Thursday, January 5, 2012

Mail Drops

Different Strokes - There are many options for resupplying along the Appalachian Trail. Towns are generally spaced such that hikers can hit them every 3-5 days, and many rely solely upon buying from grocery stores, convenience marts and gas stations along the way. Some use a box they bounce up the trail, from post office to post office, with items they use frequently such as medications, maps, spare batteries, and extra food. Others employ drop boxes mailed to them along the way by a trusted soul back home. Still others employ one or more of these options in a hybrid approach.

I'm gonna do the latter.

There are many ways drop boxes are utilized. Folks starting the trail early will generally swap out their heavy winter gear for summer weight stuff after the threat of freezing passes, and swap back in fall before going into the White Mountains. Putting maps and trail guides for upcoming sections in drop boxes cuts down on excess weight. Vegans and others with special dietary needs depend on them. There are lots of folks right now dehydrating food like crazy to prepare all the meals they need along the way, while others are afraid they'd get tired of eating the same meals for six months.

Concept of Operations - I'm going to do the bulk of my resupply at grocery stores along the way. I'll supplement that with some staples I can buy in bulk, and that I may not be able to find in stores. Things like dehydrated vegetables and beans from Harmony House, Nido dried milk, instant hummus, quinoa, powdered cheese, Ova Easy powdered eggs ... I won a year's supply of various Clif Bar products in a contest, and I'll be splitting those up into each box. I'm sponsored by Emergen-C and will be getting enough vitamin packets to supply me, and to give away to fellow hikers, so they'll be split up into all the boxes. I've got a full set of maps for the AT, and the unbound version of the 2012 AT guide coming, so relevant sections will be placed in each box.

As for locations, I started by looking at sending full resupplies to Fontana Dam, Harper's Ferry, Delaware Water Gap, and Monson as these locations have reputations for limited resupply options. Fontana Dam is gateway to the GSMNP, and I am inclined to hike thru rather than stop in Gatlinburg. Similarly, Monson is the last stop before the 100-Mile Wilderness, and I intend to enter it with food for 8 days.  I decided to swap gear in Pearisburg, as Mt. Roger's can get real cold, and snow falls as late as May 22.  I'll swap back to winter gear in Hanover just before going into the Whites.

Planning - I started building a spreadsheet with those locations. When I plugged in the miles between those towns, there were some big gaps, and the thought of carrying enough of anything to the next location made my shoulders ache. So, I looked for additional locations that would smooth out the bumps a bit, and came up with this chart:

Miles Fm Miles Hiking
Town Springer Fm Last Days Notes
Fontana Dam, NC 164 12 Entering GSMNP (6 days thru)
Kincora Hiking Hostel 412 248 19 Resupply staples
Pearisburg, VA 626 214 16 Swap winter gear for summer weight
Waynsboro, VA 853 227 17 Resupply staples
Harpers Ferry, WV 1013 160 12 Few resupply options
Blairstown, NJ 1298 282 20Few resupply options
Dalton, MA 1560 275 21 Resupply staples
Hanover, NH 1742 182 14 Swap gear for winter weight
Pinkham Notch, NH 1865 123 10 Partial Resupply
Monson, MN 2064 199 18 Entering 100 mile wilderness (6 Days thru)
Katahdin, ME 2184 120 12 Trail's End!

This is still a work in progress. The current threat of post offices being closed along the trail is a variable. Tho many avoid using them because of their hours. (Imagine not getting to a town till after the post office closes on Saturday, and having to wait till Monday to get your box.) Hostels, motels and outfitters often accept packages for thru hikers, and I'll call each one I'm considering to make sure that's ok.

Update: Here's my final list of mail drops:

C/O Fontana Village Resort
300 Woods Dr.
Fontana Dam, NC 28733
C/O Kincora Hiking Hostel
1278 Dennis Cove Rd
Hampton, TN 37658-3908
C/O General Delivery
Pearisburg, VA 24134
C/O Rockfish Gap Outfitters
1461 East Main St.
Waynesboro, VA 22980
C/O Appalachian Trail Conservancy HQ
PO Box 807
Harpers Ferry, WV 25425
C/O Mohican Outdoor Center
50 Camp RD
Blairstown, NJ 07825
C/O General Delivery
Dalton, MA 01226
C/O Mountain Goat
68 S Main ST
Hanover, NH 03755
C/O AMC Visitor Center Front Desk
361 Rte 16
Gorham, NH 03581
C/O Shaws Lodging
PO Box 72
Monson, ME 04464

Caveats, and Disclaimers - This topic is always a controversial one on hiking forums. Many experienced thru-hikers were perfectly satisfied with the food they found along the way, and swear they wouldn't tie their itineraries to drop boxes if they did it over. I expect that my hybrid approach will add some complexity to the hike, but that it will also provide me with better nutrition along the way. The proof will be in later blog posts ... Stay tuned!


To equip a pedestrian with shelter, bedding, utensils, food, and other necessities, in a pack so light and small that he can carry it without overstrain, is really a fine art. –Horace Kephart, Camping and Woodcraft, 1917