Mladen Jankovic is a rider on ADVTracks, and he is a bit of a Renaissance Man. Hailing from Belgrade, Serbia, Mladen has always been building his dreams. In addition to his love for motorcycles, he is a photographer, musician, free diver, and entrepreneur.
He has ridden through Europe, Caucasus, and the Himalayas. While riding through Mongolia, he came up with the idea to build a resilient and tough equipment for motorcycles. Out of the harsh and rugged Gobi Desert, TENGRIpro, the saddlebag built for adventures, was born.
Why don’t we start with a short introduction of yourself?
My name is Mladen, I live in Serbia. I do filming, video editing, and photography. I love motorcycle adventures, sports, freediving, scuba diving, and making my own music.
Some time ago I started designing and producing soft luggage equipment for adventure motorcycles, as a result of my passion for adventure riding. I name it Tengri pro. The name represents the Mongolian supreme divinity, which rules the vast blue skies.
What were you like in high school?
I went to dentistry school, believe it or not. I was a restless young man, always ready for action, constantly trying to find excitement. I also finished music school for piano and double bass, and I always loved metal music. I played a bass guitar in my own metal band, and professionally with a famous Serbian rock star.
Back then, we didn't have what we call normal motorcycles in Serbia, only scooters and mopeds. Real motorcycles were too expensive for people to own them. That didn't keep me from buying two-wheelers.
As soon as I bought a little motorcycle, my father immediately sold it. He was afraid that something awful would happen to me, and that was his way of handling the problem. Finally, I bought a Yamaha DT80 and chained it to a land post in front of the house, so my father couldn't sell it. That did the trick. He finally accepted my passion, and I've been riding ever since. The rest is history, as they say.
What does your average day on the road look like?
When traveling, I like to get into "the flow", meaning that there shouldn't be any pressure of making it to a certain point in certain time frame. I don't like plans, they make me feel tense. If you make a plan, any single thing can interrupt it and render all the previous planning useless. Flat tire, interesting situations, someone calls you for a lunch or a dinner to their home in the middle of nowhere, something brakes on the bike, all those nice and not so nice situations can interfere with plans if you try to bound to them.
Of course, planning is essential, but plans need to be only rough and therefore flexible. In other words, I like to take time and relax. I eat when I'm hungry, I stop when I stumble upon some nice spot, I put up my tent when I'm tired. No alarms in the morning.
What is it about the Gobi Desert and Mongolia that attracts you to it?
Mongolia is a place of wonder. It felt like I've jumped into a time pod and traveled back in time when the Earth was still young. Only thing that kept reminding me that I live in today is the lack of dinosaurs. Everything else is like from the movie Jurassic Park. Amazing.
The north of the country is green, mountainous, there are lakes, lots of animals, and you can find people living there. South is a different story. It's dry, rugged, infinite. There are no trees in the south, only small growth, camels, and vultures. It hosts the Gobi desert, one of the biggest in the world.
Very few tourists visit south. We haven't seen a single adventure rider while riding Gobi. That says it all. It's a desolate place, you see absolutely nothing when you make a 360 turn. And the silence! It's magical.
People often ask me what's the point, why am I so fascinated by Gobi when there's nothing there. My answer lies in their question. Nothingness, silence, only the wind. I get goosebumps when I recall the feeling of being there. One has to experience the desert to fully understand the feelings it evokes.
Could you share a little about the Gobi Desert trip? What memory do you look back at the most?
The highlight of our Gobi desert trip was Khongoryn Els, the great sand dunes at the far south of Mongolia. Some are 200 meters high and quite steep. When we've ridden to the top of one of them for the first time, we weren't ready for what we were about to see.
From the top, we could see the sea of sand. Like waves on the sea, the dunes went to infinity. It was a jaw-dropping moment. Unfortunately, we were on heavy Africa Twins, so we couldn't risk riding further into the dunes in fear we would bog down. If that happened we couldn't expect anyone to help us, and our trip could soon turn into agony, perhaps endangering our lives. So we rode up and down the dunes across the soft sand and had a blast. We laughed, fell numerous times, basically played in the sand like children.
Would you say you can relate to the nomadic Mongols? Do you prefer life on the road or having a place to call home?
I love the adventure, and I love to get back home, only to plan my next adventure again. It's a curse of an adventure rider, you can never get enough of it. Sometimes things get rough on the road and you start asking yourself why are you doing this in the first place.
Then, when the troubles pass, and you find yourself sitting in front of the tent looking at the sunset you think: "This is life!".
Living in the present moment is what's it all about, I think that sums up entire adventure, nomadic lifestyle. In that sense, we the adventurers and Mongolian nomads are the same, and we recognize that fact in each other's eyes at first glance. There is no choice, we have to live in the moment in order to live and survive. The circumstances force us to do it that way, and it liberates us at the same time. Ironic and beautiful at the same time, isn't it? :)
A common question: How do you afford your adventures?
Money is often the most limiting factor for people planning a big adventure. But luckily, will and passion solve that problem. If you want it bad enough, there is no doubt you'll achieve it.
Just look at people who get children, how their lives change for better in almost every way: they start to earn more, have more time for important things than before, they become better in many aspects. I contribute that to their passion for having something to give a real, tangible purpose to their lives.
When we planned our adventure to Mongolia, I became focused on that goal. I worked like crazy, making money for the trip. It didn't feel hard at all, I didn't feel tired or overworked. I was biting hard.
What navigation tools do you use and how do you plan your routes?
Throughout the entire trip, we used our Android phones with Mapfactor Navigator app, which is free to download from Google Play. It uses OSM (open street maps) which are great. Every single track is there, even the smallest ones which are too rugged for a big adventure bike.
We also used paper maps to get the feeling where we are from a different perspective. Also, paper maps show more topographical features, like marshes, and other impassable areas.
Basically, we used paper maps to plan our routes on a day to day basis, and our Android phones during the day, while we ride. Paper maps are still a must, even though technology today is amazing. They show some land features digital maps lack. Also, electronic devices can break.
Do you have the GPX track of the journey you can share?
I did make sections of the track we've ridden through Mongolia but was unable to connect all of them into a single, whole track. I'm generally very good with computers and software, but I lack time to focus on learning all the tiny tricks and bits of the software I use, to get the sections together.
I uploaded several of my tracks from different rides on advtracks.eu, but the journey through Mongolia was huge, it's some 7000 kilometers long, and I can't seem to fit all the sections into a single track. I promise I'll do that in the future. I'd appreciate some help from someone experienced in using the software. :)
You seem to have visualized the trip for a long time before you went on it. Would you say it was an important part of achieving your dream?
The most important part of achieving any dream is not to give up. I know it sounds cliché, but it's the truth. It's not easy not to give up, I gave up many times in the past, only to learn that truth.
For years I dreamt the same dream. In it, I was riding a big bike across some endless desolate plain. The sun was shining incredibly bright, but it was cold. And every time I woke up I had a strange, nostalgic, overwhelming feeling. And it became true.
What are the technical challenges of planning the route for a trip?
Physical and mental strain are a part of any serious adventure. Your body will take a beating throughout the journey, and it is of the utmost importance to be prepared physically. The stronger your body is the more you'll be able to focus your mind on the goal, and appreciate the moment.
A big part of being relaxed and enjoy the trip is certainly the motorcycle itself. It doesn't have to be a 100+ horsepower WP suspension equipped monster KTM. Any bike will do great, as long as you can rely on it.
Lower performance adventure bikes are even more desirable from my point of view. They use less fuel and oil, they save tires, chains, and brake pads, they're less tiring, etc... Who wants to risk riding 100 miles per hour in a desolate desert anyway, where help is days away?
You seem like a bodybuilder. Is it hard to maintain your fitness level on the road?
I don't pay attention to my fitness and what I eat while I travel, especially in places like Mongolia. There are no vegetables of any kind there, only mutton. Of course, I'll have a healthy meal whenever I can, but I don't exercise while traveling. I rest as much as I can, saving strength and energy for upcoming challenges. I prepare my body before and put it to use on the trip.
Name a country/ place where:
- you would like to go to next:
I'd like to ride Pamir highway so bad. After Mongolia, there are not so many such exciting places to travel to, except maybe South America.
- you might think about migrating to:
I love my hometown and my country. The only place I visited so far, where I can see myself living in is Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. It's a wonderful place, with diverse culture and great food.
- you think would be the cheapest for someone to go:
An adventure seeker is never far away from an adventure. I'm pretty sure you can find one in your country, maybe even close to the place you live.
For some longer, serious adventure trips, where you'll really feel far from home, immersed in some different culture and landscapes, Iran is a nice option. For me, central Asia is the real deal. Something draws me there, something I can't explain.
As a photographer, entrepreneur, and traveler, how do you go about achieving your goals?
I achieve things from passion. For me that's the most important thing, the driver of my achievements, to say so. Without passion I'm nothing. I cling to it like a mad man, I appreciate it, I nourish it. I often seem strange to people around me, and that's ok, I understand them. But passion is my driving force, the more, the better from my point of view.
Right now I'm into freediving. I train four times a week, plus another four training sessions in the gym. I also started playing the bass guitar with my old technical metal band after 17 years. After only one month of practice, we now play better than ever before, and we'll start recording an album soon. That's only because we do it with passion.
What would you say to someone who wants to plan for a big adventure?
Go for it, be smart, and never hesitate!!! In that order.
Get prepared physically and mentally. Get your bike ready like it's about to go to war, even if you expect a relatively easy ride. You never know what kind of challenges may find you. Get your mental attitude in line, and always remember that everything that happens on the road is merely a reflection of your mental state.
Never panic in bad moments, remind yourself that all is fine, and that everything that happens is a part of the adventure. Just go with the flow, and embrace the unexpected.
Who inspires you?
I inspire myself, I really don't need anyone to inspire me to try and do crazy shit I envision. My passion for life gives me everything I need to push forward. When I raced hard enduro, for example, I always competed against myself, trying to be better than I was yesterday, rather than being better than someone else. Same thing with music. I don't pay attention to whether people like my music or not, I do it for my own joy. And it always turns out better than I expected.
What are your plans for the future?
I have many plans for the future: to ride Pamir highway, to record an album with my band, to freedive, to become a scuba diving instructor and to do underwater videography.
Life is short, we need to grasp it and make every moment count. As I see it, where there's [a] will there's a way. And my motto is: "if you don’t build your dream someone will hire you to help build theirs." Find your passion whatever it may be, and don't hesitate. Every mistake you make is a lesson that brings you closer to your goal, make sure you look at it that way.
And finally, the meaning of life as I see it, is to make yourself happy and fulfilled.
We’d like to thank Mladen for sharing his story and thoughts. Images courtesy of Mladen. You can find him on ADVTracks, Facebook, and Youtube. If you are in need of a durable saddlebag, check out TENGRIpro.