Portlander seeks to inspire with new book on 18,000 mile bike ride

Kristen and Ville Jokinen. (Photo: Kristen Jokinen)

“When you’re on a bike, you’re going the perfect speed…you don’t really experience a place until you’ve traveled through it on a bicycle.”

-Kristen Jokinen

A week before heading off on an 18,000 mile bike ride spanning the Western Hemisphere, Kristen and Ville Jokinen didn’t know how to adjust a derailleur. This is just how the Jokinens are: they’re the type of people who will decide on a whim to backpack the Pacific Crest Trail during a year of historic snowfall in the Sierra Nevadas, having never spent a night together in a tent before. (If the Donner Party had extended an invitation to them along the way, they’d probably say yes, and manage to get out of their clutches right in the nick of time.)

Despite starting off so green, Kristen and Ville did what they set out to do: bike from the top of Alaska to the southernmost point of South America. In the upcoming Joy Ride: A Bike Odyssey from Alaska to Argentina (Hawthorne Books), Kristen chronicles their epic adventure. Yesterday, I had a Zoom chat with Kristen — a native Oregonian from Bend who is currently based in Portland — about the book and the adventurous ethos she and her husband want to share with the world.

Kristen and Ville, who is Finnish, met in 2008 while scuba diving in Vietnam, and have been adventuring ever since. Kristen said the idea for the bike trip came during their aforementioned stint on the PCT, when they realized they would like a slightly faster mode of transportation than their legs.

“We said, ‘You know what might be cool is to go a little bit faster than this, to be able to cover more distance’,” Kristen said. “Yeah, maybe we should try a bike trip.”

So, obviously, their next course of action was to buy two bikes and fly to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, a town on the Arctic Sea known for oilfields (and not for having paved, bikeable roads).

“If you think this was a very thorough discussion, it wasn’t,” Kristen said. “It wasn’t until I looked out the window of the plane from Anchorage to Prudhoe Bay that I realized, ‘Oh shit, this is probably pretty dang remote.’ There were no roads, no houses, we were really going into nowhere.”

The epic bike route. (Source: Kristen Jokinen)

They pedaled through this wilderness, heading south through Alaska and down the west coast of North and South America through some of the most gorgeous scenery in the world. Throughout the journey — which took place over two years, from 2016-2018 — they realized how great biking is as a mode of transportation.

“When you’re on a bike, you’re going the perfect speed,” Kristen said. “You’re not separated from your environment like you are in a car or bus or plane. You don’t really experience a place until you’ve traveled through it on a bicycle.”

Kristen said a big reason she wanted to write this book is to encourage other people to take exciting chances in their lives, even if they’re not quite as much of an undertaking as this one.

“I feel like what we do is extreme and kind of crazy, but I’ve told a lot of people they don’t have to look at the big picture,” she told me. “You shouldn’t make a huge plan because you’ll see it as too big of a thing for you to handle. So if you want to do a bike ride or a hike, you don’t have to start with the whole PCT. Start by walking around the block or walking to the grocery store, and add to it.”

I asked Kristen if she thinks there’s a cost to seeing the world when it requires emitting carbon via so much air and car travel.

“If we did these things that we’re passionate about and don’t share it, we’ve done a disservice to everybody who’s helped us along the way.”

“Yes, I hear you…one thing you get from doing these bike trips is that you just start despising cars…you see all the dead animals on the roadside, people are just decimating these wild animals so they can get themselves as fast as possible from point A to point B,” Kristen told me. “And we can’t wash our hands of it, because we fly to be able to start and finish a bike ride somewhere. Ideally, we would like to figure out how to sail [to our destinations]. That’s our ultimate goal, because we plan to continue this life.”

She added that she thinks most people can start making change just within their daily habits, and she and Ville would like to be able to encourage them to do so.

“I think the most important thing is the daily commute,” she said. “If we could get more people commuting daily on a bicycle or walking or alternative modes of transport that isn’t getting in your car, maybe we’d be getting somewhere with the environment.”

How do people with as much wanderlust as Kristen and Ville have adapt to a global pandemic that prevents them from traveling outside their home? The Jokinens decided to move to Portland and work on some projects: a documentary for Ville, and this book for Kristen. And now that the world has opened up again, she wants to share their story.

On May 12th, Kristen will kick off a book tour with a reading at Powell’s City of Books (1005 W Burnside). Ville will be there as well to present some footage from his upcoming documentary about the trip. Kristen said she’d love to see some of Portland’s aficionados at the event, and hopes to make bike enthusiasts out of some new people, too.

“My goal with the whole book was to inspire other people cycling, bring the cycling fanatics together,” she told me. “If we did these things that we’re passionate about and don’t share it, we’ve done a disservice to everybody who’s helped us along the way of this adventure. We need to share it and keep it going, and inspire others to do these things.”

You can find out more about the Powell’s event and preorder the book here.

Taylor Griggs

Taylor Griggs

Taylor was BikePortland's staff writer from 2021 to 2023. She currently writes for the Portland Mercury. Contact her at taylorgriggswriter@gmail.com

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1 year ago

I’ve been watching someone on Youtube (Greg McCahon) doing the Alaska > Argentina route, looks quite beautiful.

I assume Kristen and Ville had to use a boat to get around the Darién Gap? I suppose the book might have that answer!

bryan medley
bryan medley
1 year ago
Reply to  Mitch

if you zoom in on the bike route graphic, it looks like boats were taken in baja and panama.

Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)
Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)
1 year ago

All my adventures are pretty close to home with five kids. (But it really helps to think of them as “adventures.”) But I have this book on hold at the library, because it’s fun to do a bit of adventurous reading too!

Racer X
Racer X
1 year ago

Taylor, Now based on your description of their ‘greenness’ and survival skills…they might have instead bested the Donners and been the predators and not prey. 😉 Guys have a safe and cannibal free trip!

Ben Zimmerman
Ben Zimmerman
1 year ago

I attended their book signing / presentation at REI in Seattle last evening. If you get a chance to attend one of the upcoming talks, make it a priority (they are heading down the West coast now)! Kristen and Ville have an amazing attitude and are just plain fun to be around. They inspired me to get serious about doing another long-haul trip (long for me, not 18,000 miles : ) ).