Ever get that sinking feeling when the airline tells you your luggage didn't make the flight? The old gnash-your-teeth, buy-another-toothbrush, wear-second-day-socks feeling?

It's worse for Dan Ripley. His baggage is 16 1/2 feet long, and it often gets bumped.

Dan Ripley is a pole vaulter. His main luggage is three cardboard tubes containing the fiberglass Pacer American poles that propelled him a year ago in New York to a record 18-foot-3 3/4 indoor vault. For the next two months, Ripley will be criss-crossing the country to attend 11 major track meets and the club final at the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) national championship meet at Madison Square Garden Feb. 25. College competitors finish the circuit mid-March at the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) meet in Detroit.

And just to insure that he didn't miss the seasonal kick-off CYO-M Club Invitational meet at Cole Field House Friday night, Ripley had his new poles shipped from the manufacturer directly to Coege Park instead of his home in Fullerton, Calif.

"It really makes you worry when you have to take off (on an airplane) without your poles," he said, laughing nervously.

"It's like an added worry.The airplines always phone you up and promise to deliver the poles by taxi when the finally arrive, but sometimes it's too late."And he can't help wincing as he recounts being a public spectable everywhere he goes on the track circuit. "You always have to drag your poles with you everwhere. If you take a cab, you have to stick them through the window. And when you arrive in the lobby of the hotel, there you are carrying these poles. It's the only, time I wish I was in some other event," the 23-year-old graduate of San Jose State said.

But the real death wish may have crept into Ripley's psyche when an injury forced him out of competition in the Olympic Trials last spring in Eugene, Ore. He had vaulted 18-4 outdoors in May before coming up lame. Ripley doesn't talk about past disappointments, though. He is more concerned with now, with the "double," or back-to-back competitions that will take him and other strack stars from one coast to the other with barely enough time to unpack anything but track shoes (and poles) some weekends.

"The main thing is to try and get some sleep on the plane," Ripley said. After losing the pole vault competition Friday night to Mike Tully, who have fewer misses at 17-6, Ripley headed for the airport to wait out a flight to Los Angeles for yesterday's Sunkist meet.

"Just to complicate things, there is a change of planes in Dallas," he said. "I figure we'll get to our rooms by 4:30 a.m., and if we sleep until 10 a.m. that's five hours almost."

He says some athletes take mild sleeping pills if they are on overseas flights to insure rest in cramped quarters. He takes nothing.

"But you're always loggy, even if you sleep," he explained. "Just travelling tires you out. I like seeing different cities, and flying all over the world. But I found out that all I'm seeing is airports and stadiums and hotels.

"Some athletes drink coffee to get alert after a flight. Some take little caffeine pills. But if you just get out there and see what you can do, you surprise yourself. I don't know why it happens that way, but some of the best prformances I've turned in were in back-to-back second-day meets.

"You always figure you'll fall off the second day after flying across country, but I never have. Once I jumped (vaulted) a record but it was discounted when they decided it was mismeasured. It was last year in Albuquerque, N.M., the day after the Millrose Games (in New York)."

Maryland Invitational director Bob Comstock says' the intimacy of the crowd at indoor meets stimulates the athletes to better performances. "I've seen them compete equally well on two consecutive days on the east and west coasts," he said. "Indoor track has that effect on the athlete; he gets an excitement from the crowd noise and it lifts him. At outdoor meets, the athlete is on his own to get himself up. Indoors, the crowds do it.

Ripley says that the meets are scheduled on opposite sides of the continent on consecutive days to take advantage of weekend dates when there is greater spectator draw. Plus, the weekends scheduling is easier on the athletes, some of whom hold jobs and some of whom are still students.

Willie Davenport, who was a bronze medalist in the Olympics in the 110-meter high hurdles, competed in the Maryland and the Los Angeles meets this weekend. Despite the tight schedule, he will run the 60-yard high hurdles twice, and be back at work Monday morning in Baton Rouge La., where he is the head of the Mayor's President's Youth Council.

Ed Moses, the honors student from Morehouse College in Atlanta who won a gold medal in Montreal in the 400-meter intermediate hurdles, missed classes Friday but will be back pounding the books by Monday.

Ripley said there are about 20 or 25 athletes who travel the track circuit to the 14 invitational meets that separate the elite in trakc from the also-rans. They travel light, shoulder bags bulging with two or three pair of shoes - maybe fewer if they bring interchangeable spikes.For Cole Field House's plywood portable track, they used short needle-pointed spikes, one-eighth to one-fourth-inch long.

Ripley has arranged his part-time teaching career and part-time graduate student curriculum to conform with the hectic winter track schedule. He teaches two classes Monday nights and attends graduate school Tuesday evenings. Plus, he said, he is signed up as a substitute teacher, which makes his day work flexible.

"It's a pretty good deal," he said. The invitational meets pay each athlete, and sometimes their coaches, for travel, room and board to and from metts. The travel may be aggravating but it is free. "I eat better on the road than I do at home," Ripley confessed.