The late arrival of snow in southern Manitoba means anyone with skis can actually use them this weekend, instead of whining about crappy cardio and muscle atrophy. But seeing as it's almost March, it won't be too long before all the white stuff disappears.
If you're a paddler, backpacker or cyclist, start planning your extended spring and summer excursions right now. Use whatever late-winter downtime you may have to figure out where you want to go, when you can possibly do it and what gear you need to repair or purchase to get the heck out of Dodge when the opportunity arises.
And as weird as this may sound, immediately begin the picky process of meal planning, because purchasing, portioning and packing up food tends to be the most time-consuming aspect of preparing for almost any trip.
As one of the more food-obsessed weirdos you're likely to encounter on the trail, I try to ensure every campsite meal is just as enjoyable as anything I'd consume in the city, if not better. To that end, here are a few meal-planning tricks I've picked up over the years:
1. Get thee to an Asian grocery: If you have no interest in paying a small fortune for ready-made, tinny-tasting wilderness meals, visit an Asian supermarket. The aisles are packed with lightweight, inexpensive non-perishables that can be combined into simple-to-prepare wilderness meals. Pay particular attention to the bundles of dried noodles, plastic packets of soup, sauce and curry bases (many contain no MSG) and the many varieties of dried fruits, nut-and-seed-based sweets and flavoured tofu concoctions.
2. Stock up in North Dakota: Even in the free-trade era, American groceries still stock a wider variety of processed goods. The next time you're in Grand Forks, check the aisles for trip-friendly foodstuffs such as foil-wrapped tuna and salmon, an ideal source of non-perishable protein you can add to almost any rice or pasta dish.
3. Pencil in every meal: When you draw up a meal plan, include each and every breakfast, lunch and dinner. Then list all the ingredients and estimate, as best you can, what sort of quantities will be required. This may sound geeky, but portion control is crucial if you want to avoid getting bogged down with excessive weight -- or even worse, running out of sustenance.
4. Don't rely on walleye: Yes, we know you're an expert angler. But there will be days and even weeks when the pickerel won't bite. Pack enough food for a fish-free trip, just to be on the safe side.
5. Bag and double-bag your food. If it can leak, it will leak, especially if it's flour or pancake mix. Use two sets of bags to prevent water from getting in -- and dry stuff from getting out. Nalgene-style bottles, with or without the yummy BPA, are great for transporting any liquid, provided you seal the lid with a strip of duct tape.
5. Combine ahead of time. Mix all spices and dried vegetables at home. Remove and discard any excess packaging from store-bought ingredients. Place ingredients for the same meal within the same properly labelled plastic bag. Your tripmates will love you for it.
6. Glass is idiotic. It goes without saying, but glass is heavy and will fracture in your pack. Buy jam in plastic jars, wine in plastic bags and decant anything else into plastic bottles, sealed of course with duct tape.
7. Metal is stupid, too. Cans are for car camping. Don't bother with the added weight - decant into plastic or choose another foodstuff.
8. Aim for one-pot meals, whenever possible. Cleaning up a wilderness campsite is annoying late at night, when the mosquitoes are buzzing and you're trying to scour a pan by the light of a Petzl. One-pot meals will reduce your load of kitchen gear, as well as the likelihood of a bear or rodent encounter.
9. Be kind to the lakes. Shell out the extra loonie for biodegradable kitchen suds.
10. Finally, don't forget the fat: On the trail or on the water, you're burning extra calories. That means you need fat along with protein and carbs. Peanut butter, olive oil and coconut milk (look for tetra packs at Asian grocers) will provide that nutritional balance.