The U.S. Postal Service: We’re There for You…Not

25 March 2011. The day started well at the Ayres Hotel in Alpine. I had been pleased to learn the night before that they serve breakfast. Lots of choices: waffles, French toast, bagels, fruit, yogurt, muffins, juice. You name it! I was looking forward to it—stoke up on carbs.

When I went to the breakfast room, I was the only one there. I had decided on waffles and quickly spotted the hot waffle iron. But where was the waffle batter? I looked everywhere, then finally discovered a large dispenser—it looked more like a cappuccino machine of something. With clear signage, I was told to dispense batter into a plastic cup then pour it into the waffle iron (after spraying the waffle iron with some sort of aerosol grease—Pam, I guess). I skipped the Pam, and was pleased that the waffle didn’t stick.

What struck me at this breakfast nook was the waste. Everything was throw-away: the plates (extruded polystyrene), the cups (HDPE), the utensils–everything. And I’m sure that the contents of that waffle batter dispenser goes into the trash as well after it has expired—or is the batter mixed somehow as you draw out your portion? Even the “syrup” (quotes intentional) was in little plastic packets. Welcome to our throw-away society! I realize that in the establishments I frequent back in the Green Mountain State I’m somehow shielded from this level of waste. It was striking.

But that’s not the subject of this blog.

After my first day of peddling—laden with 50-plus pounds of gear, food, and water and traveling some 45 miles—I did a bit of soul-searching about exactly what I need on this bike trip, and what I don’t need. I think everyone who is new to bicycle touring goes through this exercise. I don’t need that extra pair of pants, or the book on bike touring, or my wool cap, or a bunch of other stuff that added both weight and bulk to my panniers.

So I decided to ship home the superfluous stuff. I biked over to the Alpine Post Office with one of the front panniers chock full of stuff to ship home. After a bit of looking (and continuing frustrations learning how to use my new iPhone’s map feature), I found the Post Office. My stuff was enough to pack one of the medium-size U.S. Postal Service $10.95 Priority Mail boxes. I took one outside, assembled it into the box, and emptied my pannier’s contents into it. Perfect fit!

I didn’t have tape so carefully held the bottom and top of the box together when I went back inside. “Do you have tape dispenser so that I can tape this up?” I asked? The gentleman behind the counter—I’m sure a model Post Office employee—pointed behind me to the rolls of packing tape and other supplies. $3.95 for a roll. I explained that I’m on a bike trip and don’t want to be carrying something that I’ll have no use for. (I’m too cheap to spend $4 for a roll of tape and throw the rest away.)

I argued with him and bit, but he stood firm. Post Office policy, he said. I responded that I couldn’t believe that and stomped out with my box. I had seen a bike shop a couple blocks away. They guy there taped it and seemed similarly incredulous with the PO’s unwillingness to bend the rules.

Fortunately, when I got back, the guy I had originally spoken with wasn’t at the counter. Coffee break time perhaps. As I was walking in, taped box in hand, I realized that I had packed up the extra pen I had brought along on the trip (I told you I was trying to save weight!). If I asked to borrow a pen, was I going to be directed to the back wall again? Instead, I asked a guy who was waiting for a passport, who gladly loaned me one. I wrote in the address, swiped my card and was on my way—already drafting, in my mind, a letter I should write to my Senators.