Tuesday, June 9, 2015

John Muir Trail Planning: Food and Resupplies

Note: I can see a lot of people are reading this post. You should also read my post Lessons Learned. It turned out that my food was gross, despite my careful planning. Specifically, I got sick of the Mary Jane's Farm curry by day two, and trail mix and dried fruit did not agree with my tummy at altitude and while exerting myself. Cheese, on the other hand, hit the spot. I also did not pack enough sugary food initially, and eventually got my hands on some gummy bears and jelly beans that really saved the day. And I would not plan to thru-hike again without planning to resupply at Kearsarge or Wood's Creek, one or the other. If you are hiking less than 15 miles a day between MTR and WP, plan a resupply in between.

My hike on the John Muir Trail is starting to get real. I'm jumping the gun a little bit by packing my resupply boxes now... but only a little bit. There are four easy resupply options along the 220 mile trail, and all occur in the first half of the hike if you go southbound (as most do). After that, resupply options get more difficult and more expensive, like paying someone (a lot) to bring a mule over a mountain pass with food for you. I'm not doing that.

I began by making my itinerary and planning when I would receive my resupplies. I am going southbound (a.k.a. SOBO), starting at the beginning of the trail at Happy Isles in Yosemite. I'm starting slowly, and taking a day to hike Half Dome. And I anticipate I'll spend a night in the backpacker's campground in Yosemite Valley before I start my hike. That means I'll arrive at my first potential resupply location, Tuolumne Meadows, on the fourth day of the trip.

I decided to send a resupply to Tuolumne Meadows for a few reasons. First, it will be nice to start the trail with a lighter pack. Second, this resupply is easy and cheap. You just mail your stuff to the Tuolumne Meadows post office:

Your name
c/o General Delivery
Tuolumne Meadows
Yosemite National Park
CA 95389

Then you pick it up there during office hours - and not on Sundays. I will have to hike 10 mi on my fourth day to arrive at Tuolumne Meadows, and I am not counting on getting there before the post office closes. I will get my resupply the next morning when they open. It will be a Tuesday. So I'm good there.

The resupply box I send to Tuolumne Meadows must contain enough food and other supplies for five days. I plan to purchase breakfast at Tuolumne Meadows (I expect it will be a welcome break from oatmeal) and I plan to buy dinner at Red's Meadow Resort near Mammoth when I arrive to pick up my next resupply box. That means I'll need to pack 4 breakfasts, 5 lunches, and 4 dinners in the box I send to Tuolumne Meadows. I am sending:

  • 4 c. oatmeal (mixed with brown sugar, raisins, and chia seeds)
  • 3 treats (for each time I go over a mountain pass in this segment)
  • 4 days coffee (Starbucks Via)
  • 5 bars
  • 5 days trail mix
  • 5 days dried fruit
  • 1 Thai Coconut meal
  • 1 Corn and Black Bean Chowder
  • 1 Curry in a Hurry
  • 1 Cheesy Noodle Casserole
  • Maps
  • 1 roll toilet paper
  • Dr. Bronners Soap
  • 15 Lysine (to prevent cold sores)
  • 5 days of band-aids
  • Coca Tea

The dinners are mostly Mary Jane's Farm organic meals. I bought two 3 pound bulk bags from them (Lentils, Rice, and Indian Spice and Corn and Black Bean Chowder) plus several other individually packaged meals. The individually packaged meals cost more, but I figure I will go stir crazy if I eat the same thing for an entire month, so it is probably money well spent. I have three meals that are not Mary Janes. They are "Made in Nature" brand "Ancient Grains Fusion" in three flavors. They weigh twice as much as Mary Jane's Farm (they are not dehydrated) but they cost half as much. I'll eat them at or near my resupply points so that I won't have to carry them.

I went with Starbucks Via for coffee somewhat grudgingly. I don't like Starbucks coffee, but I must admit that it tastes better than anything else I've figured out. I was going to pack fuel for my stove too, but apparently that is complicated to send through the mail, so I will just buy it there. The coca tea is for altitude sickness, just in case. I am also bringing aspirin for the same reason. Aspirin and caffeine are a good combo for mild altitude sickness.

The next resupply option is Red's Meadow Resort near Mammoth. They require you to mail this form two weeks before you arrive, along with a payment of $35. Then you send your resupply package before you leave to:

Your name
Red's Meadow Resort
Mammoth Lakes, CA

I will reach Red's on the 9th day of my trip. It will be a short hiking day, so I should be able to pick up my resupply package that day. I will reach the 3rd potential resupply location (Vermillion Valley Resort) just three days later, and the fourth (Muir Trail Ranch) five days later. So I've decided to skip resupplying at Vermillion Valley Resort (VVR). It costs $20 plus the cost of shipping, and it's a needless expense since I am able to carry five days of food without any trouble. I will still probably visit VVR because they have a restaurant, shower, laundry, and internet... but without a resupply box to pick up there I have the option of skipping it.

I need to send five days of supplies to Red's. That includes 4 breakfasts (I'll have breakfast at their restaurant one day), 5 lunches, and 5 dinners. I am sending:

  • 4 c. oatmeal
  • 4 days coffee
  • 2 treats
  • 5 bars
  • 5 days trail mix
  • 5 days dried fruit
  • 1 Chilimac
  • 2 Corn and Black Bean Chowder
  • 1 Lentils, Rice, and Indian Spice
  • 1 Cheesy Noodle Casserole
  • 5 days bandaids
  • 1 roll toilet paper
  • Dr Bronners
  • Batteries
  • 15 Lysine
  • Coca Tea
  • Maps

The last easy resupply is Muir Trail Ranch (MTR). I'll reach them on the 14th day of my hike. They tolerate but do not love hikers. They charge you $70 to send up to a 25 lb resupply bucket (they ask that you send it in a 5 gallon or smaller bucket), payable here. After you pay, they generate an address label to place on your bucket. You need to ship your resupply bucket 3 weeks before you expect to arrive. If you do not get there within 2 weeks of that date, they give away your food. The flipside of that - especially later in the season - is that you can help yourself to everyone else's leftover food (and there's plenty, especially later in the season). Quite frankly, if I wasn't picky and insistent on eating organic, vegetarian, and healthy, I would just plan to do that.

Muir Trail Ranch does not open its amenities to hikers, for the most part. If you want to eat in their restaurant or take a shower, you need to be a paying guest. And I will not be a paying guest. Hikers can pick up their resupplies, charge their phones and devices, pay to use the internet... and soak in the hot springs. I plan to take a day to do that.

After MTR, there are no more easy resupplies, but there's about 100 miles of trail. I plan to book it from there to the end in order to minimize the number of days I'm on the trail, which in turn minimizes the amount of food I'll need. Even still, I'll need 11 breakfasts, 11 lunches, and 10 dinners. That includes one day's worth of extra "just in case" meals, and excludes the last dinner because I'll eat at Whitney Portal when I get there.

Here's what I'm sending to MTR:

  • 9 c. oatmeal
  • 2 packages quinoa
  • 11 days of coffee
  • 6 treats
  • 11 bars
  • 11 days trail mix
  • 11 days dried fruit
  • 1 Moroccan Bazaar meal
  • 1 Tuscan Garlic & Tomato meal
  • 1 Bare Burrito
  • 2 Lentils, Rice, and Indian Spice
  • 3 Corn and Black Bean Chowder
  • 1 Chilimac
  • 1 Curry in a Hurry
  • Aspirin
  • 10 days bandaids
  • Aqua Mira
  • Dr. Bronner's Soap
  • 2 rolls toilet paper
  • Batteries
  • 30 Lysine
  • 3 bags to repack food
  • Maps
  • Coca Tea

The overall cost of the food and resupplies is nightmarish.

  • The coffee cost $20
  • The bars (a mix of Luna bars and Earnest Eats bars) were $46
  • The oatmeal, trail mix, dried fruit, Lysine, soap, and Band-aids were $109
  • Fees paid to resupply points will be $105
  • Mary Jane's Farm meals were about $9 each for the 3 I bought full price ($27)
  • I got 4 Mary Jane's Farm meals on sale ($5 each). I don't like the flavors much (Chilimac and Cheesy Noodle Casserole) but I'll eat it to save money. ($20)
  • The 2 bulk Mary Jane's Farm bags I got were $70 with shipping, and they will feed me for 12 days, or about $6 per meal. I packed more than one serving per meal for those, because I imagine I'll be very hungry on the trail.
  • The Ancient Grains Fusion meals were $5 each ($15)
  • The quinoa was $2 each ($4)

That amounts to $416, and it does not count the Aqua-Mira, aspirin, treats, batteries, bags, bucket, or shipping. It also doesn't count the maps or Coca Tea, which were both gifts. The only nice thing I can say about it is that I would have to eat during the month of July anyway, so I'd spend money on food for July no matter what. Just maybe not that much money on food.

There are two more things I might add to my resupplies before I pack them up and send them. One is shelf-stable waxed cheeses. The other are books to read at night. If I get books, I'm getting them from the thrift store. I've spent enough money already.

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