Welwyn Garden City man to ride on horseback from 'ocean to ocean' through Russia and Europe
PUBLISHED: 14:12 20 November 2019 | UPDATED: 14:12 20 November 2019
A 21-year-old from WGC is aiming to become the first man ever to travel from Russia's eastern coast to London on horseback - despite only learning to ride properly this summer.
Nikita Gretsi will brave wild bears, wolves, and -60 degree-conditions on his own when he travels from Magadan, in eastern Siberia, through to Moscow, the Baltic States, Poland, Germany, France and England.
The former Monk's Walk pupil will tackle the "ocean to ocean" 15,000km challenge in February next year, after he spent two months learning how to be a long-rider from nomads in Mongolia and the Sakha Republic (Yakutia) in Siberia.
"I wanted an extreme challenge to really find out what kind of person I am," he told the WHT. "Not when everything goes perfectly, but what happens when I break - how far can I push myself?
"But within this challenge I didn't want it to just be physical, which is where the horses come in. When you ride there is a connection between you and the horse, and you have to put the horse before you."
Part of the journey will involve crossing a stretch known as the "Road of Bones", which runs through an area called Oymyakon - the world's coldest permanent inhabitable settlement - where even eyeball liquid can freeze.
It is also notorious for having lots of wild bears.
"It is proper wilderness, there's no little path, you're out in the wild - you have to find your own route," Nikita said.
"You always carry a big knife for emergencies, but that's not going to help you against a bear - although I have heard a few stories of people killing bears with knives but I don't want to take my chances!"
Nikita continued: "The idea of fear, being out in the cold - you can freeze, starve to death, [be attacked by] bears, wolves - there is a lot of risk, so fear is a big factor.
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"But I always said I feel fear like everyone else, it's how you control the fear. From what I can see people are afraid of fear itself rather than the thing, so once you learn to control that emotion, you can learn to do a lot of things."
He will sleep in a special tent with a stove, has worked out a broad route based on rivers, and will ask locals for directions along the way.
Although the 21-year-old will be riding alone for much of it, he has received lots of support with visas, training, as well as arranged assistance from locals en route who will help him restock.
"This isn't just about one guy riding from A to B," Nikita said. "That's what a lot of people see, but it's actually the people that are behind me like The Long Riders' Guild, the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), and a man who is very close to me called Egor Makarov."
Nikita, who was born in Estonia, moved to East London when he was seven, before relocating to WGC four years later. Both his parents are of Russian heritage and he is fluent in the language.
The whole idea began earlier this year when he contacted the Long Riders' Guild, which said if he was serious he would need to undertake training and become a qualified long-rider.
He then saved up for the travel, training camps and equipment, quit his job as a supervisor at Bill's Welwyn Garden City Restaurant, and flew to Mongolia in August.
When he arrived - with just a photo of someone who was meant to pick him up - he was eventually he was taken to the nomads' camp, an experience he said was "amazing", despite the language barrier.
A lot of his time was spent understanding how horses behave and learning how to get respect from them - as one of the most important elements of riding is "understanding how to get that connection".
"The minute I started riding, in my mind I was like 'I know how to do this'," he said. "There's something deep in your mind like we know how to ride - like deeper in your subconscious - but we don't use it anymore."
In a few weeks time he will head back out to Siberia to choose his two horses - one for riding, the other for carrying equipment. They will be native Yakutia horses, a breed that is uniquely adapted to a wide range of climates.
He will then return home before heading back out in January for a final cold-weather training camp, following which he will start his journey.