POP! At first, I wasn’t sure what happened.  Was the car backfiring?  Did a tire blow out?

No, the car seemed to functioning just the same as always.  Still, I’d definitely heard a loud pop and it seemed to be coming from the rear of the car.

Only upon arriving home and unloading the groceries did I finally realize what had happened.  My bag of tortilla chips was spilling all over, having popped from the 3000-foot climb up Boulder Canyon.  Just one of the perils of living at higher altitudes.

It’s not just the chips though.  Everything fills with air until it’s close to bursting including the ice cream. Yesterday, I bought a gallon of ice cream, only to have chocolate ice cream oozing all over the inside of my Trader Joe’s canvas shopping bag by the time I got home.

Last year, I got stopped in the local B and F Market here in Nederland by a lady from out of town who hadn’t quite got a handle on this phenomenon.

“Do you live here?” she queried.

I assured her that I did live in Nederland.

“Can I ask you a question?  Why are all the chip bags puffed out like they are going to explode?”

I went on to explain that items like chip bags inflate with air as you go higher in altitude.  With a smile, I cautioned her to be careful opening her toothpaste or lotions that night, as they might explode with a spurt of paste or liquid.

Living in small mountain towns or rural areas carries it’s own shopping perils or perhaps I should say it’s own type of special planning.  While it’s true we do have our a local market, selection is limited, and prices are much higher on basic items than what you would find in a supermarket down in Boulder.

Since most residents at some point find themselves in Boulder for work or for other errands, the bulk of my grocery shopping is done down there.  But depending on the season, I have to be careful about when I shop and what I purchase.

In winter, it’s easier, because temperatures are cooler and I can get away with buying refrigerated and even frozen items without too much worry they’ll melt down or thaw before I get home.

But come summer, when temps down below can soar into the 90s, it gets a bit trickier.  I usually have to make sure I do grocery shopping last of my errands, and make a bee line from the supermarket up the hill.  And ice cream and frozen goods can start to melt out in the 40 minutes or so it takes to get home, so I frequently forgo purchasing them, or make sure it’s the last thing I put in my cart before checking out.

Sometimes, I’ll use “freezer” type bags you can purchase in an effort to keep things cool.

But the difficulties here are nothing compared to when I worked as a Park Ranger at Sequoia National Park in the Sierra.  There I worked at a remote location of Lodgepole.  The closest towns of any size were Visalia and Fresno and both were almost 1 1/2 – 2 hours driving each way.

Temperatures in the central valley of California frequently hit 100 degrees or more in summer, so refrigerated items could go bad very quickly.  The way us residents of the park used to work around this was to pack 2-3 coolers in the vehicle, fill them with ice and put the refrigerated perishable items in the cooler so they wouldn’t spoil on the way home.

Frozen things like ice cream or frozen dinners?  Forget it, they wouldn’t stand a chance.  No ice cream for us park rangers unless we bought it at the little market inside the park.

Because the drive was so long, us rangers would pool together to do shopping trips at specialty stores like Trader Joe’s for a bunch of us.  It would go something like this:

“I’m heading down to Fresno to do some shopping.  Anyone need anything?”

“Oh hey Leslie, are you going to Trader Joe’s?  Can you get me some of that trail mix they have?  And some of their Smooth and Mellow Coffee?  That would be great!”

I’d end up with a written list with an order for 4 or 5 people of items to buy and a completely packed car on the way up.   Good thing I had the back seat down and plenty of room for all those coolers and grocery bags!

And the one bonus to these grocery trips — the drive back home was filled with alpine beauty and sightings of wildlife along the way.  Something I never got living in the suburbs as a kid.  Priceless!