Chef Ed Matthews of One Block West restaurant in Winchester, VA here. I’m an avid hiker and I’m embarking on a series of posts that explore not only the great hiking in and around the Blue Ridge, but the intersection of hiking and the culinary world. My one day a week off from my chef-restaurant owner gig usually finds me and my wife Ann out on the trail somewhere in nearby mountains. My 80-hour workweek leaves almost no time for my wife; hiking is how we reconnect each week.
My office and my kitchen, my two homes all week, have no windows. My only connection to nature is the fresh goods that our farmers and foragers bring us and my thrice-weekly ventures to the farmers market. Getting out on the trail not only gets me some much needed outdoors time but lets me indulge my photographer side as well: I’m an avid nature photographer, not any good, but avid nonetheless. I am constantly astounded each time I go out and each time I load up my new photos in Photoshop what a gorgeous part of the world we live in!
Bringing this back to the culinary world, on the trail, where permitted, I have been known to really connect to nature by foraging dinner: stinging nettles, chanterelles, morels, chicken-of-the-woods, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, wineberries, and when the bears haven’t cleaned them all out, our delicious lowbush blueberries. In upcoming posts, I’ll be sharing our finds with you.
It’s no surprise that I like to eat and drink but that, coupled with the occupational hazard of obesity, requires that I exercise. I hike so that I can eat and I can drink a beer and not give my internist a reason to call me on the carpet. But seriously, last year, I lost 40 pounds, dropped my blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose numbers into the good zone without medication simply by walking and by making some judicious choices about my diet.
A couple in California started the 52 Hike Challenge a couple years back for this very reason: to improve their health by making 52 hikes in a year and challenging others to do the same. Ann and I have accepted the challenge to make 52 hikes over the next 52 weeks. Given my 6-day workweek and perhaps 48 days off a year, that is going to be a hell of a challenge. But I’m going to give it a go anyway. Maybe this post will inspire you to join us.
One of the greatest reasons to come visit us is for our wonderful hiking: the Appalachian Trail, the C&O Canal Towpath, Shenandoah National Park, and my favorite, George Washington National Forest. The AT is often crowded, especially in thru-hiker season and on weekends. The C&O towpath is awesome, but it’s flat and I need more of a workout. Shenandoah is spectacular, but it has too many visitors and the trails are all too close to Skyline Drive. The George Washington National Forest, on the other hand, is vast, largely undervisited, and underappreciated.
Stretching along the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia with small forays into West Virginia and Kentucky, the GWNF and its partner the Jefferson National Forest comprise a massive but not contiguous park. In our area, the GWNF encompasses the twin arms of the Massanutten Mountains that run down the center of the Shenandoah Valley and the Great North Mountain complex that guards the western flank of the great valley. While the section along the Massanuttens that runs south of Strasburg and Front Royal is more quickly reached from the northern Virginia-Washington DC urban area, the section along Great North Mountain straddling the Virginia-West Virginia border offers more spectacular scenery.
One thing hikers like to do after a long day on the trail—our usual Sunday walk is 10-15 miles—is find the nearest watering hole. That first beer after a long day on the trail is a fine, fine thing. Après hike for us is part of the experience: we will stop at a local winery, a brewpub, a local café, or we’ll bring some cold ones in a cooler and head back home for a dinner that is either waiting in the refrigerator in the summer or is bubbling away in the crockpot in the winter. Each future post will feature a hike and something food-related after the hike.
We also eat on the trail, a lot. If you’re burning 4-5000 calories a day while walking, it takes a lot of food to keep you going. Because we are only day-hiking, we can afford to carry a bit more food weight than if we were doing a multi-day hike and eating instant oatmeal, ramen noodles, and the like. I’ll be sharing some great ideas for day-hike food in the future.
Coming up you can expect some interesting hikes centered on the Shenandoah Valley and the GWNF, ideas for après hike noshing and libations, foraged foods as we come upon them, and some ideas for your trail lunches. I’m headed out this weekend and I hope to see you at the restaurant, on the trail, or both.