"Then there is real survival, we only have our mind and zero equipment" - Interview with Marek Maćkowiak, founder of CREX Adventure Group
Passion can be a part of life, but it can also become a signpost giving meaning to the whole. Marek Maćkowiak, survivalist and founder of CREX Adventure Group is a person who shares his love of outdoor activities with other people. When he realizes his goals, he develops not only his own character, but also shapes others. Despite his great achievements, he is extremely modest. He easily travels the 100 km route, and now, together with the CREX group, he is preparing to go to Ukraine, where he will spend seven days in the Carpathians without contact with civilization.
Joanna Rassmus: You deal with broadly understood field activity - starting from survival expeditions, through hiking, cycling, rocks and sea diving, and ending with ultramarathons or the Butcher's Run. Despite the considerable activity, there is not much about you in the media - is this your choice?
Marek Maćkowiak: There has never been a special pressure to be in the media, but there was also no avoidance. It's probably a coincidence. There were mentions in local newspapers, and we also had our 5 minutes on TV. Maybe the media will only notice us;) One thing is certain - we want to accumulate more enthusiasts, so the media can help us with this.
JR: By Your lifestyle we can see that you are addicted to contact with nature. What made outdoor become yours, would risk saying, "the love of life"?
MM: I grew up in the countryside, so it was theoretically quite close to nature, then school, moving to the city and after a few years I noticed that I fell into a typical vortex of work, rush etc. I started training combat systems, I was looking for challenges in airsoft, at the same time I was interested in art of survival. During one of the trips I had contact with wolves and then there was a fascination with them, and as a result activities for SDN "Wilk". In the next trips I got to know more species of local animals and that's how it started.
JR: Will you tell us about your first impressions after meeting the wolves?
MM: The first meeting with a wolf ... It wasn't interesting, because I saw him from afar as he crept across the meadow. The most interesting were those where I stood on the path of animals at dawn; straight face to face with wolf. We stood and looked each other in the eye. I had a camera, but it didn't even occur to me to use it, after a few seconds the wolf disappeared in the ferns, then walked around and looked at us from behind. A friend was with me then. Believe, true magic at sunrise; it was a real eye to eye encounter. I met wolves many times but there was no such meeting. Even as the whole pack passed in front of me and everyone looked in my direction, the emotions were enormous, but there was no unusual contact.
Full account of the meeting with wolves in the Bydgoszcz Forest HERE.
JR: If you had to decide what is closer to your heart or maybe the mind - lonely survival, activities for nature or joint trips with friends, what would you choose?
MM: Lonely action is good and sometimes I need it, but acting in a group is something that is difficult to do without. Loneliness is not permanent for me. So I choose hiking and trips with friends.
JR: Trips that you organize or take part in are a way of spending your free time or something more?
MM: I could say a lot about our trips. Certainly it is more than just spending free time. We learn not only how to survive, but how to support ourselves, motivate, overcome our own barriers and think outside the box. I was reminded of a story where during one trip we had the opportunity to show creativity and make replacement footwear. One of the participants had huge problems with abrasions on the heels. Normal and gel patches no longer helped. It was possible to go barefoot, but the ground was so cold that after a while the feet were very cold. We found empty PET bottles in the forest (unfortunately you can find a lot of them in the forest, as well as beer cans) and we made sandals similar to those worn by Tarahumar Indians. They managed to reach the missing several kilometers and the problem was solved :)
JR: Let's move away from the topic of expeditions for a moment. I noticed that you make your own knives - why such interest? A new challenge or a desire to create some own brand and leave something material descendant?
MM: I make knives, but not from scratch. I buy ready-made blades and make leather or kydex handles. I always associated a knife with something useful, very useful. There is some magic in this. If I make a knife, it's for someone I know, usually as a gift. Such a knife is great to see in the field later. There is satisfaction here. Probably for posterity something will survive too.
JR: Yes, by the way, satisfaction and achievement. You've traveled many kilometers in your life and you will probably find a lot of medals for achievements in your home, but are they the biggest distinction for you?
MM: I have traveled a lot of kilometers and still add. I have never competed for medals. I have a few, but it actually cost a lot to get them. This is a great souvenir, e.g. medals for completing the "Harpagan" Extreme Orienteering Rally. All this is probably followed by the greatest teaching of humility and willpower in my life. It is more satisfying that I have some experience that I can share with others now.
JR: Probably every trip costs you some health, both mental and physical. Have you ever been so tired that you had hallucinations or visions?
MM: Long marches over 50 km can actually result in injury. As for mental health, they probably strengthen and build self-confidence more. I had several experiences with hallucinations. At first, they even occurred at a 60 km night march. It's a strange feeling, because we see something that suddenly turns out to be e.g. a bush. I saw a wolf, a squid on me, a hangman ... Others have seen whole houses with gardens in the same situations, people lurking behind trees, etc. Now I can't get to this state so much, so I will probably just have memories about it. On the other hand, it turns out that I can go 100 km on a walk and it does not lead me to half the situations such as 50 km or even only 30 km.
JR: In my head, cycling 30 km is quite a success. And you walked 100 km ... The feat! But not about me. The 100 km crossing had its ups and downs for the first time. When difficult moments came, the thought "I've had enough, I'm not going any further, I can't manage" came to your mind?
MM: During such fights it is an art to deal with such thoughts. You have to isolate them somewhere deep in your head. Just like muscle and tendon pain, without which you can't do it. At the end of such challenges, thoughts like "last time ... never again" often appear. However, after reaching the finish line, a slightly different thought is born ... "next time I will prepare myself better and I will not suffer."
Personally, I never gave up for such a reason that I sat down and said, "I don't feel like it and I'm not going any further." Unfortunately, I got into a dangerous state several times - total exhaustion with loss of consciousness or severe dehydration. And a lesson also flows from this. It is such a signal that by force of will one can lead oneself to "destruction". Now that I know some mechanisms, I would definitely stop earlier if it was a form of training of course. I even think that knowing my options and taking into account the effects, I would be willing to give up the challenge.
Full coverage HERE.
JR: You didn't give up last year when you went through a lot. I mean the stroke you suffered in the field. After this event, you think you can survive everything? Do you think pain or fear can motivate you to fight for life?
MM: It was a difficult experience. I managed to get out of it partly due to great luck and partly due to skills acquired in long marches or runs. As I said, some thoughts need to be isolated, to look for positives and not to give up, just keep moving forward. Pain and fear work in two ways, sometimes they drive to action, but they can also paralyze. It seems to me that training can increase the likelihood of taking a fight in a difficult situation. As for the survival of everything ... It was this event that made me realize that you can have a lot, be active and suddenly lose everything, including life. In situations like mine, it's worth having something in your head that you think about, remember, and even plan. If I did not have this baggage of memories and experiences, it would certainly be much worse to overcome. Then there is real survival, we only have our mind and zero equipment. That is why you have to do what you like, do not postpone anything, meet people, enjoy every day, gain friends, experience. Just act and live!
JR: I wanted to ask what survival is to you, but I think that after this answer and summary "then there is real survival, we only have our mind and zero equipment" I think this question is unnecessary;) And since we are talking about survival; did you mention that expeditions are something more to you, is this where the idea of establishing the CREX group came from?
MM: The group was formed naturally. Someone recommended a training ground that I wanted to use to strengthen myself. There I met some people there. At that time, teenagers who were interested in my stories from runs and marches. The proposal was made ... We will make a march together. We started from 20 km and that's how it started. At first we went in 2-3, sometimes 4 people. After a year, we came up with the idea that it might be worth letting others know what we are doing and encouraging them to join. The choice for group on Facebook was made.
Over time, we began to add other activities in which I had experience or those that interested us; some of us worked out ourselves. This was the case with, for example, bathing in deep-frozen water, walking on coals. Similarly with field trips for different purposes and circumstances. After only two years, CREX has become a point / machine that allows people to get in touch with nature, break away from everyday life, and at the same time strengthen themselves, learn to cope in all conditions.
And the name CREX came from the bird Derkacz, whose voice accompanied us very often during the nights spent in the woods.
JR: You said that CREX combines many areas and outdoor activities. With current trends, i.e. fitness trips or survival trips as a new form of spending time or integration, you can earn quite well. However, joining the CREX group is free and requires no financial outlay, except for your own equipment. Why such a philosophy?
MM: I would have to explain the mechanism of Crex's action here. We are generally a group of friends. Some say that they are not random people. It works like this: someone comes to us because they want to march, and at the same time learns that you can spend the night in the forest. We strive to gradually introduce the person to the knowledge we have. With time, he makes friends with us and it is not known when he becomes one of us, brings something positive to the group. Of course, there are people who come once or twice and state that it is not for them.
Finances, for now, are such that we make contributions for patches, fuel or recently we bought pepper spray together. It will be useful in the area where about 90% of the population of our domestic bears live. Maybe in the future we will organize something for which the participant will have to pay, but it will rather be an additional option to raise funds for the trip, purchase something etc. For now, we finance everything ourselves.
JR: So CREX connects people from all over Poland? However, I noticed that the group is not only people; there are also four-legged participants. How to overcome route with animals at your side? I must admit that you can refute the myth that an animal on a journey is not a burden.
MM: True, CREX connects people from all over Poland. Dogs, because this is probably the main point here, are welcome from the beginning. They do a lot of kilometers with us, but we do not take them for a longer route than 50 km. For them it is also a considerable effort and they must be prepared for it. During mountain races I met, for example, the dog Eto - the commando dog, which with his master Filip runs even 100 km. You can see that the dogs have a lot of fun with such trips. Unfortunately, for some 50 km is already too much. We always have this in mind and they never get hurt. An animal traveling is not a burden, it is a friend who looks a little different and has different requirements.
JR: You mentioned that anyone can join you. While experienced participants already know what such expeditions are related to, those who start their adventure are probably without experience.
You, after so many organized expeditions, already have some knowledge and experience. However, before you started your own adventure with the outdoors, you had a mentor. Therefore, you can tell how travel looks from the perspective of a beginner, and how from the perspective of a person who is already experienced and has a beginner in the group.
MM: Someone who comes to us does not need to have equipment, they do not need to have special knowledge. Willingness to act is the most important thing. With us someone can only walk on marches, and after a while decide that they want to try to spend the night in the forest. Then comes the time for any queries that would be needed. In turn, others only go on marches and stay at this stage, which is great. The perspective of the beginner gets lost over time. When I was gaining experience, there were few people who could advise me on the spot. I was looking for knowledge on the Internet, where at the time there was not as much information as it is nowadays.
I have a lot of knowledge, for which I paid with my own mistakes. Now some things are done automatically and only the question of someone less experienced gives a signal that not everything is so obvious at the beginning. Learning continues all the time and I'm not in favor of competing in the style of "I know more, better, I have more experience." I think I know so much that I can convey something to others, and I'm not alone in this. Everyone in our group has his own knowledge and experience and we complement each other. Beginners have great learning opportunities if they want to.
JR: So a person with a physical condition say 3/10, but with great intentions, would be able to take part in one of your trips?
MM: The scales of the expeditions are different, which I may not have said. For beginners, we recommend walking 20-25 km, trips to bonfires, sleeping in the forest without covering a great distance. However, longer marches and extreme trips require experience and preparation. At the moment we are planning a trip to Ukraine, where in the Carpathians we will spend 7 days without contact with civilization. We have been preparing for this trip for a long time. Participants literally went through the selection. There are no more random people in this travel group. Everyone can count on everyone and that is what we mean in such cases.
We are building a great team, which allows us to enjoy what is there, not to solve problems among ourselves or to hear complaints, because 20 km with a backpack is to go. It's time to train and catch up here locally. Therefore, with such advanced trips, it is not possible to take a beginner. However, nothing prevents such a person from "wandering" with us, and the next trip will have the opportunity to be in a group.
Even people with physical disabilities took part in our expeditions and there was no problem. If you had to overcome an obstacle, we helped, moved and there was no problem.
JR: And when someone gives up during a trip, do you sometimes feel that you have failed somewhere?
MM: About feelings on marches one could write a big article. If someone comes for the first time and wants to attack, say 50 km, then of course we warn him that this is not a piece of cake; I won't even mention 100 km. Sometimes such a person falls off in the middle and does not feel guilty. He tried, failed. However, after a few joint marches over distances of 20-50 km, I am able to roughly predict whether anyone has a chance to overcome more, or should he still come shorter distances. I always try to motivate everyone as much as I can. The methods are different and not the same for everyone. Sometimes one can see that someone is already suffering a lot, but he has already coded for success. Then he feels responsible for his condition, but I know it and know that he will be proud of it and it will give him great satisfaction in the end. We do not leave anyone alone in the field after resignation. There is always a replacement option, emergency exit :)
JR: You have seen and experienced quite a lot during expeditions. Walking on hot coal, sailing, observing the natural behavior of animals, joining together around a bonfire? How does this affect your life and perception of the world?
MM: I think that everyone's perception is a bit different. I know that it affects everyday life in different situations. We focus on quality and education. We try to spread knowledge about nature and promote good practices. We respect nature, we show that a lot of things or equipment can be done by oneself, we infect with passion. We hope that we change the perception of the world a lot :)
JR: At the current stage of life, do you think that setting up Adventure Group CREX is such a cherry on the cake or do you have a plan for something else?
MM: I think it is this cherry :) It would be difficult to gather such people and we will certainly not do much more with them. There is some power in what we do. Recently, we had the opportunity to test ourselves organizationally and physically in searching the banks of the Vistula between Bydgoszcz and Toruń. In one day our team thoroughly searched over 80 km of the Vistula River. This proves that we can also be useful in such situations. At the moment, it's hard to think what could be done to improve it. We want to pass on positive energy, knowledge and teach people how to overcome their weaknesses. There will definitely be no boredom. There are a lot of plans, worse with time to implement..
JR: For my part, that's all. It remains for me to wish you that this passion would remain in your heart all the time! If I haven't asked you some important question, you have a chance to say a few words from yourself. Maybe some beginner tips, reservations or tips for other outdoor activities enthusiasts. No restrictions - pure freestyle.
MM: Many people associated with the army see in our activities the convergence with training in special departments. However, with us these are not strict training, there are no special requirements or tests. People who joined us and regularly participate in our marches and excursions are able to cover a considerable distance in almost any conditions. We walk at night, in winter or summer. We know our capabilities in a critical situation. We know how many kilometers, at what time we can go, how to use the map and compass. If necessary, we can spend the night in the cold even without sleeping bags and additional equipment. We know the reaction of our body to fatigue, to hypothermia. Falling into icy water in winter is not a shock, because we know it from ice baths. Everyone can handle it. Advantages could be enumerated for a long time. It is worth noting that many women participate in all of this and are able to confuse many commandos. We do it all in the form of fun, bit by bit on each trip. After some time, it turns out that someone who was afraid of the forest before did quite well in it. The big advantage is that we have it all at hand. Most trips are local, literally after work or on weekends. You don't need much preparation. Thanks to this, in the case of a further travel, everyone already has great experience in choosing equipment, knows what and how much to take to eat, how to dress, how long to plan routes to cover, sleep comfortably in the field, know the threats that can happen to him, etc.
Interviewed by: Joanna Rassmus