Field Fiasco: Heavy Lifting

During my time as an undergraduate, I enrolled in a semester abroad in Madagascar. When I first heard the news, I couldn’t believe it: I was going to a foreign island off the south-eastern coast of Africa, home to some of the most unique and diverse animals on the planet. Up until that point, I had never traveled outside of the Americas. I was totally psyched.

Sunrise at the Avenue of the Baobabs in western Madagascar. Baobabs are bulbous trees that hold water like cisterns, and are only found in Madagascar. [Source] Photographer: Paolo Crosetto
I immediately went to a camping supply store and stocked up on specialized gear for observing wildlife. I returned home and packed my suitcases tight with all my clothes, gadgets, and camping equipment. They were filled to the brim. So much so that you’d have to sit on them to get them to zipper all the way. I was sure I had packed everything I would possibly need. Compass, check. Binoculars, check. Chocolate bars, double check.

Wildlife endemic to Madagascar. From left to right, the Comet Moth (Argema mittrel), the Red Ruffed Lemur (Varenica rubra), and the Golden mantella (Mantella aurantiaca). [Source for Golden Mantella photo] Photographer: Frank Vassen
On departure day, all of the study abroad participants met in front of the airline check-in desk. I lumbered up, sweaty and winded from carrying my heavy luggage. Many of the students began to check their bags and chat amongst themselves as they waited. I fell in line behind them. One mentioned, “It was quite the struggle to get my bag under the 50 lb. limit! I had to remove some things to make enough room.” Another responded, “I know! I had to leave some books behind that I had really hoped to bring along.”

It was then that I had realized that I had never even thought to weigh my bags. I looked down at my bulky, lumpy luggage. It consisted of two black suitcases that were ungodly heavy and packed as tight as could be. I soon became worried, as the thought of my bags being overweight seemed more and more plausible with each passing minute. Before I knew it, I was next in line to be weighed. I reluctantly brought the bags up and placed them on the scale. They immediately surpassed the acceptable weight limit.

I pulled my bags aside and frantically began taking items out in an attempt to re-distribute the weight. I swapped out my flip-flops for my heavy hiking boots. I tied and clipped items to the outside of my other bags.

We weighed them again. Still a few pounds overweight. In a last ditch effort to save my precious packed items from being left behind, I started putting on all the extra clothes I could. By the end of the purge I adorned an extra tank-top, a fleece pullover, a raincoat, my favorite field-pants and some extra-thick wool socks. Nearly fifteen minutes later, and five pounds lighter, my luggage finally fell below the threshold of acceptance.

Although I had thwarted the possibility of having to drop any precious cargo, I did look absolutely ridiculous. I was wearing so much clothing that I was sweating without even moving. With a 19-hour flight ahead of me, I was already having some pretty serious regrets.

Cartoon depiction from a scene in the Christmas movie classic A Christmas Story, where the younger brother Randy claims he can’t put his arms down since he was so over-dressed. This is how I felt after the mishap with my luggage. Sketch by: Josie Hubbard

This was both my first lesson going into the field, and the last time I ever went on a trip without owning a handheld bag-weigher. Don’t make my mistake, and weigh your bags before your trip so you don’t have to look like Randy from a Christmas story on a terribly long international flight.

Author: Josie Hubbard is a 1st year PhD student in Animal Behavior. She studies non-human primate social behavior. This field fiasco occurred during her undergraduate work at SUNY Stony Brook while studying abroad in Madagascar.

Featured Image: Suitcases [Source] Photographer: Elliot Margolies

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