Bicycle Junkies Explain How to Live on the Road and Why Cycling Is Freedom

There are a lot of reasons why hopping on your bicycle is the best thing ever – and for worldwide cyclists Elmar and Ellen, “cycling is freedom” is surely one of them.

Keep reading as we unravel the life of these bicycle junkies who have literally travelled around the world by bike!

Bicycle Junkies Elmar and Ellen

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Hi, we are Elmar & Ellen van Drunen aka the Bicycle Junkies, 43 and 42 years young. We were full-time world cyclists not so long ago, but when we ran out of money, we went back to The Netherlands and now we both work for Bike4travel. This is a (the best if I may say so) bike shop specialized in touring bikes and bicycle touring gear.

Elmar is a technician and salesperson and I do sales, marketing and IT. Our jobs are our hobbies too! But, Elmar also does a lot of road biking and I love photography. We try to ride our bikes as many as possible and plan about 2 cycling trips each year. In the mean time, we dream of another long distance ride.

Bicycle Junkies Elmar and Ellen

How and why did you get into riding bicycles?

Before we even knew each other, we did a couple of bicycle trips. So when we met in 2004, we immediately did our first cycling trip together: through Denmark. After that trip, we were hooked to each other and to bicycle touring. We called ourselves ‘Fietsjunks’ (Dutch for Bicycle Junkies) and many short (3-4 weeks) trips followed: Alaska, India, Namibia, Iceland.

In 2009, we took a 3-month leave and went to Kazachstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and China for an amazing cycling adventure. It was great, so great we really wanted to make our long lived dream come through, so we started thinking of a long-distance ride. In the mean time, we went to Canada, Morocco, China again, Chile, Argentina and Malaysia. As soon as we had enough money we quit our jobs, sold our house and left with destination unknown. We flew to Sao Paulo in Brazil, rode South to Ushuaia and North to Canada. It took us 27 months, it was the most amazing time of our lives! We rode a lot of mountainous roads, high passes in the Andes and loved riding away from the crowds.

Our preparation was our previous trips, but for this long-distance ride, we let faith decide more or less. There were a couple of things we really wanted to ride like Bolivia’s South West (Laguna Route), Paso Sico (Chile – Argentina), Peru’s Great Divide and the US Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.

Bicycle Junkies Elmar and Ellen

Why is cycling important for you?

Cycling means total freedom for me. I feel, see, hear, smell everything more intense than usual. It makes us live in the moment, away from crowded Holland and people running from appointment to appointment. During our long-distance ride, we had the time, while the rest of the world has a watch. We love open spaces of ‘nothing’, makes me feel humble. Nature is so beautiful!

People need to get out, experience this and don’t let media dictate their lives. Terrorist attacks are everyday news, media is making us scared people. We should not let this happen and once you go out and see for yourself, you’ll know what I mean. There are so many good people in this world, be one of them!

Bicycle Junkies Elmar and Ellen

What have been the best and difficult parts of your cycling?

The best parts were the toughest moments. They give us a proud feeling. Incredible headwinds in Patagonia, pushing our bicycles through deep sand on the Bolivian Altiplano at a 4500+ meter elevation, sleeping (or at leas trying to) while it’s minus 21 degrees Celsius, gasping for air at 5300 meter altitude in India and that shower after 12 days of riding through no mans land.

The most difficult part is coming home. Feeling the loss of freedom, while also feeling so happy knowing what we had done it. That’s a very mixed feeling, there is a beautiful Portugese word for it: Saudade.

Not many people among our family and friends understand what we are doing, so we can’t really share our thoughts. We are so happy we work at Bike4travel now, like minded people visit our shop. So, we give presentations now to inspire others.

On the road we keep each other going, I guess we are a great team. 😉

Bicycle Junkies Elmar and Ellen

How do you eat and sleep on the road?

Well, traveling the world on a bicycle means we need to eat what’s available. Our first longer distance ride from The Netherlands to Barcelona we we’re rookies. We brought 4 big pots of Isostar powder. Little did we know these things are readily available in Western countries. We never do that again!

Food and water

We always carried a spare package of noodles, deep inside our rear panniers. It’s just in case we run out of food.

For breakfast, we bring oatmeal or if we can get a hold of it: Just bread with peanut butter or chocolate paste like a jar of Nutella. Baby milk powder to cream it up a bit and maybe nuts if we have them. Of course, we bring our percolator for coffee! During the day we eat cookies and for lunch we usually have flat bread, because you can keep it for a long time and it doesn’t take up much space. We have tuna with maybe mayonaise or tomatoes. And peanut butter and chocolate paste.
Then it’s cookie time for the rest of the day. 🙂

After we have found a place to camp we have dinner, usually pasta dinner. During the day we may have been able to buy veggies, so it can be a healthy meal. If not, it’s a very boring pasta meal with anything that’s left. We try to bring a few sachets of sauce, so it does have a bit of taste. We usually end our meal with coffee and we split a chocolate bar.

In South America and the Himalayas, we were not able to buy food every day, so then we need to plan ahead. We estimate the amount of days it will take us before we reach civilization again, plus one spare day. Sometimes it’s hard to find nutritious and healthy food, but there’s almost always flat bread, tuna and peanut butter. 🙂

So, we usually make our own food. We try to buy veggies on the markets or in a store before we find a place to camp.

We cook on a multi-fuel stove such as the MSR XGK EX, which runs on gasoline/diesel.

Our pots are MSR Quick 2 Pots.

Water is another thing, since we can only carry so much of it and we tend to use quite a lot while cycling. Especially when it’s hot or when we are at elevation. Once we carried about 20 liters, that should be enough for two days. We cannot wash ourselves (we use baby wipes instead), we try to use very little for brushing our teeth and it’s all for cooking and drinking.

We bring a water filter along, so we can get water from streams and rivers. When we see people, we ask for water or we buy water. It only happened once that we were completely out of water, it was a tricky ride, but managed to reach people who gave us water. I believe we already were a bit dehydrated.

Our water filter is the Katadyn Pocket.

Sleeping

In towns we sleep in guesthouses, motels or on a campsite when it’s available. In big cities, we don’t want to camp, because of theft issues.

In between civilization we camp, usually around dinner time we try to find a camp spot. I sleep better when we are invisible. 🙂

I love camping. It’s our own little house and we can camp on the most beautiful places ever. With nobody close by. No sounds, nothing. Just us two, an amazing view and a million stars to sleep underneath.

A stream close by is perfect. I we can’t camp out of sight, we try to find a curve and pitch our tent on the inside of the bend. Once it’s dark the car lights won’t shine on us, so we are invisible to them. Usually there’s very few traffic though.

If it’s a bit crowded, we try to ask a farmer if it’s ok to camp on his land. Gives us a secure feeling.

We park our bicycles right next to our tent, laying them on the ground. Locked to each other.

Our tent: Hilleberg Nammatj 3GT for long distance rides and the Hilleberg Nallo 3GT for 3-4 weeks trips.

Our sleeping bag: Cumulus Teneqa 700 for long distances (very warm) and the Cumulus Lite Line 400 for normal conditions.

Bicycle Junkies Elmar and Ellen

How do you handle when someone gets sick on the road?

Well, during our 3-month cycling trip, Elmar got very ill in China. He probably had Salmonella poisoning, followed by rheumatic pains in all his larger joints. He could not walk, cycle, stand, not even go to the toilet and wash himself. We were evacuated by an emergency team and he had to stay in the hospital for a couple of weeks. It took a year for him to recover and to be able to walk again. He trained very hard and after another half year we did our first cycling trip again, we were so happy. It’s still in his body, but we now know the symptoms and are able to treat it immediately if it happens again.

We handled this together, helped each other and cried together, but we kept believing in our dreams and goals. So, he trained very hard to be in shape again.

What are your best advice people new to long-distance ride?

Just do it! Really, don’t let anything hold you back. Live your dreams now. A couple of weeks I had a guy told me during one of my presentations: “I so much want to do a long-distance ride, but my work…” My answer was: “Then you don’t want it hard enough”.

He was kind of flabbergasted that I told him this, but it’s true! There are always reasons NOT to do it, just focus on the reasons why you should do it!

How do you prepare for your cycling tour?

I love looking at maps, reading other people’s blogs about off road routes and get inspired by amazing pictures. We cycle a couple of times a week and we do other activities, like hiking and every now and then we do a canoe trip. We have saved up quite some good gear, like our Hilleberg Tent and Arc’teryx outdoor gear.

For the next trip, we first look at pictures of other cyclists and read their blogs. If we think we like it, we buy a map and start planning some off road cycling. Sometimes we point out highlights we really want to see and try to ride from one to another. But you know, most of the time the highlights are the ride itself. 😉

Bicycle Junkies Elmar and Ellen

How do you finance your cycling tour?

Well, not really sponsors. We were lent a Santos Bicycle for our long-distance trip and we have been given an Avaghon bicycle. In return we let them know how the bicycle functions and what could be better.

We work and save money. We live in a wealthy country, we should not depend on other unfortunate people to be able to live our dreams. I actually hate that! Get a job, work hard, save money and then live your dream, don’t abuse the goodness of others, much poorer people, be always self-reliant.

Traveling by bicycle isn’t an expensive sport. We camp a lot and we fuel ourselves with food. We did save money for good gear.

How do you balance normal life with cycling?

We don’t have children as we explicitly chose to be free from kids. We like our freedom too much! We love spontaneous decisions to just go and ride our bikes. Our spare time has always something to do with riding our bikes. We are Bicycle Junkies for a reason!

Bicycle Junkies Elmar and Ellen

What has been your best purchase below $100?

Hmm, difficult question. I would say my Rudy Project Sunglasses and my lightweight air pillow. Or maybe, that Outdoor Magazine I bought when I was a teen that had an article about bicycle touring through Iceland. I knew then, that one day I would be riding there.

What other favorite gear do you have?

Our bicycles, of course! Avaghon X29 & Santos Travel Lite

Without them we would not be happy as world cyclists!

What will the future bring?

Apart from short trips in Germany, Belgium and Holland this summer, we are planning a four week cycling trip in Oman later this year. In the distant future, we are dreaming of another long trip: Netherlands to China probably.

We have a long Bucket List though! We would love to go to Mongolia, Georgia and Armenia, New Zealand, back to South America. And I think we will start doing some long-distance bike packing rides, like 200km ride in one day. Elmar is aming for 400km a day on an Avaghon Racert bicycle. 😉


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2 Comments

  1. Loved your story of your wonderful travels on your bikes Elmar & Ellen the amazing adventure that you’ve had so far.

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