The world famous traveler, artist, writer and clergyman of the Russian Orthodox Church Fyodor Konyukhov is known for spending most of his life in the oceans, as well as expeditions to the poles and the highest peaks of the world. The 64-year-old traveler spoke about what motivates him to be the first in testing human capabilities, about loyalty to dreams, about fears and overcoming, in an exclusive interview with RIA Novosti as part of the Religion and Worldview project. Interviewed by Olga Lipich.
– Father Fyodor, in the book “My Travels” you write: “I just can’t believe that I did all this.” Indeed, for months you have been overcoming incredible difficulties, loneliness, mortal risk: all the poles of the Earth, Everest and the peaks of all continents, circumnavigating the world along the most difficult routes, the Drake Strait with eternal storms … Why is it the most difficult thing, why such feats, for whom or what?
– Well, for the sake of whom or what … Is that why you are interviewing now?
– I want people to hear and be inspired.
– I also want people to be inspired. As my teacher Naomi Uemura (a Japanese traveler who lived 1941-1984) used to say, I am pushing the limits of human possibility. A person has more opportunities than he thinks, more precisely than he wants. He’s just a quitter, to put it bluntly.
– Is the person a slacker?
He can do more, but he does less. What, are you working at full capacity? No. What, am I working at full capacity? No. The pictures are standing, the books are not written – I only wrote 14 books, and at my age you could have written 40 books, right?
– But you have conquered so many peaks!
– And there could be more peaks. I want to show that the Lord God created the world beautiful! And that He didn’t create the Drake Passage just for the Chileans — He created it for everyone. Here the pilot tells me: when we rise into the sky, we feel that there are no borders! And on the ground we see borders, checkpoints… Why is that? The Lord God did not make borders, but we ourselves came up with the idea that the Russians are separate, the Ukrainians are separate, the Ethiopians are separate, the Somalis are separate, and everyone quarreled. And I want to show that there are no boundaries, there is no limit to human capabilities. Today I passed the Drake Passage, and let them pass me twice, faster, better. Because a person has to push the bar.
– How to prepare for this?
– The first words of my children and grandchildren: “Eight – eight – forty-eight.” This is the height of Everest (8848 meters). I was preparing to climb Everest, I have been mountaineering for 20 years. The first time we climbed with my friend Zhenya Vinogradsky in 1992, from the south side. And then it took exactly 20 years to prepare in order to climb from the north side in 2012. So 40 years have been associated with Everest, and at home we all have this figure in our heads.
– I want to ask about loneliness, when it is months in the ocean or on the way to the pole … Many people are terrified of loneliness, do you, on the contrary, seem to be looking for it?
– No, I’m not looking for loneliness – I have to: those expeditions that need to be done alone, I make them. Back in 1978, Japanese traveler Naomi Uemura was the first to reach the North Pole alone. He believed that one person can do what a team can do. Only you have to be a cook, and a navigator, and a mechanic, and a computer scientist, and a skier.
As a child, I was also afraid of loneliness, it was a burden to me. Now, over the years (and I have spent thousands of days in the ocean), I understand that there is no loneliness on the globe. There is always someone. There is an ocean, it is alive, it is filled with fish, animals and plants. There is air, it is also alive. There are birds, dolphins, whales. But even if all this is not there, you know that someone is present. If you are a believer. And I am a believer, Orthodox. All of my family members are Orthodox, father and mother since 1916 – it is clear that they were believers, and I adopted this from them. I know that someone is always present: these are the saints to whom I pray, the guardian angel and the Lord himself. If we cannot see it because we are unworthy, then we can feel the presence through the saints we pray to. For example, I pray to Nicholas the Wonderworker, Fyodor Stratilat, Irina the Great Martyr, Mother Blessed Matrona, Seraphim of Sarov. And I know they are there. And what then can be loneliness? Of course he doesn’t.
– The question of the meaning of life: what needs to be done, what is the meaning? Is it different for everyone, does it change?
– Of course it does! Will not change, will be boring. I look at old people who go to dances, go in for fitness, pump muscles, get younger, and I think: how stupid! Of course, it is impossible to become a young man again, but if you imagine such a thing, I would never agree. Because my age is interesting to me. I wonder today, I wonder what tomorrow will be. And this is all young I have already lived.
– Where do you live, when not traveling, what place do you call home?
– Everywhere is my home. This is a workshop in Moscow, this is a temple, I now live in the St. Alekseevsky Hermitage (Pereslavsky District of the Yaroslavl Region), where the rector father gave me a small cell. I’m 64 years old and I haven’t built my own house yet (laughs).
– I built nine chapels, two temples… You have to live with romance, love people, give more to people than you can take, do you understand? You have to give first, then take. When I’m in the ocean and I know that in a second or two I’m going to be presented before God, why would I stand up and say, “I’ve built myself a house”? Same as I don’t take awards. Of the expeditions in which I participated, 32 of my friends did not return, and can you imagine: they left for that world, and in this world I receive awards and build houses for myself? No. Children will grow up and, if they want, build a house.
– What do you think is the basis of friendship?
– The basis of friendship is to see each other and smile. A friend is someone who walks in and smiles at you. And there is no envy. If the basis is some kind of business, commerce, or even painting pictures together, this is no longer friendship. A friend who asks you for something or to whom you owe something is no longer a friend, this is business communication.
– At the end of the conversation, I can’t help but ask: what kind of expeditions are you planning for the future?
– Now I have an expedition to Australia: I will cross the Australian desert. 2 thousand kilometers in 45 days on three camels alone. This is a kind of intelligence. Next summer, if everything goes well, I plan to fly around our Earth in a balloon and land in the Australian desert. The flight will take place at an altitude of up to 10,000 meters.
Next year I also plan to set several records for a hot air balloon. To take off at the North Pole and further, depending on the direction and strength of the wind, I will either stay in the air for 30 hours (a flight duration record), or fly across the Arctic Ocean to the coast of Russia, or to Canada, or to Alaska and try to set a flight distance record. At the same time, the construction of the ball is underway, on which I will have to climb 30 thousand meters in height. Then I will build a yacht to go around the world in 80 days, to break the world record. I will dive into the Mariana Trench. James Cameron is my consultant. I want to dive like him, but with different goals. There, at a depth of 11 thousand meters, two plates converge (Pacific and Philippine), the distance between them is 5-7 kilometers, it will be necessary to take samples from both – no one has done this before. Cameron was at the bottom of the ocean for two hours, and I have an estimate of 18 hours. Then – the construction of a rowing boat, on which I want to circumnavigate the world. Rafting on the Amazon. All expeditions are planned and funded until 2023.