Monday, March 17, 2014

Resupplying on the PCT

Considering the length of this walk, there is no way I could (or would want to) carry all the food, fuel and other consumable items that will be required. For example, the total food weight I will need is somewhere around 300 lbs. So, a resupply strategy is necessary.

There seem to be three main options for resupplying on a long distance hike in the U.S.:

1. Self resupply along the trail and mailing boxes to areas where there is not a good selection of food. This requires access to a grocery store and post office. There are a number of advantages to this option. Pre-trip planning is kept to a minimum, if you tend to procrastinate (like me) then this allows you to do it on the fly. This option allows you to adjust quantity of food based on appetite, appetites change over the course of a long hike and being able to adjust to these changes allows more efficient meals. You can change your menu based on current cravings/needs, if you can’t stand to eat another dinner of mac and cheese, then don’t buy any more. However, there are disadvantages as well. You are limited to what you can find in the grocery store, this can be a real problem for me sometimes. You may be able to adjust your menus as you go but if your selections are limited to what can be found in the store, this may not be much help. Some stores can be expensive, so costs are potentially higher when not buying in bulk. When making a town stop, there is the stress of shopping, repackaging and shipping when all you want to do is wash up, eat in a restaurant and sleep.

2. Preplan every meal and have a really nice person mail these to locations along the trail. This has some significant advantages as well. Much of the logistics and resupply work can be done ahead of time, this allows time in town stops to be focused on eating, resting and relaxing. Any special dietary needs can more easily be addressed. More healthy meals can be prepared so better nutrition is more likely and better nutrition = more happiness. Preparing meals ahead of time allows a more varied diet, you can prepare countless different meals to give more variety. Buying food in bulk can result in substantial cost savings. Some disadvantages include the risk of preparing too many of the same kind of meal and getting tired of them. I am sure it would be pretty bad to be getting sick of a dinner in the 3rd week and know that you have to eat that meal for 3 more months. Appetites do change over time, it would be very difficult to know how much you will be needing to eat 2 months into a trip, unless you are experienced with long distance hiking. Many of the resupply locations are at post offices, you are restricted to the hours of these in order to pick up the resupply box. There is a cost associated with sending resupply boxes, it is recommended to use priority mailing and this can cost an average of $12-16 per shipment, this can also add up.

3. The third option is the hybrid approach, using a combination of prearranged supply points and re-supplying at larger grocery stores when available. This gives both the advantages and disadvantages of the previous two options. This hybrid option allows some preplanning and cost savings for buying in bulk but also allows some flexibility by buying at certain points along the way. A variety of meals can be prepared beforehand but some meals can be prepared on the fly to suit the tastes and needs of the moment. There is still the difficulty of preplanning meals and shipping to resupply points but not as many need to be preplanned.

My current thinking is that I will go with the 3rd option. I think it allows the most flexibility while still allowing me to customize the meals I think I will want. I like the idea that I can do much of the work ahead of time so that I don’t have to worry about it as much as I go along. I also like the idea of buying some foods along the way in order to get the full thru hiker experience. Therefore, I am working on a timeframe for the walk and a tentative list of resupply points.This is going to be a bit tricky and I will need to allow for some flexibility as I cannot know for sure how things will go. So I will make a list of the places along the PCT where it makes most sense to have a mail drop and a list of where it makes sense to resupply on trail. I will need to include in this list the places where I can supplement my mail drop with perishable items such as cheese, meat, bread and other goodies, as well as snacks. I will also need to note where I can pick up alcohol or fuel canisters for the stove.

My very tentative schedule, I really have no idea how it will work out. The one hard fact is that I have to finish by October, otherwise weather starts to get a bit dicey. Each section is where I will resupply, either by mail drop or by local shopping. I have a total of 22 resupply boxes and I will resupply out of local towns seven times. The longest section of trail between resupplying will be 147 miles and the shortest will be 42 miles.

Tentative Schedule courtesy of Craigs PCT Planner
For those who have expressed interest in meeting me at some point along the trail, you can use the above table for initial planning. But, this schedule is subject to change so we will need to be in touch before any final plans are made.