Solitary trips to the far corners of the world, ecology as respect and care for nature and its riches, paragliding adventures, work as a conceptual designer, illustrator, photojournalist, childhood trauma fighter and growing up on the margin of the school community... These are only a few themes with which we could fill various Portal pages if we wanted to tell more about Kila. Far North and sled dogs are one of her passions. In the next interview we shall tell you more about her artistic involvement (which is also her specialty) – the creation of the fantasy worlds and characters.
To break the ice, let us start break... snow and frost! Tough conditions, dog sleighs and the challenging distance are but a small picture of the Fjällräven Polar 2015 expedition. You have joined the team as the only person from Poland. What drove you to the Far North of Europe? How did your sled dog adventure begin – and how did that passion come about?
All this began some years ago... with seating in front of computer. At that time the youth grasped the idea of virtual travel and the computer games. I was also one of them and wanted to get immersed in this world just like my peers, as outdoor activities and sports were considered boring and the relict of the past. This was my rebel youth.
But for my Dad, who was then a professional sportsman [Cezary Zamana, an outstanding Polish cyclist, the winner of Tour de Pologne in 2003 – note by ŁS], this was unacceptable. And it was not just about the body. He perfectly knew that hiding in the virtual world was bad for my soul.
And since he knew my love for animals, he came up with the idea of trying my strength in dog sledding. In the end, I gave way and we joined the international contest in Jakuszyce. It was the time I had ever seen saw the running sleigh among snowy clouds for the first time: our Polish flag, a sleigh drawn by six golden Greenland dogs.
The sleigh was owned by the late Andrzej Wilczopolski (2012), a multiple world champion, a legend of this sports discipline. I caught the bug from him. And in fact this was during my very first night ride when I rushed on the moonlight-lit snow accompanied by clear constellations and falling stars. This was a magic time. Never before I had such a close encounter with nature. I felt that I was part of the universe – and this was a great feeling. This is where and how my way to the North began.
Together with other Fjällräven Polar participants you had to withstand snowstorms and fight exhaustion… In such long-lasting effort and tough conditions, the fight to overcome one’s own weaknesses becomes much an internal struggle. What was your greatest difficulty in the expedition?
The toughest time was not the snowstorm and exhaustion but the way the extreme conditions hit the expedition and my relations with the participants. We set our first camp at 2 in the morning. Weather abnormalities “trained us through” faster than normal. Actually, this was a theory announced in the middle of the route. I understood nothing, but could rely on no one, since no one was able to help me. While others knew what to do, they could not explain that to me. I realised that I was the only one left without the must-tools. I felt totally helpless. This was the time of great doubt.
Were the problems because you hear… differently than others?
To explain this, I must go back in time several years. This feeling of helplessness transported my mentally to the time when, for an unknown reason, I lost hearing completely. When I woke up after an implant placement, which was supposed to help me recover hearing, my head was surrounded by monitors and blood supply equipment attached to my head. I felt like a cyborg. I started a new life, as a completely new person. I had to learn to hear the sounds in a new way and live a new life. I felt that my body was struggling against this foreign body placed in my body.
I hear completely differently that a healthy person. The audiometric shows the normal healthy levels – all the sounds. But the perception is completely different. It is like 2D and 3D pictures. In 2D everything is flattened, single-layered, while 3D has the dimension, separate space and depth. We do not normally think about it but the natural sense of hearing has something like space in which we can separate and differentiate sounds. Artificial hearing does not have this dimension therefore I often have difficulty separating the “sounds". When talking in a noisy area, the noise in my head gets even greater. Human voice gets mixed with other sounds. The same is with music – I can hear it but it is devoid of its magic, which healthy people can hear.
The worst, however, was that all this was happening when I was still attending the junior general secondary school. This was my toughest time as a youngster. At this phase of life you build up your self-esteem and identity while the resilience to the outside world, the influence of peers is the weakest. The key value then was the perfect image. And the rat race tools in the game for the perfect image were mostly the power of speech and verbal communication. And I failed there fast. No one wanted to wait for me, and sometimes certain things had to be repeated or explained. I was a pain in a neck. This made me utterly helpless – and this “old” helplessness hit me again at the start of Fjällräven Polar.
A person who was my guide at one of the phases of the expedition bailed me out. Tom told me not to focus on my greatest weakness but to use the best of my strengths (the one which the others were lacking) instead: my relation with dogs. “People tend to forget that the true heroes of the expedition are dogs and not them. Try help others with dogs!"
And he was right. In the end, the guide trusted me and I myself became a guide of this group at this part of the route: I no longer had to mechanically follow the sleighs like others. I had the freedom in front of me. And responsibility. This gave me a feeling of an inner force.
The participants of Fjällräven Polar should trust each other, cooperate and rely on each other in any conditions, but this aspect of the expedition turned out to be another challenge for you. What were your relations like with the team? What was your gain?
At the beginning I thought that I met the nicest people on earth. And it was largely so, since they had outdoor and traveller background, a bunch of interesting people, open to the world.
They were on the opposite side of the barricade of computer gamers, a domain in which I wanted to get into more so much before – people closed in themselves and the artificial space created by this world. This is how the modern technology hits us, overwhelms us and closes us, trying to break up contact with the real world.
At the start of Fjällräven Polar, we were all friends. But bonds turned out to be weak when the trial of the real expedition came upon us. When we entered the world of absolute primordial nature and were faced with unknown challenges, a great “personality test” began.
The idyll has ended. We were all of a sudden deprived of the physical, but mainly of the mental comfort, and this caused rapid changes in the social thinking of the participants. No one had ever been on a team expedition before. All of us felt lost.
Therefore the key lesson learned from Fjällräven Polar was that during such expedition you must switch off emotions and any expectations of the team completely – also any expectation of help – as you can fall in this field easily. And this is what exactly happened to me. I thought that team spirit help was the most natural thing in the world, but it wasn’t. Even the fact that I had my own extra barrier to overcome did not make anyone help me. The best attitude is “you can count on yourself only”.
During the first phase of Fjällräven Polar, nature destroyed our whole knowledge about social relations of the “civilised world.” There, in the North, everything turned out to be not fully true – and broke up fast. It was not until the end of the expedition that we built up true relations as a team based on honest and true kindness. This was when we began to support each other.
What was the guiding principle of the organisers who took the participants to the land of snow again? A snowmobile trip would have been much easier.
The idea of the Fjallraven Polar organisers is to show that each of us may experience the severity of the primordial world, the nature of the North. Each of us is able to become friends with that world and find in ourselves the skills killed by the civilisation – its comforts and facilities. You do not need to be a great Polar explorer or specialist.
Fjällräven Polar was your first team expedition but not the first great adventure. Is travelling “just” your passion or something more? Inner compulsion? A way of life? A value added to your work?
For me travelling has always been something more than that. And I am not talking about package, all inclusive holidays. All this began with my studies. I felt that I followed the old patterns of thinking, meeting the expectations of our society: graduate, find work and arrange a personal life. In consequence, at university I broke up completely. I gave up and decided to go on a solitary trip to America. This was a great challenge: I suffered from social anxiety and I could not speak English at all...
All my solitary trips were a form of my personal transformation and school of life. I learned much more than I could ever do staying at university. And by saying so I do not mean knowledge acquired through studies but the perception ability and conscious thinking. My trips healed my social phobias and were much more effective than any psychotherapy. By travelling, I learned to speak English – and that was much more effective than many years of private tuition. Most of all, this was the first great step in discovering who I truly was. And when I began to the journey of self-discovery, and began to better understand the world.
Travelling also moved my imagination and helped “take the artistic course" – which has been invaluable in my work. Now I want to enter a new phase of my journey: I want to inspire others, share them with the world. In an artistic and creative way.
Coming back to dog sledding – how often can you dedicate yourself to this passion? In Poland, good conditions are relatively short, and the discipline is not so popular, either.
In fact, I do not devote as much time as I would have wished, and mushing requires tremendous sacrifice. To fully engage in the discipline, you must change your lifestyle completely. You should have your own dogs and care for them for many years. And, unfortunately, this is a costly passion, not everyone can afford it. You must have a stable income, proper place and… established life priorities. The love for animals is not enough. Financial stability is very important for the safety of the dogs, which cannot be neglected. I was a witness to many such situations, also when dogs were completely exhausted.
The other thing is that in Poland mushing is treated as a niche discipline, as a hobby, not as a sport. Despite many championships won by Polish people, also world championships, our competitors receive no funding or aid from the state. Our weather does not help us, either – we now practically have no winter. So we go abroad, which means extra cost and time.
Supposedly, all those who read this article may think that they would like to join the expedition. Half of the people will search for information on how to start. And out of this half... Ok, finally some will conclude that dog sledding is for them; they will go to sleep and wake up with the strong resolution that they want to do it. And they have enough strength inner force to realise it. What, do you think, they should start with?
I do hope that this interview will be the first step, just like in my case this was my Dad’s suggestion to get interested in dog sledding. Another magic step for me was to see them live. And this is also my suggestion: go and see them as a sports fan. Feel the “chemistry” of the discipline. And the third step is to meet the mushers, talk to them, make friends, and even visit them!
In Scandinavia, mushers often offer an opportunity to volunteer. In exchange for accommodation and board you may help with the care of the dogs, in daily duties. And you can gain the invaluable knowledge and experience! But before you decide to engage in the passion personally, you should know what it all looks like in reality – to avoid errors – the price usually paid by the dogs. In reality, dog sledding involves mostly obligations and the “less enjoyable things”. You must be fully aware of it.
But! The good news is that you can start the passion by having one dog. Skijoring and bikejoring, in which a single dog draws the musher on cross-country skis or a bike, will care for it.
I have my own Greenland dog – during the season it turns into a “work dog”, but is also perfectly adapted to my present lifestyle and capabilities. And it is completely sufficient!
By: Łukasz Smogorowski, Eurodesk Poland