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Wojtek Syguła (the winner of the race in 2016): “Volga Quest” is becoming more and more popular in Europe…the organizers can reckon on the mushers from continental and central Europe.”
In order to take part in “Volga Quest 2016”, Wojtek Syguła arrived in Russia with two handlers*: Greta Rogoz and Roman Makhel'ski. Wojtek and Greta live in Poland, in a small country called Krynica, province Białystok. They are holding the kennel «Syguła Husky Team» of more than 60 sled dogs. There is also a dog shelter «Szamański Krąg», where some aged, off-stream dogs of Greta and Wojtek and those animals, which need new masters, live. More than that, Greta and Wojtek are the members of the Association “SOS HUSKY”, helping stray dogs.
Roman Makhel'ski came from another Polish village on the skirts of the town Bielsko-Biała. From the very outset, Roman, the owner of the “Alwero” company, was just a sponsor of the Polish team, but when he had learned about the handlers shortage, he decided to offer his assistance. Besides, Roman claimed that he was ready to be just a handler, obeying the injunctions of the musher during the race.
Polish musher Wojtek Sygula took part in such races as: “Ledové jízdy”, “Kalevala”, “Maszerska Wyrypa”. In 2016, he won “La Grande Odyssée Trophy”. And now, when there`s only one day left till the start, Wojtek promises to do his best to become the first racer of the Volga. However, he also adds that this goal would be rather difficult to reach – the competitors are really strong.
We were lucky to have a talk with the Polish team on 4 March 2016, before the beginning of the race, and on 11 March – after the race. Roman and Greta were helping us with translation.
PS: Wojtek, have you already been in Russia?
WS: Yes, it`s the second time I`m here: in 2014, I also took part in “Kalevala sled dog race” in Karelia.
PS: Why are you interested in participating in this very race?
WS: I love Russia, the Russians and the beautiful nature of this country. Besides, now there`re some problems with snow in Poland. Another problem is that we have no long-distanced races in our country.
PS: What do you expect from this race?
WS: I haven`t tried this kind of a race yet. So, I just want to learn my dogs` reaction and behavior in the conditions of such a wild nature.
PS: What kinds of dogs took part in this race? What was the breed?
WS: European huskies and metis dogs.
PS: To your personal opinion, how many dogs should be in a sled to run the distance of “Volga Quest”?
WS: During the first round of the race, there should be 10 dogs in a sled and an opportunity to change them on the checkpoints. For non-stop dog-sledding trip, you should have at least 12 dogs to close the distance without pausing.
GR: On race-stages, such as “Kalevala sled dog race” and “La Grande Odyssée”, you may have 12 dogs but only 10 of them can run in a sled. You`re able to change the tired ones on the checkpoints.
However, during non-stop races all 12 dogs should run in a sled and, as it`s accepted in “Volga Quest”, if one of them feels exhausted, it won`t be able to continue the race.
PS: Have you ever taken part in a race with more than 12 dogs in a sled?
WS: It goes with non-stop dog-sledding trips, such as “Iditarod” in Alaska and “Finnmarksløpet” in Europe, Scandinavia, where you can have 14 dogs in a sled. I haven`t taken part in these races yet.
PS: Can you compare “Volga Quest” to any other races?
WS: Well, it can be compared to “La Grande Odyssée Trophy”. The rounds of this race are much shorter, but they are held in the mountains. The paths are made by a snowcat, they`re solid, wide and smooth, so that dogs could run faster and faster. As for “Volga Quest 2016”, the weather was warm during the race, the route was soft and snow was deep. Dogs had no need to run too fast, so it was easier to keep up the pace.
“Kalevala” was similar to the race-stage of “Volga Quest”. Dogs could run faster because they had lots of time for rest between the rounds. To tell the truth, I like “Kalevala” and “Volga Quest” much more than, for instance, “La Grande Odyssée” and “Ledové jízdy” because I live on a plain, and my dogs train on a plain. And as for the mountains, it can be dangerous to drive a sled there, so you have to be rather concentrated all the time.
GR: True. It`s mentally difficult.
WS: Both physically and mentally.
GR: Once he had to run up for 10 km in the Alps. One of the rounds ended on the height of 2000 km above sea level. There was a camp, so dogs were lucky to have a steak-out and Wojtek – to go to a tent.
WS: When I was preparing for “La Grande Odyssée”, I used to run a lot (even with car tires). I worked really hard. However, when I was getting ready for “Volga Quest”, it wasn`t necessary anymore. To my mind, the hills there are not very high.
PS: What do you think about the path of “Volga Quest 2016”?
WS: I really enjoyed it. This path reminds me of the Scandinavian routs like “Finnmarksløpet” and the “Femmundlopet” in Norway. Wild nature and silence make me feel thrilled and relaxed. I`d like to take part in such races more often.
Most European dog-sledding trips are over commercialized – drones, helicopters, too many people on the route. It distracts both my dogs and me. The only thing I want during the race is to commune with nature.
PS: What did you like the most about the National Park "Samarskaya Luka"?
WS: Vastness of the plain, nature. To tell the truth, I`ve never seen such an abrupt change in relief, when you drive over a plain and suddenly bump into a mountain.
GR: Yes, it`s either mountains, or a plain as usual. And here you see a plain, a plain…and then – a mountain.
WS: I wanted to add that there`re lots of animals, as when we ran in the evening and at night, dogs reacted to the forest.
PS: So, have you enjoyed the race, Wojtek?
WS: It was the best race I`ve ever taken part in. However, I wish the weather wasn`t so warm: it was impossible to drive over the Volga.
PS: What distances do you find easy, convenient?
WS: I usually train on the distances of 50-80 km so they are the most favorable for me. In this way, I find “Volga Quest” quite difficult because it was the first time when I have to run over 100 km a day for two days non-stop. So, it was a really challenging race both for my dogs and for me.
PS: Will you take part in the next “Volga Quest” race, if its distance is over 500 km?
WS: Yes, if it isn`t 100 km for five times (laughing).
PS: What would you like to tell the organizers?
WS: “Volga Quest” is becoming more and more popular in Europe. So, I wish the organizers for this upcoming popularity of the race and for the familiarity of the Russian and European mushers.
“Volga Quest” can reckon on the mushers from continental and central Europe. They are looking for such races as they haven`t got any snow.
I also wish “Volga Quest” for more sponsors.
Besides, I hope that the format of the race wouldn`t change, so that both race-stages and non-stop sledding will be kept. This form of a race might be rather interesting for those mushers, who want to try non-stop racing. The format of “Volga Quest” race, including rounds and non-stop dog-sledding trip, is certainly unique. It`s an exclusive!
PS: Congratulations on winning the race, Wojtek! Would you like to tell a few words to the Russian race fans?
WS: I`d like to thank you for your help and support, for your warmth and the tenderness of feeling.
I`m truly in love with Russian culture. To my mind, all Europeans find it quite thrilling. These festivals give us a great opportunity to take a closer look at this culture. It`s a way to have a rest both for your body and for your soul.
I`ve always wanted to visit Russia. And I really enjoyed it during my first trip to Kalevala. I love the people, who live here, their hospitality and kindness. So, I believe that I`ll certainly visit Russia again.
Interview/text: Aleksandr Lavrov, Elena Supon'kina
Photo: Dmitriy Sharomov, Anna Ponomareva
Translation: Bogdan Kamushkin, Anastasia Kotova
WS – Wojtek Syguła;
GR – Greta Rogoz;
PS – Press Service of “Volga Quest”;
* Handler – musher`s helper.