One of the questions I am most frequently asked when I tell people about my plan to walk 2,260 miles from Mexico to Canada is “how will you carry all your food?” Well, the short answer is that I won’t, well at least not all of it. This whole long-distance endeavour becomes much more digestible if you think of it as a series of bite-sized multi-day hikes. Working on this assumption, I should only ever need to carry enough food for maybe 4 or 5 days. Although this response generally satisfies most inquisitors, it is a vast over simplification of the monumental undertaking that we thru-hikers call resupply.
Along the length of the Pacific Crest Trail there over 100 potential points where I could gain access to much needed nourishment. These resupply points vary in size from tiny one-gas-station communities to major towns with all manner of amenities and services. There are also considerable variations in their distance from the trail. Although the PCT does actually pass through or within a mile or so of quite a few towns, the greater majority will require a significant detour either by foot, bus or more typically by hitching a ride … a subject worthy of its own post!
Irrespective of the method of resupply that you decide upon; mailed packages along the entire trail, buying in trail towns as you go or a hybrid hodgepodge of the two … the very first step in developing a sound strategy is to decide where to stop. Some important factors that should be considered at this stage are:
- How far off trail is the town and is it an easy hitch? … Hitching to and from towns can take up a lot of time and really eat into your average daily mileage.
- Is there a decent sized grocery store? … Smaller towns often have little more than a gas station or tiny general store. Although these are fine for snacks it is not ideal for a full resupply.
- Does anywhere in town sell butane/propane gas? … Not available everywhere and a pain to post!
- Is there a post office or business that will accept and hold hiker packages? … It is generally better to mail resupply to the smaller towns, but if adopting this strategy, try to use businesses that offer more flexible collection hours than post offices and ideally ones that don’t charge for the service.
- How far is it to the next resupply stop? … As a rule of thumb, 1 day’s worth of hiker food weighs around 1kg/2.2lbs. Anything longer than a week between resupply becomes a very challenging undertaking.
- What is your average daily mileage? … The faster you walk the less you need to carry.
- Is there access to showers, laundry and internet? … Being able to multi-task on trips into town makes the whole venture more worthwhile.
Another major consideration (as always) is weight! For example, during the early SoCal desert stages of the hike, I will need to carry up to 6 litres (6kg/13lbs) of water. However, once I get into the Sierras and water becomes more plentiful, I can get away with carrying much less. With this in mind, it is beneficial to try and resupply more frequently during the dry sections, thus keeping the food weight to a minimum and maximising the amount of water that can be carried.
Accounting for all of these factors, I have selected 31 resupply points. Of these, 15 are within a mile of the trail and 6 are more than 10 miles off of the trail, with the long and challenging exit from the Sierras to Bishop being the most arduous. If you would like to view my full plan, please click on the link below:
Zenlightened Voyager PCT Resupply Strategy
As you will see from the above spreadsheet, I have decided to go with a goulash of mail drops and trail town shopping. Of the 31 towns, I intend to mail my resupply to 16 locations and buy my resupply at the other 15. Many stateside thru-hikers seem to spend an inordinate amount of time in the months before their hike, dehydrating food and packaging up supplies that friends or loved ones will later post to designated points along the trail. Although this type of strategy can work well, particularly if you have tricky dietary requirements, there are a number of pitfalls. Firstly, what may have seemed like a delicious culinary concoction when you were mixing it up at home, will almost certainly become a nauseating bore after a few weeks of eating it day in and day out. Tastes change dramatically over the months and post hike anecdotes are full of; “oh I never want to eat oatmeal again in my life”, or “I can’t abide tuna anymore” and even “peanut butter just makes me want to vomit now” … (personally, I struggle to believe that this last statement could ever be true), but the bounteous hiker boxes clearly attest to this fact. Furthermore, mailing your entire resupply means that you are tied into the often impractical post office opening hours. Imagine for a moment the frustration of walking 20 plus miles and arriving at the post office at 5:05pm on a Friday and having to wait until Monday morning to get your precious box … an episode like this could send me over the edge. So, I’m not going to be mailing my entire resupply, only some of it.
The locations that I have chosen to mail to are mostly those where I have little choice, namely Kennedy Meadows, Sonora Pass (this resupply is actually brought to the trailhead by the very excellent people at Sonora Pass Resupply), a few tiny towns in Oregon and pretty much all of Washington. The rest are in the desert section where I intend to carry freeze-dried food to help minimise weight (remember all of that water I’ll be carrying!) Of the 16 drop spots, only 3 are actual post offices so hopefully not too many stressful arrival deadlines. Moreover, I am not going to be jumping 100% on board with this mailed resupply malarky right from the get-go. I plan on making an initial foray into the world of the USPS with just 6 packages which I will send from LA before I start. When I reach Kennedy Meadows (if I reach Kennedy Meadows) I should hopefully have enough trail time and experience to make a more informed decision as to whether I post less and wing-it more. If I elect to press on with posting then I will shop and mail from two of the bigger towns along the trail, Mammoth Lakes for towns in NoCal and Ashland for towns in Oregon and Washington.
I have to be honest, I am excited about the food shopping! The thought of being racked with hiker hunger and then let loose in a full service American grocery store fills me with ecstasy. I can’t deny it … Being able to binge on America’s finest fast foods, shovel in Twinkies and Honey Buns, devour entire jars of peanut butter, blimp out on pints of Ben & Jerry’s and STILL have the body of an olympic triathlete is a major attraction of the trail. Keeping my calorific intake high enough to prevent substantial weight loss and malnutrition will definitely be a struggle but here’s the good news … You Can Help !!!
If you would like to send me a care package, some motivational words or anything that’s either very light or very edible, the mailing addresses and ETAs for all of my resupply points can be found by following this link. Any packages must be addressed to me “Lesley Clark” and clearly marked “PCT International Thru-Hiker” (they tend to hold packages longer for international hikers) and also state my “ETA” (dates on spreadsheet … aim for a week or 2 earlier). If you do send a package please leave a comment to let me know where you have sent it to, otherwise I won’t know to ask for it. For those of you who can’t be bothered with all of that (and those outside of the US), I have made it easy for you. So if you’d like to shout me a cheeseburger, pizza or maybe just some Reese’s Pieces, you can now make a donation. Leave a message, tell me how you would like me to spend your generous gift and I promise to post a photo from the trail of me stuffing it in my pie hole.