One of the most common questions I've received about my thru-hike is, "What are you going to eat?" While my standard answer is something along the lines of 'A whole bunch of garbage from towns along the trail,' the long answer is a bit more complicated. Some thru-hikers have all of their food sent to them from superstar friends and/or relatives, some buy all of their food in trail towns, some buy food in trail towns and actually mail themselves boxes from one town to another if they know options will be limited at the next place, and most do some combination of these.
From the beginning of my planning I came across the same two pieces of advice time and time again. The first was not to send too many resupply boxes from home and to instead rely more on food from the towns we'll be stopping through. The second was not to stress about it.
I grabbed ahold of that second piece of advice and put resupply at the back of my mind for as long as I could before it began creeping its way up and causing my stress levels to rise. Just when I was about to buckle down and get to work, I received a beautiful google sheet created by a friend and fellow PCTer, Betty. The sheet lays out when her and her husband, Tim, will be where and the address and phone number for each place they'll be receiving resupply boxes sent by their own superstars.
Betty and Tim chose ten places to have resupply packages sent to them. Having looked at The Annual Pacific Crest Trail Thru-Hiker Survey 2016 from Halfway Anywhere, I knew that the average hiker had twelve resupply boxes sent and also would have chosen to send fewer boxes if they could do it again. Thus, ten seemed like a good number. I totally stole Betty's spreadsheet, put in some of my own data, and began my planning.
And by planning I mean that I dragged my mom to Walmart where she and I giggled through the aisles whilst grabbing the most junk food either of us has purchased probably ever. The most difficult part of this first step was that I had to abandon all I knew about food and nutrition because walking 20 miles a day means I'll need more calories, carbs, sugars, sodium, fats, and proteins than I've ever needed -- hiker hunger is real.
Next, we went to the post office and picked up ten large-sized flat rate boxes to pack. I then dumped all of the groceries and the ramen noodles we had picked up from Chinatown onto the living room floor and began breaking everything down into smaller portions using zipper bags to pack into each of the ten boxes. What had seemed so unappetizing in the bright lights of the grocery store was now begging to be eaten as I scooped it into bags.
I tried to break my meals down into a quick cold breakfast that'll get me out of camp without much delay every day, one hot or cold-soaked meal a day, and tons of interchangeable snacks and meals to munch on.
So, I stole another great tip from Betty and Tim (What would I do without them?) for breakfast and made it my own. Each resupply box contains a bagged mixture of protein powder and Super Greens powder, which I'll combine with instant coffee and water for a quick and easy breakfast on-the-go. I've been having the same protein shake every day for years and haven't gotten sick of the flavor yet, so hopefully that'll hold true on trail.
With breakfast out of the way, I focused on hot meals. Each box contains several pasta and/or rice sides, instant mashed potatoes, and ramen noodles. These can all be cooked for a hot meal or cold soaked for a few hours if I don't feel like dealing with a stove. I strongly considered going stoveless as I don't mind cold-soaked meals, but am bringing the stove along for a morale boost on miserable days. I'm a bit veggie obsessed so I ordered and packed several bags of dried vegetables from Harmony House Foods. For added flavor to add into these meals I also packed some spice and condiment packets from minimus.biz.
My next concern to focus on was protein. As a vegetarian, I am basically relying on nuts and nut butters for this -- each box contains both. In addition to nuts, I did cheat and buy some salmon jerky for a few boxes. I'm not interested in eating fish now and only have a couple of times since cutting meat out of my diet, but I assume on the trail I'll be happy to have the option.
What will I be putting my nut butters, Nutella, preserves, and spray cheese on? Arepas! My old roommate, Maria, was excited to teach me how to make arepas and I was excited to learn. I imagine I'll mostly be buying tortillas in town, but in each of my resupply boxes I'll receive a bag of corn flour, the only ingredient aside from water and these super awesome coconut oil packets needed to make arepas. The pot I chose to hike with has a lid which doubles as a frying pan in which I can fry these babies up and put anything and everything I want on or in.
Lastly, my boxes needed a plethora of interchangeable snacks/meals. These include dry cereals, a homemade trail mix, Goldfish, Cheez-Its, peanut butter crackers, meal bars, granola bars, pop tarts, cookies, honey buns, more ramen, and plenty of other embarrassingly unhealthy items that I cannot wait to eat.
Somewhere along the way I determined that the boxes just needed to be filled to capacity. If there was more room in the box, it needed more food. If there was more food than room, something had to go. All ten boxes were packed and I had some food to spare, which is now sitting in grocery bags taunting me to dig in.
I'm positive that I made plenty of mistakes in packing these boxes, which is why I didn't seal them. I fully expect to call my mom (the superstar sending me my packages) before each town and tell her to get rid of some things and/or add others. For me, the whole point of packing these boxes was to save my mom a little effort and to know just how stressful and complicated the tasks I ask her to do for me will be.
I'm sure I'll have a whole different resupply outlook by the end of the trail, if not a few weeks in, but for now, my stress levels are under control and that's all that matters.