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Aside: Packing an Isle Royale Resupply Box

Greenstone Ridge Trail

Long backpacking trips often require hauling heavy packs full of extra food, fuel and other supplies, consumed on a daily basis. Sometimes a resupply box allows for reducing the backpack weight considerably. Unfortunately, resupply boxes are only an option when the US Postal Service or some other person/entity is available to drop off the box along the trail somewhere.

My Isle Royale trip, during the late summer of 2011, is one of these long trips, where carrying 15 days worth of food would be a grueling chore, especially up and down all ridges on the island. Thankfully, there is the opportunity for me to send a resupply box to Windigo, cutting the amount of food and other supplies in half.

This is not the first time I ever prepared a resupply box. Twice before, I prepared a resupply box for a two-week long backpacking trip. Both involved hiking the Northville-Placid Trail, which runs about 123 miles from the southeast corner of the Adirondacks to the northern part of the nation’s largest state park. Once I sent the box via the US Postal Service, while a companion who was joining the group half way brought the second one.

For the Isle Royale trip, I had no other option. There is no way I can haul 15 days of food and fuel on my back as I hike from one end of the Island to the other, and back again. Luckily, in my research on the island I read about sending a resupply box via the US Postal Service to either Rock Harbor or Windigo in Jim DuFresne’s book. This is the answer to my dreams, and my back is much relieved.

Packing the resupply box is a challenge though. There is nothing more terrifying than looking at an empty box, with its top open like the gaping maw of a giant baby bird. At first, I keep putting things in and then taking them out again, trying to come up with some systematic way of packing. The more I fool with it, the more I realize the majority of the items in the box are going to be food, but how does one pack half of the food for a 15-day backpacking trip in single box?

Finally, an idea struck me, instead of trying to pack for half of a 15-day trip, pack for two seven days trips instead, and place half of the food in the box. Given all the tasks I need to perform to get ready for the trip, I set up the same menu for the second week as the first, with just minor alterations along the way. The final day, I plan to eat at one of the restaurants at Rock Harbor (this did not work out since everything was closed upon my return to Rock Harbor), but I would throw in a few extras stuff just in case.

With four different gallon-sized Ziploc bags stuffed with food (one for each of the three meals in a day and an extra for snacks and overflow from another bag), the majority of the box is packed. Nestled in the middle of the food bags, I place the piece de resistance in the box; a 25-ounce can of Foster’s Lager beer. The can fits perfectly in the middle, where it remains cushioned from puncture. A leaking beer can would be a disaster of epic proportions.

After the food and beer, only some miscellaneous items remain. Paper towels, extra insect repellent, tooth powder, dental floss, and other assorted incidentals take up some of the remaining open spaces between the food bags.

Some extra tape and an address label for the return trip are included last. These are crucial; otherwise, I will not be able to mail anything back when I arrive in Windigo, such as souvenirs, used plastic bags, or unnecessary equipment. I do not tape up the box immediately, as I still need to place the return postage in the box when I go to the post office.

Addressing the box is easy enough, using a Sharpie I make out an address label, which will be placed in the center of the box. The address on the label reads my name, with the address being c/o Voyageur II, Grand Portage, MN 55605. In addition, in the lower left corner of the box I write the destination (i.e. Windigo), and the date of pick-up (i.e. Sunday, September 4, 2011).

When I take the package to the Post Office late on Friday afternoon, the day before leaving for Copper Harbor, a lengthy discussion ensues about what I am trying to accomplish. Obviously not many people mail packages to themselves on a remote island from Syracuse, especially those needing return postage for when they send it all the way back.

Unfortunately, there was a mistake made with the postage, probably due to the convoluted story I tell to the postal employee. When I open the box at Windigo, the return postage is $4.20 lower than needed to make it back Syracuse. Unfortunately, there are no post offices on the Island, so it goes out with the postage available. Luckily, Postmaster Mary Deschampe at Grand Portage, MN, who must be the best postal worker ever, covered the cost and sent the package as is. The box is waiting at the Post Office when I returned home several days later. Of course, I sent a check a couple days later for the full amount.

So, if you ever plan to use a resupply box for a backpacking trip, always make sure to double check the amount of return postage. Either that, or plan on not sending anything home that you really want to keep. That is, unless the post office has a super postmaster who will cover your derriere.

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