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Penguins, Popcorn and Mountain Passes: the Bicycle Junkies Savor Life While Pedaling from South America to Alaska

  November 11, 2014

Fietsjunks_headwind

In 2013, Elmar and Ellen van Drunen quit their jobs, sold their house in the Netherlands and flew to Brazil to embark on a multi-year bicycling journey from South America to Alaska. Fourteen months into their adventure, the Dutch couple have pedaled 10,500 miles (17,000 km) on their Santos Travel Lite bikes with Gates Carbon Drive. They’ve battled stiff Patagonian headwinds (see photo above), hauled their bikes up muddy trails, crossed 16,000-foot (5,000 m) mountain passes, watched King penguins waddle on the coast, and enjoyed fresh popcorn – which was first domesticated in Central and South America – given to them by villagers in the Andes. “We have pushed our bikes through deep sand on the Bolivian Altiplano, endured temperatures of minus 21°C (-6 F) and didn’t take a shower for 12 days in a row,” Ellen wrote us by email from Peru. Sound difficult? Hardly. “We are living our dream,” Ellen writes. Read excerpts from our email conversation below.

Fietsjunks_camping

Fietsjunks Hit the Road

Ellen: We met in 2003 and began bicycle touring every chance we got, so we nicknamed ourselves “Fietsjunks,” which means “bicycle junkies” in Dutch. We cycled through more than 30 countries in Europe, Asia, Africa and America (all documented on www.fietsjunks.nl), but the dream to undertake a long-distance tour stayed with us. In 2013 we decided it was time to go. In his previous life Elmar was a mechanic for a bicycle touring company. I am a freelance photographer (www.ellenvandrunen.com) and used to be a communications manager for a big company. For now we are just cyclists, adventurers, dream-chasers, travelers and happy people.

Fietsjunks_celebrating

Santos Travel Lite Bicycles

We had no doubt in our mind about which bicycles to ride: it must be a Santos, it must have a Rohloff hub and it must have a Gates Carbon Drive belt. With the experience of our previous cycling years and the fact that we’ve tested many bikes for a Dutch magazine, we know what makes a good touring bike. We like the stiffness and geometry of the bikes and we love the low maintenance of both the hub and the belt. In the 17,000 kilometers we’ve cycled there have been no issues with the bikes aside from the occasional tire puncture. The belt shows no sign of wear and tear and needs no lubrication.

Fietsjunks_Peruvian mud

Camping Beneath the Stars

There have been many memorable moments during this trip. It’s not just the scenery, it’s also the people we meet along the way. But, honestly, we really enjoy the silent moments in the middle of nowhere. Camping alone at the foot of a huge mountain, underneath countless stars, listening to the water lapping the shores of a lake–that’s when we are happiest, because we realize how lucky we are.

Fietsjunks_Elmar in Peruvian mts

Follow the adventures of Elmar and Ellen on Facebook.com/fietsjunks and read their travelogues and see photos on https://www.fietsjunks.nl. Read their gear reviews and travel tips on https://www.traveltheworldbybicycle.com. Maybe you, too, will be inspired to become a Fietsjunk.

Fietsjunks_Elmar dirty face

Fietsjunks_rear sprocket and rohloff

Fietsjunks_Elmar and bikes