28 October 2015

What to Pack For a North Pole Expedition, 100 Years Ago

Most travel experts recommend packing light, but some people cannot or will not follow this advice.

In the annals of extreme over-packers, you have two categories: Dandies and Badasses. Those who are perpetually ready to host the Queen and her entourage in their hotel rooms, and those who are, with no delusion, preparing to fight polar bears.

In the Dandy category is Temple Fielding, a prominent travel guidebook writer in the 1950s and 1960s (the man made the cover of Time, such was his fame). A long, long time (okay, five years) ago, I posted his packing list:
In [a large raffia basket] Fielding keeps a bottle of maraschino cherries, a bottle of Angostura biters, a portable Philips three-speed record-player, five records (four of mood music and "one Sinatra always"), a leather-covered RCA transistor radio, an old half-pint Heublein bottle full of vermouth, and a large nickel thermos with a wide mouth.
That's only the beginning. There are also thirty-five handkerchiefs, sealskin slippers, a yodeling alarm clock, and so much more. For years, I've considered this the Holy Grail of Packing Lists.

Until today, when I found a small article from 1917 about Arctic explorer and real-deal Badass Roald Amundsen's provisions for his expedition to the Northeast Passage.

Amundsen was planning to be gone for six years, in one of the least-known and most foreboding corners of the planet, and evidently operated on the principle that if was going to endure that, well, he was going to require certain luxuries.

Namely, he and his crew needed their candy. Six hundred pounds of it.

Also two tons of coffee and two tons of sugar.

Here's the full list, from the Princeton (Minnesota) Union on January 25, 1917:

The expedition lasted from 1918 to 1920--not six years, but it was no less epic (a word I do not use lightly) for the shorter duration. The ship was stuck in the ice for two winters and Amundsen really was attacked by a polar bear. I imagine him stumbling back to the ship after that close encounter, bloody and bewildered, and opening up his candy stash and just shoveling it in his mouth, presumably with a large whisky chaser.

You can see the full newspaper page via the "Chronicling America" database operated by the Library of Congress. The big story on the left is what I was actually trying to find, before this story caught my eye. Also note the intriguing headline to just below Amundsen's packing list!

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