Joy Ride


Reviewed by Quade Mainzer

Joy Ride: A Bike Odyssey from Alaska to Argentina by Kristen Jokinen, Portland, OR: Hawthorne Books, 290 pages, $19.95

Teacher Kristen Jokinen and soccer player Ville Jokinen are the last people you would expect to go on an 18,215-mile journey from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to Bahía Lapataia, Argentina. One might even say they are the last people that should partake in such a grueling expedition that would threaten the life and sanity of even the most experienced cyclists. They don’t know anything about the anatomy of a bike. Kristen has twigs for legs and a high susceptibility to hives. And Ville’s “radiantly white butt” (28) is no match for the brutal Argentinian sun, if they can even make it that far. But such disapproval of normal people doing extraordinary things for nothing but their own enjoyment is exactly the mindset Kristen seeks to recycle by documenting this journey.

Joyride is the debut novel of travel enthusiast Kristen Jokinen that chronicles her two-year cycling experience from the Arctic to the Antarctic Ocean. The journey she makes with her husband is broken down into four parts by geographical chronology, each with their own triumphs and tribulations. Reading this book is like riding a bike through mountainous terrain; there are euphoric peaks and devastating lows, but the breathtaking description of every “trail thru-hike…[makes you] part of the scenery” (30). The backstory of the Jokinen’s relationship is sprinkled throughout this non-fiction travel memoir, giving insight on the couple’s need to get off the couch and into the rich cultures that lie borders, continents, and oceans beyond Bend, Oregon.

Much like the Hatchet books by Gary Paulsen or the television series Naked And Afraid, Joyride is a lesson in survival, both of nature and of others. Weathering the elements, traversing a marriage, and finding belonging in communities of every scale are all best accomplished with 100% commitment. Not everyone is from Bend, but everyone is from somewhere. And hence, everywhere else is unexplored. Joyride is the ultimate guide for adventuring, whatever that may mean.

Perhaps an adventure is simply picking up a new hobby. Kristen was nowhere near an experienced bicyclist before venturing across continents. She repeatedly struggles with her identity as a cyclist, constantly evaluating her minimal knowledge of derailleurs and lack of spandex as impostor syndrome. At each thousand-milestone, she questions whether she belongs—nay, is allowed—on a bike. Maybe she is not supposed to take up an activity that keeps her in shape, rekindles her marriage, and teaches her what creature comforts she takes for granted. Or, maybe hobbies cannot be gatekept. Maybe the network of hosts for touring cyclists from warmshowers.org is honored to pay kindness forward. Graciously taking up offers of local meals or a stretch of land to spend the night is how the Jokinens break open their unexplored world.

Perhaps an adventure is simply a change in attitude. The shunning of societal structure by shedding one’s clothes and learning the true meaning of freedom. Nudist colony couple Dalver and Sam welcome Kristen and Ville into their RV for a night to enjoy the comforts of a floor, four walls, and a sausage breakfast. They keep the clothes on their backs, but refrain from any judgment or disdain. There are many characters along the way that will think the desire to spend two years on bikes is crazy; why add to the othering? While not at all common in American society, nudists were just what Kristen and Ville needed to see the complacency in their own lives and their own marriage. Membership in a nudist colony is completely optional for your own adventure of seeing different lifestyles in the real world. Perhaps an adventure is whatever you make of it. Ultimately, Kristen shows us that an adventure is any experience that brings with it a new you, physical, mental, or otherwise. Not only did Kristen and Ville come out the other end with killer calves and a resurfaced fear of polar bears, but they also made countless bonds and memories along the way. Aggressive drivers who run them off the shoulder of the highway are a mere blip in comparison to the genuine hospitality displayed by friends, strangers, and everyone in between. Kristen returns home with strengthened resolve to give, share, and connect that transcends the usual U.S. culture.

So pick up a new hobby. Talk to a stranger. Or just start yourself down a path different than the one you’re on. Whatever it takes to begin an adventure. Jokinen shows that with the right motivation—and any amount of preparation—there is a journey waiting.