Thomas McNutt Hiking Alaska with Fruitcake
When Thomas McNutt accepted the invitation for a week-long wilderness excursion into no-man’s-land Alaska, he knew he hadn’t signed up for a simple fishing vacation. The trip’s outline was straightforward. Thomas and his eight fishing companions were to be deposited in the middle of nowhere to raft, fish, camp, and convene with nature. They were to travel over 60 miles and in seven days time, get picked back up at the agreed upon rendezvous point.
The fact Thomas hardly knew any of his fellow traveling companions did not stop him from enthusiastically welcoming the prospect of adventure. Rather, he felt the trip presented the perfect opportunity to put fruitcake to the test. “I had heard fruitcake is perhaps the best energy source for an outdoorsman,” recounted Thomas. “I learned it for myself [during this trip]. I took Collin Street Bakery Fruitcakes and Texas Pecan Cakes with me, and it was a game changer.”
So off Thomas flew to Alaska, armed with only the necessities of a learned outdoorsman: chest-high rubber pants, warm winter wear, and fruitcake.
Into the Great Alaskan Wilderness
The trip began on August 14th, with each member of the group making their way to Anchorage, Alaska. After a brief stay, the nine boarded a succession of smaller and smaller propeller planes, each taking them farther and farther away from civilization.
As Thomas recalls, “We got into this tiny airplane that literally could only fit two passengers… And then our pilot gets in this little bitty, rusty old nothing plane and plugs in a Garmin into the cigarette lighter. A Garmin! [She] sticks it on the windshield and that's her navigation!”
Over Alaska, they flew, peering through the tiny windows of their plane taking in the beauty of the wilderness. “It was almost like you were flying through different seasons of the year,” accounted Thomas.
“You would fly over some terrain that was covered in snow, and ice, and glaciers. And then, just very abruptly, it turns into a lush green landscape. And then very abruptly, it turns into beautiful autumn colors of changing leaves. And then it very abruptly goes into wide open pasture land. And then back to mountains with snow. It was incredible!”
Finally, after traveling for what felt like hours, the expedition reached their destination. “[Our pilot] landed on this little pond, kicked us out of the plane,... and said ‘Good luck, boys! Meet you at the rendezvous point in seven days. Then [she] took off!”
Now, this trip was unlike most fishing vacations where the only equipment needed is a fishing pole, some bait, and perhaps a cooler of beer. You see when traveling to a location where the closest living human resides over 200 miles away, if you’ve forgotten something, you’re out of luck. This means everything you might need, you have to take with you. If you’re taking it with you, you have to carry it. In Thomas’ crew’s case, this meant hauling over 2,000 pounds worth of equipment.
“We had to haul all of our gear, most of which was not built to be carried… a mile to the Koktuli River. We had to make multiple trips back and forth across this little mile stretch of wilderness carrying all this stuff.. deflated rafts, tents, propane tanks, cooktops… We did this till we were able to inflate the rafts and begin floating.” This is when the fun truly began.
Row, Row, Row the Boat
Down the river, the expedition went! Now for many people, when they think ‘Alaska,’ they picture knee-deep snow, swirling around in powdery gusts. However, Thomas’ account paints quite a different picture. Where their expedition traveled, there was no snow. Instead, flat pasture land covered in tall grasses. “[The temprature] varied anywhere from the low-30’s to the mid-60’s. There were some times when it felt like a nice fall day. You start sweating so you take off layers. But, man, it could change [quickly when] the clouds would roll in. The sun went away, and it would start raining on you, the wind began blowing… Then you’re freezing.”
While the weather continued to fluctuate, the group’s daily routine remained consistent. “We would camp every night, [then] every single morning we would wake up, have breakfast and coffee, pack up the camp… put [it all] in the rafts.. and we'd set out,” recalled Thomas. “We would raft all day long and would fish as we’d go... I tried to get a picture of every fish I caught but, there turned out to be far too many.”
When recounting the tales of fishing, Thomas became increasingly animated. “It is one of the most incredible mysteries of nature, these fish! They are born in freshwater upstream. Once they are born they sprint to get to the ocean [where they] live their whole lives. Then, all at one time, an entire generation of fish will think, "It's time to go home." And then they fight upstream to their exact place of birth to mate and lay their eggs. And if they don't make it, then they don't lay their eggs.”
“Early in our trip, we caught a lot of fish we couldn't eat because we're too far upstream,” recounted Thomas. “As the salmon travel upstream, they turn a bright pink color. They are the most beautiful looking fish but you can’t eat them because their meat has gone bad. That’s because these fish have stopped taking care of themselves; they are so determined to achieve the goal of getting upstream to lay their eggs. So, early in the trip, we'd only eat other fish.”
What’s for Dinner?
At the mention of eating fish, the story turned towards food.
“We brought enough food to where we didn’t need to catch anything to eat. We brought prepared frozen meals [like] pasta and chicken. Of course, we ate fish but we didn't have any capacity to freeze the fish we caught. So anything we couldn’t cook that day we would release. But, I tell you what the real game changer was...the snack box.”
“We had a huge metal snack box, that was filled with all your classic hiking outdoor snack foods. When we were planning what to put in the box, we had to ask ourselves,...
‘What do you need in a good outdoor snack food?'
A good outdoor snack food needs four things:
(1) It needs to able to stay without refrigeration.
(2) It needs to be easy to eat - it can’t make a mess.
(3) It needs to taste amazing.
(4) It needs to be a good source of energy.
"We had packed all the classics,...Candy bars, beef jerky, gummy bears, trail mix, dried apricot slices, dried mango slices... But let me tell you, there are problems with each of these foods. Not a single one fills all the above requirements,” explained Thomas. “Maybe they taste good, but it’s not high-quality calorically dense. Perhaps it's doesn’t need to be refrigerated, but it's not easy to eat. Perhaps it provides really great calories, but it doesn't taste good.”
“The one food staple I brought was that checked all the boxes was Collin Street Bakery DeLuxe® and Texas Pecan Cake. The cakes didn’t have to be refrigerated, were very calorically dense, incredibly easy to eat, and super tasty. We brought the mini versions so they could easily fit into our pockets. Plus the tin’s construction made it difficult for moisture, bugs, or animals to get inside. Nobody on the trip had tried our fruitcakes before or really ever considered packing it as an outdoor snack. By the end of the trip, however, there was consensus across the whole expedition group, it was the best outdoor snack food possible.”
An Extra Day in the Wilderness
Have you ever been on a vacation you loved so much, you didn’t want to go home? All you wished was to have just one more day. Well, for Thomas and his crew, they received one more day; however, they weren’t really wishing for it. “On the last day, we woke up and quickly took down camp. We started looking for the pontoon plane which was supposed to come get us… But instead of our plane coming in, a storm rolled in...The weather was nuts!”
As it turned out, the pilot couldn’t find them in the storm. “We kept thinking, ‘Why is it taking so long?’ Our guide had one satellite phone for emergencies so he contacted home base saying ‘What the heck? You were supposed to be here at nine o’clock and it’s late afternoon!’ Home base responded, ‘We’ve tried to come get you three times and we can’t get to you! You are going to have to hunker down for the night and we’ll try again tomorrow.’”
“That night there was just the craziest winds and cold rains,” reflected Thomas. “So we had to unpack camp again, get all the tents out, the kitchen,..start a fire. We hadn’t eaten breakfast or lunch so we were hungry. Our snack pack was looking pretty empty because the night before we had really partied it up. We had a huge feast of rib eyes, mashed potatoes, whiskey, cigars... So on that last night, we found some leftovers from the evening before, combined that with some of the remaining snack food and cobbled together some dinner.”
Their dinner consisted of gummy bears, beef jerky, bagels, soup, and trail mix and sounded more like the odd cravings of a pregnant woman than a meal for a troop of rugged outdoorsman. Looking back, Thomas admitted he would have really loved some fruitcake that last night. Unfortunately, the cakes had been such a huge hit early in the trip, he said, “they were completely consumed by day four!”
The next morning, the storm had subsided. Hopeful for a return to civilization, warmth, and a hot shower, the fishing expedition packed up camp one more time. “It was one of the coolest things to end the trip,” shared Thomas. “The next day, the clouds had rolled away, and everything cleared up... The pontoon planes were able to come in and there was a gorgeous, massive rainbow that showed up. Literally, the end of the rainbow was touching our campsite.”
A couple puddle jumpers later, the crew touched down back in Anchorage. “When we got to our hotel, we had a big, warm meal, took nice, hot showers, and watched some college football. A few hours later, everybody said their goodbyes, exchanged contact information and flew back to their respective states. In fact, this trip was so cool, we are doing a little reunion in February,” said Thomas beaming.
“One last thing,” Thomas interjected. “Our fruitcake was such an excellent outdoor snack food on the trip, the expedition company which hosted the adventure, Alaska Rafting Adventure, has requested a standing order of mini fruitcake for all their future tours! They loved it! Isn’t that neat?”
Sure is, Thomas. That’s pretty neat!