The river does not run through me. Try as I might, I’m just not much of an outdoorsman. There are approximately 17,211 things I’d rather be doing than standing in the middle of a river in hip waders. Fly-fishing is not my thing, although I’m quite happy to consume fish caught with flies or bugs or otherwise in the comfort of a posh restaurant with a tasty glass of vino alongside. And, although I have been known to engage in extreme behavior, extreme outdoor activities'even mildly extreme'hold little interest. I’ve just never been inspired to don a helmet and bash my head against river rocks, bungee jump off the Brooklyn Bridge or scale Everest. My idea of extreme sport is car camping at Albion Basin, knowing that Dan’s is just a quick drive down the canyon.
How then did I wind up walking miles of aisles in uncomfortable shoes at this year’s Outdoor Retailer Summer Market? Well, even hikers, bikers, kayakers, climbers, campers, trekkers and professional Hacky Sack players have to eat and drink. And I was curious to find out what these high-energy folks are eating and drinking on their various adventures. I’d heard much had changed since the last time I did any serious camping: Apparently, enjoying the great outdoors no longer mean living on MREs. So I came, I saw, I ate many energy bars.
What exactly is Outdoor Retailer? Think REI and Kirkham’s. For two weeks each year'there’s another in the winter'the Salt Palace fills up with the folks who make kayaks, camp stoves, outdoor apparel and the like, hoping to hook up with the people who do the buying for REI, Kirkham’s and such. It’s huge'more than 1,200 different exhibitors this year, the 25th anniversary of Outdoor Retailer. You need to be an avid outdoorsman'and optimally an endurance specialist'to navigate and conquer Outdoor Retailer. I should have brought a compass, since the maps we civilians were provided with were about as useless as the assembly directions with your new gas grill. And I was looking for one man: the guy with the marshmallow tree.
These outdoor types seem to all share a common dual fixation: Energy and hydration. What Viagra is to male porn stars, the energy bar is to the avid outdoorsman. In my day, gorp'a mixture of granola, nuts, raisins and chocolate chips'was the favored grazing option in the wild. Today, it seems to be the prepackaged energy bar. I sampled dozens of ’em at Outdoor Retailer. There were bars from Balance, Enervit, LÃ¤raBar, PureFit (“Nutrition Bar of the Year” says Bike Magazine!), Clif, ProBar, Powerbar (Nestle) and more. These babies are all about protein. A yogurt-honey-peanut Balance Bar offers a whopping 15 grams of protein (29 percent of the recommended daily allowance!) as compared to a measly 7 grams for Enervit’s chocolate flavored Power Sport Crunchy. By the time I’d chewed on my 15th energy bar or so, I found myself wondering why these protein seekers didn’t just carry a big old ribeye around with them.
Although they vary a lot in terms of texture and chewiness, energy bars in general tend to be dry. Hence the need for hydration. Generally speaking, I wouldn’t choose to eat an energy bar unless cannibalism were the only remaining option. Still, there were a few I didn’t detest. And it was not at all surprising that these were the bars with the least protein and nutritional value.
I found a peanut butter Clif Bar to be soft and chewy, with a lot of crunch from organic brown rice. The cocoa mÃ´lÃ© LÃ¤raBar, too, was quite tasty, with a nice sweetness to balance the cinnamon and chili zing. I was also told that LÃ¤raBars are made from 100 percent “whole foodâ€: no added sugar, unprocessed, raw, non-GMO, gluten-free, dairy free, soy free, vegan and Kosher. Ditto for the MÃ¤ya bars'what is it with all the umlauts?'I sampled, which also happened to be made with Fair-Trade Certified cocoa. A chocolate-orange MÃ¤ya bar made with organic dates, almonds, cocoa, cacao nibs and “organic orange flavor” didn’t suck. Still, the next time I eat an energy bar, it had better be sitting on top of a slab of foie gras.
Taking a break from energy bars, I wandered over to the Hot Chillys booth hoping for, well, hot chilies. Instead, I found stretch pants. Note to self: Lose 30 pounds before donning the Hot Chillys.
Or, just go on a strict diet of camp foods. These things have gotten a lot better since the days of freeze-dried tuna casserole. And beef stroganoff with wild rice and vegetable curry and rice entrees from Natural High Premium Gourmet Camping Foods weren’t bad but probably taste a lot better after a 50-mile hike.
I did, however, discover two items at Outdoor Retailer that could propel even me into the great outdoors. The first was a very cool new Airstream trailer called the Basecamp. Now that’s what I call camping! You can check it out at Airstream.com. And finally, with blistered and sore feet due to the lack of sensible shoes, I found my guy. Michael O’Russa had the coolest item at the entire Outdoor Retailer show: It’s called the Marshmallow Tree, and it’s a cooking tool shaped like a tree branch that allows the user to “cook or killâ€'in O’Russa’s words'10 marshmallows or S’mores at one sitting. Now that’s what I call extreme.