• June, 24 2021
  • WORDS BY Anya Violet Aghababian - Interviewed by Chris Nelson
  • PHOTOS BY Jenny Linquist

Violet Dreams of Sahara Sands

One perspective on eight women on an eight-day motorcycle ride through Morocco

She is like gravity, and anyone who finds themselves near her can’t help but be pulled in close. It’s a natural quality of 35-year-old Anya Violet Aghababian, the co-founder of the immensely popular “women’s only” motorcycle events Babes Ride Out and Babes in the Dirt, and co-founder of the woman’s motorcycle apparel company ATWYLD. She is intrinsically, delight-fully magnetic, and at the moment she is one of the most influence females in the motorcycling community. Recently Roark caught up with Anya and asked her to reminiscence about last year when she and seven other women rode KTM enduros across the Sahara Desert.

ROARK: First off, where you are right now in your motorcycling journey?
ANYA: I've been riding since I was seven years old. I took a long break from it when I was going through high school and college, but got back into it in my twenties, and I've been riding pretty much full-time ever since. So, over a decade, been back into it, and I would say I haven't peaked yet. I'm forever learning and growing and trying to be a better motorcyclist. I'm the type of rider who is always trying to better my skills and learn and grow. I am in it for fun, but I'm also in it to push myself and challenge myself and try differ-ent disciplines.

Desert Bound

R: Right now a lot of your riding is off-road focused, no?
A: Yeah, pretty much. Since my accident—a car pulled out in front of me and left me with a broken femur, broken pelvis, and broken wrist—I haven't really been interested in riding on the street with cars. Off-road is my true passion anyway. I mean, I started off-roading when I was a little kid, so it's always been my jam.

R: Even through you've been riding off-road since you were a child, had you ever experienced anything like your eight-day ride through Morocco and the Sahara Desert?
A: Morocco was the first big trip that I wanted to go on, as a way of proving to myself that I can get back at it after my accident. A bunch of really, really awesome, good friends that I admire a lot were going on the trip, and I was like, "This is what I need." I felt to really prove to myself that I could get back out there and get back out of my comfort zone ... it was symbolic for me for that reason. I’ve also always wanted to go to Morocco, because it’s just unimaginably beautiful there, and I also love the feeling of being on motorcycle day after day, navigating terrain and seeing beautiful sites in a country I've never been to before. Everything about how the trip unfolded was exactly the type of adventure I like to go on.

R: It’s been almost exactly a year since that trip happened. How does it still echo in your life, and how do you feel as you look back on it?
A: It's still so vivid in my mind for so many reasons. I mean, I can close my eyes right now and picture being on top of that 400-foot-tall sand dune, look-ing out into a sea of endless sand dunes and feeling that feeling of being so remote — more remote than I'd ever been in my life. I was farther away from civilization than I've ever been in my entire life. That feeling is hard to de-scribe, but it's addicting. I mean, all you have is this motorcycle, what you have packed with you, and your comrades — the people you're with. That su-per-simplified existence and being so remote is just... It's a really beautiful perspective.

R: You went on this adventure with seven other women. Can you describe the different personalities in your riding group and how that influenced to your adventure together?
A: There were four Americans and four Brits, and I knew almost all of them. All the Americans, I knew from previous Babes Ride Out and Babes in the Dirt events. Malary Lee has been coming to the events for years, and she's just this super adventurous spirit and an incredible motorcyclist. Then there was Jenny Linquist, who is an amazing photographer and rider. I met her through Babes Ride Out, too. Leyla Hujer is from San Francisco, and this was one of her first big adventures out of country on a bike. She was my roommate, so me and her got really close. There was Caylee Hankins, a UK-based photographer who is no longer with us. She was this tiny little thing that was, again, a super-talented motorcyclist ... fast and fearless.She was kind of setting the pace for all of us. Ame Pearch was really good friends with Caylee, and Natasha Farrar was a little bit newer of a rider, but she had already been on the trip the year prior, so she was used to it and was really good friends with our guide. And finally Diana Findlay was a newer rider who hopped on the trip last minute; a couple of girls cancelled because of the pandemic, and Diana signed on two days before we were supposed to leave, so that should say a lot about her personality of just doing it, making it happen, and being pretty fearless about it.

R: Did riding in a group of only women affect the overall tone and feel of the trip?
A: Yeah. I mean, especially under the circumstances, right? We all very easily could have been incredibly worried with the pandemic and everything, and it could have easily turned into just a big, stressful worry fest, but everyone was very much on the same page, like, ”Hey, we're in this. We're here, we're doing it. We're enjoying ourselves, and we're not going to let anything take us down.” We all fell into our paces. There were four of us that were up front, and then four of the girls that were more towards the back. But, what was so cool was everybody had a GPS system, so you technically could just be on your own and still be on the track. But, we all wanted to stick together. We all enjoyed pushing each other in some areas ... going off track and trying different little single-track trails and stuff like it. It wasn't competitive necessarily, as much as it was just a fun challenge. It wasn't about ego, and about competing and trying to be as fast or faster than someone. It was more like, "Oh, cool, Caylee's really pushing it today. I'm going to keep up with Caylee today." Or like, "Oh, I'm feeling a little tired and sore from the other day. I'm going to ride with whoever today and just chill a little bit more.” I just can't even describe it .... it was just such a warm and welcoming feeling. I’ll never forget the camaraderie. I feel bonded to those girls forever.

R: Is there a moment from the trip that sticks out in your memory?
A: Well, I actually got separated from the group at one point. We were down in this river bed, and I was riding in sand. In sand you just got to commit essentially, haul ass through it. So, everyone was riding at their own pace, and I got out in front and was just not really looking back, because whatever. I finally pop out of the sand wash and look behind me, and there's no one be-hind me. I waited for ten, 15 minutes, but I was in the middle of the open Sahara Desert, which isn’t somewhere that’s safe to wait for a long period of time, so I decided to push forward and go super slow. I figured they’d catch up, and I knew I was still on the GPS track, so I just kept going, but no one caught up with me. I made it to this little town but our guide, Johnny, had told me, "Don't stop in the towns, because people just kind of swarm you, and it's just a little bit chaotic,” so I passed through the town and found this one tree in the middle of this freaking desert, and I got under it for some shade. I was totally by myself in the middle of the desert, and I pulled out my phone, and I luckily had cellphone service in the freaking Sahara Desert—don’t ask me why there's really good cell phone service in the Sahara—so I called the chase truck. They answered and said they were 20 kilometers behind because someone had crashed. “Just sit tight, we'll catch up to you.” It was in that moment that I realized how much I was actually really in this to be with the group. As much as I was there by myself, the most enjoyable part of it was being with the group. They caught up to me eventually, and we all celebrated and laughed, and I was like, "Oh, my God. I'm so happy to be back with you guys. I’m riding behind you for the rest of this trip. I want to stick with you guys.”

R: Hows does riding in a group of women compare to riding in a group of mixed genders?
A: Ooh, that's a good one. Probably just a lot more enthusiasm, and a lot more commentary. A lot more chatting between the rides and encouraging each other. When we came to a technical section, we just all stopped and waited for each other to get through it and cheered each other on. I mean, I experience that with with my guy friends, too, but sometimes it's just more fun riding with just the girls. It's hard to put a finger on exactly why and how it's different, but I mean, it is. I think it probably goes back to women in general. Riding motorcycles is a little bit different experience sometimes, just because most motorcycles are built for guys, and so there's just always a little bit more of a shared struggle. When you're all in that together, and you're all kind of maybe the same size and same strength and ability, then you're just... I don't know, it just feels a little bit more like a team getting through it together.

R: Your trip to Morocco appreciated and celebrated female motorcyclists. In your opinion, how important is it for the motorcycling community to continue celebrating women who ride?
A: I mean, I love being celebrated, and I'm not mad at it at all. I definitely know that there's privilege that comes with being a woman rider right now, in a time like this, and I am all about it. I'm the first to admit that.I think that there will be a time in the future where it's not as unique, and therefore not as worth celebrating, and I think that's okay too, because that means that we really achieved the goal, which is for it not to be a unique thing. Half of all motorcyclists should be women, and I think by introducing it to women in a really intentional way, we will achieve that really soon.

R: How do we wash out the too-well-established stigma of women in motor-cycling and change the cultural canon?
A: I try to lead by example. If I can be seen as a woman that rides a motorcycle and it looks natural and not forced or whatever... I think that the more women we see on motorcycles, the more it becomes hard to say that it's a minority or hard to say that it's in some way special or unique in any way. So, my stance is more to just lead by example, versus trying to amplify the narrative of like, "Oh, there's less women that ride. We are underserved in the market because there's less women. No one makes bikes for us." I think that narrative is just not productive. It doesn't inspire anybody to change things. I think what inspires people to change things or to amplify things is just by freaking doing it. Everything that I do is dedicated to that ... just get out there and do it, and be really intentional about it. Us going to Morocco I would hopefully inspire another woman to be like, "Oh, shit, I can go to Morocco and freaking ride dirt bikes through the desert. I can do that." That's our contribution to try to change the narrative of "not as many women riders", and "women are underserved,” because I think it's really easy for people to just sit around and complain rather than go out and actually do it. If you're mad there isn’t enough gear for you as a woman rider, start a company and fill that void—that’s what ATWYLD is. And if you're mad about not knowing that many other women that ride, start an event that's only for women that ride, and you'll meet so many new friends. That's my personality. Just go out there and do it. Everything else will follow.

"It's still so vivid in my mind for so many reasons. I mean, I can close my eyes right now and picture being on top of that 400-foot-tall sand dune, looking out into a sea of endless sand dunes and feeling that feeling of being so remote."

Anya Violet Aghababian