We attended the ZafigoX 2018 event where talks, panels and workshops related to travelling were held by inspirational women from worldwide. One of them was Anita Yusof, whom we privately spoke with.
Anita, a mother of 2 adult sons and lecturer in the Physical Education department at Institut Pendidikan Guru (IPG) in Ipoh, is considered by Global Women Who Ride (GWWR) as a Legend and by Bikes Republic as the Most Interesting Biker. Here’s why.
From Sept 2015 to Sept 2016, in her Global Dream Ride (GDR), she rode on her motorcycle across 4 continents (40 countries) with a total distance of 65,369km… ALONE. Yeah, she was the first Muslim woman to ride solo globally.
“I wanted to create history for my country and religion. I wanted to correct the misperception people have about Islam discriminating women” – said Anita.
And because of her achievement, she received multiple awards including the Asia Book of Records. She also became the Ambassador of GIVI, an Italian motorcycle accessory company. It sounds like she’s a motorcycle veteran who’s got decades of experience. But she only started learning 6 years ago!
In fact, she was so bad that she was told to sell her motorbike
“When I was a young adult, I started being interested in travelling. I wanted to meet a Spanish guy I liked, so I backpacked to Europe.”
Because of this first solo travelling experience, she wanted more.
“I was inspired by Zahariz Khuzaimah (Malaysian adventurer) to travel in Kyrgyzstan, so I asked him for guidance. He said I had to rent a car but since I couldn’t get people to come along and I prefer going solo, it would be a waste.”
Cycling wasn’t a great option either because she couldn’t afford to take long leaves to cycle all the way. So a faster way would be riding a motorcycle.
But before 2012, she was only using public transport. Lesen moto pun tada..
“After reading Hadi Hussien‘s blog about his adventures, I met him. Funnily, after a loooong convo about riding, I revealed that I didn’t even have a motorcycle license. Hadi was so shocked.”
So after being told to learn motor riding, she bought a Yamaha FZ150i and followed him on a 22 day adventure ride in Southeast Asia. She told GWWR that her “sifu” Hadi taught her all she needed to know about adventure riding from using maps and GPS to bike maintenance. Since she was still new, she performed pretty badly.
“I fell 6 times during that trip!”
And since Hadi was military strict, he scolded her so harshly. She remembered him telling her that she was the “worst adventure rider” he’s ever known and even told her to sell her motorcycle and stop!
Ouch but she wasn’t discouraged from exploring. In the same year, she did her “Stans Ride” around Central Asia (Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan). And in 2015, she embarked on her GDR, first stop in Seattle.
But nothing was easy especially since she feared Islamophobia
Being a middle-aged woman who hardly left home, she felt homesick a lot. And as some could relate, she faced some language barriers too, for which she advised us to learn some basic phrases.
“I had to learn some Spanish to communicate in Latin America.”
But culture shock still wasn’t a problem for her. She’s the type of person who can adapt to a new environment effectively.
However, she couldn’t escape other difficulties. Getting started itself was challenging because of the difficulty in funding.
“A minister promised me that he would help me get the funds… He tried. But he couldn’t fulfill his promise, because the funding would’ve depended on other factors, like the political instability in 2015.”
She added that the info she got from her research is just for that time (2015) only, so it wouldn’t help to put the trip on hold.
“I didn’t want my hours of research to go to waste, so I proceeded although I didn’t get the funds.”
She claimed that the recipe for her high semangat is her strong faith in God. So when she worried about her limited funds one night, she remembered praying for guidance and waking up the following morning with a peace of mind.
“It just happened. I don’t know how to describe it. But I was feeling better and I told myself ‘Never mind. Just go. God will help me find a way’.”
And luckily for her, Hadi got GIVI Malaysia to sponsor her with all the motorcycle accessories she needed when he started training her. Then, after that, when she was gonna ride around Central Asia, she wrote to GIVI Malaysia to ask for sponsorship.
“I wrote to them again for GDR but got a reply from GIVI Italy. Turns out the overseas operational manager of GIVI was in KL, so I met him and since then, my ties with GIVI got stronger.”
As it is for every star, she received some hate but it was hardly a problem for her because of her simple tactic. She didn’t announce to everyone of her plans to go until two weeks before her scheduled flight, so the haters didn’t have a chance to give her second thoughts. And even when some tried within those two weeks, she didn’t care anymore.
“That’s one tip. Don’t announce it too early *laughs*. And only share your dreams with people you know who will support you.”
Then, when she got there (with her savings), the weather made things harder (apart from bears in Alaska and Canada). In the first week itself, she experienced major pain in her hands due to extremely cold weather. In many of the countries she rode through, the roads are poorly developed and become soft and muddy during rainy days.
Topping it were the STRONG winds, blowing at speeds of around 100+ km/h! These harsh conditions placed her in highly dangerous situations because her motorcycle was heavy enough to start sinking in the mushy roads but not heavy enough to withstand the winds. But then, it’s situations like these that levelled up her riding skills (remember, she’s still practising).
As a Muslim, halal food was hard to find in certain places. So, for 3 months, her diet was a repetition of eggs, canned tuna and vegetables,
“It was to the extent of getting so fed up, like want to muntah ady. So the year after, I stopped eating canned tuna and sardine.”
But a bigger challenge for her was to find a suitable place to pray when she shared dorms with non-Muslim strangers. She had to check the whole hostel to find a quiet, hidden place because she wasn’t sure if her dorm mates are Islamophobic or not.
“I don’t want someone to complain to the reception. They might say ‘Oh there’s a Muslim with me in the dorm. I don’t feel safe. I want her to move to other dorms’ or ‘Please ask her to leave this hostel’. So if that happened, where am I supposed to go?”
Since she didn’t want any trouble, she had to wait until midnight when everyone’s asleep to pray peacefully. Even when someone woke up to go to the bathroom, she had to quickly remove her prayer costume to “not get caught”. Such was the fear she felt.
But it turns out that the world is better than we thought if we look closely
Although she had to ikat perut to make sure her bike’s tank is filled, she believed that her God sent people to help her with food, accommodation and motorbike maintenance. And there were some supporters who donated to her because they wanted to see her succeed.
“I camped a lot in North America and Europe, where accommodation was too expensive, especially because the ringgit was sssooooo bad back then (around RM4.55 per USD).”
And hostels were pretty hard to find. The ones she found charged Us$42 (around RM200+) per night and she couldn’t afford it because she needed to allocate her money across one year.
Luckily, she met some hospitable locals. When she was thinking of pitching her tent near someone’s house, she had to be selective about whose house to stay near. But some of them would ask her why she would do that when she could just stay at their houses.
“The Malaysians living overseas who found out about me on social media would ask me if I’ll pass by their town and offered to let me stay with them if I did.”
Some people left an impact on her with their kindness. One of them was a Malaysian woman named Deborah. Anita didn’t know her but she was a friend of Anita’s bff, so Anita stayed with her for a few days.
During her stay, Deborah cooked Malaysian dishes like satay with nasi impit and kuah kacang, which Anita craved so badly. Deborah also brought her to the grocery store to get what she needed. And even when Anita was about to leave, Deborah followed her to the petrol station and insisted on paying for her petrol.
“I said ‘No, you have done enough’. She said ‘No. While you are still with me, every of your expense is under my care.’ So I really cried at that time. She was soooo kind.”
Then, she met another kind woman (let’s call her Kate) at the Grand Canyon while camping there. Because it was so cold at night, Anita ended up sleeping in the washroom where the heater was!
“I really cannot take it anymore. It was so cold to the bones. I was shivering inside my sleeping bag.”
The following morning, Kate asked her about her sleep and upon hearing Anita’s reply about the coldness, she said that she could’ve given her the extra sleeping bag she had (a different type called a “down sleeping bag”). Kate, who also travelled alone, slept in her car with the heater on. But she did wonder how Anita coped in her tent.
She thought that Anita was already sleeping by the time she arrived at midnight, so she didn’t wanna kacau her. The following night, Kate gave her the sleeping bag, so she managed to sleep properly. Then, the morning after, Anita wanted to return the sleeping bag but Kate said:
“Keep it. Just let me be a part of your journey.”
Perhaps, after learning all about it, you might consider trying something similar.
Before you go, you gotta be prepared to face what life throws at you
For the ladies interested in adventure riding, the good news is there are local lady biker clubs you can check out, with the biggest one being Lady Bikers Malaysia (LBM) and lots more named after motorcycle brands like Kawasaki Lady Bikers Malaysia, Ladies of Harley and Ladies of Ducati.
People have asked Anita to consider opening an academy to train other women. But sadly…
“I don’t really have plans to do so because the risks are huge and I kenot carry the responsibility (and attacks from their families) of any incidents if they were to happen. A male trainer is less likely to get such attacks than a female trainer.”
At least for now, we can’t expect her to be a sifu to any aspiring biker like Hadi was to her. But she did say that she’s still willing to give advice (and she wrote a book containing lotsa guidance, so you can check it out on her Facebook post *hint*).In the meantime, her essential advice to those aspiring to do what she did is: Do your homework.
“If you do your homework, then you’ll know what to expect. If you don’t do your homework properly, then that’s where the problems start coming in.”
She explained that from research, you would be prepared to face lotsa challenges. Not doing so would result in an inability to handle problems that could’ve been managed. From her adventures, she learnt some important life lessons. Besides realising that there are still many kind souls in this world, she now strongly believes that everything happens for a reason.
“There’s a reason why we have to face obstacles in life. There’s a reason why you didn’t get what you want in life.”
And she realised that if someone tells you not to go to a particular place just because their experience there was bad, you can listen to them but with a pinch of salt, because experiences differ for each person.
Now that you’ve reached the end of this story, here’s something for you to think about. She concluded her talk with a quote that said:
“Sometimes, I find myself in the middle of nowhere. Sometimes in the middle of nowhere, I find myself.”