For technophile, Kert Kivaste, it would take an extraordinary adventure to pull him away from the technology he loves. Here, he explains how travelling 300km through the Arctic helped him find a different kind of connection.
Kert takes a long pause before explaining a particular moment that hit him during Fjällräven Polar: “When we reached the mountains, I got really emotional. It’s hard to describe what I felt at that moment – it was privilege, joy, happiness, humbleness, and gratitude all mixed together. I was just in awe. That’s a moment that stays with me.”
A self-proclaimed technophile, Kert hails from Estonia where he built a career as a consultant in the Software as a Service (SaaS) start-up industry. He’s the first to admit that throughout his life, he has spent a significant amount of time staring at screens of all shapes and sizes, from one at a time to several at once, from next generation, to what would today be considered antique.
His interest in tech started early. His father studied computer science – a subject unheard of in the 1970s, in what was then the Soviet Union – and his mother was a psychiatrist who had a deep interest in human nature. These two influences come across when he speaks, particularly when discussing the complexity of tech today: “An axe is a good tool: you can go to the forest, you can chop down a tree, you can make firewood. But you can also use an axe to cause harm. The tool itself isn’t bad, it’s what you do with it.” He sees technology the same way – it’s a tool that can be used for good and bad.
This duality is something that has affected him personally. For years, he tried different ways of limiting technology for himself, but nothing quite stuck. Along with a heavy work life, it culminated in a burn-out and an eventual decision that would move him in a new direction. “I needed to take time off and reflect,” he admits.
In September 2022, he quit his job, packed his bags, and travelled through the Americas with his girlfriend in what was to become the beginning of a journey to find a healthier balance in his life, including the relationship he had with technology. After two months, he spotted a social media post about Fjällräven Polar and decided that only an expedition in the Swedish Arctic could truly test his journey away from tech: “As well as spending a lot of time at the computer, I’d never eaten that well or done a lot of exercise before. I wanted to take better care of myself. Then I got a place on Fjällräven Polar, which meant I had to try and get in the best shape of my life. That motivation was very strong.”
He spent a few months back in Estonia joining local training classes and getting into shape, and in April 2023, he travelled to the very north of Sweden with 19 other Fjällräven Polar participants. Together, they learned crucial survival skills, how to drive and manage six sled dogs, and how to prepare for a 300km journey across the frozen landscapes of the Arctic. Not only that, but Kert would have to live, travel and work with people he’d never met before. There was a lot to take onboard.
During the expedition, participants experience near-constant physical work. They drive their dog sleds through tough terrain for hours at a time. Work then continues in camp to achieve basic needs like eating and drinking in environments where the snow can be thigh high. It’s not always heart-pumping, but there’s always work to do. These facets of expedition life were completely new to Kert, but he revelled living in the present moment: “Sleeping, eating and going to the restroom are routines you don’t think about in daily life. On the expedition, half the day was spent making sure we did these basic things. Melting snow and boiling water for two hours so the team can eat and drink; putting up the tents; setting up the camp. It really took me back to basics and brought me into the moment.”
Over time, Kert says he found a new rhythm, and having a common goal and similar struggles meant camaraderie in the team grew quickly. There would be short-lived moments of learning more about each other – with his tent mate, Thomas, for instance, just before going to sleep – but the days were so filled with tasks and dogsledding that there were few opportunities to talk about anything related to life outside the expedition, let alone look at a phone: “I didn’t think about tech at all and didn’t feel any urge to use my phone. Where I was, who I was with and the tasks we had to do took me away from everything else.”
Looking back, he gained valuable insights about ways of tackling tech addiction, and it all starts with building the right environment: “Ask yourself, how can you build your environment so it depends less on technology and more on other things? Including other people in the process is also important. Spend more time with friends, spend time in nature, and make an agreement with someone ahead of time so you’re both accountable.”
Finding an inner adventurer
There comes a stage during every expedition where emotions run high. People have their personal ups and downs, philosophical ponderings, and deep reflections on life back home. Often, it’s the subtle or dramatic shifts in the landscape that make an impact when someone is far away from the usual sights, sounds and patterns of civilisation.
For Kert, this came on the fourth day when the terrain got tougher, the days got longer, and the teams and their sled dogs ascended towards exposed, mountainous terrain. “Everything changed so suddenly. I’ve been to the mountains, but never in wintertime. The landscape, the quietness, the stillness. It was awe-inspiring. I started crying while I was taking it all in. The mountains are just so vast and we’re just small humans next to these giants – it was really humbling.”
Everything changed so suddenly. I’ve been to the mountains, but never in wintertime. The landscape, the quietness, the stillness. It was awe-inspiring. I started crying while I was taking it all in. The mountains are just so vast and we’re just small humans next to these giants – it was really humbling.
He describes how this experience led him to recognise the adventurer in him and understand why people seek to conquer mountains and travel to extreme environments: “I always wondered why people do it, but when I got the reward, I understood why explorers do what they do.”
Kert breaks into a smile when he talks about his relationship with technology today, now that he’s had time to settle back into the real world: “There’s a definite improvement! I have a few exercise groups that I joined before Fjällräven Polar, so most weeknights I’m doing that or going swimming. Designated time, with designated people, doing something different.”
He admits he’s a little scared of creeping back onto the same hamster wheel that burned him out. But he’s now approaching work in a way that ensures he continues to take time for himself. He also wants to experiment with how he can help others with their technology issues or addictions. “Polar was a huge confidence booster, getting there and going through it. It made me believe that I can do a lot of things – I don’t feel like as many things are out of reach for me now.”
Kert is, of course, keeping in touch with his 19 other teammates through their WhatsApp chat group. In fact, he’s already had a visit from US-based teammate Chris and his brother: “We had two nights out in Tallinn. I hope there will be more encounters like this – either people coming to visit or me trying to put plans into place to visit the others.”
Fjällräven Polar puts you on a pathway to learning and doing so many things that it’s impossible to put into words. It formed such good friendships. We’ve done something together that probably nobody in our circles fully understands. It was such an epic once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
And that’s perhaps where he found the strongest connection – with the group of people he shared this tough, strange and epic journey with. Most of them needed a few days or weeks to process what they’d experienced, but Kert knows they’ve been part of something unique to them, and they’ll keep in touch because of it: "Fjällräven Polar puts you on a pathway to learning and doing so many things that it’s impossible to put into words. It formed such good friendships. We’ve done something together that probably nobody in our circles fully understands. It was such an epic once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”