Over the six months and eleven days that I was eating my way from Georgia to Maine, I had a total of 24 mail drops sent. I would also go to grocery stores to supplement with fresh items such as cheese, eggs, and fruit as well as grab a few items here and there from hiker boxes; but the mail drops sourced the bulk of my trail food.
Many people made it to Maine perfectly well without having even one mail drop sent, but with various food allergies, I knew from the start that I was going the mail drop route. And while some of my drops could be considered superfluous – there was a well-stocked grocery store in Franklin, NC, for example – I much preferred the peace of mind in knowing that there would be food that I could eat waiting for me. And the one time that I had absolutely no mail drop food at my disposal – in Vernon, NJ – I spent a frazzled hour trying to figure out what to eat for the next stretch and leaving fairly disappointed.
Also, I found that often the stores along the trail would have inflated prices, in particular the farther north I hiked. I know I had the added cost of the package delivery, but fortunately I had much of my trail food supply donated as well as a Costco membership, helping to defray the cost.
To address the downsides to mail drops that may concern some of you out there:
1. The potential to send too many boxes. In several cases during my first 500 miles, I found that I had sent packages unnecessarily. Luckily, I was able to forward the USPS Priority Mail Flat Rate boxes I had sent free of charge. In each case, the establishment I had sent each box to was willing to do the legwork for me (i.e. I didn’t have to be present). I just called, provided my name and forwarding address, and thanked them.
2. The need to send a drop to a post office (c/o General Delivery, by the way). There are some patches along the trail where it is nearly impossible to avoid having something sent to a post office, not to mention that sometimes gear companies replacing equipment prefer to send to post offices. The only time I ever knew the day of the week on the trail was when I had a package delivered to the post office. One time, south of Daleville, VA I woke up at 4am to hike to town so that I could get there before the post office closed at noon; it was a Saturday.
I learned that, if you call a post office in a trail town, more often than not, they’ll bring your package to a trail-friendly establishment, such as an outfitter or hostel. After the Daleville situation, I learned to call post offices – 5 or 6 in total over the trek – to get food and/or gear forwarded so that I wouldn’t have to work around limited post office hours. The only time my request was rejected was when I called Tyringham, MA; the woman on the phone refused to walk my package to the bed and breakfast across the street (not that I’m bitter or anything).
While I was planning for my thru hike, I made a master Excel spreadsheet of potential mail drops, including the:
– Location (i.e. town or road intersection)
– Name of the establishment
– Trail Mile Marker
– Distance from the trail in miles
– Whether or not there was a fee for holding (it was rare)
– Contact Phone Number
– Hours of operation
– How long they hold packages
– Delivery address
– Any relevant notes
– Number of days of food to send
A lot of the information I gathered from the A.T. Guide as well as White Blaze. I also called each location on the list to confirm all the details. The week before I left I put together and shipped all of the mail drops that I thought I would need through Damascus, VA. My mom had graciously agreed to take over after Damascus.
I’ve decided to share my spreadsheet in the hopes that some of you out there won’t have to reinvent the wheel. But before I do, I would like to point out several things:
1. The information is nine months old at this point, so I highly recommend that you call the phone numbers listed to confirm details. Hours of operation have been known to change frequently, not to mention that a business might close entirely (Mountain Goat Outfitters in Hanover, NH is a great example. Now the only option left in Hanover – where most hikers get their winter gear back – is the post office.)
2. Just because I’ve listed a place and may have used it – as a mail drop, place to stay, or both – does not mean that I recommend it. Most of the establishments are great, but a few left me disappointed, despite their reputations on White Blaze and the like. Feel free to ask me if you have questions about a specific place.
3. This is more or less the original document, so not all of the information regarding hiking days between locations reflects my actual trek. If it would be helpful to you to know how long any distance actually took me, refer to this document:
It includes the date, how many miles I hiked, the A.T. mile marker where I ended my day, and the actual location where I rested my head.
4. The locations highlighted in green are places where I actually got mail drops. The locations highlighted in pink are worthy of note because I either thought I’d need a drop there and then didn’t – so had it forwarded, or I didn’t need a drop because I had a family member/friend help me out during that stretch.
Without further ado, here’s my comprehensive spreadsheet listing potential – and actual – mail drop locations:
Pfeiffer? Jordana? Oh whatever, you get the point.