I’m Elena Axinte, a motorcycle rider for 6 years, and I’ve been traveling the world with my bike for 3 years. I’m Romanian by origin, have lived in Milan for more than 12 years, and I’m a theatrical actor and drama therapist. Three years ago I made a spontaneous decision to change home and transform my life – from Milan to the world! And so Elena Axinte transformed into Hele Biker, a traveler together with her beloved, slightly unorthodox motorcycle, a Harley Davidson Sportster 883. Compelled by the call of the World, by a sense of universal belonging and by the conviction that “home is everywhere”, in August 2019 I set out to live my life on the road, in the world, anywhere, indefinitely – with no projects or set plans.
There are passions that fill your life, and there are passions that become your life.
The motorcycle entered my life six years ago, through a love affair.
It left me with this passion, not for just any motorcycle, but for Harleys. It’s a fire that prompted my rebirth, that accompanied me on a journey of inner growth and that marked a new turning point in my life.
I’d fallen madly in love with the Harley spirit. I wasn’t interested in anything else. I had nothing to do with the rest of the motor world. I hadn’t even ridden a scooter before. All I wanted was a motorcycle like that in my life, without knowing what to do with it.
It didn’t take long. I made my decision and bought it. My Harley. When she got to my house I hadn’t even passed the test for my rider’s license. I still remember how I was completely paralyzed in front of that 250 kg monster, a brand-new motorcycle that I couldn’t even push out of the yard.
I remember how a neighbor helped me and took her out, leaving her in the middle of the street, blocking the traffic.
I had no idea how to start her or change gears. I’d only ridden the motorcycle at the riding school and it was completely different. But the cars I was blocking had started honking. I climbed on and that’s where the story began.
It was as if the bike had set off on her own and she had driven me for the first kilometers. I don’t even know now how I managed not to crash at every turn or intersection. I was in another dimension.
She was driving me, and it was like that for a long time. I gradually began to feel more and more at ease with my ‘Doll’, as I called her at the time, and with her I learned to ride and to relax in traffic. So, less than a month later, I managed to pass the exam for the license without a trace of fear (I rode with a learner’s permit at first).
I started taking short trips with my ‘Doll’ to the lake, to the mountains, then across the nearest border, to Switzerland, and a little further on, to France. Every free moment I had, I’d throw a backpack over my shoulders and leave, without knowing where. Every time I came back home, all I wanted was to set off again. It had already become an addiction and a need that was constantly climbing the ladder of priorities in my life.
The first summer I took her to the south of France and roamed around there for a month. I crossed the entire Côte d'Azur, from Monaco to Camargue, the Provence Alps and Corsica. I also found a summer job there in Cannes. I worked five days and rode the other two. I would start my trips straight from work and go back once I’d finished. I went everywhere with my motorcycle. I’d kiss her on the tank every time we separated and when I came back. I dreamed only of the bike, talked only about her, took thousands of pictures.
When I came home to Milan in the fall, I had a psychological slump. It was then, after that crazy month, that I realized that I wasn’t part of that house any more, that my place was no longer between those four walls, but on the road with my motorcycle. Yes, that was home for me. I already missed those moments, and I wanted them more, when after clumsily attaching the backpack to the rear saddle and refilling the tank, I said to myself, “Let’s see what happens to us today. Where will life take us?” I’d become addicted to this way of life with all the intensity of my being, in every present moment, without projections and expectations – the life that happens, here and now.
But unfortunately I couldn’t leave, not at that time. I had work plans waiting for me, studies to complete, and my budget had been used up.
After yearning in the dark for a few days, when I realized that I was about to reach rock bottom in this depressive episode, I picked myself up and made an effort to emerge from the situation. What saved me was a dream in the middle of a sleepless night. I understood that that wasn’t the right time to start out again, even if it was the only thing I wanted. I started thinking. I wanted to go on a motorcycle trip. But I wanted it to be something major, intense, not just a trip to the lake or the mountains.
It was fall. The first time I could have done something more significant would have been the following summer when both my work projects and my studies had gone on vacation. I told myself, “I can’t leave now, but at the first opportunity, I’m really going to leave and I’ll go far away. I want my bike’s wheels to touch another continent!” This was the beginning of a new life.
From there to Africa was only a very small step. That dream activated and motivated me so much. For eight months I didn’t stop thinking about it for a single day – Africa alone with the motorcycle.
At first, Africa was just the nearest continent I could reach from Europe, but gradually it turned into a deep appeal. I knew from the first moment that I would arrive there and that everything would turn out exactly as it did afterwards. There was a connection between me and that place that I didn’t understand at first.
I started researching and gathering as much information as possible, unintentionally entering a new world I didn’t know anything about before – of TRAVELERS.
The first thing I did was Google “woman alone with motorbike in Africa”. And so I came across a girl who was crossing Africa alone on a motorcycle at the time. It was enough to understand that it was possible.
And so I discovered a new lifestyle, people who live that way, traveling. The girl in question, Anna Grechishkina, was then in her fourth year of non-stop travel.
I had no idea that you could do something like that, but I immediately realized that it was what I’d always been waiting for. You know that feeling when you have the impression that something is about to happen in your life but you don’t know what? That’s how it was for me. The revelation was so powerful that in that moment I just wanted to get on my bike and go, with only what I had on me.
I let everything simmer inside me for a while and waited patiently for it to calm down. I kept my emotions in check, wisely, and set about reorganizing my life. From then on I had certainty, without a moment’s hesitation or doubt.
Africa was to be my first great adventure, the following summer, then I’d return to complete my last year of specialization studies and the summer after that I’d set out into the world definitively.
And so it went, exactly like that because every night I dreamt about it, every day I talked about it and it was the only thing I was working towards.
My first great adventure turned into an African dream of four months, 16,500 km, seven countries and zero hotels, from Morocco to Burkina Faso and back, the journey of my life, the initiation that transformed me and convinced me that I’d made the right decision for my life.
I returned, and less than a year later I started this new life that I had dreamt of and waited for unconsciously: a nomad on the roads of the world. Africa was only confirmation that this was the only possible decision for me.
I didn’t set any kind of deadline or mileage. I had only decided on the direction. On the previous trip I followed the call of Africa, but this time I had heard another profound call, from the East. I knew the direction but not the whole itinerary, and that’s still how it is.
I left Italy (Milan), crossed the Balkans (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Serbia), made a longer stop in Romania, crossed the whole country and spent some time with my family, then I went to Moldova and Transnistria. I continued through Bulgaria, Greece and then entered Asia, going into Turkey. Here I found the gateway to the Middle East, to the fascinating Arab world.
From Turkey, I took a ferry to go to Lebanon, then I continued with Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, where I had to face the dark period of the pandemic. It meant that I was stuck in Saudi Arabia for a little over a year, but I always kept traveling within the country. When the situation calmed down, I continued crossing the entire Persian Gulf and the Arab world – United Arab Emirates, Oman, Yemen, Qatar, Bahrain, and Kuwait. The last Arab country was Iraq, before continuing with the last country in the Middle East, Iran, before delving into the true spirit of Asia. I’m currently in Pakistan, after 3 years of traveling, 26 countries and more than 100,000 km.
A distinguishing characteristic of my trip and great personal challenge is “around the world without hotels”. In three years, I’ve never stayed in a hotel, according to the principle that “home is everywhere”.
It all started in Africa, where it simply happened, with no planning. I traveled for four months in seven different countries without ever using a hotel, allowing the local people to put me up.
Then it turned into a challenge, a great dream – traveling the world with no hotels (especially when everyone told me you can’t find these circumstances everywhere, only in certain places with people whose hospitality is famous). But I wanted to show that – yes – it is possible, and that not everything agrees with the standards and stereotypes that we’re used to.
This experience instantly transformed me from a traveler to an inhabitant of every location, a citizen of the world.
Staying in their homes, mixing with their families, I become part of their reality myself, because I treat their home as more than a place to stay, but as a home.
It gave me access to the most intimate aspects of the cultures in the places I explore, especially in the Arab world. It’s a huge privilege for me to have access to a world so secret and mysterious to many, such as the reality of Arab women. For that, I feel extremely fortunate and grateful.
When I ‘integrate’ with their families and their lives, nothing seems surprising to me anymore. Once you understand a culture, its motivations, and once they become part of your daily life, you can’t be shocked by anything any more.
That’s how people welcome me everywhere, as if I had simply returned home. In reality, my whole journey is about people. It’s not even about the bike, the kilometers racked up, the incredible places – people. Of course, the bike is the instrument that accompanies me on this incredible adventure in life. But the real driving force behind this journey is people. I think my mission is to discover precisely this good, beautiful part of the world.
The metaphor behind this great challenge of mine is that “I want to create a universal network of souls.”
Preparing for this kind of trip isn’t as complex as it might seem. Once again, it’s a question of choices and personality. Personally, I decided to start with a basic preparation of the bike, make sure it works well, do the service, put on new bags, and prepare the technical material for the photo and video documentation. Travel insurance is a must, as is the Carnet de Passage en Douane, a motorcycle document required in certain countries around the world. A medical checkup and up-to-date vaccinations are equally important.
It’s a journey without time limits, so I chose to decide every next stop step by step, leaving me the freedom to spend as much time as I want and need in each place. That’s why I also ask for most visas along the way. I always like to say that the only plan I have is to not have a plan. I don’t read up that much. I have some directions, and then I take everything as it comes. With Africa it was different, because I had little time and I couldn’t avoid preparing the itinerary, above all because it was the first trip of this kind. I put a general route on paper, with the countries I would cross and the necessary conditions in terms of bureaucracy, but without knowing where I’d go, where I’d stop and who I’d meet. In general, I try not to read anything about the places I go. I only get my information from local people and from people who have been there recently.
On this journey, however, everything is different. I live everything from one day to the next, kilometer after kilometer, from one country to another, from one city to another, from one home to another. I no longer have a deadline. This is my life, “on the road” indefinitely.
Very often I start the bike in the morning without knowing where I’ll end up in the evening. I let the road and life carry me.
The unknown fascinates me, motivates me and fires me up. That’s why I can’t plan anything. If I look at a well-defined program, I actually feel like I’m suffocating. The unknown helps me to stay rooted in the here and now and to live every moment deeply. Knowing the next steps would kill all the charm of the life I’ve chosen to live.
I’m fascinated by not knowing what’s about to happen to me, waiting curiously for what life is preparing for me at all times. I often know where I’ll end up in the evening, and am contacted by people who invite me and wait for me. But the most thrilling thing is when I don’t know how my day will end, who I’ll get to, who I’ll meet, what pillow I’ll rest my head on.
When I’m having problems, I wait to see what happens, with great curiosity. I transform into an onlooker in my own life. I sit in the corner somewhere and look at my situation from the outside, wait for something to happen. Something always does happen.
That’s my biggest motivation – something good always happens.
I don’t like and don’t feel qualified to give advice. But I can speak passionately today about dreams and how they become reality not only through magic. Dreams become reality when you put effort into them, when you give them substance. Dreams come true when they’re your priority. I always have the same answer when people ask me how they can do what I do – “Where’s this desire on your list of priorities in life?” For me it’s the highest priority. There’s nothing more important right now.
At the same time, I don’t think everyone should take a motorcycle and go around the world to have a fulfilling life. But I think we should all dig in to our soul and our conscience and bring to light our mission and the meaning of life, which can also be found around the corner from our home, not necessarily on the other side of the world.
I also believe there’s no obstacle that can’t be overcome, so before making a decision, don’t conjure up too many hypothetical difficult scenarios. We’ll never be able to anticipate, prepare and plan everything. There are solutions for every situation, everywhere. You don’t need to know what they are beforehand. Let life surprise us.
Don’t set out with fear. First learn what fear means, what its consequences are in life, then learn to eliminate or avoid it. Fear paralyzes us.
If you’re not ready to accept the diversity of the world, please don’t set out. Don’t go to judge and criticize the world. There’s a completely different world from yours out there, and your world isn’t the only good one. Do you like that idea? Then go and embrace the WORLD! It will hug you back endlessly in return.
With this bike I discovered the world. With her I discovered the road. Traveling with her I discovered a new life. How could I move on to something else just to feel more comfortable? This is our story, mine and my bike’s. It’s not the story of me and any motorcycle that I could change after some number of kilometers to meet my requirements.
Despite the many voices that say this bike isn’t right for these trips and roads, I keep saying that I didn’t choose this bike to go around the world, but that we chose to go around the world together. And we’ll go where she can take us.
In any case, despite the ‘skeptical’ voices, I can say that everything has been going very well so far.
Apart from normal maintenance, I’ve had very few problems, and these, according to the mechanics, were absolutely normal problems for the conditions we encountered and the way I use her. I’ll confess that I’ve spared her few times: dirt mountain roads, snow, ice, deserts, temperatures from −5 to 50 °C, sandstorms, rains and storms, floods, roads that were broken or full of mud, some of the highest roads in the world… Basically, we left no stone unturned over the last three years.
My conclusion is that you can go anywhere by any means. Each of us has our own journey that awaits us, regardless of the tools we choose to use.
Since I started traveling, I’ve been changing constantly. I’m thirsty for growth. I learn from everything that happens to me and every encounter enriches me with something, no matter how small. The most important transformation in the way I look at the world has to do with acceptance. Since I started traveling, acceptance has been an essential concept in the way I live my life. And it leads to the elimination of something even more important – judgment. I’ve learned not to judge or condemn. I look at the world with much more tolerant eyes because when you travel you get to know the world from the inside.
In my opinion, traveling is the most valuable treasure in the world. There’s no teaching more complete and complex than traveling. Through traveling you learn about life, expand your culture, have encounters, know yourself, own yourself and transform.
There’s a song, by the band Mercanti di Liquori, that contains my whole travel philosophy, a song I always sing when I ride the motorcycle. It’s actually called ‘The Traveler’ (Il Viaggiatore). My favorite part says “The traveler travels alone/ And he doesn’t do it to be happy again/ He travels because by trade/ He took the trade of wind.”
“Land means story and story means tongue/ Learn your direction/ From folk who don’t resemble you.”
That’s my choice and my way of living out travel.