For many of us, travelling the world is one of the top items on the list of major life goals to accomplish.
Anita Yusof or just Anita, as she is fondly known as, shares the same sentiment.
However, she has managed to separate herself from the masses with an outstanding feat: she travels the world on a motorbike.
Oh, did we mention that she does it solo? Yep, that’s Anita for you.
A true rock star
Anita was born and bred in Batu Pahat, Johor. She would later spend her years in Ipoh, Perak.
Before she was touring the world as a solo rider, Anita was touring the nation as the bassist for a rock band called SHEROX! They had their fair share of performing at the hotels, funfairs and beach festivals back in the 90s.
The band also had an album entitled 'Awek Rocker'. Pretty cool, if you ask us!
While we would imagine that the rock-out sessions were a blast, Anita would later take on a more conventional role: she became a lecturer. But of course, she keeps it exciting. Sports science is her area of expertise.
Somewhere along those years of imparting knowledge to keen learners, she found a new calling.
Although she has retired from the profession, she continues to educate by sharing knowledge and lessons she gained as a globetrotter through her social media posts and the books she writes, which include 'Kembara Solo Stans Asia Tengah
' and the 'Andai Ini Takdir Yang Ku Pilih Siri'
Taking the road less travelled
Anita had always been deeply passionate about travelling. She was a serious backpacker who had been to various places around the world.
However, in 2012, Anita found herself in serious relationship conflict.
To take her mind off the troubling situation, she figured that she must find a new passion.
“Coincidentally, I read a blog about this cyclist. His name is Zahariz Khuzaimah. He was famous for his documentary on TV Al-Hijrah at one time. The title is 'Dengan Basikal Aku Menjelajah
',” she recalled.
Upon learning about Zahariz’s exciting adventure where he had cycled from China to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan and seeing the beautiful pictures he shared through his blog, Anita was left in awe.
She made the effort to contact him to ask about how he managed to get to all those mesmerising locations. Well, as a seasoned backpacker, there shouldn't be a reason why she can’t step foot there too.
However, she would soon learn that she could not rely on public transportation in underdeveloped countries for such quests.
“In order to visit all those places which he went to, I must have my own transport,” she said.
Zahariz would later suggest that she rides a motorbike because “…if I were to ride a bicycle like him, it’s going to take forever.”
Anita is the living proof that it is never too late to learn something new. Around the age of 45 to 46, she learnt how to ride a motorbike.
“It has always been my dream to travel around the world. I don't have any other hobby, so travelling is my one and only hobby. When I discovered the freedom of travelling, especially on two wheels, I told myself that it's now or never. I must do it while I'm still healthy and energetic,” she insisted.
Anita gets her dose of inspiration from Zahariz along with Hadi Hussein, her sifu and Tiffany Coates, an accomplished motorbike adventure traveller whom she had met several times across three different continents.
When asked about how her family reacted to her then newfound interest, the 53-year-old replied, “My mom – like all moms in this world – she was worried. She’s worried about my safety, but especially for the first Global Dream Ride (GDR).
"Now she’s a bit relaxed knowing that I can take care of myself. As for my children, they are used to their mom going somewhere on her own, so they are okay and sometimes they are even more excited than myself!”
Starting her engine
Not long after acquiring the new skill, Anita had begun riding around the world!
In 2015, Anita began her GDR journey. She settled for a one-year unpaid leave to realise the mission.
She embarked on her first GDR with a Yamaha FZ150i.
“I've got two bikes of this type,” she stated. “I chose this (model) because it is a fuel-efficient motorbike. It has a 12-litre tank that can last for about 400 kilometres. It’s also lighter than a bigger capacity motorbike, so it's easier to handle off-roads, especially for a woman and at that time, I had only three years of riding experience and very little off-road skill.
"Should anything go wrong with the bike, I can send the bike to any workshop for repairs – unlike the high-end bikes that you (have to) send to its service centre. And the spare parts for this bike are also easier to find and doesn't cost too much money,” she further elaborated.
Despite facing some financial constraints, she made it work with minimal fund.
The determined lass had her bike flown from Kuala Lumpur to Seattle, United States and started riding from there. She rode north to Canada and made it to Alaska for a short while.
“I had to get back down to Canada because it was so, so cold and I couldn't stand the chill. You just imagine I just arrived from a tropical country,” she reminisced.
Considering that she began her ride in mid-September and due to lack of funds, she had to camp out at a time when the nights reach minus 20 degree Celsius, her retreat to Canada and later back to the States, is certainly justified.
She would then make her way to the Central American countries. From there, she crossed the border to South America – Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina.
“And in Argentina, I rode all the way south to the southernmost point of the world, Ushuaia,” she told us.
She then travelled 3000 kilometres to reach Buenos Aires. From la Reina del Plata
(Buenos Aires’ nickname which means the Queen of Silver #NowYouKnowLah), her bike was flown to London.
“I started to do the European leg of my ride until Istanbul. And then, I entered Asia – from Turkey to Iran, then to Turkmenistan and then, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, all the -stan, and then to Russia,” she reflected.
“I rode all the way to Vladivostok, which was the easternmost point of my right. And if you check in a map, notice the first point of my ride, which was Seattle, and then look at where Vladivostok is, you will notice that Seattle and Vladivostok, both cities lie on almost the same latitude but are separated by the Pacific Ocean.
"Should there be no ocean in between, I would have met point-to-point,” she added.
How cool is that?!
Anita would then ride her way to Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia. As she had to forego the thought of riding in China (which is located south of Mongolia) due to the high fees it would cost her, she had her bike flown to Bangkok.
From the capital city of the Land of Smiles, she rode into Malaysia. On 16 September 2016, she entered the Bukit Kayu Hitam border and ended her ride.
After spending 370 days on the road for her first GDR, Anita clocked 65,369 kilometres in distance, crossing four continents and gracing 40 countries.
Anita was aiming to create history by becoming the first Muslim woman to grace the world as a solo motorbike rider and well, she has been recognised for doing just that! She has received awards from the Malaysia Book of Records as well as the Asia Book of Records for her success.
However, she took on the expedition with a bigger purpose.
“I wanted to correct the non-Muslim’s perception about Islam,” she said.
The negative portrayal of Islam by various media outlets worldwide bothered her. She was determined to correct such misinformed perceptions by setting herself as an example.
“I want to show to the world what a Muslim woman is capable of. If Islam is very oppressive toward woman, how come I, a Muslim woman, from a Muslim country could be riding motorbike solo around the world?” She added, “I want them to think again about what they have heard in the media.”
Hungry for more
Anita is not done with her GDR expedition yet though. She has taken it upon herself to strive for a second GDR with the aim to conquer all the seven continents of the world.
For this edition, she also seeks to inspire and empower women, especially those in conservative countries to make a difference in their lives.
“There are still women who are not allowed to study or to go to work, so I don't want to say anything which can endanger me but I want to show to them that I am living my life to the fullest. I'm riding my motorbike and I have all the freedom that I want.
"I want them to get inspired by what I'm doing and let them make the move to change, to change themselves and to fight for their right,” she elaborated.
Fun fact: She is riding the same motorbike as her first GDR!
While there is no doubt that she will be visiting new countries and opting for new routes for the second GDR, there are certain places she would visit again. They include the sites she did not get to explore deeper previously due to the lack of fund and time.
She would also stop by places where she had made friends before.
In case you were wondering, there was a time when she used paper maps. But now, she would rely on her Garmin Zummo 395 and the offline map in her phone. Does she ever lose her way?
“All the time,” she laughed.
But she remains undaunted. She would do whatever it takes to get back on track though – even if it means communicating with sign language or even translating her message in the form of a drawing to overcome the language barrier with those whom she asks for help.
The African leg of her second GDR started from Cape Town. At the time of the interview, she has already managed to cover a total of 14 countries - Namibia, Lesotho, Swaziland, you name it!
Truth be told, safety has been a concern for her in the African leg. One of the issues she faced was the off-road part of the trip.
“Most of the countries are underdeveloped, so they don't have good roads such as what we have in Malaysia. So, when it rains, it is really hell. I have to ride through hell at certain parts,” she revealed.
Being her age, she does tend to worry about breaking a bone, as it would take a long time to heal.
“I am not like the younger ones. They are braver to ride on the off-roads,” she admitted.
Anita had already made it to Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia when her journey was put to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She had to store her bike there as she flew to Pemba Island, “a very, very beautiful island.”
After some time, she headed over to the mainland of Tanzania and has been stuck there for a while.
If it wasn’t for the outbreak, the original plan was to ride to Sudan from Ethiopia. From Sudan, she would travel all the way to Cairo, Egypt. Then, she would cross the border to Saudi Arabia where she would perform her Umrah or Hajj. The United Arab Emirates would be next and she had also had in mind to take a ferry to cross to Iran.
Her plan also included riding to several former Soviet Union countries and then, entering Russia. After that's settled, she would be off to the Scandinavian countries where she would make her way to Nordkapp in an attempt to get a sighting of the remarkable wonder of nature, the Aurora Borealis.
She would then ride to London and from there; have the bike flown to either Toronto or Montreal, Canada. Then, she would cross Canada from the east to the west and make her way to the north of Canada.
She also planned to enter Alaska as she did during the first edition of the GDR. However, it would be a different site this time around.
Anita still looks forward to riding all the way to the Prudhoe Bay, the northernmost point of the world that she could reach with her bike. From Prudhoe Bay, Anita would then be riding south to Ushuaia, the southernmost city of the world to cross Antarctica.
She was not planning to miss the cruise this time, unlike her previous visit where she was bounded by financial issues that disabled her from doing so.
She would then go back to Ushuaia and have the bike flown to Australia – most probably to Melbourne. Then, she would ride to Darwin and later, take a ferry to Timor Leste where she would go island hopping.
That endeavour of hers would also include the Indonesian islands. She would then get to Tanjung Balai Sumatra and finally, cross to Port Klang, Malaysia.
All the good things
Her most memorable experience throughout the second GDR thus far was when she met the tribes.
“I managed to see the Himba tribe in Namibia. They still live according to their traditional way of life; the women are topless. I managed to see this right in front of my eyes. And then also I managed to see the tribes in Swaziland and then in Rwanda. It's very, very interesting to learn about these tribes,” she said.
And of course, there has to be a special mention of the African wildlife! Anita has seen many animals throughout her ride – giraffes and zebras among others. She has yet to see the lions and tigers though “because to see these animals, you need to go on a safari, which is expensive.”
But she did spot a lion cub when it crossed the road in front of her. We probably would have felt really excited about it too!
In her book, the research process prior to travelling is a crucial element that must not be compromised at any cost.
Anita acknowledges the fact that riding solo is not an easy undertaking, but she also holds on to the belief that it is not an impossible task either.
“I don't believe in people who say that they just redah
(bulldoze). People tend to hide the obstacles or the stupid things or the problems, which they encounter because they did not do their research,” she stated.
As a solo rider, Anita emphasised on how important it is for her to conduct her research on various matters that range from the routes she would take to the safety of the places she plans to visit.
“For example, if you are in South America, they always have demonstrations going on, so you have to read a bit (on it).”
Another wise tip from Anita: “Be careful when choosing your route according to your budget, purpose and interest. You may not have the chance to travel to that place again!”
Not only does the mother of two read a lot, but she is also not shy to ask questions – and lots of ‘em – on various platforms such as the travel forums and overlander forums. Based on the information she garnered, she plots her tentative and works on the preparations for the transportation of her motorbike.
“Then, I start to sort out visas, writing to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. And then, I start to purchase things, which I need for my ride and also for my camping things.”
Building her network is also important. She admits that it’s a much longer list actually.
“Except for the technical part of the bike, which I leave to my mechanic, the rest, A-Z, I did everything on my own.”
The concept of having to do things on your own is, in fact, part of the challenge of riding solo that some could also argue doubles as its beauty.
Anita doesn’t deny that help may be available during the preparation period.
“Once you are on the road, everything is on you. You have to do everything yourself.”
Whether you’re going to the loo or attempting to capture that perfect picture for your feed or even, declaring your motorbike at the custom when you’re crossing the border, you have no one to rely on but yourself. It certainly enhances the level of difficulty and risks one would have to face.
Bumps on the road
The journeys were not always a walk (or ride) in the park. Even Anita could not escape the bumps on the road.
Severe weather certainly is a challenge for her. Although the snow could pose as a threat, “the wind was my biggest enemy".
“I experienced crazy winds while crossing the Atacama desert in Chile and then, while riding on Ruta 40 Patagonia, Argentina. The worst wind I encountered was while riding on the French Rivera when the Mistral wind was blowing.
"So at that time, my bike was swept to the opposite lane helplessly. So it is really, really scary because I couldn’t get back into my lane.”
Another close call was when she was in Chile.
“I was struggling because I was on the opposite lane but there was a huge truck approaching. I faced difficulties because the wind kept pushing me to the other side of the road. It was just mere seconds that I managed to get back on my lane when the truck passed by. That was really scary.”
The reckless driving attitude in some countries had also put her in danger.
Well, with all the difficulty and dangers she would have to face, what could possibly be so appealing about solo riding that she continues to do it?
She answered, “When riding solo, it means that I wait for no one and no one waits for me. And I make all the decisions. I don't have to wait for other people's approval. Whatever I want to do, I negotiate with myself.”
The burning passion she has for what she does also helps fuel her drive (or should we say, ride?) to keep going.
“To me, if you do it for passion, then the passion will motivate you – doesn't matter in whatever situation that you need to face.”
As a GIVI ambassador, Anita is blessed with the privilege of having her bike and herself equipped with accessories by the company. She also mentioned that Hong Leong Yamaha Motor is the sponsor of her two-wheeled vehicle. But that’s about it.
“I only got sponsored things. As for money, it is solely from my own pocket and I don't like going around asking for donations because I believe that you should use your own money unless if, for example, you want to compete for something for the name of the country, then that one is another thing. But if you want to go on a journey like what I'm doing now, my advice is: use your own money. The satisfaction you gain by using your own money is indescribable,” she noted.
Touching on the subject of funds, Anita expressed her genuine frustrations over the misinformation a segment of the public has towards her GDR expedition. It seems that some people somehow came up with the conclusion that she used their hard-earned money (read: taxpayers’ money) to fund her ride.
“I really don't know where they get this idea from. The thought that my ride was sponsored or was funded by the government is not true. I used my own money,” she affirmed.
Unfortunately, due to this false information, instead of receiving positive words over the viral story of her successfully touring the world with her bike, mean comments were hurled at her.
Anita admits that she was heartbroken over the hurtful words. After a glorious feat that should have done the country proud, who wouldn’t?
Hence, check your facts, folks. And as the saying goes, if you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all.
Anita has clearly dealt with lots of negative Nancies around to have come up with this particular nugget of wisdom:
“This – other people might not agree with me – but in my experience, don't announce your ride or whatever you plan to do too soon because there will be more people out there who are virtual overlanders, virtual travellers (if you get what I mean) that will scare you to death with the stories that they read on the Internet.
"And they will try to influence you to change your mind. That is why; never announce your plan too soon because there will be more people like this than those who will lift up your spirit.”
Anita also urges you to truly understand what you are getting yourself into.
“It’s a tough life on the road. And the journey is not always filled with rainbows. So prepare yourself – physically, mentally and emotionally. You must bear in mind that there are many out there who love to see you fail than those who really support you. So this happened to me. I’m talking through experience.”
“After you have done all your preparations, let God take care of the rest. Have faith in Him.”
Lessons from the road
What’s a journey without some good stories to tell, eh? Of course, Anita has plenty of ‘em!
“My favourite story to tell is the kindness of people,” she stated. “I met lots of good and kind people along my journey which prove that there are still lots of good people in this world.
"Normally, we are always being told that ‘don’t go here; don't go there,’ because there are lots of bad people. From what I experienced, yes, of course, there are scary moments, but the good people whom I met outnumbered the bad people. This has always been what I told people to just forego their fear of the unknown. Just go because there are a lot of good people in this world,” she added.
She also gained valuable lessons along the way. She considers truly understanding the concept of redha
(accepting something wholeheartedly) as the most important lesson she learnt through her solo ride.
Claiming to be accepting a certain situation whilst still complaining about it is not it, she said.
“What I mean by redha
is, for example, for that particular day, my ride is very, very difficult – from morning until I reach my destination. Even when I have reached my destination, I still have to face lots of challenges to find a place to stay. But I just (think) ‘Never mind. God, okay, whatever test you want to give me, I wouldn't mind.
"But I ask for one thing: give me the strength, so that I can overcome all the obstacles that You put along my way.’ So this is what I always tell myself. When you really, really redha
– in the truest sense of the word – you will understand that whatever test that you face, things happen for a reason.”
It also helps that she has the mentality of a champion. “My mindset when riding, especially for long hauls like GDR is to tell myself, ‘One thing at a time.’ If things go bad, remain positive. Calm down. It's not the end of the world.”
On her list
At the top of Anita’s must-visit list is Kyrgyzstan, which she dubbed as the most beautiful country in the world. She also cited the other –stans like Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and including Afghanistan which are fascinating too.
“Yes, Afghanistan is dangerous because the country is still at war. But it also has one of the most beautiful lakes in the world and really unique landscapes.”
The beauty of South American countries that greatly differ from one another also wows Anita.
“You will never get bored, believe me,” she assured.
Then, there’s Africa. It’s on her must-visit list too because based on her experience, she finds truth in the saying, “You can find Asia in Europe, you can find the USA in Asia, but you can't find Africa elsewhere. You can only find Africa in Africa.”
On how she feels about her country after having travelled to so many others, Anita gave a beautiful answer.
“I love my country more than ever. Hujan emas negara orang, hujan batu negara sendiri; biarlah negara sendiri juga
. Travel itu sekadar persinggahan sementara. Sampai masanya, aku tetap akan kembali ke bumi bertuah Malaysia juga
(It roughly translates to: “I love my country more than ever. No matter how much greener the grass is on the other side, better still is one’s home country. The travelling is only a sojourn. When the time comes, I will still return the blessed land of Malaysia.”)
Before you rev the engine
If all this talk about riding solo gets you excited to become one, you may want to consider getting her book. She has detailed the preparation process in her book to make it easier for anyone who would like to know more about getting started on the journey!
But she has laid out the rules of thumb you should pay attention to before taking the plunge.
To our fellow fusspots, we’re sorry but Anita said you’d have to leave that trait behind if you want to go down the solo-riding route. You simply have to make do with whatever is thrown your way.
“You must have the nerve. If you don't have the nerve, you can’t ride solo. You can’t travel solo,” she advised.
You must also have the determination to accomplish what you set out to do. You must have an exceptional level of fighting spirit.
“Being a solo rider, you have to motivate yourself. You must have that because there is no one to cheer you up when you are feeling down. You really have to be strong in everything.”
You can follow Anita’s epic journey on her Facebook page here. If you’re interested to get your hands on Anita’s travel journals, kindly WhatsApp 017-5424093.