How to prepare your trail boss.

The term ‘trail boss’ is often thrown around hiker talk and refers to the individual at the other end of the universe with whom you utilize as a major resource while on the trail (aka someone with access to a grocery store, internet, post offices, and showers on a regular basis). This person is usually a close friend or family member who isn’t able to hike with you but still wants to show support, and is used to coordinate mail drops, gear exchanges, bill payments, and other vital tasks. While it is possible to hike the AT without a trail boss (or mail drops for that matter) it certainly makes things easier if you are planning even a minimum number of mail drops on your adventure.

She's my trail boss!

Meet my Mamma! She’s my trail boss! Hi Mom!

So assuming you have already figured out who your trail boss is going to be (and they’ve accepted the task) your challenge before you leave for the trail is to make sure they have all the information and supplies they need to make their job a little easier. Here are a few tips and tricks to help get you and your boss ready so that things flow as smoothly as possible and you get the supplies you need when you need it most!

Step 1: Develop a projected itinerary of where you’ll be. Notice the word ‘projected’. Its impossible to know where you’ll be or when  you’ll get to various points, but figuring you’ll start slow the  first month of hiking and mileage will change with terrain, try your best to come up with a game plan. That will give you an idea along the way how to adjust your itinerary for you future mail drops and will allow your trail boss to have a better estimation of when to send packages.

Example of my trail itinerary created in Excel

Example of my trail itinerary created in Excel

Step 2: Plan your mail drops ahead of time. Estimate based on your guidebook, other’s advice, and your personal preference what points of the trail you want to get mail drops at. I created six definite mail drops along the way but have a seventh sitting in my mom’s garage with the others as a backup just in case I need an extra. I spent months researching other’s thru-hikes and reading articles published on various blogs (including Zach’s!). I selected six locations that popped up over and over again in what I read and found the addresses for whatever venue I was sending my packages to. Post office addresses  along the AT are not hard to track down, just Google it. I use AWOL’s Guidebook like most hikers and it lists addresses and numbers for most hostels that hold mail, as well as stating if there is a fee to collect and hold packages for hikers.  Look at your plans and what you think will work best for your situation, and select where you want your packages to go. Remember post office hours and business hours for certain places may not collide so well with your hiker’s schedule, and predicting exactly when you will get somewhere is difficult so make sure your boss sends packages in a reasonable time frame- not to early or too late.

Step 3: Prepare your mail drops and gear. Lined up in my parents garage are seven boxes each with food, toiletries (toilet paper and Doc B’s) and whatever gear I think I’ll need. Boxes are open, allowing mom to add or remove supplies as I communicate my needs to her, and she has the addresses for sending packages along the way. In my bedroom dresser (also stored in their garage…did I mention I moved out of my apartment for this hike?) I’ve got drawers designated for extra clothing, misc gear like extra fuel, first aid, medication, Scout’s stuff, bug spray, sunglasses, etc. If I need ANYTHING she’s pretty much got me covered.

Step 4: Make sure they’ve got the right information. I left mom with a big folder that contains a copy of my itinerary as well as a list of every post office address along the trail, the addresses for my mail drops, information on how to label packages that are going to be held for a homeless hiker kid, and information on mailing fuel canister stoves in the mail. On top of all that paperwork, I made them something else….

My giant canvas map of the AT showing important trail information.

My giant canvas map of the AT showing important trail information. Yes it has a Lord of the Rings quote at the bottom of it…

TA DAAH! Okay yes it looks like a five year old painted it, but I made a map with little color-coded brads indicating trail towns, major milestones, mail drop locations and addresses, etc. This way my family has a visual they can use to track my  progress as I update them, kind of like an advent calendar for the month of December.

Step 5: Make sure you thank your trail boss. It’s a pain in the ass to keep bulky boxes taking up space and to try to coordinate their job and lifestyle around your needy hiker timeline – especially when odds are you’re going to call them frantically one night “Mom, I lost my _____ and I need you to overnight me a new one!”.  Anyone who agrees to do this REALLY likes you and you need to make sure you let them know how appreciative you are!!!

Love you mom!

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