As we navigate our way through various airports around the world, we tend to draw a lot of unwanted attention to ourselves; we are conspicuous travelers. This is not because we are loud and obnoxious (although some may argue otherwise) but rather because we are a large group of people all wearing the same clothes carting around massive amounts of luggage. This may come as a surprise to you – what could we possibly need to bring besides skates and a skimpy skin-suit? Well, the list is long, and in my case it seems, only getting longer as the years go by.
The item that really gets people’s attention is the bike box. Many of us bring bikes on the road. We use them for training (we don’t just skate in circles), for warm-up and warm-down on race day, for getting to and from the rink, and for getting into town and away from the hotel. I pack my bike in a large plastic hard case made especially for this purpose. I put other important things in there too, like shoes, skate sharpening equipment, snacks, food and spare blades. It can get pretty heavy, is quite oversized and a tad awkward to maneuver even with wheels.
Random people are constantly coming up to me asking, ‘what is in the box?’ Most of the time they don’t even say hello, they just want to know what’s in the box. When I tell them it’s a bike some are satisfied with that and just walk away. Others are intrigued, so they pursue the chitchat to find out what I’m up to. The ensuing conversation that inevitably leads to speed skating has happened to all of us so many times we try to avoid it like the plague.
So, there’s the bike. But then I have to bring a trainer for my bike so I can ride it in my hotel room, or for warm-up at the rink. That’s bag number two. In this bag I’ll also include more shoes, more food, and some bigger, but stuff-able, clothing items. This year I decided to bring a blender to make smoothies because I never eat enough on race day and somehow can stomach liquids much better. So I put the blender in that bag too.
Then there’s the main bag, bag number three. This is the big one where I have to pack training clothes, skating clothes, casual clothes, lounging clothes, toiletries, various jackets from each of our team’s sponsors, and more shoes (in case you’re wondering, I need: running shoes, weight lifting shoes, cycling shoes, flip flops, and usually one pair of casual shoes). No matter how many times I go on the road, I always feel like I never get it right. Too many jeans I don’t wear, not enough training shirts, endless pairs of socks…
When I’m getting ready to pack, I make little piles all over the place and it always seems so ridiculous to bring so much stuff. Every time, I ask myself, do I really need this shirt, or that jacket, can I make do with less or do I have room to bring more? It’s an art form really, one I’ve been working on for many years. Miraculously I always mange to make it out the door, and, now this may come as a shock, so far I’ve always survived the trip with what I have!
I’ve begun to realize that I have some peculiar habits when it comes to living out of a suitcase for weeks on end. It seems that no matter how many pairs of socks I bring, I always end up at home with at least a few clean pairs. Now, this is not the result of poor packing or bringing too many pairs, but something else entirely. I’m not sure if it stems from some sort of primordial human instinct to conserve, be it energy, food, or fuel, for the unknown days ahead, but for whatever reason, even when I have clean pairs of socks,
I will root through my laundry bag and re-wear a previously used (read: dirty) pair so as to ensure that there will always be clean pairs left. I thought maybe it was because I’m too lazy to hand wash them in the sink, with the laundry soap I have dutifully remembered to bring from home, but I will always do that if I run out of clean underwear.
There are a few rare and glorious places we go where we can do an actual load of laundry for free. Like at the hotel in Berlin. But when we start a trip in Berlin and have two weeks to go I still have lots of clean laundry, probably because I’ve already begun my hoarding, so it doesn’t seem urgent or necessary.
At the hotel I’m staying at now it costs €5.75 to get one long-sleeved shirt laundered. And €1.70 for a pair of socks, € 4.00 for a t-shirt, €5.75 for pants… you get the idea – it’s a rip off. While I am occasionally desperate for clean laundry I resolutely refuse to spend €100 to do it. So instead I squirrel away my socks for the long weeks ahead.
I’ve often thought that I might as well just lighten my load and bring less stuff. Then I wouldn’t have to cart around clean pairs of socks and other clothes I will strangely never wear. You’d think that the amount of times my many bags have careened off the luggage cart to land all over the place in a big mess would teach me a lesson or two. Pack light! Only bring what you need! I have actually done this once or twice in the past, and in hindsight, with great regret, so perhaps that is the root of my strange behaviour. I ended up wearing the same clothes so often, and got so tired of smelling like a buffet that now I overcompensate by bringing too much.
Over the years I’ve become immune to the staring and pointing and questioning I endure for my own and my team’s necessity for traveling with all the necessary equipment and creature comforts of home. It is clearly and understandably a life that is mysterious and peculiar to most everyone who has not lived it. Still, I can’t help but laugh to myself when I think that if they all think I’m strange only because of the enormous pile of luggage on my cart, then they don’t know the half of it.