Cycling in Kyrgyzstan

Saudade: life after a long distance bicycle tour

by Bicycle Junkies

A couple of weeks ago I gave an inspiring talk at Bike4travel about long distance cycling adventures. Topics concerned preparation and the trip itself. At some point during my talk someone asked me: “what was the most difficult part of your whole 27 month trip?” I didn’t have to think long…

No, it weren’t the tough tracks or the freezing temperatures. No, it wasn’t the high altitude or the crazy wind and no, it was not the ‘first step’ (deciding to go). It was the ‘coming home’ part for me.

Even though I have been away on previous overseas long-term adventures before, this was the first time I had such a hard time adjusting to our ‘normal life’. The first week was fun, seeing friends and family again and heaving all those ‘Oh, I forgot about that-moments’, but very soon (within just a couple of days) everything and everyone went back to normal life, living exactly the same as before. As if nothing had changed, life went on and our trip of a lifetime felt like a long time ago. I had mixed feelings, being happy about the amazing adventure we had and sad to have left the great life of bicycle touring behind me. The Portuguese have a word for it: Saudade ; which means as much as ‘having both happy and sad thoughts/memories over something or someone that is no more’. I had a hard time to live by the calendar, to follow the (too many) Dutch rules and to be ‘normal’. I simply hated the rules, the obligations and the expectations. Around me, friends and family had a hard time to understand I was not happy. They argued “I had done something amazing”, “I should be happy to see them again” or “it’s just the way it is, accept it.” All I felt was I wasn’t special anymore and the loss of something so dear to me. I was mourning.., strange huh?

Finding a job and a home
Being back meant we needed to find a job and a home again. Lucky for us, Elmar could return to Bike4travel and even I was invited to work there. I guess this job gave me a positive push; I am now able to talk with people alike about our trip and to inspire others to do the same. I can share my memories and people understand what I am talking about. For me this job was a life-saver! I wish I could even spent more time here, haha!
Slowly things turned around and we even found a great place to live. These things gave me some peace and thus time to ‘heal’ from my Saudade, although I still miss the time on the road. But now, I can speak about it without feeling down.

Lesson learned
Is there a lesson learned from my experience? Well, not everyone is having these emotions. Elmar, for instance, had no trouble adjusting to a normal life. And even though I was prepared for this, I still went through this emotional rollercoaster. At one point I realised I was no fun for the people close to me and most of all, I was no fun to myself anymore. I was so to speak ‘swimming against the current’ and at this point I had three choices: 1. Keep doing this, 2. turn around and swim with the crowd or 3. get out of the water and find myself a different place to swim in. I tried option one, but failed misserably. Not only was I not happy, I noticed others weren’t happy with me anymore. Option 3 was what I really wanted to do, meaning my swimming pool would be riding our bikes indefinately. But I knew it was not realistic at this point in our lives. So, option 2 was my best bet. But, without loosing my beliefs and my authenticity. I still am who I am, but I made my circumstances somewhat easier for myself. In short, Elmar was right; ‘it is what it is now, focus on the future’.

Having these feelings and going through the emotions is part of the whole trip and should and WILL not influence the amazing memories we have. And even though it was a tough time, I never, ever regret our decision to travel the world by bicycle! Now I can look back and smile and enjoy the photos and memories. I actually received these two amazing prints (below) today to hang on our wall! Plus, I have learned a new word: Saudade. Beautiful word, is it not?

Recognise these feelings? How did you cope? Leave a comment if you like.

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Ad van Brunschot July 15, 2016 - 08:59

Indeed a very nice word: Saudade. I can understand the feeling of being home again. Maybe the people around didn’t change, or can’t you notice it? Be very happy with the experience, the pictures and everything else you love.
You made me a bit more happy by let my enjoy your stories. Thanks!!

Bicycle Junkies July 15, 2016 - 13:27

Thanks Ad and you are welcome! 😉

Leni en simon July 15, 2016 - 14:09

Het is weer als van ouds zeer goed verhaal.
Weer genieten ga zo door.:o

Denise Blanchard July 15, 2016 - 14:31

Charles and I came back home one month ago after being on the road for 24 months…and so far, we are really happy. The big difference for us is the fact that we are retired, so no need to find another job. And our house was rented so we just went back to our ‘normal life’ without any stress at all.
But it’s really strange sometimes, we feel like our big adventure was a long time ago! Hopefully we have our blog and tons of photos and videos to remind us our great moments. But we try not to fall in the mood of too much nostalgia and the best way to do so is to plan a future trip in a near future we hope. Another way to help you live through the present is to see it as another kind of adventure and challenge, rediscovering familiar places, people, way of life and looking at them with a new perspective on life. From all we’ve seen during this fabulous trip, we can tell that we are really lucky to live in such a beautiful country (Canada) and we appreciate all the comfort of our life back home.
You know, one of the greatest pleasure we have about this big trip is about sharing our experience with others and being told so many times that we are ‘inspiration’ for others! And in your case, I am sure that you were greatly inspiring for lot of people, beginning with us! We just followed your trip and even if not exactly biking the same roads, we were inspired by your determination and courage. And we still remember what a pleasure it was to meet you in Peru, when you were pedalling with Jan and Paul, even if it was only a short moment of enthusiastic talk about life on the road! We met a Belgian couple somewhere down in Patagonia and they were completely envious of us when we told them that we had seen you in ‘real’! They were (and still are I’m sure) BIG fans of yours!!!
So we sincerely hope that you will have a great time back home and that your next trip will happen in a really near future!

Denise and Charles

Jon Black July 15, 2016 - 15:40

This is so true. I am haunted by my bike tour, and it was not nearly as long as yours. Thank you for sharing.

Gabriel July 15, 2016 - 16:36

I recognize the word and the feeling, I’m Portuguese and far from home… And I want to do what you guys did. Thank you for sharing

Paul July 15, 2016 - 17:57

Hi Ellen
The website and your travels are a real inspiration and I would hope to do like the bicycle junkies and travel for a bit as a bike tourist!, I understand the Saudade and thank you for telling your story as the real world can be little fun at times and I have been in the same place as you “a lot at the moment”, the main thing is to keep moving and remember these things are like the weather some days its sunny other days it rains but the main thing is to keep pedaling!!!
Kind Regards from Ireland

Jan van pelt July 15, 2016 - 21:30

Goede avond Elmar en Ellen ik heeft weer genoten van je verhaal en de af gelopen jaar dat je van zuid naar noord heeft gefiets en de foto.s vond het geweldig gr Jan

Eduardo Sepúlveda July 16, 2016 - 19:57


The first thing that comes in my mind is to say that I think Bike4travel made more than a wise decision. I have to say it, since it was because of you that now my first dream bike is a Santos, or that before I ended up enjoying all your videos, all that I was able to find as reading was about steel bikes… Now I’m crazy on the idea of having one of that TravelMasters… You can also find Rick Creemers vids on the net, and he seems to fly like crazy on his Santos the same way as you do – I refuse to say you did 🙂 And, if I go completely out of my mind at least for this particular financial moment of my life, I’d really love to have the future opportunity to find you at Bike4Travlel in Rotterdam, since I’ve only been to Adm-Utrecht- DHaag, which i loved.
My second immediate automatic thought is about the great visual material you made, I think it was you Ellen. To explain my feelings about it in short, some chapters to me are addictive, is like the first StarWars episodes effect, you can watch them again, and again, and again, endless. I think you did a brilliant body of work in that sense. Brilliant.

That’s my feedback for now. All the best to both of you.


Janini July 17, 2016 - 12:07

Dear both,

Loved your stories! As if I travelled with you 😉 Long time ago we lived in Indonesia for 5 years and had the same experience. Leaving your homecountry is easy. Coming back is much more difficult. Take your time. That’s what you need. It was a very special period in your life. That’s why you are mourning. You lost something, but if you look and feel carefully, see what you got: A experience that is so very special. My son is leaving for Japan tomorrow. He Goes through the same proces. But will be sad and wise when coming back. Living life, enjoy and cry and write! Thanks!

Bicycle Junkies July 24, 2016 - 09:56

Hi Denise & Charles, thank you so much for your reply! Yes, I do think the stress of finding a home and a job also played a big role. Hahaha! Good to hear we have ‘fans’ 😉 And it’s true, it’s so nice to inspire other people!
Maybe we’ll meet again someday, that would be great!

Bicycle Junkies July 24, 2016 - 09:58

Thank you Paul!

Bicycle Junkies July 24, 2016 - 10:01

Hola Eduardo! Muchas gracias por su repuesto. 😉
Yes, if you do visit the Netherlands again, you must pay a visit to Bike4travel in Rotterdam!
Hahaha! Good to hear and thank you for the compliments!

Bicycle Junkies July 24, 2016 - 10:04

Hi Janini,
Yes, for me too, coming home was much more difficult. I hear it more and more now since I posted this blog. People who have been there, understand.
I hope your son will have an amazing experience!

Michiel January 3, 2017 - 14:22

Olá Bicycle Junkies,

Saudade… voor mij die in Portugal woont – en veel fietst – een bekend woord en begrip. Zag op jullie lijstje van bezochte landen (wow) dat Portugal nog ontbreekt. Steeds meer vakantiefietsers van heinde en heel ver zie ik hier. Dat hier is niet uitsluitend de woestfraaie Costa Vicentina in het uiterste zuidwesten.
Geen massatoerisme, geen hoogbouw, wel hoge kliffen, kleurrijke duinen, eindeloze stranden, meestal fraai weer, verkoelend windje. En wat zijn de Portugezen aardig.
Houden jullie van verse vis? Pak alles in en kom ook. Transavia vliegt je naar bijvoorbeeld Faro, met fietsen in een transparante hoes. Geen gedoe met dozen. En sinds kort heeft Faro Airport zogenaamde bike assembly areas in de aankomst- en vertrekhal. Dat betekent ‘Bemvindo ciclistas’ …
Informatieve prima site is
Begint het al te kriebelen? En mochten jullie ooit in de buurt zijn, laat maar weten.
Stoer hoor, die fietstocht in Noord-Brabant onlangs bij bibberdebibber temperaturen. Maar ach, jullie zijn meer gewend! Morgen 4 januari 2017 fiets ik, dan op mijn racefiets, naar Lagos, 30 km, voor nieuwe onderdelen. Lekker geaccidenteerd terrein. Minimumtemperatuur 12 graden, ‘s middags op naar de 18, in Lagos een graadje meer. Beenstukken? Die blijven thuis.
Helaas is een bedrijf als Bike4travel in de Algarve niet te vinden.
Als altijd geniet ik van jullie verhalen en de reacties daarop.

Michiel van Dam
Bordeira, Costa Vicentina

Bicycle Junkies January 3, 2017 - 16:06

Ola Michiel,
Dat zijn overtuigende woorden! We wilden deze winter ook naar Portugal, maar dan in de buurt van Lissabon of Porto. Helaas vliegt Transavia daar niet op vanuit Rotterdam, dus we gaan waarschijnlijk een dag of 10 naar Spanje. Wie weet een volgende keer! Portugal staat in ieder geval op ons lijstje, zeker na jouw mooie woorden.

Groeten, Elmar & Ellen

Sérgio Marques February 11, 2017 - 17:08

Nice website. Congratulations from porto, portugal.


Sérgio Marques

Martin en Merel November 3, 2020 - 11:16

Hi Ellen en Elmar,

Wij willen naast onze lange wandeltochten ook eens fietsen, zodoende kwamen wij op jullie site. Mooi!
Wij wandelen soms twee maanden en kennen de gevoelens. Onze ervaring is dat wij er niet iets mee doen, maar meer laten. Je kunt ook genieten van het ervaren van twee gevoelens tegelijkertijd.


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