Breakdowns to Breakthroughs

How Fjällräven Polar’s 300 frozen kilometres by dog sled reminded tech-health researcher and Instagram star Linda Meixner, how life’s toughest moments can lead to its greatest wisdom.

Linda Meixner’s Instagram bio reads ‘Outdoors & Happiness.’ Her page shows a lovely blonde woman in stunning alpine locations. In summer, she lounges in wildflower-studded meadows; in winter she schusses down the slopes with perfect form. Then, there is Linda’s post from 12th April 2022. Only her eyes are visible. The rest of the frame is filled with snow goggles, the fur ruff of a serious arctic parka, a few strands of blonde escape and blow in the breeze.

Funny thing about breakdowns, how often they turn into breakthroughs. And how nothingness starts to feel a lot like clarity.

She’s not smiling and she’s looking straight into the lens. The caption reads: “Back from the most intense adventure of my life to date…an adventure that is difficult to describe in words and probably only those who have experienced it can understand…exhausted, tired, happy and extremely content.”  

Linda Meixner, Fjällräven Polar Alumna.

When I ask about her Fjällräven Polar experience, she laughs long and hard, a laugh full of subtext. “It was a totally life-changing experience. Oh my God. It was my first expedition in a polar environment. The people who were there know what happened and can share about it in a very deep way. My teammates, we’re still connected. We call ourselves the A-team.” She reads from a message she wrote from a hotel bed after completing the 300 kilometres over snow and ice by dogsled. 

"Hello dear family and friends – many, many cold hours on the dog sled and five days sleeping outside on the snow and in the tent. My hands are swollen, my back hurts. I feel every fibre, every muscle in my body. I’m very, very tired. I didn't know what to expect and if I had known, I would have said, ‘I can't do it. It's impossible.’ But here I am, my sled dogs ran through the deep snow with me as a load from 6am to 10pm. Endless wilderness, frozen lakes as far as the eye can see. Us, the dogs, and nothing else. I have learned we are capable of much more than we think. Working outside with the animals, and with your own hands for warm food or a place to sleep is incredibly satisfying. The bare minimum is enough to be happy in life. And in the end, I had no choice but to be totally in the here and now, every day. It couldn’t have been nicer.” 

Linda has had a lifetime in extreme winter conditions; she started skiing at age two in Gargellen, the little mountain town where she grew up and taught skiing in her spare time. She has endured winter conditions all over the world but she considers the Fjällräven Polar experience the most challenging of all. “You get into your frozen shoes and your frozen pants. You’re shocked. You freeze your sleeping bag and you can’t dry it. This is another level. It’s different sleeping outdoors in the cold for days.”  

I didn't look into a mirror for five days. I just didn't care. It's just your trust in the very basic function of being human.

“You’re spending hours on the sled and sometimes I would get weird pictures in my head. Will I just fall apart now? What would happen if I just let go of the sled? You’re pushing yourself – you have these little mental breakdowns.” 

Funny thing about breakdowns, is how often they turn into breakthroughs. And how nothingness starts to feel a lot like clarity. “You're going for hours and hours in nowhere. Sometimes you see an animal, perhaps a bird. There's nothing around you. I love the feeling of just being surrounded by nature, the dogs, and the people I'm travelling with. You feel how little you are on this Earth. It taught me you can live and be happy with much, much less.” 

During Fjällräven Polar, Linda told her tent-mate about feeling called to live in a more minimal way, to pare down her style, her household. She decided to spend some time living out of the tent on the top of her car. “Because you just don't need stuff out there. That's something I really love.” 

The bare minimum is enough to be happy in life.

Linda’s urge to simplify started to germinate before Fjällräven Polar, but the meditative landscape and essentialist existence of the expedition brought those feelings into stark relief. Simple pleasures equal deep satisfaction. “It’s the little things. The humans I was surrounded by, the connections to my teammates. George making a funny joke to the dogs. Warm water. Coffee in the morning. Cuddling the dogs.” 

And then her appreciation for simplicity expanded to include herself. “You hear this sentence as a woman a lot: "You're good enough." But during Fjällräven Polar, you don’t have to be considered good enough. You can just be. It's just being, you know? I didn't look in a mirror for five days. I just didn't care, because it was just me, my character in the team and how we worked together. It's just your trust in the very basic function of being human.” 

Linda thinks a lot about what it is to be human in the modern world. Two years ago, she started the Offline Institute, which is ‘committed to digital balance based on science.’ Its first big project dovetails with Linda starting her Doctorate of Philosophy degree in the fall. She has designed a study on how limiting tech usage impacts our health. “This will be the first study where we use science to look at what can help us through this addiction to our smart devices.” 

Rather ironic, you might think, that someone who has been so successful on social media would bring us something called the Offline Institute. It was another moment where some truly tough moments led Linda exactly where she needed to go.  

“I started on Instagram being outdoors and doing photography. And then my account grew to the point where I had a problem. Nature and mountains started to be my stage. I always had the feeling that I need to create content there.” Then came the injuries: ruptured ligaments and nerve damage in her shoulder blade. Anxiety followed. “Suddenly, I was a public person and wondering, ‘What are they thinking about me?’”  

Linda entered therapy and, while completing her master's degree, spent time away from her smart phone. “I had time to look at myself again. ‘Who am I? What are my dreams and goals? I recognized it was not just my problem. The world has an addiction problem. So, I founded the Offline Institute.” That “Outdoor & Happiness” bio is getting more accurate all the time. Linda’s new mission made her an even stronger advocate for getting people into the outdoors. “Nature's a big thing. In our society, I think everything is moving faster and faster. But nature, moving outdoors, is one of the biggest things that can reduce stress.” 

Nature and mountains started to be my stage. I always had the feeling that I need to create content there.   

Today, Linda balances her work with time in nature. “When I'm on the mountain, I create pictures and do stories, but I upload them when I'm coming home. At Fjällräven Polar, it was totally different. Actually, I wasn’t on my phone a lot. I really tried to soak it all in.” 

Linda’s research project will last a month, but she’s in the human-tech balance quest for the long haul. This is the woman in the parka photo, the one with the still, silent eyes, who holds onto the sled longer than she thinks she can, the one who is willing to be uncomfortable, the one who is always willing to go deep and share what she finds.  

By Jasmine Pahl. 

Jasmine Pahl is a writer who loves exploring wild places in British Colombia, Canada and in the Appalachians as a backpacker and mushroom forager. 

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