I wish I'd mentioned this way way earlier in my posts but I've only discovered this myself, although, Karen, a thru-hiker mom (who actually section hikes with her daughter, recommended this but I didn't take her advice soon enough) Having your own guidebook is one of the best ways to follow your thru hiker. It's another way and a practical one to keep up with his journey, augmenting the emails, texts, phone calls, journal posts, blogs or video blogs is to have your own guidebook. Loner has used two, The Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers Companion available at the Appalachian Trail Conservancyand the Appalachian Trail Guide by David Miller found on Amazon.
The reason I recommend them is double fold, the first is the best tracking tool I've found, which is the foot map available from many of the outfitters and stores you find along the trail. I'm not sure where Loner found the ones he gave to me and his sister before he left, but it may have been at either the Amicalola State Park Visitor's Center in Georgia or at the Mountain Crossings at Walasi-Yi Outfitters and Hostel - the place every hiker should visit - maybe even before they buy their gear to save themselves from having to send stuff home. You can read about their experiences with the gear checks they do in Winton Porter's Great book, Just Passin' Thru great book, (which I promise to review soon) and also see interviews with them in the National Geographic Appalachian Trails video.
Loner has bought his books through the mail and at outfitters - he's had three already, a 2012 and a 2011 when the outfitter didn't have any more 2012s.
The amazing map, I highly recommend because it's fun and awe-inspiring for families in addition to keeping up with where your hiker is, useful facts such as how many miles from Georgia or Maine they are currently at, elevations of mountains and terrain, so that once they get in their stride and you know their average daily mileage - you can sort of predict where they be from day to day.
Now that will change because of layovers in towns and side trips or just rest times in difficult or rainy areas, but on the whole it helps a lot to know where they are and what the conditions are.
Because of the guidebooks, I could guess the kind of gear or food Loner might need such as when to send his winter gear. It also helps to remind and ask your hiker when and if they might need something and where to send it.
All hikers but especially solo hikers are in what Loner what's called White Blaze fever, which I surmise is when they have hard time with traffic, crowded stores, people, etc. they become overstimulated by all the sensory impressions in civilization, even in small towns. They also tend to look for white blazes everywhere to tell them which way to go - not all towns have them, but some do since the AT runs right through the middle of town. Loner has mentioned it a couple of times.
And while they've thought to themselves that they need a particular item in their next mail drop, they might not remember if they've let you know or not.
Jeff even almost forgot to pick up a mail drop because he forgot which address he wrote me to send it to. So the guidebooks help you get boxes ready in time - which is especially important as they get past 1,000 or so miles, because by then, instead of two days, even a priority box may take five or six days and many P.O.'s are closed on Saturdays and Sundays and one at least that I know of has been closed permanently. Jeff knows these drops from his guide book, but it helps if you have the mail box ready. I usually have most of it ready, maybe three ahead of time, but there are last minute perishables and surprises I add at the end.
I wish I'd kept count of how many drop boxes we've mailed but I think it might be around ten at this point, at first one every five days since that's all his pack would hold, but then when Jeff figured out the towns where he'd enjoy a big meal, we averaged one a week, and now it's slowed down a bit since so many mail angels have been sending him packages - that's a whole new post to be written.
Feel free to ask any questions. Hopefully some of these tips will help you if you're a family or friend support of a 2013 thru-hiker and I wish you all the best experience ever.