Most people who fantasize about traveling the globe on a motorcycle think of the adventure they will encounter and the people they will meet. Anna Grechishkina started from those thoughts and carried them to include charitable works and inspiring others to pursue their dreams. For the past 15 months, Anna has ridden her KTM Adventure 1190 halfway around the globe from her Ukrainian home, spreading a simple message: Follow your dreams and good things will happen.
Although we missed Grechishkina when she passed through California on her bike earlier in the year, we recently had an opportunity to spend some time with her while she was visiting for an event related to her journey. To say that she is charming is an understatement. This self-proclaimed introvert lights up when she’s describing travel, motorcycling and, above all, inspiring others to go after their dreams. While she clearly loves motorcycle travel, her conversation always turns to working with others.
MO: What started this dream to ride around the world?
AG: Well, I just love to travel on the bike. I’ve been doing this for nine years before the world trip. When I came back from [my second trip to] India, I decided, “Why not make something global?” At first it was like a crazy idea, and I was scared of it: “No, I can’t do that. It’s so dangerous and so difficult. It’s not just one month’s travel – a few weeks.”
Then this idea just started to come back to me again and again. I thought that maybe it’s a sort of sign that I have to, at least, try to do something about it. I consulted a few of my close friends, and I thought that they would try to talk me out of it. Surprisingly, they supported me and said that it was a logical continuation of [my] motorcycle career. Because I’d been to Eastern Europe, to Asia, by that time, India, the Middle East, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon before…
MO: You’ve done a lot in nine years.
AG: Yeah, I really enjoy traveling on the motorcycle. So, I started to plan my trip. It took me one year, three months. I had to find the bike that was appropriate for the trip. Before that, I was riding a Kawasaki Vulcan 900. I loved this bike. On this bike, I traveled everywhere. I understood that for a world trip, it was maybe not the best bike. So, I had a lot of discussions with motorcycle dealerships. I was thinking about Japanese bike at first, a Kawasaki or Suzuki or whatever. Everybody seemed to be interested, but nobody wanted contribute somehow. Actually, nobody was sure that I would start because so many people claim that they are going to go somewhere, a world trip or just a long distance ride, but they never do.
Then I got a phone call from KTM Ukraine, they said, “We heard about your project.”
MO: They approached you?
AG: I mean Ukrainian office, not Austrian. In Ukraine, it’s a very small office. They said, “If you are interested in KTM, we can try to approach the Austrian office. Maybe we can do something.” I hadn’t thought about KTM at all, but I didn’t have another choice. I said, “OK, we can try it.” That’s how we started to talk to KTM Austria, and it took around six months. Finally, we convinced them. They said, “OK, we give you the motorcycle and the gear, but that’s it. All the rest is your responsibility.”
They gave me the choice of the KTM Adventure 990 or 1190, and at first, I was thinking about 990 because everybody knows about this bike. You know what to expect. Then I thought that maybe it’s better to take 1190 because it’s a new bike and maybe I’ll get more attention from the international community. Also, it turned out that the 1190 is not that tall, it’s not that heavy. So, I decided to take the 1190. I saw the bike after a few months, in a physical form, and I was very scared because I didn’t have any experience of riding a bike like this.
MO: Well, it’s a huge change in riding position from a Vulcan 900.
AG: I was so horrified, but the decision was made, already. Still, I didn’t have any money to start the trip. Actually, when I started the trip, I only had $1000 in my pocket. I had a few sponsors. They contributed some money, but I spent it for the preparation. So, I couldn’t cancel the trip because I had the bike, and everybody in the biker’s community knew I was going to start. So, if I had canceled at that time, my reputation would be gone forever. I was sure about that, and I wouldn’t have any other chance to do this because people would remember my failure the first time.
So, I decided that if it was meant to be, it would be. Somehow, I will figure out what to do. Somehow, I will find sources of funds.
I started the trip. I was very nervous. One week before the start, I couldn’t sleep at night and lost 10 kilos (22 lbs). It was terrible. I’m really happy that I didn’t fail, and I decided to take this first step. Now, I always tell that the most difficult thing is to make the first step. After that, it somehow starts to get more and more smooth.
MO: Is this where your I Have a Dream foundation got created? (Note to readers: Since Anna is Ukrainian, this name is not related to the Martin Luther King speech of the same name that resonates so strongly in American minds.)
AG: “I Have a Dream,” initially, it was the name of the [around the world] project – and the tattoo [on my arm] which I made a few years before.
I wanted to make this trip not only for myself – and not only about my dream… Actually, before this world trip, I created sort of a biker’s community, charity activities and charity events. What we did was we visited orphanages, hospitals, and old folks’ homes on our motorcycles. Our main goal was not to bring some financial material but to bring ourselves and our hearts and just spend time with people, especially with kids. Our idea was to not make it once a year or some kind of New Year’s celebration or Easter but to do it regularly to let them realize that there are some people in this world who care and who want to be their friends. In a few years, we made so many connections with these kids, and they approached us with questions, and they tried to ask for advice about schools, about their personal lives.
I wanted to do something like that during this world trip. What I’m doing, right now, I’m trying to visit schools in all the countries that I visit. Some orphanages, if they exist, and some hospitals. Just to give talks about dreams or adventures about other countries. My story that I had this dream to see the world, and though it was so difficult… but at least I started.
What I’ve tried to tell them is that, look even if you don’t have parents, even if you are in so difficult circumstances, if you have a passion, if you have a dream, you can achieve it. Everything is in your hands. That’s what “I Have a Dream” is about.
MO: What do you think prompted you to be so involved in the schools and orphanages? Is that something you’ve been interested in your whole life?
AG: Maybe not my whole life, but I lost my parents, my mom when I was 16. My father died just a few years ago. That influenced me a lot, and I started to think about how to help other people to overcome their struggles. I tried to bring some difference into this world. It made me feel somehow better for myself, once I started to do that. So, my first visits in Ukraine, I organized a group of my friends, and we went to old folk’s home and brought them sweets and fruit and just spent time with them, talking to them. They were crying because nobody ever came to them. We wanted to do that again and again.
I just realized that I enjoy it so much when I can bring some difference in somebody else’s life – even if I just smiled, I saw some kind of light in their eyes. That is awesome. It helps you to become a better person.
Right now, I want to encourage as many people as possible to follow their dreams, because I understand how awesome it is to live your dream. I’m 15 months on the road, so you think I can get used to it already. But no. Every morning I wake up with the thought of “Oh my goodness, I’m on a world trip on my bike. I’m living my dream.” So, I tell myself even if I encourage only one person to follow their dream, my mission would be completed. I would be absolutely satisfied and happy.
MO: Shifting gears a little, what initially attracted you to motorcycling?
AG: This is the question that I would like to know the answer. It happened in 2005, and before that time, I didn’t have any friends or relatives who were motorcyclists. I was never even riding as a passenger on a motorcycle. I didn’t know how it feels. Just, one day, one morning, this crazy idea came into my mind that I wanted to learn how to ride a motorcycle. I didn’t know who to approach, who to ask questions, and I just went to the riding school to get my license and to learn how to ride. It took me a few months. So, that’s when I bought my first motorcycle, a Kawasaki Eliminator 125.
Since that time, all my life changed. Of course, I got new friends. I started to travel, first around Ukraine and then a little bit outside to Russia, Belarus, Moldova, then Eastern Europe, Turkey, Bulgaria, and into Greece, also. Then into Georgia. Then the Middle East: Syria, Jordan, Lebanon. Then India. That’s how it started, and that’s how it continues. And I was involved in the charity community. Since then, my life absolutely changed.
Now, I think that maybe it was meant to be, sort of destiny. I don’t know. I feel that I’m more fulfilled, now. I can do something that I like, and I can make a difference. I can help people – even with the motorcycle. To use it for the benefit of people.
MO: What’s your favorite part of traveling alone?
AG: I’m actually an introvert by nature, and I need time to recharge myself. Most of the time, I’m always with people – because of meetings or because I stay with local people. Sometimes, I arrive at places very tired. Because of the ride, because of the weather, and then I meet people. Of course they want to know about my ride, my adventure, and I have to be nice and smile because they offer me accommodation. They’re really nice people. I like to mix with them, but it takes me a lot of energy. Then the next day I have to ride, again, or go sightseeing. That also takes quite a lot of energy. So, when I’m riding alone, this is my time for myself. It’s the time that I can actually have some rest. Even when I’m riding, even when I’m struggling with the weather or the bike, I have some rest mentally.
Another thing, when you’re traveling alone, you’re more exposed. People come to you easily. They start to ask you questions, and you have to go out of your comfort zone to mix with people. You don’t have anybody else. That’s what I like.
MO: What is your remaining route?
AG: After Texas, I pick up my bike and I go to Mexico and the other Central American countries. From there, South America, the west coast: Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina and Brazil. From Brazil, I go to South Africa, and I take the east coast of Africa and end up in Egypt. From Egypt, Europe. So, I think that I’ll be on the road two and a half years, altogether. So, probably, I’m exactly halfway through.