When you picture a trip around the world, you tend to imagine it’ll be one lap around a suitable route, making a big circle and crossing many continents and countries along the way. However, in May 1991, a Russian man named Vladislav Ketov set off from his home in St Petersburg – still called Leningrad at the time – to embark on an entirely different journey. Eschewing the above, he cycled the coastlines of Europe, Africa, Asia, North America and South America, in a 21 year effort.

It’s an epic ride that spanned 93 countries, took on 169,000 kilometres of gravel, dirt and flooded roads, and often places where there were no roads at all. It’s not just the journey itself that is impressive, but the intense planning and preparation that went into it. At the time, it was extremely hard for a Russian man to gain the necessary visas (he needed 100 in total) to enter all the countries he needed to to complete the route, and he estimates that it took about five years of the 21 to get this aspect sorted.

Vladslav Ketov’s 1991 departure from St. Petersburg


As for the route, Vladislav has carefully mapped that too, leaving nothing to chance. He patented it in 1988, three years before his actual departure, so that no one else could achieve it before he had the necessary paperwork in place. The whole aim of the project, titled ‘EDEM’, was to complete the journey using only environmentally friendly transport.

Vladislav left St Petersburg with $10 to his name, an amount that cannot get you very far. To make ends meet and sustain himself, he made money along the way by sketching portraits of the people he met. As a professional artist by trade, it was a smart move that paid off. The welcome he received from people all over his coastal paths proves, in Vladislav’s words, ‘the artificial nature of the boundaries between countries, that dialogue can be found with people of different nations, races, religions and social levels.’

Not all of it was easy of course, in fact most was probably gruelling, exhausting and dispiriting at times, especially when you’re carrying a lot of equipment and your bike weighs 70kg. In 21 years, Vladislav had to cross war zones in every continent, such as Yemen, Colombia, the former Yugoslavia, Cambodia, Angola and Mozambique. However, it was Somalia that was the most dangerous of all, due to an ongoing war between many different parties. Regardless of the situations he faced, Vladislav always tried, regardless of the advice. Take the border between Bangladesh and Myanmar; it had been closed for as long as anyone could remember, yet Vladislav rode right up to it and tried to get across. Sadly, it was to no avail and he had to turn back, cycle back to Chittagong, fly to Myanmar’s capital Yangon and then take trains and buses back down to the border so he could pick up where he’d left off. This happened again between Myanmar and Thailand.

He had five ‘holidays’ in the 21 years, where he flew back home before returning to the exact point where he’d stopped to push on further into the world. It’s fairly certain he must have had a number of punctures too, though we don’t know how many. What we do know, however, is that his bike was stolen once in the 21 years – in Russia.

August 02, 2021