With 9 days before I leave, the reality of it all is setting in. All of the sudden, this plan I’ve made feels gigantic and ridiculous. I’ve spent so much time and effort ‘getting ready.’ Ready to walk from Mexico to Canada, across desert, through forests, and over mountains. Hah! Now I can see that there’s no such thing.
My job ended last week to give me time to finish preparations and see family in Charleston. The ‘finishing preparations’ bit boils down to putting things in boxes and thinking about all the ways that things could go wrong. I don’t think the latter is productive at this point, so I’ll tell you more about my boxes and resupplying in general.
There are two ways to get supplies on the trail. Send them to yourself or buy them along the way. By sending them to yourself I mean sending them to a place that will hold them for you, often a post office. Some businesses also hold packages for a fee. At some resupply points, there is no place to mail a box or there is a place that charges a lot to hold it for you (up to $75!), and at others, there is no place to buy food or the selection is limited and expensive. This means that most people do both. Each has drawbacks, though the more time I’ve spent working on my resupply boxes the more I feel like buying food along the way must be easier.
If you send boxes, you can get foods you wouldn’t find along the way, online or from specialty stores. You can also save money by buying in bulk and waiting for certain foods to go on sale at your local grocery store. There are many drawbacks though. With the cost of shipping, I’m not sure that mailing boxes is cheaper in the long run. Also, common advice for new thru hikers is not to send too much because you don’t know what food you will want in 4 months. Almost every thru hiker has a food item they they can longer eat by the end of their hike. Post office hours are also a consideration. Most of the time its not a problem, but arrive in a town Saturday afternoon and you will have to wait until Monday morning to get your box. The sending strategy also requires that someone sends it. You cannot do it all ahead of time because post offices only hold things so long. (This is a good place to mention how grateful I am to have a housemate as wonderful as Cameron!)
With hopes of having a somewhat well-rounded, if not completely healthy, diet, I chose to mail many of my stops. In one of the books I read about someone’s hike, they described trying to resupply in a convenient store with many shelves cleaned out and walking away with very overpriced nuts, candy bars, chips and pop tarts. I would like to avoid that situation if possible. I read that hiker hunger will come to overpower all food preferences, but even if I reach a point where I want nothing but junk food, I know that pop tarts are not adequate fuel for the long and demanding days of walking.
Me planning boxes. I started buying food early, so as not to shock my bank account. Over the course of three months I accrued a wide assortment. Bulk foods, every day snacks, cheap ‘instant’ foods from the grocery store, and some backpacking specific freeze-dried meals. My bags and boxes of food began to spill out of my closet and take over my room. It seemed like a lot, but I had no idea if it would be adequate nutrition. Are there enough calories for all the days? Is there way too much sodium? Not enough protein? Will it be too heavy?
My spreadsheet was born to answer those questions. I am both embarrassed and proud of it and felt sheepish about posting a link to it on the right as I did. So much time, so many columns and rows and calculations. It encapsulates every part of my resupply planning and has been invaluable, someone else should see it. Yet without an explanation, it seems crazy over-the-top. Probably is regardless but here I will explain myself.
I first started the spreadsheet to decide which stops to choose. There are more than 50 places one could stop, but you only need to stop 20 to 25 times. Choosing which places is so hard. You need to think about how to get to a stop from the trail, whether it will have an adequate grocery store, a post office or other place to mail a box, canister fuel, lodging. And the stops need to be spread kind of evenly. We wouldn’t want to stop to resupply for just 2 days, and we must resupply at least every 7 days. But I’m looking at miles, not days, between towns so I need to decide roughly what our pace will be and calculate days. Additionally I know that some stops are especially popular and if we’ve made friends we will want to stop with them at the cool spots. Even with information about town amenities readily available and Craig’s PCT Planner, choosing stops was too much for me to think about. I made the spreadsheet to make all the information that I could not hold in my head visible in one view. No wading through multiple tabs and looking back at Yogi’s book. It was immensely helpful.
When I started to become overwhelmed by all the food I took the same approach. Make all the information visible in one place and it will stop cluttering my mind. I recorded the nutritional information of every item. I add the quantity and voila! It tells me the overall calories and average nutritional profile. This new tool first yielded the surprising revelation that I did not have nearly enough food. 45 days. It looked like so much though! I needed closer to a hundred days for the boxes for Louise and myself. (I define a ‘day’ by a number of calories. At first I used 4000 but changed it to 3500. There will be a calorie deficit and thats ok) This is when the spreadsheet was most helpful. I could change the quantity of certain items to see what it would do to the overall numbers. It helped me decide where I was lacking and what I should buy more of. I also set up the ‘Chosen stops’ worksheet so I could change whether I’m mailing or buying at a stop and it would update the total number of days I need for boxes. It was pretty easy to consider different scenarios and ultimately feel like I had a reasonable amount of food. It may not be entirely up-to-date now.
After all of that considering and re-figuring it was difficult for me to commit to my plans and put the things in boxes. What if I decided to change everything again? I had imagined I’d have a burst of motivation one day and do it all, but it has happened slowly. I’m pretty close now. In addition to food, I need to include paper maps, toiletries, batteries, and contacts. Some stops I need to add new shoes or other gear like ice axes and bear canisters.
Some people have asked me how they might go about sending us a postcard. I will give more information about where and when later, but you’d send it to one of the places we are already picking up a box.