Polar Explorer Eric Larsen
Adventures with Excess Baggage
09 January 2013 | Atlanta, Georgia
My Ergodyne waterproof duffels, messenger bag and pack, and Thule bike box have made it through another airport... Barely. In Santiago, the Delta ticket counter didn't open for nearly 7 hours so my gear and I had to wait wandering aimlessly back and forth looking for one open chair (there wasn't one). Three times I strolled outside only to have the front wheel of my Smarte Carte catch in a crack, three times, and then yes again all three times, have the whole lot tumble over with a loud crash.

'Esta bien...' someone asked each time. 'Are you alright?'

I would have laughed a bit more, because despite my travel weariness, I had seen the crack the second two times and tried to avoid a huge crash, but it didn't work. So I abandoned the fresh air of South America and went back inside.

I should have known this would happen. After all, it seemed like my entire trip back was doomed by the fact that I was carrying too much with too little. It probably started when I squeezed four bags of gear into my two Ergodyne duffels to save excess baggage fees. It got worse when the taxi arrived at my hotel in Punta Arenas to take me (and my gear) to the airport. I looked at the little four door sedan, looked at all my gear and then looked at the driver in disbelief and with the best Spanish I could muster said, 'pequeña' ...small. He smiled, shook his head and then popped the trunk and pulled a bungee cord from under his seat. He gestured to the back seat where we promptly shoved the Thule box, another box and my Ergodyne pack in. The bungee, I found out, was to hold the trunk down as the two duffels only fit half way in due to the fact that all the taxi's in Punta run on propane and the tanks are located in the trunk. Amazingly, we made it to the airport where I loaded up another Smarte Carte only to have everything fall off again.

One of my biggest travel dreams doesn't involve any sort of tropical destination or crazy adventure. Instead, it's relatively simple: travel somewhere without luggage - no oversized luggage, excess baggage fees or bulky carry-ons. I love expeditions and the simplicity of expedition travel, but it often takes a lot of gear and food to make all of it happen.

I think maybe fate caught up with me. I remember my friend Ryan traveling from the US to Norway to Katmandu this summer with a heavy Goal Zero battery (roughly the size of a car batter) as his carry-on!?! Of course, I've had my fair share of baggage woes.

In 2005, we were making an attempt on the first ever Arctic Ocean crossing in summer. It was an ambitious trip and we had spent nearly three years planning, preparing and training and even developed specially modified canoe sleds. Additionally, we had planned on being on the ice for at least three months. All told, we traveled with 21 bags (not including carry-ons) from Minnesota to the edge of the Arctic Ocean in Siberia. Checking in at JFK, the line of bags stretched nearly out the door. I remember the canoe sleds were so long that we had to remove some of the protective foam, just to fit one in the elevator.

After a failed attempt at the Arctic Ocean crossing, we were back in Moscow trying to get the canoes through security. Stacked on top of one another, I dragged the boats back and forth across the airport four or five times while trying to determine which official would let us through. We even went down an elevator only to come back up again. Through broken English and hand gestures, I somehow managed to get the canoes checked and on the plane. When I finally boarded and sat in my seat, I saw that my hands were badly blistered from pulling with all my strength on the bowlines of the canoes.

Traveling back from Everest, I was led on a different adventure. The first hiccup was trying to get my oxygen bottle back through security. I was trying to explain that the bottle was empty as I had tested it at base camp, but when I went to demonstrate the fact to one of the checkpoint officials, a loud, long hiss of oxygen came out. I've never felt like such a fool. Later in Delhi, I was taken on some sort of otherworldly quest by baggage officials who led me under the actual airport to find my bags and then identify items as they appeared on the xray machine.

'Tent Poles' I tired to explain. Those are tent poles.

I arrived in Atlanta early this morning and was relieved to find all my luggage had made the journey. Of course, there was still the matter of another transfer and a few more flights, but first it was the long line winding line at immigration. It felt good to walk and stretch my legs. I flexed my leg muscles and could still feel the strength grown from hard long days of pedaling in Antarctica. I closed my eyes and tried to remember the feeling of being surround by all that snow so far away from any other human being.

Then, the immigration officer stamped my passport and said, 'welcome home.'

Also don't forget about my recent Challengera challenge to help change the world with a bicycle. Learn more at:


Image: My taxi with two Ergodyne duffels hanging out the back.
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