I’ve deliberately waited to write this blog post because I wanted my perspective of the events I am about to relate to mellow over a couple of months. I can tell you that my reaction at the time was anything but “mellow.”
I planned three resupplies during my thru-hike: one at Red’s Meadow, one at Muir Trail Ranch, and one at Woods Creek. I mailed a box or bucket ahead for all three. The box for Woods Creek was to be brought in by a packer.
I actually had decided, twice, not to use a packer. About a month before my trip I was still the only person looking for supplies to be delivered on the day I wanted, which meant that I would have to shoulder the entire $600 fee. When I called to cancel the request I was told that another hiker had “just signed up” for the same day. With two hikers the fee was now $300; that is still steep, but a little more manageable.
A couple of days later, when I called to make final coordination, I was told that I could not get the package at Rae Lakes, where I wanted it, but instead I would have to meet the packer at Woods Creek. That was fine with me, but if we were going to meet at Woods Creek there would be one stipulation: it would have to be at midday—not late afternoon.
He told me that noon would be hard to do. I was having second thoughts about the whole idea, again, for a second time, and I told him that my preference would be to cancel the delivery.
He reconsidered, and he said he would be willing to “leave early” in order to meet my schedule. It seemed he really needed the work, so I agreed.
The next day I sent my resupply box and my check for $300. You have probably figured out the rest of the story.
I arrived at Woods Creek at about 11:55 a.m. on the designated date. There were no packers at noon, no packers at 1 p.m., no packers at 2 p.m., and no packers at 3 p.m., when I left. Another couple, who arrived at Woods Creek as I was leaving, and who caught up with me two days later, told me that packers never arrived that day.
I’m no equestrian, but even I know that one should not expect someone on horseback to arrive at a scheduled time with the dependability of a train at a station. So, when I called the outfit after I had returned home I was prepared to accept that something unforeseen had occurred.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the nonsense I heard when I telephoned. First, I got the “We just missed you by five minutes…” excuse. I knew for a fact that wasn’t true.
Then I got the, “We never promised you noon…” excuse. That was particularly annoying, since I would have never booked the service if I hadn’t been told that they COULD make it by noon, and that they would leave early in order to do so. Also, it didn’t really explain why they hadn’t shown up at all on the agreed upon day.
So, what is the lesson learned?
First, even after this major annoyance, I am not anti-packer. I know they play a major, positive, role in the Sierra Nevada.
I’m also willing to take my share of the blame for this incident. I would have been far better off rearranging my hike plan in order to spend the night at Wood’s Creek, thus increasing the window of opportunity to twelve hours or more, instead of the three hours I allotted.
That said, if you are going to take my money and tell me you are going to deliver my supplies, unless something truly catastrophic happens, you darned well ought to do it. That brings me to my final piece of advice: if you are going to use a packer then get everything in writing. If the packer is unwilling to communicate with email (it’s interesting that the one I used “doesn’t do” email), then use US Mail.
I was able to continue my hike, and finish it, without my final resupply. I owe that to a couple of generous hikers who had brought some extra food.
Good hiking, Ray
UPDATE: A number of commenters have requested that I name the packers I dealt with this summer. That’s a perfectly reasonable request, but I’ve decided not to do so for a couple of reasons. First, my experience was just that–one experience. I get the impression that all of these packing operations are hanging by a thread, and I don’t want one bad situation to cause anyone to go under. Second, the moment I name the outfit a bunch of folks are going to respond that they had a GREAT experience with them. I’m sure that’s true, but that doesn’t really change anything that I’ve written above, or change any conclusions that I might make. As they say, the plural of anecdote is not data.
My bottom line remains the same: by getting the agreement in writing there should be no confusion on either party’s part on what the expectations are.