So you know that I’ve been buying a TON of food (it looks like I’m feeding a family of six every time I go to Aldi’s) and packaging up hundreds of meals, but it dawned on me that I haven’t really talked about how I’m going to GET that food while I’m out on the trail.
There are a variety of ways to handle resupplying on the trail. Some people send all of their food from home. Some towns have a grocery store where you can buy a full resupply if you want, or even buy a few resupplies and send them further on down the trail to places with fewer options, so some people buy all of their food along the way. Others may do a combination of sent and purchased-along-the-way food. I am sending the majority of my food, but in some areas where good groceries are available, I will purchase a few days’ worth of food and supplement the food that I am sending to make it last longer.
Although in some spots there are services that will bring you resupply boxes on the trail, for the most part you have to figure it out yourself and usually hike or hitch to a location off-trail to pick up a box. There are quite a few websites that have great information about the post offices, businesses and trail angels that will receive and hold a resupply box along the way, but it is up to you to decide which locations you would like to use. Some places will charge you a fee to hold a box (up to $75 per box at some locations in the Sierras!), some only accept UPS or FedEx, some will only hold for a short period of time (2 weeks-ish) before returning to sender, some places require a 30+ mile hitch, some places are only open on the weekends or for a few hours a day…. You can see how things can get very complicated very quickly.
Generally to figure out where to send boxes, you will figure out what your expected daily mileage is and multiply that by how many days of food you are willing to carry, then seeing what is nearby. 20 miles per day x 5 days of food = 100 miles between resupplies. Obviously there is not going to be a great resupply location every 100 miles so you have to be flexible, taking into consideration the issues mentioned above. You could also choose your locations first, then reverse the math to determine how many days’ worth of food to put in each box.
Since I am an obsessive planner, I have a spreadsheet with all of my resupply locations, the mileage between them, the number of meals/maps/gear in each resupply, the address and phone number of the business, estimated postage and holding fees, etc. Since I will have someone mailing these boxes sequentially from home, I want it to be as easy as possible. I have fully packed the boxes with what I anticipate needing, but I have left them unsealed in case my estimates are wrong (which they probably will be). If I end up hiking faster or slower, if I am going through something really quickly or not at all (bandaids, wet wipes, drink mixes, tylenol, etc), or if I get really tired of some type of food, the contents of my resupply boxes can easily be adjusted. I also reinforced all of the edges on my boxes with colorful/unique duct tape.
When you are stuffing your boxes to the max, it is a good idea to reinforce. Your box will get thrown around and jostled- you don’t want it to split open and lose your precious calories. The tape also helps to keep out curious mini bears who might be hanging out in a store room or post office. I got this bright blue off-brand duct tape for $1.99/roll at a local discount store. I have wrapped some around my hiking pole for possible repairs on the trail and also to show the clerk or trail angel to help quickly and easily identify my box in the mass of boxes being held.
I had to calculate when I plan to get to each location and put an estimated date of arrival on each package along with “Please hold for PCT hiker”, my name and “Care of” whatever business is holding it. This can be done with regular mail too! If it sits on a shelf for over a month, many places will return the package or will empty its contents into a Hiker Box- basically a box of freebies left behind for incoming hikers. When I get close to my resupply location (close is relative), I will have to leave the trail and either hike or hitchhike to it. Sometimes the trail passes within a mile of my resupply location (preferred) and other times it is miles out of the way. In some cases, an out-of-the-way resupply will give me an excuse to visit and explore some cute towns that I would otherwise miss.
My boxes are all packed except for my maps, and I am still emailing businesses to see where I can ship conveniently without crazy holding fees, terrible hours or long hitches, although I could slap an address on each box and leave tomorrow if I needed to. It has been an insane amount of work to prepare all of this food, plan where and how to resupply and pack and label all of these boxes. While I’m looking forward to all of my delicious, nutritious meals on the trail, this much planning and preparation is not for everyone.
So glad that this logistical challenge is over (or is it?) so that I can focus on more important things: training my body and spending precious time with loved ones before I leave. Only 17 more days…