 10 miles of hiking with Black Bar lodge as the destination. Black Bar sits in a clearing visible from across the river and is made up of a large idyllic log cabin with a giant stone fireplace and about 10 smaller log cabins for guests. It is owned by a character (one of many along the trail) named John, who purchased the lodge from his in-laws. He has been adding (modestly) mini log cabins in recent years. Out front of the main building is a bench swing that is draped in wisteria. This is one of my favorite places on the river every year, ideal for a cigar and an after dinner drink (for those who are clever enough to pack in some hooch). There's a barely passable road into the lodge for use by Black Bar only. No one drives into the lodge -- people come on foot or on the river -- period. John keeps watch from across the river and when we arrive at the river's edge he comes to get us in a row boat. This year the river is very high so he ferries our group of 14 across three at a time . . .

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. . . while the rest of us wait . . .

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Cabins are assigned, people get their hot showers and settle into the warm cabins and begin to look forward to dinner, usually served at 7:00 (standard dinnertime at all the lodges). It has been rainy all day so today we're especially thankful for the hot showers and the roaring fire in the main lodge. Some people reconvene around the fireplace to read and chat and wait for dinner while others nap or snuggle into warm beds in their cabins.

Dinner is served at long tables and here the main dish of the meal is plated and served to each person while sides are placed on the tables to be passed around family style. After everyone has been served, there are seconds on the meat, which tonight happens to be pork chops -- not, I'm disappointed to learn, my favorite: the roast turkey. Jim has in the past expressed his praise for the thick, meaty pork chops smothered in slow-cooked onions, and while John and I always enjoy witty banter each year, he knows who controls the annual arrangements and Jim's cuisine preferences therefore win out.

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John tries to appease me by telling me that he had already purchased the turkey and was going to make it but remembered that Jim liked the pork chops -- so he put the turkey away for another night. I explain that having this information makes my disappointment more severe -- not the desired effect. A highlight at Black Bar is always the dinner rolls. A crew of rafters from Portland, Oregon gave me the tip on my first year to keep my eyes out for "the sinkers" and ferret one away from dinner to accompany breakfast the following morning. While I've never done that, I never fail to eat my fare share at dinner smothered in the home made blackberry preserves -- picked from the plentiful blackberry bushes around the property.

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Dessert at Black Bar is never a strong suit. Tonight we have a choice of "Neapolitan" ice cream or okay cobbler. Breakfast is always a plated piece of ham, a pile of very greasy fried eggs (is there any other way?), and pancakes, served family style. The lunch -- not a highlight -- is a selection of lunch meats, some kind of cake (I skip it), fruit, chips, and condiments. You make your selection from a buffet table and pack your lunch for the trail.

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Click here for Part II >>

Ellen Shapiro

www.byellen.com

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Ellen,

That looks and sounds a whole lot better than my first hike down the Rogue. I was a 10-year old Boy Scout carrying an uncomfortable canvas frame pack filled with the very latest in freeze-dried cuisine (since this was in 1963, the 'very latest' was almost inedible).

Boating is my preferred method for going down canyon these days. One of the beauties of white water rafting is the enormous amount of fresh food you can take along.

Have you ever made a side trip to Rogue Valley Creamery? I haven't, but they make one of my favorite blue cheeses.

Jim

olive oil + salt

Real Good Food

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I haven't been to the creamery but every year on the way back to Seattle we stop at the Umpqua dairy for ice cream. It's divine. Last year I took Steven there for his maiden visit. Even Momo was impressed.

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I had a gross oversight this year though: I didn't order the black cherry ice cream and I'm still regretting it a full week later. What can I say, Umpqua ice cream comes but once a year for me.

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Ellen Shapiro

www.byellen.com

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We start at Galice (7 miles from the Galice Store) and come out about one mile past the Illahe Lodge -- a couple of miles from Agnes. This year, rather than staying the fifth night at the Clay Hill Lodge, we walked 12 miles out (as opposed to 6 and 6) and stayed at the Illahe lodge. It was a nice change and the lodge owner, who was born there and now runs the place, is a wildly entertaining man with the most engaging stories to tell. Stay tuned for that.

Ellen Shapiro

www.byellen.com

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I grew up in Roseburg, Oregon, and Umpqua was the local dairy products provider (the name is from a local Indian tribe and is applied to a river, bank, and several other things in Douglas County). I was pleased when the ice cream started to appear in the Portland area about 10 years ago.

New Seasons Markets carry it, and I think the local QFC also has it. Our favorite flavor is Espresso Madness, coffee ice cream with bits of chocolate-covered espresso beans.

Jim

olive oil + salt

Real Good Food

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Jim! That's my favorite flavor too! The espresso madness is my first choice no matter the occasion. I was too embarrassed to admit that for my second flavor I ordered mint chip (it was green) over the black cherry (which I've never actually ordered myself and always manage to get a taste or two off of unsuspecting friends). The mint chip was so average compared to the black cherry with the giant local cherries that I'm still hanging my head in shame over the oversight.

Ellen Shapiro

www.byellen.com

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