Five years ago, having just wrapped up my Thru Hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, I remember sitting back, looking around, and thinking, “... now what”. I had a few choices:
I could go back to working in tech in the Bay Area, working on other people’s hopes and dreams.
I could ignore the requirements of being a “grownup” and go thru hike something else, delaying the return to a normal 9-5 (and draining every penny of my savings in the process).
Or I could start the small backpacking meal company that all my trail-mates and those following along at home had begged for me to bring to market.
In the spring of 2018, Next Mile Meals was ready to be announced. Along with help from my partner Christopher, we sold a few pre-sales to our biggest fans and supporters, which immediately sold out. Our entire first spring and summer was spent trying to desperately keep up with non-stop orders, operating out of a shared community kitchen, and laughing about how what we thought would be a “fun part-time side project” took over our lives.
That first year was hard. Really really hard. We were shocked by the demand for our product and completely unprepared for the reality of running a small business. If you were one of those first customers in those first few months, THANK YOU SO MUCH from the bottom of our hearts. You sent the kindest emails, encouraging words of support while in the background we were stressed, tired, and desperately re-evaluating our decisions. You kept us going.
It’s now early 2023, and I look back on those early days and laugh, at the growing pains and naivety of what was still to come. Next Mile Meals has survived (and even thrived) through start-up pains, a pandemic, supply chain nightmares, shipping and delivery failures, egg prices skyrocketing, and even moving the company to an entirely new state where we could settle down and focus on growing the company.
It’s long been a bit of a joke by my friends and family that “Jessie’s backpacking food company prevents her from going backpacking” — over the past five years, other than a few weekend trips here and there, I have done far less backpacking than I had hoped. In the early days of the company, I was in the manufacturing kitchen every day of every week; I couldn’t take a day off because so many orders were coming in.
Once we figured out the kitchen process, then we had emails coming in every day of every week, asking questions about our product, shipping times, or even just sending us some love.
Once we figured out how to handle customer support, then we moved an entire company to a new state, where I needed to make decisions every day of every week about building a new facility and where sinks should go and how many lights we needed in the manufacturing area, etc…
Now, we’ve finally figured out all of that. We have an incredible team here in Bend that makes each meal, and answers each email, and ships each order. So now, five years after those eventful first few months, I can finally sit back, look around, and say to myself, “... now what?”
And the obvious answer is: go thru hike something!
I’m excited to finally announce that I’ve been quietly preparing for a thru-hike of the Arizona Trail this spring. As I wrap up these final weeks before departing for the trail, I’ll be sharing the planning process, packing lists, and overall feelings (ie anxiety, it's so much anxiety) about taking this type of vacation away from my beloved small business. I’ll also be using this trip to trail test a few new recipes and entirely new products for Next Mile Meals, which I am beyond excited to announce very soon.
While on trail, I’ll be posting updates and photos regularly, same as I did on my thru hike of the PCT. You can follow along on the Next Mile Meal instagram (@nextmilemeals).
So stay tuned for the following blog posts over the next few weeks covering:
- The Trail: Pros and Cons of choosing to hike AZT
- The Gear: everything that goes into my pack (and changes I’ve made since the last thru)
- The Food: every calorie I plan to eat on the hike AND trail testing a few new recipes…
And yes, this does probably mean I'll be answering some customer emails from atop a remote desert mountain with one bar of service...