560km, 13 days, 25 kg on your back… The expedition starts tomorrow. How is your mood?
Feelings vary. Sometimes my mood is better, sometimes worse. There is a lot of doubt, and there are a lot of question marks. It is very hard to prepare for a lonely journey, because, in addition to the specific training, logistical issues and choosing the right equipment, you must also remember to be properly prepared mentally. The fear is mixed with excitement, and this does not help in keeping a cool head. On the other hand, it turns out that I need these extreme emotions in order to live. It is the adrenaline, which each of us seeks and hopes to find. Sometimes I catch myself feeling guilty that I do not plan anything, do not organise. It may sound funny, but these expeditions and their planning have got under my skin, and thus so have all the good and bad emotions that this brings. Overall it is a nice feeling. Otherwise, I would not do it.
You will face one of the most inhospitable landscapes on earth and want to do it in record time. Where did you get your motivation for such a challenge?
Motivation comes from somewhere in the depths of myself. It sounds very arrogant, but it’s true. There is such a thing in a man that pushes him to overcome successive hurdles. Motivation often comes during the trek, and it is hard to plan it. The thoughts that pass through my head while walking cannot to be predicted, and I never know what thought will motivate me to take the next step. I have the impression that I do it a little for myself, a little for someone who, unfortunately, has not been with me for four years and this time a little for my eight-month-old daughter of Ida. I know that thoughts about her during the trek will give me unearthly strength to overcome all obstacles. The whole adventure has begun to be very emotional for me, and it is hard for me to get rid of these emotions in particular. I do not know if I want to. It is cool to do something in life, which will make loved ones very proud of you.
Inspiration too, is not without significance. Personalities such as Chris Townsend, Alastair Humphreys and Sean Conway show me that everything you wish for is possible. Then it’s a matter of organisation. It costs a lot (in work, not necessarily money), but everything comes back to the man when he has to put the first step on a designated route with a heavy pack on his back.
You want to go from the northernmost point, Rifstangi, to the most southerly, Kotlutangi. And all this without receiving food during the expedition, and without outside help. Why are you doing this?
For the record, for the sport, and to test myself. The sports record for me is something totally new, even though I started my adventure with treks from walking ultra-marathons, over 100 km in 24 hours. When I went for that distance, I was curious if I could, but it never occurred to me to race with anyone. Now comes the slightly more extreme trekking adventure. I organised this trip to show people that trekking is not only about walking, or Nordic walking, but is also an extreme sport, because there is no other way to describe 13 marathons in 13 days. I would like to promote the philosophy of lonely, long-distance treks.
The route leads, among other places, through a very difficult area of volcanic desert, where appropriate equipment and proper planning are critical. Who helps you in the realisation of the expedition?
I decided to establish my own route, with variants in case of bad weather. I consulted several Icelandic travelers, and Kuba Sarata of Adventure Globe, who also once attempted to cross Iceland, about the route. Volcanic desert is very difficult terrain, and it is a route to be taken only when I am in good physical condition and if Iceland will not send me any of its famous plagues. There is no water, no shelter, no vegetation. I have only the things on my back, upon which I must rely and which must be enough for me. In such cases, you must learn to accept thirst. Unfortunately, there is not much information on the Icelandic interior, so my knowledge is patched together from bits of information that I manage to get a variety of ways.
I have many friends and acquaintances who help me in different ways, and there is not enough space to list them all. Likewise, with sponsors, media patrons, and honorary partners. Without these elements there would be no expedition. I do not have PR or marketing support, I do what I can of this myself, and for the rest, I ask around.
For 13 days you will be entirely in your own company, but this is not the first time that you taken on this kind of challenge, is it?
This is not the first time, but it has never before been so extreme. In Scotland in 2012, on the Cape Wrath Trail, I was collecting food on the route. I used the bothies designed for hikers, but as I walked from point to point along the route, I could rely only on myself. This time I cannot use any facilities on the route. I cannot buy food or medication (even if there were somewhere to buy them), I cannot receive any form of help from people I encounter. I have to have all medicines, food and shelter on my back. The current record for this lonely passage across Iceland without support is 19 days, set by the traveler Luis-Philippe Loncke from Belgium. There have been other attempts to establish a record, but unfortunately it later turned out that the principle of going solo was broken, so there is no other record that counts at the moment.
How do you beat yourself when something does not go according to plan or requires tremendous strength?
There’s no prescription. Resignation, a desire to retreat, often occurs. There are times when I feel lethargic and have strange thoughts about the meaning of what I’m doing. It is important to survive these moments and keep going. Everything changes on the trek. Endorphins let me take the next steps. The rhythm should not be broken. Jacques Lanzman once said that the exercise of trekking borders on delight, at times even bringing ataxia. It’s like a drug. After a few hours of overcoming yourself, an extraordinary phenomenon occurs, like reaching the gates of heaven. Lanzman calls himself a wanderer in seventh heaven, and there is something true in the realisation herein. It is not for nothing that infantrymen called it endogenous morphine. I managed several times to achieve a euphoric state while trekking, and now I know it I strive always to reach it. I have had many situations that did not go as planned, but small steps allow you to get out of most trouble eventually.
How did you prepare for this trip, when those intensive and regular workouts surely took up a lot of your time?
Training was planned out for about two months before the expedition (six days a week). The principle was simple: I corrected my condition, and focused on sensitive places; it is important to stretch your muscles and treat sites of previous injuries with care. I did not want to make any revolution, because in that I would fail. Visits to the masseur, physiotherapist and even podiatrist proved to be crucial. The knowledge and experience that they shared during my visits is more important than the whole workout. This allows me to prevent injuries and, if necessary, mitigate their effects. It is also important to learn from my own mistakes from previous trips. The experience gained from every trek, whether it is a trip, or just training, is worth its weight in gold.
Is it possible in any way to track progress in beating the record?
Yes. First of all, via I o to chodzi, where you can see my current position on the map of Iceland. I’ll also be in contact with administration via satellite phone, through which data will be updated. After the trip I have many projects planned, through which I aim to share all that I experienced walking across one of the most beautiful and dangerous islands in the world. I also invite you to visit www.iotochodzi.com, devoted to long-distance treks.
Photo © Agencja Photoit