All Aboard The Polar Express: Rizal Khalif, The First Malaysian To Join An Artic Dogsled Expedition

He’s been having epic adventures of his own since he was 13, travelling across the country via the overcrowded “mel malam” or “mel siang” train services but conquering his fear of water at 30 unlocked a new world of adventure and exploration.

Resolute to not be stuck in the “all work and no play” humdrum of life, and even more motivated after the unfortunate death of a colleague, Rizal Khalif who clocks in his nine-to-five at MAS, is now a white-water raft guide, has rode thousands of kilometres across South East Asia, scaled multiple volcanoes and is currently learning how to fly. He recently became the first Malaysian to join the Fjällräven Polar expedition, a 300KM journey by dogsled through the Arctic wilderness.

What pushed you to participate in this expedition?

Last September, I was researching Artic or Antartica as my next backpacking destination but the high costs put me off. Pushing the dream aside, I backpacked in East Indonesia instead and when I came back, I saw an Fjallraven Polar 2018 advertisement on Instagram and applied for it without hesitation. To me, it was fate!

Would you say that conquering your fear of water was the beginning of a new life?

Spot on! You must go out of your comfort zone to conquer your fears. After taking that first step, it would be easier to be bold and confident and before long, difficult challenges would be something that you yearn for. Fearlessness is not just for the young and it is never too late to start.

You must go out of your comfort zones to conquer your fears… Fearlessness is not just for the young and it is never too late to start.

What’s the biggest difference in the Rizal from 10 years ago, and today?

I tend to look at the positive sides of things more rather than the negativity and of course, fear is no longer and obstacle for me.

What do you hope to achieve with this experience?

I want to be an ambassador for our country and make bring pride to the country, and to show that Islam is actually an understanding religion that encourages travelling by giving exceptions if situations permit. On a personal level, I believe every new experience – especially one as challenging as Fjällräven Polar – can make me a better man. It would be a humbling journey to test myself to the limits and perhaps, it could inspire others to test their limits too.

You’ve done a lot, but what’s still on the bucket list?

To create a beautiful and safe space for young people to connect and fall in love with nature; watch a Newcastle United game at the St. James Park and to stay in a remote location in Southeast Asia to inspire and be inspired by the locals. Giving back to the community – no matter where its’ from – always drives me forward.

In this last week before the trip, what kinds of preparation needs done?

The past weeks have been hectic! I took a day off to pack, and do some last minute shopping. I lost my camera gears recently so I have some serious equipment shopping to do and I’m arranging for some custom-made Malaysian flags to be made.

We’re really curious – how does one pack for a trip like this?

The organisers will provide my attire during the dog-sled itself, so that’s less thing to worry about. But I’ll be bringing along camera gears, my trusted Swiss army knife, some “dusts” for tayammum and some souvenirs for the other 19 participants. We can’t forget our Malaysian hospitality, can we?

As a Muslim, how will you navigate the challenges pertaining to your faith?

I’ve met representatives from Pejabat Mufti Wilayah Persekutuan to study and develop guidelines for Muslims in a situation like mine. I’ve learned so much, like how to take “wudhu” whilst travelling, prayer times and direction when one is constantly on the move and many more. I hope my experience will provide a guideline for Muslims and show that Islam is actually an understanding religion that encourages travelling by giving exceptions if situations permit.

Your adventures are often at the very least, very physically and mentally taxing. How do you centre yourself, in stressful times?  

When there’s rain, there’s sunshine. When there’s hell, there’s heaven. I would always mentally reframe every situation positively and focus on the bright side. By looking at situations this way and having faith in fate, there’s nothing that you can’t handle.

Is there a meal or dish you’re most looking forward to, after your expedition?

Back when I was in college, KFC would always be the go-to after a hike and it was like fine dining. For now, I have no special cravings but I’ll get back to you.

Do you have any regrets?

On the tiny, silly decisions made as a human being, yes but life continues and we learn from it. If you ask if there’s anything I would do differently in life, of course. But then again, life is a journey and I’m currently reaping the rewards of what I have gone through all these years. So, I’m mostly grateful for the opportunities I have, because I may not have been here today, if I did things differently back then.