Managing Food and Mail Drops on the Trail
First and foremost, I am very fortunate to have a wonderful husband who manages my food and mail drops when I’m hiking. He not only enables me to hike, but actively encourages me to follow my dreams. He also feeds the dogs, the cat, and manages the house and LightHeart Gear while I’m off gallivanting around the world.
Planning Mail Drops on the Trail
The first thing I do to plan my hike is look at maps, reading guide books, and figure mileage. Next I make a list of possible town stops, hostels, hotels, motels, post offices and outfitters where I can possibly mail packages to. If I’m mailing to a hostel or motel, I always call first to ask permission and make sure that it’s OK to have a package sent there. I also ask if there is a fee for this and if I don’t end up staying at their location, can I still mail a box there. This is really important. I’ve known hikers that have mailed packages to motels and because they decided not to pay for a room at the motel, the owner returned the packages to the sender, refusing to give them to the hikers! If it’s peak hiking season and the hostel is full they may not have a problem giving you your package. However, if they have a vacancy they may expect you to pay for a room. The advantage of shipping to hostels and motels is that they are generally open 24/7, whereas post offices and outfitters keep traditional business hours, so they may be closed when you get there and you may be gone before they open up again.
Tips for Mailing
Because I have learned that even the best-laid plans most often go awry, I like to keep things very flexible. I make a list of potential town stops and mailing addresses and leave that at home for my husband. I also take with me enough food to get to the first town stop and mail a package to that location before I leave home. You will have to determine which is cheaper – flat rate boxes or priority mail. There are also regional rate boxes that the post office can supply you with that may be more economical. Priority mail takes 3 days to get to a destination most anywhere in the country but to be on the safe side, I take into consideration weekends and expect the time frames to be 5 to 6 days. It's better to have a package sit for a day than to have it arrive the day after you leave!
How Many Packages?
Generally, I plan for a town stop every 5 to 7 days depending - of course - on what trail I’m hiking and how fast or slow I hike. I start the hike with 5 days worth of food, and I know I have 5 days worth of food waiting for me in the first town. Depending on town distances and possibility of phone service, I may have the third mail drop pre-scheduled for shipment before I can phone home. The first few days are a chance to evaluate how I’m doing according to my plan. If I’m consistent with what I thought I’d be hiking AND if there is cell service before I get to the first town, I phone home and schedule the next mail drop for the second town. This method goes on throughout the hike, calling and letting him know when to mail my next package and how many days of food to send. It's worth noting you may need to plan the next 2 mail drops at one time depending on distances and phone service.
What's in each Package?
At home I have prepared all my food, and have packaged each day’s worth of food in one-gallon Ziploc bags. I make sure each bag has coffee (most important), breakfast, dinner and snacks. Lunch I often buy in town – chunks of cheese and crackers, tortillas etc. Also, prepared and waiting at home are extra toiletry items I may need replenished during the hike – rolls of toilet paper, tooth paste etc. The food is stored in a chest freezer in the basement and the shipping boxes are right beside it, so, when I call home and tell my husband to send however many days worth of food, all he has to do is pull that number of individual one gallon bags out of the freezer, put them in a box, and the list of addresses is right there for him.
There was only one time that I got to a town and couldn’t pick up my mail drop at the post office. I arrived on a Saturday afternoon, and Monday was a holiday so the post office was closed. Rather than hang out in town an extra day, I shopped for food instead.
My next planned hike is unchartered territory. In May, I’m going to hike the Coast 2 Coast Sweden Trail and will not be able to bring my own food. I’ll be in a country where I don’t speak the language and I'll have to purchase freeze-dried camping food. I hope I survive this ordeal! Blog post and photos when I return!