In a note tucked under a bowl of dry oatmeal, I explained to the owners of my Cambridge Bay hotel that I would come back for my breakfast when I returned in two days. I just couldn’t be saddled with that extra weight. I was about to board a Twin Otter aimed at a remote desert island in the High Arctic for a reporting trip, and there was no room for excess.
On a teleconference the week before, a trip co-ordinator told us that weight restrictions are critical on a small plane destined for a very short runway on a very windy island. Our limit was 200 pounds per person—body mass and luggage inclusive. We quickly dropped all formalities: strangers freely discussed their weight. And we talked about how much we anticipated our luggage might add. Most of the people on board would be pushing 200 pounds au naturel and those who fell under quickly climbed above that threshold once their gear was factored in. There were luxury items like a satellite to allow one group to broadcast live from the island, which the organizers warned would be the first thing cut if we couldn’t make weight.
Myself, I had about 60 pounds to play with and limited gear to carry. I offered up my unused pounds to the strangers on the call with a promise to pack conscientiously.
The night before the flight, we sat in a circle in a Cambridge Bay inn and went over the itinerary for the trip. I sized up my companions: another woman about my stature, a few men far outweighing us and a couple that fell in between. It didn’t seem like anyone had rounded down too drastically. We parted with a final warning about paring down. I headed back to my room to cut weight.
I held up each piece of clothing I had with me and considered the comfort and warmth it provided. I put everything in one of three piles: ‘Definitely Yes’, ‘Definitely No’ and ‘Maybe.’ Shampoo, conditioner, moisturizer? ‘Definitely No.’ My paper agenda and novel? ‘Definitely No.’ A pair of jeans, a hoodie, and an extra pair of socks? You guessed it. And the oatmeal? My full one-kilogram bag was way more than I’d need for the next couple of days, so half of it stayed in my room.
I crammed a laptop, camera and array of notebooks into a backpack. I brought a couple of granola bars and some Babybel cheese—we were advised to bring snacks for the day on the island. And aside from a spare shirt and underwear, everything I would wear over the next two days was layered on my body.
As we walked to the Twin Otter, two fellow passengers each towed a piece of wheeled luggage across the tarmac. Two other passengers carried, respectively, a satellite receiver and a spare video camera. Another passenger brought along a laptop and protective case, which together weighed more than 20 pounds.
And here I didn’t even pack spare socks, I thought, as I climbed the staircase layered up like a Russian doll.