Kena Peay: Outward boundaries

There are so many ways to enjoy your time outside. This is one of many unique stories we share as part of our efforts to bring out the limitless sides.

Why do i love nature I ask myself this question every weekend while exploring Mother Nature. I think the answer is that it’s the only place I can exist without expectations. Just me, the huge redwoods, the shy and secretive wildlife, and the fresh outside air that surpasses any luxury perfume I’ve ever owned.

I discovered my passion for the outdoors when I was a little kid. I joke that my parents were my first park rangers – they taught me how to respect animals and get out of nature better than I found it. They introduced my siblings and me to many different national and state parks when we were children. It was a weekend in spring and summer. I think they tried to spark our interest in the outdoors and help us exert unnecessary and annoying youthful energy before bed.

We grew up a few hours away from Mount Tahoma (Mount Rainier). My family piled into the car with homemade sandwiches and made their way to the mountain so majestic above the clouds in Washington state. I had a wonderful childhood growing up in the Pacific Northwest.

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I’ve always hiked to create a space for thought and reconnect with myself. I feel closer to God when I’m on the trail. Give me a lead that will intimidate me and let me conquer it and I will feel like I have won the day – but only if my knees don’t break in the end. Three years ago I started hiking every weekend to get rid of what I had to do at work and some of the needs in my personal life. I rarely kept track of how many miles I hiked. I just explored my local trails in California.

But I was hungry on all of my hikes and tried to see what I could cook on the way. It never occurred to me that preparing a delicious meal to cook in your kitchen was any different. All I knew was that after a long hike, I wanted to eat whatever I craved.

My first meal was easy. I took a small MSR PocketRocket on the Heart Lake Trail on Mount Shasta. I brought two eggs carefully wrapped in paper towels, a couple of slices of bacon, and an English muffin. I had my breakfast sandwich at sunset and was hooked. Cooking outside on the way was so much more enjoyable than cooking in my home kitchen.

My next meal was a little more complicated. I fused two of my favorite sandwiches – a Shrimp Po ‘Boy and a traditional Vietnamese Banh Mi. I made a Shrimp Po’ Boy Banh Mi, another hit. After that, with a little preparation and planning, I knew I could do anything along the way.

In 2014, I won the inaugural season of the Food Network / NBC’s National Syndicated Show Food Fighters as a Chef Candidate, beating noted iron chef Cat Cora. It was a once in a lifetime experience – and one that I don’t want to repeat.

As an outdoor enthusiast and chef, I am passionate about diversifying the outdoors and the food we all enjoy outdoors. I hope that by cooking along the way, I can inspire people to go outside more, try new foods, and possibly cook a meal in the beauty of mother nature. Every culture experiences a unique food that is beautiful. It is the love of food that unites us all. There is something magical about cooking outside, surrounded by fresh mountain air and a wonderful view. It’s really addicting.

The post Kena Peay: Boundless Pages to the Outside first appeared in the REI Co-op Journal.

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