Seven Tour Director Survival Tips for Dealing with “Vegan Issues”

Shown: Two vegan “small plate” dishes enjoyed at an Indian restaurant while on tour; Gobi Manchurian – fried cauliflower tossed in a sweet and sour sauce, and Samosa Chaat – two savory bean and pea pastries topped with a garbanzo bean curry and house chutneys.

As a trip leader, I love creating meaningful experiences for participants — especially through food. I’m also a vegan who loves to travel and engage new places through local tastes. For me, tour directing and eating vegan are complimentary flavors.

That’s why I’m surprised when fellow tour directors express derision towards vegans. These sentiments were summed up at a recent guide training when a group presented their hot topics titled, VEGAN ISSUES.  The frustration was perplexing because to be blunt, vegans aren’t problems on tour. As with any interpretive travel what is required is a better knowledge of the audience. Here’s seven survival tips for tour directors dealing with “vegan issues.”

1. Why are vegans, vegan? And, what is plant-based?
Vegans eat the same food as everyone else, except it’s not made from animals. Vegans value compassion. They seek to eliminate, as much as practical and possible, the use of and exploitation of animals in their everyday lives.  They understand the most immediate way to enact compassion is to control what they put on their plate. Another group to know about are travelers who are plant-based; they eat plants solely for dietary or health benefits. Veganism takes plant-based a step further and includes the ethical component.

2. Why are vegans quiet?
Vegans are often stereotyped as being quiet. Some can be. Many vegans tend to be reserved when traveling because they don’t want to be derided. Here are some actual comments by professional-level tour directors about vegans:

Why don’t they eat like normal people?
If they can’t eat normal food on a tour, they should be made to eat what the rest eat!”
“They seem smart, too bad they can’t figure out what they’re going to eat this week.

Is it any wonder a traveler might be quiet when a tour director’s personal biases (yes, biases) are seeping into other communications? Trip leaders need to understand that everyone on their tour want to eat good-tasting, wholesome food. Vegans just want food without the animal or the hidden animal products.

3. Why are they vegan at home, but not while traveling?
I often hear trip leaders say, “Why are they vegan at home, but not while traveling?” At home, all of us can control ingredients, quantity, salt, oils, etc., but this can be very difficult for anyone during a week-long tour. Vegans have learned to be pros when it comes to ordering food selectively at restaurants to avoid hidden animal products, substituting side dishes, or supplementing their travel meals by visiting the store.  However, on tour, most of the pre-selected restaurants on an itinerary are solidly meat-centric.  When confronted with zero choices many vegan travelers just won’t eat at all, others might order various side dishes to create something of a meal. Others might make a “what causes the least harm” decision. A few might substitute fish, though these are usually travelers who need to eat something (anything) at each meal to regulate blood sugar or taking medicine with food.

4. Why don’t they eat the special vegan meal?
The biggest frustration I’ve heard from tour directors is that the specially prepared vegan meal rarely gets eaten. I can say without hesitation – 95% of the specially prepared
vegan meals on tours are notoriously bad. These vegan meals might be made by well-intentioned kitchens, but staff often have no clue what vegans eat and the results can range from lackluster to frightful. If someone on tour is skipping meals, their basic needs are not being met.

5. What about vegans eating alternative meat on tours?
The target audience for alternative meat products aren’t plant-eaters, the target audience are meat-eaters who want to reduce the amount of meat they are eating. To many vegans, alternative meat is junk food and should be eaten sparingly.

6. What do vegans eat?
Vegan food can be as diverse as a fresh salad or pizza. I like food that is unrefined or minimally refined and excludes or minimizes meat, dairy products, and eggs.  Vegan food can include apples, bananas, blueberries, oranges, strawberries, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, kale, lettuce, potatoes, corn, green peas, winter squash, barley, millet, oats, quinoa, wheat berries, brown rice, black beans, chickpeas, lentils, pinto beans, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, tahini, almond butter, or even rice, soy, oat, almond, and cashew milk. The entire vegetable and fruit aisle at the store is vegan. A good part of the grain aisle and some of the bread aisle is vegan. Additionally, there are plant-based mayonnaise, cheeses and other sandwich condiments that taste like traditional products and are cost-effective. On the more recreation and social side, most french fries and beer are vegan. There’s no shortage of plant-based foods or creative ways to eat vegan while on tour, here’s a few:

Shown: Some of the vegan meals, desserts, and snacks served on the tours and trips I’ve led.

7. How should I talk with a vegan on my tour?
Have a conversation with them as you would with anyone on your trip. Remember, vegans want to eat delicious food too, if they have a question about food it’s originating from a place of compassion. Use compassion as a starting point in your own conversation with trip travelers. I try to set this tone in my pre-trip welcome letter, I explain that while our trip has made efforts to eat at places that offer a variety of foods some of the menus can be limited. I add that we will have an opportunity to stop by a local grocery store so all participants can supplement food, and grab something fresh and healthy if needed. At times when travelers explore a town on their own, I always find a local restaurant that offers a selection of vegan options and invite others to join me. I also communicate with the office about locating restaurants that are generally healthier. During the tour, I speak with the kitchen to see about suggestions if something can be substituted.

On a tour, everyone can experience new places through local tastes. It does requires some up-front communication with travelers about what to expect on a trip. It also requires some greater knowledge of your audience.

Note: The list of foods on #6 comes from Forks Over Knives

Santiam Pass to Timberline Lodge: a 100-Mile Section Hike on the PCT

The High Cascades in Oregon is beautiful. While much of this chiseled landscape can be viewed at a distance by zipping around in a car, it is best experienced moving at the speed of human – on foot. By hiking, you can appreciate this terrain using all your senses and see it not as entertainment, but as a necessity. Below is an eight-day account of a 100-mile northbound section hike on the PCT from the dry Santiam Pass to the windswept Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood. This hike was powered by a whole-food plant-based (vegan) diet.

Day 1: Santiam Pass to Wasco Lake (10 Miles)

blog-2016-08-25-01A view of the Santiam Pass trailhead, mile number 2006.9 on the PCT. As my wife and I gathered our gear, we met two sixty-something ladies that started at Crater Lake for a section hike several weeks earlier. These women had already hiked about 175 miles.

blog-2016-08-25-02The weather was beautiful – if a bit warm – that morning. We were joined by two friends, Jack and Cindy, who drove us to the trailhead and then hiked with us for the first five miles of our journey.

blog-2016-08-25-03A view of the north side of Three Fingered Jack, a jagged and rugged mountain in the High Cascades that has banded stripes. A PCT thru-hiker stands in the foreground. He was one of about 25 who passed us that day; the oldest being somewhere in her 60s, the youngest about 18, and about half of the thru-hikers were female.

Near the end of our first day, we took a steep side-trail from Minto Pass to Wasco Lake and set up camp. As dusk fell, the sky was pink from a far-away fire. That night elk, frogs, and ducks made noises around our campsite.

Day 2: Wasco Lake to Shale Lake (12 Miles)

blog-2016-08-25-04A view of Wasco Lake the following morning at about 7 am.

blog-2016-08-25-05We enjoyed a mid-morning break on the shores of Rockpile Lake. Several thru-hikers can be seen on the trail at the left. The two women we met a day earlier enjoyed their lunch and a quick swim on the opposite side of the lake.

blog-2016-08-25-06Much of our day was spent walking through woods that had been burned several years earlier and were now recovering. In the distance, the peak of Mount Jefferson made frequent and teasing appearances.

blog-2016-08-25-07That evening we camped at Shale Lake and enjoyed an amazing view of the south side of Mount Jefferson. We ate our dinner and watched the evening light blanket the slopes of this iconic High Cascades peak.

Day 3: Shale Lake to Jefferson Park (12 Miles)

blog-2016-08-25-08Looking upon a picturesque view of Pamelia Lake from the PCT. This area is a limited entry zone requiring a permit to camp. Our hike that morning was in the forest where we encountered some sizeable old growth trees, and at one point we rounded a corner and surprised a grouse.

blog-2016-08-25-09Milk Creek has cut a 100-foot deep gorge into the slopes of Mount Jefferson. Several backpackers are seen crossing the creek below us.

blog-2016-08-25-10Overgrown and green, this is what the trail looked like for the rest of the afternoon. It was also humid and hot, making our progress slower than expected. Occasionally, we would see glimpses of Mount Jefferson through the trees.

blog-2016-08-25-11Russell Creek pours off the mountainside where it meets a “flat” area for about 100 feet before dropping into a deep gorge; this more level area is where the trail crosses. Earlier in the season, the flow can be very strong and this can be a dangerous crossing. Today, though, it just brought about some wet shoes. In this image, a hiker approaches the crossing area. We spoke with her later to find out that she was 18 and was hiking 250 miles of the PCT by herself.

In 2016, the Forest Service implemented a new permit system to camp in the stunningly beautiful Jefferson Park area. We did not have a permit and spent a good two hours looking for a walk-up site. The foresters had done an efficient job of decommissioning non-reserved sites; eventually, we found a single site near Russell Lake just as the sun was setting. We were asleep at 9 pm, which is considered “hiker’s midnight.”

Day 4: Jefferson Park to Ollalie Lake (12 Miles)

blog-2016-08-25-12We enjoyed breakfast under this stunning skyline.

blog-2016-08-25-13The next morning we climbed 1,200 feet out of Jefferson Park. The views were magnificent: wildflowers were in bloom along the trail, and at times it was hard to hear because of the abundance of buzzing coming off nearby flowers.

blog-2016-08-25-14We reached the trail’s summit and could see Mount Hood in the distance. Descending the slope, we passed several snowfields. For several hours our progress was slow going because of the loose rocks, though the trail soon became forested and we passed a number of beautiful mountain lakes.

blog-2016-08-25-15Late in the afternoon, we reached Ollalie Lake. Here is a view looking south across the area we just hiked, and in the distance is Mount Jefferson. About two dozen thru-hikers were staying at Ollalie Lake to rest.

We met some new friends at Ollalie Lake:

Darren and Sandy had hiked continuously for 4 months. They were also world travelers that raised geography education awareness by sharing information with students about the places they visit. Their travels can be seen at their site: trekkingtheplanet.net.

Franziska and her family had hiked for 2+ weeks and 100 miles on the PCT, the youngest of her group being her eight-year-old brother! Franziska is the founder of hikeoregon.net.

blog-2016-08-25-16Ollalie Lake has a small store where my wife and I eagerly purchased a bag of sea salt and vinegar potato chips and promptly devoured the entire bag. At one point there were a whopping total of eight stinky hikers in that little store – ah, the aroma of humanity!

Day 5: Ollalie Lake to the Warm Springs Area (14 Miles)

blog-2016-08-25-17The trail on day five was mostly flat and in the shade of tall trees, making trekking much easier. The forest was drier in this region and water was less abundant than before. When the opportunity presented itself, we filled up our bottles at a small, tranquil trailside spring. The temperature that day was especially warm.

blog-2016-08-25-18We arrived at Trooper Springs near the Lemiti Marsh area. This was our last water for about twelve miles. The spring was a welcome site although a small and precarious platform needed repair. We were attacked by horseflies; they were numerous, aggressive, and very persistent. Needless to say, we did not stay long.

blog-2016-08-25-19Taking care of some much-needed laundry at the spring using the “Ziplock spin cycle” washing method.

blog-2016-08-25-20Walking through a clearcut was a stark contrast to the lush forest we had seen all day. Near this area, we found the strangest price of trash on the trip: a Howard Johnson’s hotel key card lying next to the trail. We picked it up.

blog-2016-08-25-21We located a bare spot at the edge of the trail and camped for the night. Trailside camping can look messy, but everything goes back into the pack and we always leave the site cleaner than we found it.

Day 6: Warm Springs Area to Timothy Lake (18 Miles)

We were up early that morning to hike six miles to the next water at the Warm Springs River.

blog-2016-08-25-22Shown is an old style PCT trail marker that we found, one of the few older versions that we saw on the entire trip.

blog-2016-08-25-23Crossing the Warm Springs River. It was more a small creek at this point, but the water the clean and cold – a welcome site.

blog-2016-08-25-24As I took off my shoes I realized just how dusty the trail was that day.

blog-2016-08-25-25That evening we stealth camped near the trail close to Timothy Lake. During the night we unzipped the tent for a “nature break” – only to be scolded by an owl that repeatedly whooo’d at us until we went back to bed.

Day 7: Timothy Lake to Frog Lake (11 Miles)

The next morning was slow; we woke up late, and it seemed to take forever to get moving. We found a quiet site on the shoreline of Timothy Lake to we rest, take care of some laundry, and enjoy the sun for a couple of hours before continuing.

blog-2016-08-25-26Several miles down the trail was Crater Creek, a beautiful riparian area with some astonishingly cold water: a welcome find on a hot day. We soaked our feet, took a twenty-second dip (the water was that frigid), then soaked our shirts and put them on as a natural air-conditioner. We made a stop at Little Crater Lake, the source of the creek. Little Crater Lake is astonishingly blue like it’s larger cousin, but this was not volcanic in origin. Rather, this was a large artesian well. Continuing down the trail, we passed a gravel forest service road and found a bag hanging on PCT post. Inside were some small apples or Asian pears – some unexpected trail magic in the middle of nowhere.

blog-2016-08-25-27This was our first view of Mount Hood after about 40 miles of hiking – what a fantastic sight.

blog-2016-08-25-28We took a side trail to Frog Lake for some water where there was a hand pump that drew water from a well. As we entered the campground we were momentary celebrities answering questions like: “Where did you hike from?” “How many days have you been out?” “Tell me about your gear?” etc. It was an odd but welcome feeling. That night, we camped just outside the campground on a forest road.

Day 8: Frog Lake to Timberline Lodge (11 Miles)

The next morning, we stopped back in at the campground for some water and said goodbye to our new fans. A girl pulled up on her bike. “Good luck!” she exclaimed, and even a “Thanks for being so inspiring” from an adult. It felt good to hear, but the truly inspirational folks were the PCT thru-hikers who had hiked 2,663 miles and spent six months on the trail.

We made good time that day ascending Mount Hood: 5.5 miles in two hours with a significant elevation gain; we were getting our hiking legs.

blog-2016-08-25-29Finally, the green of the trees turned to open space and vistas as we passed the timberline. It was windy with twenty to thirty mile an hour gusts that kicked up sand and dust. We wore our sunglasses to keep volcanic grit out of our eyes.

blog-2016-08-25-30There was an abundance of mountain flowers on the trail.

blog-2016-08-25-31Close to the Timberline Lodge, the views were fantastic! We could see much of the route that we had spent the past week traversing.

blog-2016-08-25-32We arrived at the Timberline Lodge, mile 2107.3 on the PCT, and 100 miles from our starting point at Santiam Pass. Inside the lodge, scores of thru-hikers had taken refuge in the common areas. There was access to food and good company, with couches for sleeping and a warm fire to enjoy in the evening. We met some new friends here: Shepherd, Snow, Lonestar, and Patch, all thru-hikers who started at the Mexican border and were resting before their final push into Washington State and Canada.

blog-2016-08-25-33Looking through the door at the Timberline Lodge onto the Roosevelt Terrace: in the distance Jefferson Peak, and behind it, Three Fingered Jack and Santiam Pass. From the lodge, we were able to take public transit back home.