Taking the high road: cycling the Caucasus

A 73-year old Italian has been on his bike for 9 years while travelling around the world. Yanush River gave up a successful career for the sake of a healthy lifestyle and is now on an epic trans-Caucasian journey.

In an effort to escape civilization, Yanush River is now exploring Russia’s North Caucasus. Having spent some five days in North Ossetia, he has moved further on his route – to neighboring Ingushetia.

The republic is known for its struggle against Islamic extremists and its security situation has deteriorated over the last couple of months. A large-scale counter-terrorist operation is continuing on the border between Chechnya and Ingushetia. But Yanush is not afraid of these difficulties.

As a traveler of mixed Russo-Polish parentage and a holder of an Italian passport, he has come prepared. He speaks twelve languages and, if abducted by militants, he knows exactly what to say. “I am an old man, I came to the Caucasus to die. Please give me food and let me stay with you till the end of my life,” After a long pause he laughs. “No one would keep me there for long, they would let me go.”

Having been kidnapped twenty-four times while cycling across countries like Sudan and Ethiopia, Yanush knows how to deal with such kind of situations. He shared his experiences with us: “I was kidnapped twenty-four times, Mexico, Brazil, Sudan… many times. I show the kidnappers the newspaper with article about who I am and they give me money and let me go.”

The traveler confesses that he prefers small towns to big cities, and secondary, winding roads to highways. Having visited more than one hundred countries, he is used to a lack of creature comforts and can rest his head anywhere – but opts for cemeteries.

“It’s the most safe place in the world… no bandits,” he says, having spent some 500 nights while travelling in cemeteries, out of nearly 3000. Yanush has even come across ghosts, but that didn’t deter him from sleeping on tombs.

He always camps not far from a well or a river. “A shower I get in maybe once in ten days and a bath – once in two months,” he says.

Once a successful football manager and film producer, Yanush got tired of a life full of comfort, business-class trips and expensive hotels, all of which he describes as “civilization”. He decided to go travelling. One day he just went to a shop and bought a cheap bicycle, which is still his trusty steed.

“My first trip was to Schpizbergen, at the Arctic pole. I have been travelling around the world for nearly nine years and have visited more than a hundred countries,” he says in broken English. “it’s more than a hundred thousand kilometers and I could go three times around the planet.”

After a couple of days in Ingushetia, the Italian will move on to Chechnya, and then to Dagestan.
An old bicycle with 35 kilos of bare essentials on it’s backseat and a totally worn out map is all this man needs for his travelling. He spends three dollars a day for food and some basic expenses, which include a newspaper as well. An old radio set, which enables him to listen to news and music, is his only amusement. “I like Russian music,” Yanush says, turning the sound up.

The traveler is promoting a healthy lifestyle. Three meals a day: breakfast, lunch and fruit for supper keep him energetic. Yanush consumes natural products only – milk right from a cow, home-baked bread, which he buys from the villagers from where he usually stays. He boasts that never takes food from shops.

Yanush intends to end his tour at the Olympic Games in London in 2012. But his most ambitious plan is to travel from Volgograd to Berlin to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Victory Day. He will turn 80 by then.

"I am a citizen of the world. When I die, I prefer to die on the road. On a bicycle or on a horse, I don't know, but on the road, never at home. It’s my choice," Yanush says.