Somewhere deep in the cold, black night, the unlit train passed from one world to another – from a place of beauty and light to one of darkness and pain, where postcard sunsets, breathtaking vistas, and meaningful connections would be replaced with shattered limbs, broken lives, destruction, and death.
Anna Grechishkina felt nothing. Traveling back to a country at war eight years, eight months, and eight days after leaving on her motorcycle to ride around the world, it wasn’t possible to know if it was home anymore. And as the kaleidoscope of thoughts and emotions raged into the night, a singular sense of purpose evolved: to serve! To do whatever needed to be done. To join the people of Ukraine in their fight against the totalitarian aggressor hell bent on destroying everything they had built since their independence in 1991.
Anna was prepared to die, knowing that she would give her life for a higher purpose than the world travels that had put her in the book of Guinness World Records for the longest solo motorcycle journey by a female.
Before the War
Back in 2005, working in human resources at a local bank in Kyiv, Anna began to commute on a Kawasaki Eliminator 125cc. She developed a passion for motorcycling that didn’t end when the bike was stolen from outside her apartment one night.
Replacing it with another Kawasaki, a Vulcan 900, Anna began traveling. She began taking vacations on her motorcycle, and over several years, she rode through Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, and elsewhere. Sometimes she rode with friends, but she also made trips alone. While many world travelers find inspiration from books or videos, Anna found it in the stories she heard on the road and the experience itself.
Over the years, it became tougher to come home to a desk job with piles of paperwork, and the dream of a journey around the world began to take shape. It became apparent a Kawasaki cruiser was not the ideal machine for such an adventure, even though it had taken her over every type of terrain imaginable.
With the intention of using a big adventure motorcycle for the journey and the goal of becoming the first Ukrainian woman to ride around the world, Anna looked for sponsors. KTM Ukraine stepped up and provided a 1190 Adventure at a 50% discount. It was a great start, but it still cost her most of her savings.
In July 2013, with little more than 1,000 euros in her pocket, support from some gear sponsors, and a big send off from local Ukrainian media, Anna set off to see how far she could go on her limited funds. After 15 months of planning, leaving home was scary. Fear of not wanting to fail accompanied her as she traveled east across Russia, with a plan to reach Vladivostok, on the Pacific coast. Since Anna didn’t want to rush her trip, it took three months to reach her destination. During that time, she named her journey, “I have a dream,” and the tattoo to match began to take shape.
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The road became Anna’s teacher, and as she began to hone her craft and learn how to survive on the road with limited funds, the concept of showing others what’s possible began to emerge. The more she traveled, the more photos she took, and the more she shared her experiences, it all started to come together. Her cash lasted until Vladivostok, where a local motorcycle club helped ship the KTM to Thailand. The journey continued though Malaysia and down to Singapore before another ship to Australia.
By then, Anna was building her social media following and giving presentations for local motorcycle communities, and the money began to trickle in. In total, she spent four months riding in Australia, where she crossed the desolate, treeless Nullarbor Plain on her way to Sydney, and from there she traveled to America.
Arriving in Los Angeles, Anna rode east and realized her dream of riding Route 66. After reaching New York, she turned south and eventually crossed into Mexico. She continued south to Central America and then South America. Finally, the KTM got crated up once more, and Anna purchased a ticket to South Africa.
The next three months were Anna’s biggest test of patience and trust in the journey so far, as a major dock strike left the KTM stranded in Brazil after Anna had already flown ahead to Johannesburg. The situation was further complicated by paperwork issues. Finally, in October of 2016, just in time for Anna’s birthday, she was reunited with her beloved motorcycle.
Most of 2017 was spent riding through Africa, crossing Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Malawi before heading up through Uganda, Rwanda, and on into Egypt. While the whole African experience had been amazing, it was Namibia that stole Anna’s heart. After making a vow to return, she continued riding back to Europe. The first solo motorcycle journey around the world was complete.
By then, 4 1/2 years had elapsed since her nervous departure from Ukraine, riding and traveling with no schedule to adhere to had become a way of life. Anna had a vivid dream about being back at her old desk job back home. Morning revealed it wasn’t so, and Anna took the resulting happiness as a sign that it was time to start a second circuit around the world. This time it would be counterclockwise.
Things felt different when she arrived in Argentina; she had a plan and felt more mature. It also became clear that the existing Guinness World Record of 5 1/2 years and 180,000 kilometers ridden by solo female rider Benka Pulko could be beaten. Anna rode, explored, connected, and continued to share her experiences over the next year in South and Central America before arriving in Mexico. The goal was to go as far north as possible in Alaska, a journey she didn’t make on her first visit. Then the Covid-19 pandemic hit, and she found herself stuck in Mexico.
After so many years on the road, Anna had built a large network of friends and was able to secure a place to stay on the beach in Yucatan for the first six months of the pandemic. Living just 100 yards from the ocean was not a bad place to wait and see what would happen next. As border restrictions were constantly extended, her goal of getting to the U.S. seemed out of reach. Then an opportunity to fly to Germany opened up, and after a two-month wait for the KTM to catch up, Anna was locked down again, not knowing for how long.
When the borders finally reopened, it was time for the KTM to devour some miles. With the GPS set on the North Cape above the Arctic Circle at the top of Norway, it was good to be back in the saddle. Traveling through the northernmost part of Europe, a land of snow, reindeer, and endless daylight around the summer solstice, Anna’s life felt normal again.
Back in Germany some months later, Anna booked passage for Namibia because she couldn’t get through Morocco to ride down, and on Feb. 23, 2022, she arrived in Windhoek. Little did she know that the next day the world would be turned upside down for her and 44 million fellow Ukrainians.
Waking up on Feb. 24 to news of the Russian invasion of her country, Anna was suddenly faced with a difficult decision. How could she stay on the road enjoying her life and posting pictures while her country was at war? She had to go – to be with her people and her country, to do something.
A call to a friend at a local battalion in Kyiv set the process in motion. The preparations began and so did Anna’s fundraising as she gave interviews and talks. In the meantime, the world witnessed the horrifying first days of the war with its gruesome images of women and children being bombed. Anna secured safe storage for her faithful KTM in Windhoek, and the long return journey began.
Back in Kyiv, it was straight to military training, where she learned about weapons, combat medicine, and how to not only deal with the physical wounds and amputations but also emotional loss and trauma. It’s imperative to know how to help, and she learned what to say – or not to say – to the victims.
When she and I talked by telephone, she told me, “I knew I could be killed anytime, that it was unsafe, but it is more important than my life to help.”
During the training, one of the most important things Anna learned was not to hate. “When you hate, you have already lost, as hatred will defeat you and let them win.”
It’s difficult not to hate when your country has been invaded, but Anna and all the volunteers in her Territorial defense group know that they must operate with a clear, cold mind.
Anna is immensely proud of the Ukrainians who have shown the world they are ready to fight to the death for their country. At the time of writing, Anna is making dangerous trips to the front lines, and since we met, the number of projects she has undertaken is mind boggling.
Her trusty Vulcan 900 has been back in service. Anna has used it to visit some of the areas hit the hardest, bringing awareness to the atrocities, as well as aid and supplies when she can. During a recent phone call with Anna, I could hear explosions in the background as she delivered supplies to soldiers on the front lines.
As I look for a way to wrap up this brief snapshot of the incredible life of Anna Grechishkina, I can only hope we are all inspired by her travels, her bravery, and her heart. And that she continues to receive the support she needs from our global motorcycle community that has rallied around to support her incredible efforts for the people of Ukraine.
Follow Anna Grechishkina on Instagram @anna_grechishkina.