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.”
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.