Interview Excerpt with Karen Ranzi from “The Power of Raw Foods Summit”
Marco Ranzi was raised on a whole food vegan lifestyle from birth along with his sister. Marco has been involved with sports and athletics since a young child, always loving the games of soccer, tennis and football. Later during his homeschool years he interned for Madison Square Garden, working for the NY Knicks and Rangers, WFAN, Channel 12 News, and Seton Hall University Basketball. Marco graduated from Penn State University with a degree in Sports Journalism. He broadcast Penn State Women’s Volleyball, Men’s Basketball and Football, also traveling to Indiana to broadcast the Penn State/Perdue University Football Game. Marco is the sports coordinator at the annual Woodstock Fruit Festival in Upstate New York each August since 2015. Marco hiked the 2,190 mile Appalachian Trail from April to October 2017 from Georgia all the way to Maine. Marco has studied Vegan Sports Nutrition mentoring with Dr. Douglas Graham and sports luminaries and is studying Vegan Sports Nutrition as a personal trainer and through eCornell Nutrition.
Karen: Why did you decide to hike the Appalachian Trail?
Marco: I was ready to push my comfort zone and grow personally. I wanted to become comfortable with the uncomfortable, which I knew would inspire my growth on all levels. I wanted to put hiking the Appalachian Trail on my life resume. I loved the quote from the book Wild, “I want to put myself in the way of beauty.” This is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life. I wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and get into Nature and beauty.
Karen: What enticed you to hike the entire 2,190 mile Appalachian Trail?
Marco: It didn’t cross my mind to hike part of the trail. It was either the whole trail or nothing at all for me. It wasn’t an option for me to hike only part of it. There are many people who hike sections of the trail at a time.
Karen: What was involved with preparation to hike the trail?
Marco: A lot of research went into preparation. There’s so much information online. There’s a website called White Blaze where you can find out about the equipment needed, how many miles to hike a day, and much more. I spent time at outdoor stores like REI, talking to their knowledgeable employees, looking at backpacks, tents, sleeping bags and other necessary equipment. I had to make sure my equipment was under 10 pounds, as I couldn’t carry anything I didn’t need. I went on a trial hike in bad weather before leaving for Georgia. I ran into a guy hiking the entire trail and I got more information from him. He said if I cam out in this weather that I could hike the entire trail. His encouragement gave me a good boost of confidence.
The 10 day silent Vipassana Meditation I did in Thailand in 2017 helped me prepare mentally for hiking the trail. Hiking the entire A.T. really takes mental ability. There were many young hikers like myself starting the trail, but many who completed the trail were hikers in their 60s and 70s, so it goes to show that physical ability is necessary but mostly mental skill is needed to finish a long trek like that.
Karen: Were you able to pack in a way that you were able to eat all vegan food, and did you have to take mostly processed packaged food, or were there some more whole foods and raw foods you were able to bring? I know it would have been impossible to carry apples and bananas and big bags of lettuce. How much weight could you carry?
Marco: I knew I was going to hike the trail all vegan. That was non-negotiable for me. But carrying raw fruits and vegetables unfortunately wasn’t an option. I did when in town buy fruits and vegetables, such as apples and avocados, and eat plenty before I went back on the trail again.
I did a good job of planning out vegan meals that were still pretty wholesome. I would soak oats overnight with some dried fruit and in the morning I would put cinnamon in it. That was pretty much my breakfast during the entire time I was hiking the trail. I was lucky to get sponsored by Raw companies such as Raw Revolution and Amazing Grass, and they gave me loads of the healthier bars, as well as Curtis Griffing of Raw Food Central in Connecticut, who was so generous and gave me Nut Clusters, Kale Chips, and Flax Crackers. For the evening meal, I’d often have dehydrated hummus with dehydrated vegetables my mom Karen made and sent to me, or dehydrated beans with couscous and vegetables. During the day I would have the bars or nut butters to keep my energy going for hiking. I luckily had Karen to dehydrate vegetables for me. Karen sent me a box every week to a different post office in a town I would go through. What’s great about sending the boxes to a post office is that if I missed that post office or needed the box to be forwarded to another post office, it could easily be done as long as a box wasn’t opened. I remember I was in the middle of the woods in Stratton, Vermont and had to bump ahead a box and I recall it was no problem for the post office to do that.
You don’t want to carry more than 4 days worth of food so I would hold somewhere between 8 to 10 pounds of food. My total weight fluctuated between 25 to 35 pounds. Mom would vary the fresh dehydrated organic vegetables sent in the box each week between beets, carrots, kale, lettuces, sweet potato, chard, spinach, tomato and more.
Karen: How did you keep up your weight and were you able to maintain your weight with sometimes 10 hours of hiking a day? What foods gave you the best calories and did you need higher protein and fat content foods?
Marco: The foods that gave me the most energy during my hiking were nuts, seeds, oats, dried fruit, nut butters, beans, hummus, and the energy bars from the companies sponsoring me. Every hiker faces the fact that you can’t possibly eat enough food to balance the amount of energy you’re using. With the amount of hiking I was doing I was expending 5,000 to 6,000 calories and probably eating 3,000 to 4,000 calories so there was definitely a deficit, but I didn’t lose weight. I think I didn’t lose weight because I lost fat but I gained a lot of muscle, especially in my legs which got a lot bigger.
The more dense foods I carried were higher in protein and fat versus the more water-rich foods. It was good that I was at an appropriate weight before the hike, but because I was in a calorie deficit during the hike, it was helpful to have the higher fat plant foods to sustain me over time. I was hiking 8 to 10 hours a day, so eating more plant protein and fat made a difference, especially coming from beans, nuts and seeds.
Karen: How many miles did you hike every day?
Marco: That varied depending on a number of variables. The terrain made a huge difference. There were places in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia where it was extremely flat with no roots on the ground. Then it was easy going and I could do 20 to 25 miles per day, whereas places in Maine you could hike 10 miles a day and feel absolutely spent, so a lot depended on the terrain. Another factor was the weather. Surprisingly, if it rains it would be easier to hike more because you wouldn’t get as dehydrated as fast and you wouldn’t heat up, it would keep your body temperature lower and you wouldn’t need as much water.
Karen: Was there an opportunity to forage for food on the trail, for food like berries and dandelion? And what about sprouting? Is it possible that someone could sprout to get more nutrition hiking the trail?
Marco: There were lots of wild greens plentiful on the trail. I was able to identify dandelion, nettles, plantain and more. It was hard after all the hiking every day to go foraging for greens but I was grateful at least to have all the dehydrated vegetables with me. As with berries, it depends on the season. When I was going through Pennsylvania, there were loads of mulberry trees and I would stop at every one and eat until I couldn’t eat any more, and that was a luxury. I’ve had dried mulberries but I’ve never had fresh mulberries before, and they were incredible. There was one spot in Vermont where I found a blackberry bush and it had the biggest blackberries I’ve ever eaten in my life, and I ate an abundance of them. There were loads of blueberries in July/August in New Jersey and New York which were delicious. It’s possible also to sprout while hiking using a hemp sprouting bag or tupperware with holes. You would take care of the seeds by soaking them overnight and draining the water in the morning and then rinsing during the day to keep them from getting moldy while letting them air out. It would be a great nutrition boost during hiking. I would plan to be prepared to sprout on my next hiking trip.
There is something called Trail Magic where people in towns along the Appalachian Trail set up tables of food for the hikers. People go out of their way to help the hikers whether it’s giving you a ride into town, or setting up a table at an intersection with food and drink. There was a guy in Massachusetts who brought us back to his place to stay the night. Trail Magic at an intersection would usually have fruit or a salad I would eat. I was always able to find something. Just seeing these people going out of their way to help the hikers was really inspiring to me, and it really enforced the value of service and giving without expecting anything in return just for the deed of giving and the generosity of your heart.Karen: How did being among all that beautiful scenery in over five months being out in Nature raise up your spiritual consciousness?
Marco: I don’t think I could completely comprehend how much my spiritual consciousness was raised or how much I changed in that regard. It affected me on levels I’m not even aware of. I have a renewed sense of calmness and connectedness with the rest of the world and Nature. I now appreciate our basic survival needs like food, shelter and water. These were things I had to constantly think about when I was out in Nature, things that many people take for granted. I have gratitude now for the small things in life, our basic needs.
I look forward to going back into Nature to feel all this immense gratitude.
Karen: It must have been an amazing feeling when you completed the Appalachian Trail at Mt. Katahdin in Maine.
Marco: It’s hard to describe. There were all these different emotions. I wanted to laugh, I wanted to cry, I wanted to scream and jump, nothing like I’ve ever experienced before.
Marco Ranzi’s new website: Plant-BasedPower.com
To contact Marco: firstname.lastname@example.org
Karen Ranzi’s website: www.SuperHealthyChildren.com