PBJ: The Perfect Trail Food

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The object of my desire.

I drove up to the Blue Ridge Parkway the other day and attempted a hike to St. Marys Falls in the St. Marys Wilderness. I say attempted because I was turned away at the trailhead and told the trail was closed due to wildfires. As I stared blankly at the man delivering this news, sniffing the air for any hint of smoke – and finding none – I became frustrated that my plan was being stymied by a wildfire I barely believed existed. Sometimes when stuff like this happens to me, I will fly into a rage and curse everyone, maybe throw a head fake or scream, “Look over there!” and sprint down the trail anyway. (I have a slight problem with authority, especially when I think authority is being an idiot.)

This did not happen. I was able to keep my composure because I had a secret weapon: the PBJ.

While its exact origins are subject to myths, legends, and fables involving 1900s entrepreneurs, WWII soldiers and Smuckers, the Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich has been a staple of American Cuisine since the turn of the century and the bane of elementary school kids since the first mom threw a PBJ in a paper bag. Something about the combination of peanut butter, jelly, and bread, resonates with Americans. Why? Who knows, this is America and that’s what we like, and that’s that.

My own personal history with the PBJ has had its ups and downs. When I was a kid, long before Taco Bell had the idea, my buddies and I supplemented the usual ingredients with Nacho Cheese Doritos, adding a satisfying crunch to the mix. When I was in high school, I ate two every night before bed in an misguided effort to bulk up for lacrosse season. This is one of the all-time backfires; a mistake my body and mind are still trying to recover from a decade later. In college, we used the George Forman Grill on our PBJ, and everything else for that matter.

Over the years I have found the PBJ to be just about the perfect trail food. Trail mix GORP advocates may scoff at the idea, but I stand my ground. It’s easy to make, filling, and delicious, but the best part is that the more beat up it gets in your pack, the better it tastes. That’s why I like to pack mine in a sandwich bag or foil. I love digging a PBJ out of my pack and finding it squashed and mangled, its jelly filling having soaked through the bread in a fruit preserve osmosis scientists are still trying to figure out. If you are skiing and pull a forgotten half frozen one out of your pack, it’s like finding an oasis in the desert.

Scenic Overlook
My PBJ lead me here.

But back to the story. So, having been rebuked from my original plan – and deciding not to fight everyone – my number one priority shifted from “Get to the spot to take some photos and check it out for a story because it’s my job,” to, “Find a nice, quiet place to sit and eat this PBJ I packed for lunch.” So I backtracked a few miles and pulled into the next turnoff that had hiking access, took a quick look at the map, and set off down the trail. I didn’t particularly know where I was going or what I would find, I just knew that I had a PBJ and a peach in my pack and if I didn’t find a place to eat it, I might as well go ahead and wander into that theoretical wildfire.

The thought of that PBJ saved my trip as far as I’m concerned; if I had packed a ham and cheese, things could have turned out way different – something I don’t really want to think about. I had a pleasant hike, ate my lunch at the bottom of a waterfall and broke a significant sweat, so all in all it was a success.

The moral of the story: When life gives you lemons, make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Here’s how:

Ingredients: Two (2) slices wheat bread, crunchy peanut butter, strawberry jelly. Crunchy is essential and don’t even try to put %*#@&#@ing grape jelly on there. Get out of here with your grape jelly. Blackberry is as far as I’ll go.

Step 1: Spread a slice of bread with a generous amount of jelly (always do the jelly first or your mom will yell at you for ruining the jar by getting peanut butter in there. Apparently, contaminating peanut butter with bits of jelly is cool). Then do the same with the peanut butter on the other slice of bread.

Step 2: Place the covered bread slices together with their respective toppings facing each other. THIS IS THE KEY ELEMENT! If you perform this step wrong, you will have to start again…you will also make a mess and get yelled at by your mom again.

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