Just take a step with your backpack off the threshold of the house, and the journey begins! - Interview with Patrick 'Qki' Kwela, prepper, photographer and traveler.
Regardless of the weather and season, he spends every free moment away from home. Staying in the open air is for him a hotel of a million stars. Using ancient and modern techniques of survival, during trips into the wilds or mountain treks, it conquers new peaks and crosses internal barriers. Each journey teaches him humbleness and improves his skills and knowledge, which in the next trips allow even better to predict the coming threat. He calls himself prepper, but in his heart there is also a place for survival, hiking and bushcraft. Qki can be found mainly in the woods, sometimes on a mountain trail, where he calmly realizes his passions, while sharing amazing photos on his Instagram profile.
Joanna Rassmus: You have always been interested in photography, but with time your passions began to evolve and your adventure with the outdoors began to go beyond the lens, where did it start?
Patryk ‘Qki’ Kwela: From travel magazines;) When I saw in them amazing photos from different regions of the world, I wanted to get them myself and see them. I remember that my first trips were with my parents, usually trips to the Polish sea or visiting castles. However, the first major trail followed was the Trail of the Eagles' Nests, on which I learned how unprepared I was. However, I saw what I wanted, I experienced the adventure of youth, and I transferred my passions not only to the Polish mountains, but also to the native Bory Tucholskie. With time, I aim higher and plan more and more interesting routes.
JR: Where did the idea for the rocks come from?
PK: The passion for sport climbing was born in junior high school thanks to a wonderful geography teacher, promoter of spending time outdoors among young people from Bydgoszcz, Dariusz Suchomski, a climber and mountaineer, thanks to whom I was absorbed by mountain fever, climbing in Jurassic rocks and Polish climbing panels. Climbing sports gives me a thrill and a specific kind of freedom, freedom from gravity and an unconventional way of moving in space, overcoming terrain difficulties and my physical and mental barriers. I neglected this sport, I don't climb regularly anymore, but once I will jump into the climbing area I know in Bydgoszcz, and relax in this way.
JR: Having authority nowadays can be difficult due to the pace of life, self-proclaimed people and the fashion of creating specialists on the basis of one program. Despite these factors, do you have a person in your life who you can describe as an example?
PK: I have several top authorities, but it is difficult to name only one, because each of these people is important to me at a different level. Maybe I will mention the few most important ones. Darek Suchomski, which I mentioned earlier - a mountaineer and mountaineer, my geography teacher from junior high school, who with his stories infected his passion for travel thrifty with convenience, but full of aesthetic experiences, people and mountains. Alexander Supertramp, or Christopher McCandless, an authentic American traveler whom I met thanks to the movie Into the Wild, a truly free man, a rebel, but also a perfect example of the fact that he does not play with nature. Martyna Wojciechowska, a person of great modesty who, with effort and great work, shows in her books and programs the truth of the culture of a given place and the everyday life of local people, people like us. Alexander Doba, although the area of this type of travel is far away, he shows me the will to fight for a goal that man assumes, and his unusual serenity and amazing stories motivate to action.
JR: It is known that over time the difficulty level of expeditions escalates and requires more time to prepare. Do you feel that traveling is becoming a way of life for you rather than a hobby?
PK: In part, it's a way of life, because traveling defines me, thanks to the people I meet on my way and the photos I take, I have memories that give meaning to life. On the other hand, it's still a hobby and passion, a stepping stone from everyday life. Is it evolving? Yes, I try new things, I do not limit myself to trekking only in the Tatra Mountains, but I travel from the sea, through lowland, highland and mountain routes. I sleep in a tent, somewhere in the forests of Pomerania, in a hammock, under a tarpaulin in the Kraków-Częstochowa Upland, as well as in shelters, somewhere high in the mountains. I never limit myself to one form of activity or area.
JR: Do you have any special thought or idea that accompanies you on expeditions?
PK: Rather lack of ideas, it's mainly about calming down and paradoxically escaping from crowds of people from everyday life;) Sometimes, and even very often the goal is the road and the journey, wandering around the area, on closer or further routes, getting to know new and interesting people, culture and religion that I didn't get to meet at home, trying food that I can't make myself. A road is everything that surrounds it, not a finish or destination.
JR: You combine many outdoor passions - but traveling and prepping stand out the most. I saw that you won Polish Alaska ...
PK: The Jizera Mountains are a beautiful place not only for hikers like me, but also for cyclists, runners and skiers. Lots of not too steep routes, wild nature and cold, after all it's Poland Alaska. Only a small part of the Jizera Mountains is located in Poland, the greater is on the Czech side. The unusual charm of this place, wild streams, not very steep, but long approaches, peat bogs, and beautiful raw nature. The climate is also added by tourist sheds, which I sometimes used when sleeping. Unfortunately, winding, i.e. the use of shelters (temporary shelters) is not common in Poland, and unfortunately the culture of caring for such places is not among the best among Poles.
JR: Wiatting? You can tell us something more, because I come across this term for the first time. And the only thing that comes to my mind are beach screens;)
PK: Wiatting is a great help with so-called Ultra-Light Trekking, as well as any outdoor activity. Conquering the next peaks, overcoming the trails, on their way you can often meet something that can be described as a carport, i.e. a roof. There are huge tourist shelters in Poland, some adapted to something more than just stopping for a sandwich. In the mountains we can meet Scandinavian-type shelters with an organized place for accommodation and a hearth. They are often shepherd's huts, shepherds' huts. Of course, you can use them to ensure cleanliness and not destroy the common good. Well-adapted containers with firewood, kerosene lamps and even emergency canning are known in the mountains in the world. Wiatting is simply the use of such buildings; it's a big convenience, because the tent leaves the main luggage - it doesn't fall on the head, there is no wind. Sometimes it is cold, but the charm of sleeping in such places is invaluable./p>
JR: From your photos and travel stories, it seems to me that the word "sightseeing" is not a very accurate term in your case, because you feel that you live more in a given place, you get to know them and use them. Where else did you manage to be?
PK: I have been to many places in Poland, from the coast to the mountains. I love and I love the Krakow-Częstochowa Upland, to which I often return, even for the trail of the Eagles' Nests. The Tatra Mountains and the beloved routes of the High Tatras, and the amazing atmosphere of the hostel in the Dolina Pięciu Stawów Valley. Bieszczady Mountains, from the hits to the beloved topic of the San Valley, nature trails, burnt villages and churches. Bory Tucholskie, Pomerania, smaller reserves in Poland. I visited France a little (Paris, Troyes, Dijon), got to know Spain well, especially the biggest cities like Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao, I traveled the island of Gran Canaria, living some time in Las Palmas. I loved the Balkans, their culture, history and complicated relationships. Currently, one of my plans is to get the Crown of Polish Mountains, but it is a long-term goal due to work and various travel plans outside Poland. At the moment, in 2-year plans I want to see Greece and Italy. This year Ukraine, Kiev and Chernobyl, which has been awaited for many years.
JR: Which of the trips was the most comprehensive and which the most satisfying?
PK: The most exhausting was the first trip to the Kraków-Częstochowa Upland due to the enormous heat and then little experience. As for the most satisfying, the surroundings of the Ohrid and Prespan Lakes in Macedonia - beautiful views. In Poland, definitely Bieszczady, Krywe in the San Valley - wildness and surrounding emptiness.
JR: And what about the Transfogarian Route, because on your profile you announced that you want to get it this year. Where does the idea for this direction come from and do you have time for everything?
PK: The choice for Transfagarasan was made by Traveler Magazine, which convinced me that it is one of the most beautiful routes in Europe. Romanian Carpathians, demanding route, Vlad Palownik castle and beautiful views. If all plans are successful, I will cover this route on foot in August. As an alternative, I have a trip to Chernobyl, which I mentioned earlier. If it fails this year, I will postpone the Transfogarske route to the next year. This is a demanding step because the Romanian Carpathians verify skills and fortitude. This preparation is not only logistic and equipment, but also physical and mental.
JR: And accommodation? Will you sleep in shelters / accommodation or in the open air?
PK: Tent, hammock, tilt. That's enough for me. Hotel of a million stars :)
JR: Yes, travel is not everything, there are preparations - what do they look like in your case?
PK: Preparations are underway from the early stages of the idea, buying a map and determining routes and routes, setting a date, and often arranging an extra day off from work. When I am ready logistically, I start packing, preparing food, clothes, checking the weather, and traveling. It's easy - just take a step with your backpack outside the threshold of the house, and the journey begins.
JR: And how does your family or girlfriend react when you say you are going away for a few days and will not be able to contact you?
PK: My parents are used to it, they understand that it is my passion and they help me as much as they can. My girlfriend supports me very much and understands that I can't live without it, she goes camping with me sometimes.
JR: You set off on a journey not only on your own, but also in a group; in critical situations you are left alone or do you always try to stay in a group?
PK: You always have to stay in a group, no one will move;)
JR: Is there any age limit for you to which you decided to complete some routes?
PK: I have limits of my age for specific journeys, but only for logistical purposes, to propel myself, like getting the Crown of Polish Mountains before 30, it's a lot of time, and I will calmly manage it, but it motivates me to next trips. The biggest problem is with free time, then with money. It would be best to have a sponsor and not worry about funds, but with my ideas and desire to see everything, culture, wild nature or meet people, there are no such sponsors. So travels cheap, and it's the most convenient.
JR: There is still some time up to 30;) Since you mentioned age, you celebrated your 26th year at Śnieżnik - it is a somewhat unconventional form of celebration.
PK: I have been spending my birthday in the field for several years, and since I was born in January, these are winter expeditions. I often spend them with friends, just walking on the trail in Bory, or like a year ago, getting Śnieżnik in adverse conditions (strong wind, frost and a lot of snow). I remember that eyelashes froze at the top, but it is probably about having memories that is the best gift. Later in the shelter at the top with celebrated people we celebrated my upcoming holiday. And at home, of course, at another time, we improved with friends, so I don't have time to be bored. Birthday trips have their incredible charm and grace, but they are very tiring.
JR: In addition to being a traveler, you mainly say that you are a prepper. You also define yourself as a survivor - do you have any way to train your survival skills in the wilderness or are you "going as it goes"?
PK: Rather, I go as it goes, I just go to the forest with the basic tools and live. I will light a fire, prepare something good to eat. Nature gives us everything to survive.
JR: You mentioned tools, I will ask you what does your EDC kit contain?
PK: The very concept of EDC is a term that you always have with you, even going to the store for 10 minutes. My EDC, which I always have, is a wallet with documents and a cash register, keys with a container for several painkillers, Leatherman Sidekick multitool, Olight s20 flashlight, Ontario RAT1 folder (or other, depends on humor), and a G-Shock Mudman watch. These are the things that I always have. Expedition equipment changes depending on the season, weather, terrain or type of expedition.
JR: Sure you Mors Kochanski is a famous person, agree with his statement that the more you know, the less you wear?
PK: In part. Thoughtful equipment can make our lives a lot easier. The combination of knowledge, skills and equipment is the best you can do.
JR: Do you remember your first survival trip?
PK: Survival cannot be planned. When you go to the forest and want to coexist with it, then it is bushcraft. And when you come across a crisis situation and you have to deal with survival, and when you go with camping or outdoor equipment it's camping. Of course, all this can be mixed up. As for the survival expedition, there is no such thing. Survival is a crisis, you can train individual things like building a shelter, navigating, getting water and food. However, survival alone cannot be practiced.
JR: So quite often expeditions or survival trainings offered on the Internet are just a form of camping?
PK: By definition, yes. As I said, you can and should train and practice. Survival training is learning through practice, but without any real threat.
JR: Maybe it's different - what is the biggest / most serious threat you have ever faced so far?
PK: When I was traveling through the Bieszczady Mountains, Orkan came, it started to blow strongly and thunder, there were breaking trees around. It was scary. Somehow it survived, there were a lot of broken trees on the trail, so I lost my markings. I managed somehow, although I had an emergency plan in my head how to survive this night.
JR: So you managed to reach the hostel, did you have to spend the night in the open?
PK: I managed to reach the hostel. Weather conditions were difficult, it was windy and sleet. However, consistent forward pressure, despite the lack of markings on the trail, and meticulous analysis of the map, allowed me to return to the shelter and reach my destination without turning back. This is also taught by the art of survival, not only practical skills, but also the consequences of your actions, peace, and thoughtful steps on how to get out of danger.
JR: And if you had to choose which most important thing or skill helps you survive in a crisis, what would it be?
PK: Nothing will help you survive like your own mind and experience. Only healthy and sober thinking in any crisis can pull out of the worst oppression. Survival is not only situations somewhere far away from home, it is situations that can happen to us in the middle of the city, it is the art of surviving and overcoming the crisis. Of the things, I would choose a well-made, even the smallest first aid kit.
JR: You probably see the trend that many people are increasingly interested in the art of survival and use the terms survival, bushcraft, prepping interchangeably. Are these areas really connected?
PK: Of course. Survival is the link between bushcraft and prepping. Bushcraft is coexistence with nature, preparation for life in the forest or in the wild, building not an emergency shelter, but everyday life, building tools. Prepping is the keynote, preparing for an emergency situation in the form of preparing a place where you live, such as home, water supplies, canned food, but not only ... Prepping is also survival skills such as evacuation from an endangered place, or bushcraft, i.e. living in a new, wild environment.
JR: Do you think that due to the rather intensive popularization of survival, including military trends, this area of the outdoor can become more common?
PK: I think it's good that the popularity of this type of active leisure is expanding. In times of total laziness, computers, smartphones, survival and various types of military or paramilitary activities, such as ASG, paintball, bushcraft, are becoming more and more fashionable. The more interesting people to meet, listen to the stories and adventures of others, the greater the desire to experience their own.
JR: It seems to me that there is a more general view in society that prepper is a person who cannot be taken seriously because he is preparing for a zombie attack or things that can only happen in movies. Where do you think this approach comes from? Can they be changed somehow?
PK: I don't know how these opinions come from. People are comfortable, they prefer not to worry about bigger problems than a broken car or an annoying neighbor. I'm a prepper myself. People measure preppers by this measure, because some are preparing for the apocalypse, others for the zombie attack. He does not deny this, because their preparations will help them and in other more real threats. This can be seen in the weather that the climate affects our lives, and the prepper has an additional flashlight at home, a supply of water, batteries and is prepared, even for a cataclysm.
Preppers don't just prepare for war, they think, they prepare a plan for every threat. Fire, flood, riots, demonstrations, gales, terrorist attacks are paradoxically things that can affect each of us, and are not just in the movies. Can you change that view, yes! I invite you to a preppers meeting to talk to us, lots of great lectures, and lots of great people.
JR: And you feel more like a traveler, bushcraft player or prepper yourself?
PK: I feel a bit of each of them, because each of these zones defines me as a person. I feel the least for a bushcraft player, although I spend the most time in the woods. Bushcraft itself, as the word indicates, is creation in the forest, creation and adaptation to life. I love the forest and occasionally pick something up, but if I would honestly say that I am 100% bushcrafter, I would spend time more actively in the forest - creating long-term shelter, tools, looking for food or creating them using primitive methods, rather than modern tools and materials.
I feel like a traveler because I have something to tell about my travels and the places I saw; stories about people I met, about good and bad times on the road. Traveling is my way to escape from everyday problems, from work, but also to learn about new aspects of life, new and foreign religion or culture. If I had unlimited resources and time I would still be on my way. I would like to see and get to know every more or less interesting place on Earth. Of course, I have priorities and a list of what earlier and later. There are places where I would love to go back, even though I was there, even though they are thousands of kilometers away from me, even though I have already met them - I would like to go back there and get to know again what I have already known.
As long as I can, I will be on my way and I think I am in it all the time, because being at work, at home I always plan where to go this time, or I remember already traveled routes. I feel prepper very much, the passion to be prepared for any eventuality and to respond to crisis situations is also partly part of my job. Logistic preparation in the form of devising a risk scenario, preparing myself, equipment is already a lifestyle, I always have my EDC and first aid kit because I know how much it is needed, not only when hurt ... in a more serious case it can save someone or me.
JR: So you are always ready?
PK: I'm trying. Going out for a walk with the dog ends up taking a flashlight, a knife and the rest of the equipment that I always have with me. When I drive somewhere further away by car or for a few days, the car is not prepared only for lack of oil or breakdowns, but for greater danger: I have a supply of water inside, a basic food ration, a hatchet or a tarpaulin or blankets. I am annoyed by the view that preppers are funny people because they are preparing for an apocalypse. During small everyday disasters, we as preppers will manage because of the passion we have and thanks to the skills we acquire and the scenarios we prepare. We are preparing theoretically for the Zombie apocalypse;) We are prepared for an unexpected fire, accident, flood, riot, etc. Something that each of us knows, often from the story of our own lives. We, as preppers, are more prepared theoretically and practically to solve a problem at a given moment because of preparation or the equipment we have. The first aid kit saves lives, the knife is not only used to attack, flint, if you can, will quickly light a fire. Having skills and practicing them, gaining experience is the basis of preppers life. All my passions combine and overlap, mix and complement each other, making them one and the same passion - the love of spending time actively in the open air.
JR: So you think to transform your passion into a source of income? Are you afraid that you may lose your enthusiasm for it?
PK: I wouldn't have an idea how. I don't have enough knowledge to train people, there are things that I could do and, at the same time, get great job satisfaction, such as a mountain shelter keeper, PTTK employee or a tour guide. Sure, I'm afraid, but it's worth risking for dreams.
JR: It is a tradition that at the end of each interview the person I talk to has their "5 minutes" and can say anything; no restrictions - pure freestyle;) What would you like to tell readers?
PK: Don't be afraid to try, travel and taste life. It is known, everyone likes something different, more or less active recreation. It is important that it is as much as possible outside the home or at least in the area related to home or work. Whether it will be sunbathing on the Baltic Sea, kayaks in Masuria, hiking in Macedonia, or visiting abandoned buildings in Chernobyl or the Berlin metro. We know that it's best at home, but sometimes you have to miss it. By bus, car, bicycle, canoe, on foot. Just hit the road.
Interviewed by: Joanna Rassmus
Photos: Patryk „Qki” Kwela