Anna Grechishkina is riding her KTM 1190 ADVENTURE around the planet on a one-woman expedition called “I HAVE A DREAM … ”.
Her plan is to reach over 50 countries spanning five continents, solo. With over 70,000 kilometers under her belt, the KTM BLOG caught up with Anna as she arrived in Colombia almost two years into her entirely epic expedition to find out what drives this Ukrainian lady (other than her motorcycle) to tackle the long road alone.
No matter the journey or destination, every time you swing a leg over a motorcycle it is an adventure. But some people like to go a little further. What begins as an idea becomes a dream and then an obsession.
Of course we all have dreams; those far flung schemes that we hope to achieve ‘some day’, but 35-year old Anna Grechishkina has an unwavering ambition that has seen her dreams turned into reality despite taking a very difficult road – in every respect – to get there.
From her home in the Ukraine, Anna has so far ridden solo for over 70,000 kilometers on her KTM with a route that has already taken her through Belarus, Russia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, USA, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama and now she has just arrived in Colombia.
Her plan is to reach over 50 countries spanning five continents. It will take longer than the original two years she planned, but this is more than just a selfish endeavour to ride from place to place for her own pleasure; Anna’s mission is to also motivate other people to chase their dreams and never be scared to make the first step towards reaching them.
In every country she visits, Anna conducts talks to disadvantaged children, youths, visits orphanages and elderly people homes and encourages local communities to continue charity work.
The KTM BLOG caught up with Anna in Panama as she arrived in Colombia, nervously awaiting her1190 ADVENTURE
to clear through customs and head to Medellin so that her incredible journey could continue.
Hi Anna, how’s it going?“Perfect! Enjoying the warmth of my fourth continent on my journey – South America.”
What are your plans in Colombia?“I have very high expectations of Colombia. I heard from many travellers that this is an amazing country with the nicest people. Actually people are always something that arouses my interest first of all. Therefore, I really look forward to meeting local people; seeing how they live, talking to them, sharing stories.
Of course, I want to visit main cities like Cartagena, Medellin, Bogota, Cali, to enjoy landscapes, national parks, and twisty roads. I am very excited about meeting KTM teams and sharing with them the story of my adventure. I always feel proud to belong to international KTM family and everywhere I go I try to drop in to local dealerships to say ‘hello’ at least!”
What kind of person were you before you decided to ride around the world and what made you do this?“Before this world trip I had been riding bikes for a few years and I’d always been quite adventurous. I liked long distance rides as much as I could afford it and with the time limits of full-time job. Of course, every time I had to come back, I felt very upset; several weeks or even a month or so were definitely not enough for me to feel the taste of real adventure. That’s how one day this idea to go and travel around the world without any limits came into my mind. It made me scared at first; I realized that it’s not that easy. And I had to make a hard decision – either to accept a very good job offer with promising perspectives or decline it and go somewhere (actually everywhere) without any financial support only with enthusiasm. I chose the latter and I never regretted it.”
Your long distance riding credentials are already confirmed as the first lady in the Ukraine who made “SaddleSore 1000“ standard – 1900km covered on motorcycle in 24 hours. How was that experience?“Yes, I tried it once, in 2009. I think I wanted to test myself if I am able to do it! It was a bit tough. I had to ride 24 hours, and my longest stop was for 20 minutes only. By the time I got back, I was absolutely exhausted. Besides, the roads in Ukraine are not easily to manage for such standards. Well, I was happy that I managed this standard and I was happy to receive all the credentials. But I don’t think I will ever repeat any of such standards again!”
So you take it slower now?“The whole meaning of this trip for me is very different. My goal is not to cover as much and as fast as I can. My goal is to experience the atmosphere of a place I am visiting. And for this I need time. Sometimes I like to ride with the speed of 60km per hour and just to look around, to enjoy the smells, the views. You will never have this if you rush and see only the road in front of you and traffic that you have to overtake. That’s why I prefer to ride alone, without necessity to catch up, to be on time or to prove anything. Sometimes covering just 100km per day brings you much more impressions and experience than 1000.”
How much preparation did you have to make for this journey and what was the most difficult obstacle before you even turned a wheel?“One year and three months – to be precise – passed between the idea first coming into my mind and actual start of the trip. The first step was to choose a proper bike. At that time I was riding for seven years on a Kawasaki Vulcan 900 and I was happy with it, but I realized that this was not the proper bike for the world trip. I started to search for another bike and I hoped to get sponsorship from a motorcycle manufacturer because I could not afford to buy a new bike outright. Everybody seemed to be interested but nobody wanted to contribute.
Honestly, at that time I didn’t think about KTM because I didn’t know much about the company and its bikes – I sure know a lot now! The Ukrainian office for KTM approached me with suggestion to think about the ADVENTURE and I agreed; that’s how we started to talk with the factory in Austria about the possibility of giving me the bike. Fortunately, there was a good feeling from KTM and when I made an arrangement to get an 1190 ADVENTURE I was the happiest. That was obviously the most important part of the puzzle, but still other components were missing – like financial ones!
I tried hard to get sponsorship for the trip and I managed to find some help, but unfortunately it was enough only to cover the preparation stage. So when the day to start the trip came (July 27, 2013) I had 1000 US dollars in my pocket. Almost nobody knew about this fact, I felt sort of ashamed to talk about it. I told to myself that if this trip is meant to be, something would work out. I had to start the trip no matter what – I was committed not just for me, but for those who had supported in whatever capacity they could. This was my biggest challenge and obstacle, I realized that to start this trip is crazy but it was a dream, I had to give it a try at least.”
You call your ride ‘I have a dream …’ What is your dream?“My dream is to make the world a better place. I know it may sound a bit pathetic, but my dream is not only about travelling around the world on the bike; it’s the dream in a narrow sense.
But besides getting my own pleasure of this trip I want and try to do something useful for others. I cannot help financially but I can share my experience and my story. With this aim I try to visit schools, orphanages, colleges, hospitals to meet kids, any groups of people who might need encouragement and motivation to keep following their dreams. I find it very fulfilling to live not only for yourself, but also for making some difference around you. When I get messages from people around the world that listening to me or following my trip they start to believe that their dreams are also possible to accomplish and actually they already do something towards it, I feel that my trip is not in vain and it has some meaning for the world.”
Has ‘The Dream’ ever been a nightmare?“Well, there were definitely tough moments in the trip – with a lack of money, with being extremely tired, with situations of uncertainty, being scared, lonely, discouraged, etc. But I never regretted of starting this trip and I was never seriously thinking about finishing the trip and going back. Even at those moments I realized that this is the best part of my life and I’m very lucky to have this lifetime experience.
But it’s true that long-distance travels like this are not always just fun and enjoyment. Sometimes it’s a hard work and challenge and you have to deal with many situations and issues that you will never experience in a stable life – not all of them are easy to handle. This trip becomes your life, and life has its ups and downs, this is normal and natural. And in order to really appreciate the ups, you need to go through some downs once in a while.”
The KTM 1190 ADVENTURE is very different to what you have ridden before this journey, how do you rate it and what’s the best attribute of the bike?“KTM ADVENTURE is my first bike of a Travel Enduro type. Before I rode cruisers and – honestly, when I first saw my KTM in the Ukrainian office – I was scared and told to myself ‘oh my, what have I done?’ But the decision was already made that I would go for the world trip on this bike and I had to make friends with ‘him’.
Little by little I got more and more comfortable with the bike; it never failed me even though I was making mistakes once in a while. It proved to be very user-friendly. Now when people ask me about my feedback of the bike, I always say that if I can manage to ride it and feel comfortable, then they can do it even better.
But I can honestly say that I cannot be happier with the bike. And though sometimes it feels a bit heavy with all the luggage, I get more and more comfortable with it. It proved its reliability. I treat it actually more than just a bike; it’s my companion, it’s the only stable thing in my life at the moment. When I don’t see it for a few days when it’s being shipped between the continents, I feel that I start to miss it a lot.”
Has the quality of the 1190’s ride changed much from when you got it compared to the 70,000+ kilometers it is now showing on the clock?“No, and this makes me happy! The bike’s performance is the same as it used to be when I just started to ride – perfect. I hope it will be the same at least till the end of the trip. Sometimes I even think that the bike gets better and better with every mile. But my attitude towards the bike changed. Now I feel more and more comfortable and confident with it.”
Although you set out on the journey alone, do you agree that most travellers – particularly motorcyclists – are never really alone on the road?“Well, it’s not easy to answer this question. Yes, I totally agree that once you are on the road, you are not alone actually. You meet many people on the road, in places you visit, etc. But I would differentiate being alone and being lonely. Sometimes you feel lonely while not being alone.
You meet many people, but you cannot develop really close bond with them because you’re always moving and have to say good-bye even to people that you really like. You can keep in touch through the internet or mobile phones but sometimes you just need somebody around who would hug you, and not just as a welcome or farewell hug, but a real friendly hug. And most of the time travelling alone you start to miss it immensely.
On the other hand, you come to realize that true happiness does not and should not depend either on circumstances, or other people in your life but on yourself only. You should enjoy the company of yourself and be happy and satisfied even with nobody and nothing around you.”
What single piece of advice would you give any rider – man or woman – before they contemplated a long distance adventure on a bike?“I would advise them to start with thinking about their reasons and motivation to go for such a trip. There are no rights or wrongs, and reasons can change while being on the road, but I think it’s important to understand why you want to do it and where you want to get – both in a physical, and spiritual sense. Because it’s not only fun and pleasure, it’s also a challenge, sometimes really tough challenge. On the other hand, this is something you will never regret, something you will always be proud of.”
What single piece of equipment or item can’t you live without on this journey?“After my bike, my camera is my number one equipment. I enjoy taking photos and when my camera was broken or didn’t function well, I felt that I missed something really vitally important.”
Do you think you will ever be able to stop moving from place to place after two years of constantly doing this?“No, that’s why my trip will last not two years, but three at least! But after almost two years on the road I miss sometimes the sense of stability. I miss the sense of being at home. Of sleeping in my own comfortable bed. Of meeting old friends whom I know since many years, etc.
When I meet people along my way and they share with me their homes and lives for a while, I feel sort of jealous. Sometimes I don’t want to leave because of the bond with them. But at the same time I know that most of them are jealous of my life; my freedom and disconnectedness. I’m absolutely sure that once you have tasted ‘The Road’, you would never be able to settle down for a long time.
Quite soon after completion of my trip, I will start thinking about next adventure, which may be not so long-term. But I already have a list of places where I would like to come back and explore more. Moreover, during this trip I will not visit all the interesting spots in the countries I’ve been to. I think the whole life is not enough for that. So I know how to entertain myself once this trip is finished.”
We’re not in Anna’s company for long, but the time spent with her is inspirational and the lesson taught without us realizing is to make sure that on the list of dreams we all have is to start putting ‘ticks’ next to them. It appears that all that is stopping ourselves achieving our dreams it seems is us! If you want something bad enough, you can make it happen.
After completion of the world trip, Anna will write a book about her world adventure with inspiring stories about ordinary people all over the world achieving their dreams despite all the obstacles and difficulties.
She hopes this will be a source of inspiration for all people, not just motorcyclists or travelers that any dream can become a reality if only you give it a try and don’t give up.
Photos: Anna Grechishkina