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Rogue River Lodges Food Diary, Part III


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Our early afternoon parting from Pat on day three is always such sweet sorrow: his dogs sense the interruption in their structure -- another group is going to move on -- and they bound, bob, and weave among us as we say our farewells. Eventually the dogs remember that the kitchen is the source of food and lose interest; they take up positions near the kitchen door, where there's a buzz of activity. The crew is already preparing for the next group scheduled to come through that night.

We throw on our packs and it's a nice stroll up the dirt road to where the trail narrows and we're once again forced to walk single file. This is arguably the most beautiful stretch along the river: we walk on a narrow cliff above the Rogue, a sheer stone wall on our right and the river below to our left. On the other side of the river the same barrier exists -- we're essentially in a canyon. The strength and power of the river dictate the route. The rain is still holding off and, though it's cool, the sun is out and -- a perfect day for hiking and picture-taking. I even find myself with a bit of a one sided sunburn (only on my left arm), making me look ridiculous, at the end of the day.

Inspiration Point, as the name implies, inspires some couples to take shots for the family photo album (Inspiration Point overlooks Stair Creek Falls on the south bank of the river) and everyone else stands around to ooh and aah. Blossom Bar is the best place to watch rafters and kayakers come through the rapids; it's the most difficult water to navigate on the river and it was impassible until a character named Glen Wooldridge decided to take matters into his own by blasting out the rocks some years ago. Glen Wooldridge is somewhat of a legend in these parts.

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It's just over a mile of flat trail to Paradise Bar Lodge and everyone is impressed with the location.

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Most of us are given rooms that are attached to the main building in a two-story structure -- sort of motel style -- and the rest are put in a three-room cabin down the trail. (Funny, I always seemed to be placed in the accommodations farthest away from the main house. I wonder if someone's trying to tell me something.) Most every room overlooks the river, and those few who can't see it can surely hear it and are but a few steps away from its rushing power.

Everyone gets an early start on the wine (the selection available for purchase is mostly from Washington and California) and, until it turns cold, most everyone is sitting outside on the deck within view of the river and a bottle of this or that. It's particularly civilized at Paradise: appetizers are served at 6:00, whetting our appetites for 7:00 dinner. The first night's appetizers are potato skins, the exterior of the skins coated in some kind of delicious fat (I'd rather not know) making them extra crispy on the skins. When the platter is gobbled up, a replacement quickly materializes for those who were slow to act. Speed and enthusiasm in replacing platters, even of cheap ingredients like potato skins, makes a big difference in the hospitality experience -- this is the opinion of every hiker and rafter I've spoken to at the lodges.

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Dinner is extensive but admittedly not the best meal they've ever produced here. It's presented buffet style and includes an impressive salad bar (no iceberg lettuce here) with homemade croutons, fresh-baked dinner rolls, and spuds. So far, so good. The chicken with barbecue sauce, however, comes up short (though it could have been my piece because I don't see anyone else's pushed aside) as does the beef (tips or strips) stir fry, and the cobbler doesn't warrant my finishing it (or photographing anything). Don't worry; the next dinner will make up for it.

I look forward to each breakfast because I like to stock up for the day's hike and there's always a decent selection of protein and starches for me to feast on. I don't eat pork so a lot of the dishes (like the fried rice with chunks of ham at Marial's dinner and the cubed potatoes with chunks of bacon at Paradise) are useless to me. And in these parts they use pork kind of like how salt and pepper are utilized elsewhere: it's ubiquitous. Even without the bacon or ham, though, I always manage to be waddling full after breakfaste. (Can you imagine, the first few years on this trip I was still a vegetarian? And I still ate well.)

Breakfast on our first morning at Paradise (our 4th day on the trail) includes giant fresh-baked banana muffins; cantaloupe, banana, and orange slices; scrambled egg casserole (at least that's what I'd call it) with diced ham, onions, green peppers, and melted cheddar on top; a trough of home fries; whole grain oatmeal (with the raisins cooked in, my favorite); and the usual beverages (coffee, tea, and hot chocolate). I couldn't decide what to eat first, and though I stole a taste of someone's muffin I couldn't manage one myself what with all of the other choices.

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We spend the morning split into two hiking groups. I lead a group on a longer hike up the Devil's Backbone, while Jim leads the other on a shorter hike up Deak's Peak. In the afternoon, we switch.

The weather at lunchtime is nice enough for us to sit outside. There's a sandwich bar set up at the buffet and cream of broccoli soup with those yummy homemade croutons.

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The crowning glory of lunch is the thick, chocolaty brownies, baked just right. Not too dry, not too moist. While I don't keep count (others try) there are some calculations that one person in our group (later dubbed Brownie Mary) has consumed 5 or more of those brownies at (and perhaps following) lunch. They are excellent brownies and I drool in anticipation each year, never wanting to tell the other hikers about them until they are presented for fear that this year they won't bake them.

Our hike up Deak's Peak is about one hour round trip, straight up and straight down. Just as we we are returning to the beautiful pastures at Paradise, it starts to drizzle. Virtually everyone loses the gumption to walk the mile back to Blossom Bar to watch for rafters coming through the rapids. Rather, most everyone cozies up with a book (and a bottle) in the rooms or by the fire in the lodge.

Then begins a big-ass dinner. The appetizer hour is focused around nachos. The beans have a nice little kick to them.

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Dinner is pushed back a bit, until 7:30, because of the arrival of some very special fish. During our stay Bobbie, a long-time and beloved employee at Paradise is supervising the lodge while Dawn (the owner, with Court Boice) is at the office in Gold Beach. Bobbie's husband will be bringing us, that night, half of his catch of salmon (1-1/2 spring Chinook) fresh out of the river. Needless to say, we were happy to wait for this kind of delicacy.

Dinner includes the extensive salad bar, our fresh caught Rogue River salmon, a large roast (striploin?), baked potatoes with toppings (again, the potatoes get extra points for the crispy skin -- my favorite part of the spud), fresh baked rolls, and some veggies (with a little ham thrown in for good measure). And for dessert: spice cake with a thick sweet, gooey white frosting. Oh! A particularly nice touch at Paradise is that with your dinner you also get a glass of wine; usually a choice between white and rose.

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Following dinner, after we scare all of the other hikers (there are four) and jet-boaters (three guys who have been jet-boating up the river every year to Paradise for many more years than I've been hiking it) away, Jim gets the party rolling with a bit of Rogue River trivia, Jeopardy style. Everyone whoops and hollers. Bobbie is so delighted watching us play the game that at one point she blurts out an answer before anyone in our group has a chance. Good thing too, because it's a hard one.

<< Click here for Part II -- Click here for Part IV >>

Ellen Shapiro

www.byellen.com

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Ellen -

Your reports have been amazing! I feel lazy just reading about the hiking - well, I am lazy BUT I might be inspired to hike for some of these meals.

Especially for the potato skins. Drool. Sigh. Looking around for hiking boots.

Keep up the good work - I can't wait to read the next installment.

"Unleash the sheep!" mamster

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Ellen...Wow, these are such great accounts of the trip and the pics are beautiful. Its almost like you're professional photographer or something! :wink:

This trip sounds like a good way to go for me. I really enjoy hiking, but despise camping. I wouldn't pretend to be in good enough condition to do this kind of trip at this point, but I can add it to the growing list of reasons to get my act together. I know you mentioned that there were a couple strenuous stretches, but how would you rate the difficulty of the hiking overall?

Something about heavy physical activity just demands hearty, rustic food for me. Call me crazy, but if I hiked 15 miles in a day and ended up at Le Bernadin, I don't think I'd be that happy about it.

Most women don't seem to know how much flour to use so it gets so thick you have to chop it off the plate with a knife and it tastes like wallpaper paste....Just why cream sauce is bitched up so often is an all-time mytery to me, because it's so easy to make and can be used as the basis for such a variety of really delicious food.

- Victor Bergeron, Trader Vic's Book of Food & Drink, 1946

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That's exactly the thing, Tighe. This is the right food for this experience. If you ate like this on a regular day of sitting around the office, you'd be . . . well . . . I guess you'd be me! But seriously, this kind of stick-to-your-ribs grub really hits the spot after a 15 miler. Food that might be considered heavy at other times just doesn't feel that way when you're actually burning more calories than you eat (though if you really go for it food-wise you can gain weight on this trip).

Jim (my co-leader) and the Sierra Club rate this trip moderate. What that means is that pretty much anybody can do it with a little advance preparation. The reason it's not too difficult are, first of all, that you don't have to carry a lot of weight because all the food and drink and bedding and shelter is provided by the lodges so you don't have to schlep tents and pads and food and stoves and water (except what you'll drink during one hiking-day), and, second of all, that there is very little elevation change because you're hiking along a river. So while it's 15 miles on the hardest day, it's not 15 miles of climbing or 15 miles with a 50-pound pack. It's 15 miles of nice nature hiking with a daypack, with a hot breakfast in the morning, a break for a good lunch, and a big dinner, hot shower, and warm bed at the end of the road. What has to be done in preparation is a little hiking with a day pack. We help people make training schedules depending on their levels of experience as hikers. It's not such a big deal but some training is important. Lodge-to-lodge is a great format for people who want to dip a toe into the waters of backcountry hiking but don't want any of the downside of a full plunge. I'm hoping someday to put together an inn-to-inn hike in Wales as well.

Ellen Shapiro

www.byellen.com

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...Lodge-to-lodge is a great format for people who want to dip a toe into the waters of backcountry hiking but don't want any of the downside of a full plunge. I'm hoping someday to put together an inn-to-inn hike in Wales as well.

When my wife and I went to Tuscany for our honeymoon, one of the books that someone gave us was Walking and Eating in Tuscany & Umbria. Great book, but not what we had in mind for our honeymoon. I'm sure Wales would be comparable; the idea of spending the day on a lovely hike in-between places where you can eat well is tremendously appealing to me.

Most women don't seem to know how much flour to use so it gets so thick you have to chop it off the plate with a knife and it tastes like wallpaper paste....Just why cream sauce is bitched up so often is an all-time mytery to me, because it's so easy to make and can be used as the basis for such a variety of really delicious food.

- Victor Bergeron, Trader Vic's Book of Food & Drink, 1946

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Thank you so much for these great reports Ellen! I love going to the Oregon interior but so far I've only made it to Bend; once for a family trip back in high school (actually Redmond, but repleat with horsy rides and rafting) and a second time for a pilgramage to the Deschutes brewery and their brewpub. If you ever have a chance, go to the brewpub and you'll have the best beer of your life.

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