Planning an End-of-Summer Adventure

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With Labor Day marking the end of summer it also marks a short break for me.  We are in the lull period between summer vacation and leaf-changing season.  This makes it the perfect time to plan an end-of-summer adventure with NoKey!  Since both of us really enjoy taking bold, active, exciting trips with short notice and we both have only a few hours a day of free time, this meant we needed to do some planning quick.   

NoKey and I discovered SToK Coffee over the summer while we were on our weekly shopping trip to our new Walmart.  We had heard a lot about cold brew coffee and with the temperatures so warm we decided to give it a shot.

SToK Coffee stood out to us for a few reasons.  We love Arabica coffee and this blend was also pure coffee with no weird ingredients.  We also loved how smooth it tasted as compared to what we normally drink hot in the mornings.  The almost fruity, Brazilian Blend flavor profile definitely went down easy.  It may have been slow-brewed, but it was definitely fast-sipped!

Of course, when I'm planning a trip I always love to eat well!  Coffee has always been a problem for us because we've often resorted to drinking an instant blend with some sort of powdered milk and sugar.  While it's great when you're in the backcountry, front country adventures need something more special.  I'm super glad that SToK Coffee is already cold and can easily be kept in a cooler, ready to drink, for those early morning starts.  It's also available at Walmart with the Iced Coffees and Teas so that makes it easy for us to stock up if we ever need to grab any more.  

Since we both have been working long hours over the summer, sometimes with me not being home for a few days at a time, we knew that planning a trip was going to be tough.  We often were doing reading and research about destinations late at night and the caffeine we were getting from SToK Coffee definitely kept us going!  Toward the end of trip planning it almost felt like our vacation ideas were only one late night away from becoming a reality.  While going through this process, I decided to share some tips with you to help you plan out your next adventure: 

Plan a Destination Based on Your Needs

Want to go trail running and kayaking?  Make sure that your destination has both of those options close by!  If you're taking the time to pack the gear you'll want to make sure all the activities you want to do are going to be either at your campground or close enough to not be a huge drive.  If you're planning on taking your dog along, make sure your park allows dogs in all the places you're going.  It's very common here in the Smokies for people to bring their dogs camping, but when they get here people are shocked when dogs are not allowed on our hiking trails!  Doing a little reading ahead can help you prepare better.  

NoKey marking some mapped routes on our map. 

NoKey marking some mapped routes on our map. 

Lay Out All Your Gear

While this might seem like a no-brainer for many, laying out every single piece of gear you want to bring is SO IMPORTANT!  NoKey and I have packed up and driven hours away to go camping with our dog only to show up to the campground in the dark without our tent!  Thankfully, other campers had extra gear but it was so embarrassing!  Don't let this happen to you - lay everything out just before you pack it and go over the activities you'll be doing.  Make sure everything is in order before you pack it all up!

An Epic Trip Calls for Epic Gear!

An Epic Trip Calls for Epic Gear!

Pack Smart and Plan Ahead

If you're headed out for a front country camping adventure you've got plenty of room to bring extra items.  This doesn't mean, however, that you should cram everything into the vehicle and drive into the sunset though!  If you're going to be doing many different activities, try to keep all like items together in your vehicle and keep your coolers easily accessible.  Also, make sure where you're going has ice for your food nearby.  Having to drive an hour round-trip for a bag of ice can really put a dent in your adventure time.  You've got to keep your SToK Coffee cold to get going in the mornings, right?!

Be Flexible

While planning for your trip, make a few back-up plans.  When planning a trip this time of year, give yourself extra drive time for the early leaf-peeper tourists in the area.  When planning trail adventures, always have a back-up plan.  The thunderstorms that often come in late summer can damage or erode trails and cause trail closures.  Having a back-up hike planned will help ensure you're not spending a few hours in the early morning scrambling for a new plan.  Be prepared with a map of the surrounding area as well.  

Traffic can be tough! Always plan ahead!

Traffic can be tough! Always plan ahead!

These are a few of my tips to help you plan out your next trip.  What do you like to do to ensure your vacations go smoothly?  I'd love to hear about it!  

Red Beans and Rice - A Front Country Camping Favorite

Even though I'm a backpacking guide I still enjoy heading out for a front country campout every now and again.  The fun thing about heading out for a campout when you've got a car is the fact that you're much less limited on your food choices.  You're also able to bring a lot more friends with you to enjoy the campout as well!  Whenever I'm heading out for a front country camping event, I often find myself looking at my cast iron dutch oven for food preparation.  It can be used to make tons of dishes from savory stews to monkey bread to even fresh batches of biscuits!  My favorite recipe to make for a crowd though is my famous red beans and rice.  This make-ahead meal can be prepped in the days leading up to the event and then reheated on your grill or campfire when you get there.  

If you've read any of my recipes before you know that I don't take shortcuts when it comes to using more natural ingredients.  Many of you may remember that when I was prepping for my thru hikes last summer I even made my own chicken stock to use to cook the rice.  When making this recipe I decided I wanted it to be a little healthier, even though I was going to be out camping.  I started with dry beans soaked at home overnight for less sodium.  I also chose al fresco's Sweet & Smokey BBQ Chicken Sausage.  It's made with lean, skinless chicken meat, al fresco’s chicken sausage products contain 70% less fat and 30% less sodium than average pork sausage. Better yet, all of al fresco’s chicken sausage flavors are gluten-free and are packaged fully cooked.  This meant all I needed to do was brown the sausage and I was ready to get cooking!  Here's my recipe for red beans and rice to feed a crowd: 


Sprinkles' Red Beans and Rice: Cook time - 3 hours, plus reheating time at camp

1 Package al fresco Sweet & Smokey BBQ sausage
1 1 lb bag dry red beans (soaked overnight)
1 sweet onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 clove elephant garlic (or enough to equal 2 tablespoons)
3 dried bay leaves
1/2 Tablespoon ham base seasoning
1 tablespoon cajun seasoning
1 tablespoon Louisiana Hot Sauce
Salt & Pepper to taste

For Serving: 
1 cup brown rice, cooked in 2.5 cups water
Green onion for garnish

Browning nicely! 

Browning nicely! 

Veggies are so pretty! 

Veggies are so pretty! 

Put your dutch oven over medium high heat and add sliced up al fresco Sweet & Smokey BBQ Sausage, browning it to your liking (I like mine nice and crunchy!).  Remove from the pan and set aside to add later.  While the sausage is browning, chop up all your veggies including the garlic.  Add them to a bowl, along with the ham base, cajun seasoning, and bay leaves.  After removing the sausage from the dutch oven, add this bowl into the pot.  Cook until the veggies have softened - about 5 minutes.  Add in your drained and rinsed red beans and stir.  Now, cover the mixture with enough water to keep everything covered about three inches.  Place the lid on the pot with a slight gap to allow for evaporation and simmer for about 90 minutes - stirring every 15 minutes or so.  After 90 minutes, add the sausage back to the pot along with the hot sauce and let this cook down with the lid on, but slightly ajar, for another 30 minutes or so.  Continue to check this every few minutes to make sure it's breaking down properly.  When you're adding the sausage back to the pot, this is when you're going to want to start the rice if you're going to be eating this right away.  After about 30 minutes the bean mixture in the dutch oven should thicken up like gravy.  Before serving, check the salt and pepper seasonings and add more to your liking.  Serve over brown rice with green onions on top, along with salt, pepper, and extra hot sauce!

Yum! Dinner is served! 

Yum! Dinner is served! 

Al fresco also has a Summer Grilling Sweepstakes going on RIGHT NOW that you can check out by clicking the link: .  All you have to do is vote for your favorite recipe and you'll be entered for a chance to win $500 and a new grill (valued at $500)!

Disclaimer: This post was sponsored by al fresco and TapInfluence through FitFluential.  As always, all opinions are my own. 

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of al fresco. The opinions and text are all mine.