He sits in front of me on a wooden chair, wrapped in modesty. A sports jacket, which just a
few days ago resisted the hurricane winds on the west coast of Iceland is hanging on the
backrest. Reaching the tip of the Snæfellsnes peninsula, after the 800-kilometre long journey,
he became the first man in history to complete a solo traverse of the island from east to west in
Łukasz Supergan, the seeker. I can see it in his sparkling eyes, I can hear it in stories brought from mysterious lands, which have been his destinations for years. He crosses them on feet. In the rhythm of the world.
Iran, Israel, Palestine, Poland, Romania, Spain...a multitude of paths, or maybe one path, which is transforming, changing its face; which is constantly running behind the next horizon. And even when it returns to where it was, it discovers new spaces in the landscape and in itself.
This was the case with winter Iceland, which, after a solo traverse in the summer of 2016, became a sort of return for Łukasz. "Iceland is empty also in the summer. You can see the roads that run there better, but you are truly alone. And already then, during the summer trek, I began to wonder - what is it like in winter? And I decided to do it."
But before he put on his skis and set off into infinite white, he spent several years collecting winter experience and carrying out other, equally fascinating projects, about which he told me with an unbridled passion as if, thanks to memories, could move back there again.
"I've been postponing the preparations because I was into things that were slightly easier, but still interesting. For instance, after [summer] Iceland I made the crossing of Israel. The number of meetings gave me great reportage material. On this path, you meet young Israelis, and somewhere in cities, you meet the old ones. You meet Palestinians, you meet visitors and you have a vast overview of it all. People made this trip special. Half a year later, I went to the Alps to make the crossing, and it was like - okay, I crossed the Alps in 2.5 months, but nothing came out of it. I crossed the mountains. It was a pleasant trip, but I didn't collect the knowledge, the baggage of emotions such as during the trip to Israel. So, when I was thinking about this winter crossing of Iceland, I would say - okay, I will do it someday, but for now, Israel itself was so fascinating that I do not regret it."
At the eastern edge of Iceland, in Seyðisfjörður, Łukasz appeared almost four years after the first timid image of the white wilderness crossed his mind. Solo by his own choice, with a polar sledge weighing over 50kg, on the 27th of January 2020, he began his long journey through the land that "wanted to show who's the boss here". During the 36 days of the hike, there were no two with the same weather conditions. Snowstorms intertwined with the thaw, thaw with ice, ice with the storm, storm with humidity appearing after sudden warming. Eyes were opening to absorb the new reality falling out of his hands just after they greeted.
I AM THE LAST LIVING BEING
In a surprisingly loud café in the centre of Reykjavik, Łukasz talks about the silence and loneliness he found in the heart of the island. It seems he misses it, that it's dearer to his spirit than 'here' and 'now'. "Most sounds are made by the man. The moment you sit down calmly, you can hear the wind and that's all. I had a moment when I saw a bird near the glacier in the middle of Iceland. It was a phenomenon because I haven't seen any living creature for 10 days. Going there in the heart of that void, you really are the only living being you see. There is nothing. But you get used to it. I was surprised to see that bird somewhere far, but until I saw it, that loneliness was pretty cool."
He found his faithful companions in solitude and nature as a young man when, with his backpack filled with books, he walked through the forest, escaping a school routine. "I needed some kind of escape from everyday life. When I was a child, I often played alone. I think that hasn't changed in me, but it helps me too."
- Living this way, can you keep in touch with your loved ones? - I asked.
- Hardly. - He answered in a voice filled with honesty. - I go back to someone if I need something. I live alone and of course, I write to my sister or my mom or dad, but it happens that I don't reach out for a week. I remember having a weird situation during the Iran crossing. You know you enter somebody's house and they ask you: where you come from, what's your job, where do you live? So I say at this point, that I come from Poland and I live in Poland. 'So what does your family say?' - they ask. And then comes a long explanation about the Polish economy, that my whole family has left, lives abroad, and so on. And they - 'Well, how are your loved ones doing?' - Well, I don't know. I wrote to my mother two weeks ago, you know, and then people look at you with disbelief because in the Middle East family ties are very strong, so some Iranian or Syrian or Kurd would say - 'you know, I hang on my phone for hours and I know how my parents are doing because we talk twice a day. You don't do that?' - No. And it's true that I don't even have such a family need so it often happens that I only have contact with people when I need it and if I don't need it means that everything is okay. I need a lot of freedom, a lot of personal space, and I also need to be alone because only then I charge my batteries. Contact with people makes me spend that energy."
It was no different during the expedition. The connection with the outside world was limited to sending a location position, a few photos and a short note about the progress, which a friend of Łukasz was translating and re-sharing. - "I didn't need the contact myself, but rather I felt it would be nice to show people outside how it looks here. But it's always about 20 minutes that you cut off from your time."
However, it happens that even in this need for loneliness during distant expeditions there is room in the head for another person. - "When I carry someone in my head, it's regularly the women of my life. From my family or romantically." - he admits. "My mother taught me how to hike. We went to the mountains together, when I was 18 and then she went abroad. And of course, we happened to go out into the heights since then, but once or twice and only for a few hours. And after one accident in Iran, where I barely got out of the rock wall, I sat down and thought to myself - well, I could fucking die. My family might never see me again. That's bad. Life is fragile. And then I realized, that I haven't really been with my mother in the mountains for 14-15 years. I had to fix it. And it took some time. She was changing the date, then I was changing it, but a year later we went to the mountains and it was a great trip. No big deal, 10 days in Bieszczady with a tent. You know, Mom was carrying the tent, I was carrying the tent and I realized it was cool. [In Iceland] I had a similar thought that we hadn't been in the mountains for more than 1 day for a long time and, so having reached the lowlands, Mom and I made an agreement that she's coming to Poland in September and we are going to the mountains together."
5 YEARS IN 5 WEEKS
"There was not a moment when I feared for my life." - he speaks calmly. "There were times when it was dangerous, there were snowstorms, I got lost, I had some kind of heavy bits largely due to the weather, but there wasn't a second, when I was sitting somewhere, or I had to stop somewhere and think - well, I'm in distress, it might be the end."
Łukasz believes, that there was no heroism in this expedition. And there were no dramas that used to occur before, when as a young boy, he wanted to learn everything on the road. He then happened to put up a tent on a mountain ridge only to realize at night, that he's in the middle of a storm or to fight for survival in the mountains of Iran, when it turned out that the trail drawn on the map has become several hundred meters rock wall. "It was 8 hours of permanent fear for life. If one hand or one foot had slipped, it would be the end." - He comments from the perspective of years. "It's a matter of experience, and it may sound immodest when I say it, or when you write about it, but at some point, you know where's your limit."
The experience also helped him to estimate the amount of equipment and food needed on the trail. "I've had a good calculation." - he admits, "but at some point, I saw how difficult Iceland is, how fast I'm going, and I knew, okay, if there are no surprises I'll be able to walk 20km a day, so I'll get there in 10 days' time. However, my calculations were best when going through civilization, as I reached Snæfellsnes having 3 candy bars with me. And that was all".
- What do you eat on such an expedition? - I asked with curiosity. "I had freeze-dried food for dinner. Rice dishes, pasta. Typical lunchtime dishes - some meat, fat, carbohydrates. For breakfast, it has been often mashed potatoes with meat or cheese. And during the day, I tried to make it quite varied with a lot of sweets. A lot of chocolate, a lot of nuts, energy bars or protein bars, some salty snacks. They have dried fish here. I took some of that. I also had supplements, vitamins, but it has been just an addition. And that's it. I did my shopping once, divided it into two parts, one of them landed in the food cache, my friends arranged it for me, and I pulled most of it in the beginning - the food for over 3 weeks."
We sit for a moment in thought. I'm trying to study his face, look for frostbite, the marks the island has left on him, but I can't see anything. On the contrary, I have the impression that there, in that space, he was reborn. "I'm sure that it was a heavy adventure and I've gained plenty of winter experience, but I believe a lot of people would have been able to do it, in terms of physical fitness, for example" - his thoughts clarify in words. "But on the other hand, I have a feeling that it's probably a bit unfair, because I've been thinking about it for 3 years, for the last year I've been gathering information, putting the equipment together, and training intensively, so there was a lot of preparation. As if I had to count, let's assume that I was preparing for the summer Iceland for a year, and now this route was very much in line with the summer one, which means that the knowledge I used in 2020 was coming from 2015, when I was preparing for the summer crossing. So you see, the trip lasted 5 weeks and in fact, the last 5 years have been spent on practice, training, etc."
THE BALANCE IS ZERO
"I'm reaching the mountain pass." - he starts quietly, as if he had these images right in front of him, "and I see a huge rock plateau, leaden clouds, all black and grey, and under these clouds, your eyesight reaches tens of kilometres. There were some mountains in the distance. You just see such an empty volcanic landscape, tens of kilometres and nothing, not even a single road, path, bridge, nothing, and you just see infinity. There were also quite a few moments when the weather was bad, but it was specific weather, a bit like today in Reykjavik, that the sun was shining, but there was a strong wind. And at the moment, when I was walking, the snow was dancing like a flying carpet and it was incredibly beautiful. I was staring at it, and sometimes, I was losing my orientation or balance even if standing still. The snow was floating like a wave. Just as if you were standing on water. And you know, I'm walking through it and the ground is moving in the wrong direction and it's so confusing. But at the same time, it was strangely wonderful, even though you feel the wind and you're cold. It's just beautiful."
The landscapes begin to swirl in my imagination while Łukasz continues his tale. "This is also something I learned on the journey, that you need to have that time to appreciate. I mean, it can't be that I wake up in the morning, roll up the tent, put on the harness and think, 'now, pull that damn sledge for 25km'. I mean, sure - I have planned, where I want to sleep, but even if I have this place in my mind, I try not to be very attached to it, but try to find that moment, when after an hour of pulling the sledge, I sit down and look around and enjoy the landscape, the surroundings a bit. You know, you have to have some time for yourself to celebrate this, and not just blindly pushing forward. So, for example, beating time records on a such trip this wouldn't suit me at all. You know, you're gonna push it to the max ahead. And where's the fun in all this? You really have to have time to look out the window, look around you, sit down because this is the moment when you really appreciate it all."
It's difficult to set off. It's difficult to throw yourself into the arms of an unknown which can't even guarantee your survival. However, what we find on the road within discomfort and effort, attracts so much that we want to sink in it, remain. "The thought of finishing the trip is terrifying. It fills me with emptiness and a sense of meaninglessness. What am I going to do afterwards?", he admits.
Because at the end, there's nothing. "I mean, there's a relief. But it's just a relief that it's over and that it's kind of 'done'. And that's something, I've learned. There's no salvation waiting for you at the end, no wisdom. The easiest way to describe it would be to define it as a life journey. If you think there is something important waiting for you at the end, some enlightenment, then no, it's not. It's not about reaching the end, just like life is not about dying as soon as possible. You know, I set off at Seyðisfjörður by the sea, ended up at the cape of Snæfellsnes by the sea, so the balance is zero. I set off from zero meters above sea level, I ended up at zero. The balance is zero." After a moment, he adds - "The trick is that - first of all, what's important is happening on the road, just as in life, and the second thing is that once you stand on this cape, you know what you're doing next because otherwise, you would feel great emptiness. And for me, it's also art, I've learned. I'm thinking about it during the expedition. I always know, what my next step will be."
Łukasz's next steps are now lectures, articles, high mountains and travels, but those with a human focus because Iceland was something for himself, for the achievement and for checking own borders. "I have such a need that these are not just wanderings for my own enjoyment, but that I can get something out of it. You know, to cross a country on your feet or not, and make it somehow more meaningful. To bring other people closer to those places. More and more often, seeing how our world works, I have a need to describe it, and show it to others, more as a reporter than an explorer for a feat." And what if that doesn't change anything? What if the world can no longer be saved and the words we want to share are forgotten or scattered at the bottom of the bin? It's okay. "It doesn't matter what the outcome of your actions is. Maybe there's any, but your job is to do your duty. That's all." - he admits, looking into my eyes."I don't know, if it'll work for everyone, but at least, it's a formula for me. That even if I go to Israel for the third time and see that people are still killing each other, and I'm sure I'll see total injustice, I can think that writing doesn't make sense, telling a story doesn't make sense because it won't change anything, but on the other hand, it's the only thing I can do. So if I can, if I treat it as my duty, then I should do it even if it doesn't work. Or maybe it will. Maybe it won't, but maybe..."
THE HOUSE IS BLURRED
Spending a great part of life on the road, one can feel that home is everywhere, or that, on the contrary, it is nowhere to be found. "There was a moment, when I spent 8 months on the road but felt I was nowhere at home. And another time, I was on one trip in the Pyrenees for 5 weeks and then a whole year nothing, and I felt like I was missing something. Now I know more or less how much I have to stay in the country and how much I want to be out." - Łukasz admits. It took him 10 years to find that balance. "If you ask me, what's home, I have a reasonably clear definition of it. But it's fluid too. It's not like I could sit there all the time. I have some of my favourite places around Poland and in the world where I like to go back or where I would like to go back someday, so this definition of home is a bit blurry to me, but still, I have it. It is not that I am a complete nomad and the world is my home. There is a place, I can come back to and feel that I belong."
- Do you happen to dream at night during the expedition?
- Yes, but I can't remember my dreams. When I open my eyes, I forget what I dreamed. It disappeared in time. Somewhere in it all. But I don't bother about it either.
"It disappeared in time." It's forever gone. Same as shoe traces in the snow after a night wind. Unless you tell about those traces, describe their story. What we've gone through there, who we've met. The fact that we were there. That we were. Somewhere. Once in the past.
"If people remembered me as someone who did interesting expeditions, it will be nice, but if they remember me as someone who was doing a fine job describing the world, that would be something. People like that, good reporters or old-timers are remembered from their books, for example. It is known that the world is already described in its entirety, but if they remember me as someone who explained this world well and described it well, it would make sense".
Who are you to yourself? - I asked before we went out on the snowy street of the evening city. "I
don't know." - he smiled gently. "I think I'm still searching for it. I'm soon hitting 40 and I still don't
know, who I want to be when I grow up. It's a little crazy, but it's true. I don't know, who I'd like to
be when I grow up."
Interview conducted and translated by Aleksandra Wierzbowska