Just A Girl, Her Road Bike And Some Polar Bears

inspiring interview

Just in case you Northern Hemispherers were feeling a little chilly, we had a chat with Joanna who is currently keeping up her training in polar conditions.

  • Name: Joanna Perchaluk - Mandat
  • Lives: Usually Zakopane, presently Polish Polar Station, Spitsbergen, Norwegia
  • Does: Meteorologist, Leader of the 42nd Polar Expedition
  • Rides: Road Corratec Dolomiti, after the Expedition – TT bike

Q1 Wow – what does a meteorologist actually do on these polar expeditions? What’s involved?

There are three meteorologists at the Expedition. A couple years back there were only two. Each one has a 24-hour duty during which every 3 hours a synoptic information needs to be issued.

In order to do that we need to go outside the station building to estimate the cloud cover, visibility, cloud base and phenomena (rain, snow, and the like). The rest of the data are given by various devices located at the vicinity of the Station.

All of this, along with the atmospheric pressure, temperature, speed and direction of the wind, and air humidity, is coded and sent to Oslo, as it’s the Norwegian Meteorological Institute that’s handling Spitsbergen meteorological information. Additionally, every 6 hours we measure and send information regarding precipitation.

The Hornsund Station is conductiong various observations and measurements, including the meteorological ones, since 42 years.

Q2 Your picture of the trainer on the ice was incredible! How often would you do exercise while you’re on one of the expeditions? How do you keep warm? Any funny stories to share??

Right now I’m preparing for the next racing season under the supervision of two coaches.

Wojciech Marcjoniak is responsible for my cycling, and Piotr Suchenia for running trainings. Especially Piotr understands the polar conditions, since he won the Antarctic Ice Marathos, North Pole Marathon, Spitsbergen Marathon and many other, incredibly difficult races.

Presently, during my preparations, I train 6-7 times per week.

I use mainly bicycle triner, treadmill and, less often, some outdoor trainings. The weather is not favorable here, and the ongoing polar night especially so. The swimming is making me a little bit uneasy, because the only training possible here involves resistance bands and weights, as the water here is not possible for swimming excercises.

All outdoor trainings require proper clothing with multiple layers of which at least one needs to be windproof. Beside clothing, a "bodyguard” with a gun overwatching the training is necessary, as the Station is located on the Polar Bear territory.

And believe me- running with a gun is hard!

Funny situations happen, when the rest of the crew gets creative with what to attach to my bike in order to produce electricity during training.

Once a crew member entered the gym during my training and seeing me on the bike exclaimed that the Chief wants to escape, but is getting nowhere.

The triathlon preparations at the end of the world are funny and troublesome, especially during equipment malfunction, since it’s impossible to just go to a shop and buy replacement parts. I need to purchase the parts and wait patiently for the postal helicopter that arrives a couple of Times during the year.

At my previous Expedition I managedto organize a triathlon at the Station. Actually, it was a backward version. Because of low temperature the order of the competition was reversed.

The race started with a run around the Station, then cycling along the same route, and lastly fighting through a short distance in the icy water. The distances were 200-300 m, for a good time with a little bit of competition. There even was a classification for the best outfit!

Q3 How long are you away? What’s a normal routine for you when you’re home?

It’s a year-long contract here, at the Polish Polar Station. After about 12 months we come back to the mainland. I’m here for the third time.

After my previous Expedition I managed to be at home for 11 months before leaving for Spitsbergen again J We go back to our country in July, in the middle of triathlon season. I need several days to get used to the normal conditions to be able to participate in the competition.

Q4 What does it mean to you to be a leader of these kinds of expeditions?

It’s a tough job. For many years only men were coming here.

Women arrive here relatively recently, even more recently as leaders.

It seems to me that women need here to work harder than men, and won’t get away with some things as easily as men do. For me it’s a huge challenge, very satisfying but very stressful as well, including loading and unloading of the ship, overseeing everything, assuring the safety procedures- also those regarding polar bears, etc.

On top of that, along with a small group (this year the Expedition crew consists of eight people), I need to survive a whole year in good health, mental and physical, cut off from the civilisation. Although apparently- since I answer your questions right now- we’re not completely cut off.

Q5 What is the most amazing place you’ve ever travelled to with your job? Animals, sights, people you’ve met?

Deffinitely Spitsbergen is at the very top of the list of amazing places I’ve ever visitied. The silence, the vast space, the incredible phenomena here. Add this to the reindeers and polar foxes coming up to the windows, and the polar bears. It’s so unreal that often it seems to me that I’m watching those things on TV. Only after a while it occurs to me that it is real, it’s alive, happening before my eyes.

The people here are amazing as well. From the Station crew- where each of us is unique and has their own passions and ideas- to the guests that arrive to the Station by yachts, ships, snowmobiles, sometimes skis or dog sleds.

Each one of them has their own reason to be here, living their dream in this cold and unfriendly land. (There’s never too many such positive people! / It’s good to see that there are such positive, unique, diverse people in the World)

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