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Photo: The Vogels in Alaska.
What would you do if you weren’t afraid? How would your decisions be different if you had no fear of the unknown or failure?
Nancy Sathre-Vogel asked these very questions in her new book, Changing Gears: A Family Odyssey to the End of the World. Sathre-Vogel traveled with her husband and then 10-year-old twin boys from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to Usuala, Argentina. The journey took three years.
Here’s a video of Sathre-Vogel at Tedx:
But the journey almost never happened. Sathre-Vogel was overwhelmed with the fear of failing and coming home humiliated. She was afraid of the treacherous conditions her family would have to endure. As she agonized over whether to go or not, she was hit with an epiphany. If she went on the trip, there was a 50% chance she would fail. But if she didn’t go at all, there was a 100% chance she would fail.
So she decided to go for it. Her family biked 17,300 miles and completed their odyssey to the end of the world.
Sathre-Vogel’s amazing story first intrigued me when I found her blog, Family on Bikes, nearly two years ago. I had been dreaming of taking my family on a one-year trip around the world. So I started looking for blogs and stumbled on Family on Bikes. Their amazing journey was such an inspiration. They had just finished their three-year tour, ending in Usuala, Argentina. It inspired me to suggest to my husband that we take an extended trip to Hawaii. It wasn’t our full year off, but it was a start. We did it and I was forever changed – now with a goal to one day take my family on an around-the-world trip for a year.
I had a chance to read Changing Gears: A Family Odyssey to the End of the World and interview Sathre-Vogel about her family’s journey. Here’s a quick recap of the book…
It was an unbelievable adventure filled with near-bear attacks, grueling bike rides through treacherous terrains, and extreme weather conditions (from freezing cold to 112 degree hot). I’m amazed at how much the Vogels traveled in three years – all while homeschooling their sons and showing them animals and nature, different cultures, and historial sites and ruins.
Reading about Sathre-Vogel’s challenges with food shortages really hit home for me. I think as a mother I’m always concerned if everyone in my family has had enough to eat. I was nearly biting my nails as I read how the Vogels were running short on food before they even made it to their first stop. Yet along the way fans and followers of the Vogels donated food and supplies to ensure the family of four could make it. And it wasn’t the only time others helped out – throughout the book other travelers, cyclists and strangers helped the Vogels with food, shelter, entertainment and much more. It was so inspiring to read – especially when the Vogels visited Mexico and other countries.
Sathre-Vogel herself said that the universe conspires to help you succeed. And for this family of four it couldn’t be more true. They found that strangers helped them all the time and showed them kindness and empathy at every turn.
Another theme that comes up throughout the book is letting go. As a mother of three young boys, I know the day will come when I need to let my boys go out into the world, but I just can’t imagine how I’ll deal with it. I loved reading about the Vogel boys assert their independence – like riding on their own through obscure South American towns – and how parents Nancy and John agonized about letting their boys go alone.
DMWM Exclusive interview with Nancy Sathre-Vogel
DMWM: How much planning did it take to pull together a 3-year trip?
Sathre-Vogel: Planning for THE TRIP itself wasn’t all that bad. We needed to figure out which bikes we would ride and what gear to take with us, but we had done a lot of touring before that, so that was easy. We also needed to plan the first 500 miles impeccably because our very first grocery store was 500 miles from our starting point. What took a lot of time, however, was planning “put our lives on hold,” so to speak. We would be renting out our home, but it needed to be remodeled before we could do that – which takes oodles of time. We needed to sell half our stuff, and pack up and store the rest. All together, we spent a whole year intensely working on getting ready to go.
DMWM: What homeschool materials did you bring with you? Did you make your own curriculum or buy one that already existed?
Sathre-Vogel: We didn’t carry much with us. Each kid had a journal, and we carried math books. Otherwise, our sons’ education came from our journey. For example, when we were approaching the Panama Canal, we did a bunch of research so we would know what we would see there. We researched the history of the canal, the ecological challenges of connecting the oceans, the physical hardships of the construction of the canal, and more. That encompassed reading, writing, research, histor, and science. We did that every time we found something locally that we could research.
DMWM: What was the one item you missed from home?
Sathre-Vogel: At the beginning of the journey, I didn’t miss anything. I had made a choice to live that life, and didn’t mind cooking for a tiny camp stove with only one pot and one spoon. That was the tradeoff I had chosen.
By the end, I was DEFINITELY missing some things. I missed having a toilet. I missed knowing I would have water every day – hot water didn’t even matter, just having access to water was huge. Whether that came in the form of a tap, a river, or a lake didn’t matter. I missed a stove that I didn’t have to dig out of a pannier, put together, find a flat spot on the ground, and then get it lit. And put it all away after using it. I dreamed of that miracle of turning a knob and the stove magically gets hot.It was all simple things that I missed. Things we generally take for granted.
DMWM: How much did you budget and did you stay within it?
Sathre-Vogel: In general, our journey cost us about $1500/month for the normal, day-to-day expenses. We also budgeted an additional $500/month for one-off things like visiting Macchu Pichu or the Galapagos Islands or rebuilding our bikes. We wouldn’t spend that for a long time, then *BOOM* we spent thousands in a week.
We were prepared to spend whatever it took to do the journey. We would take it out of our retirement savings if we needed, although we didn’t have to take much out at all.
DMWM: I love the theme of how much strangers were willing to help you – especially in areas that are notoriously depicted by the media to be dangerous for Americans. Did you expect that?
Sathre-Vogel: I think we did. We knew that Mexico was fine – we had spent a few months cycling there a couple years earlier and knew that the Mexican people were incredible.
As for Colombia, we had heard from many, many cyclists who said that Colombia was their favorite country ever and that it was wonderful. We believed them rather than the opinion of people who had never even been there.
DMWM: What’s the best piece of advice you can give to a family who is considering an extended trip?
Sathre-Vogel: Do it. Just do it. Its scary. It’s overwhelming. But in the end, its so worth it. Its easy to stick with the status quo rather than doing the hard thing, but the hard thing is so much better in the long run. Just do it. Just do something. The magic is in the doing.
DMWM: Where are you planning your next trip?
Sathre-Vogel: At this point, we aren’t planning more big travels. We will travel to Connecticut in the summer to spend time with family, but otherwise we’ll stay in Idaho.
My husband and I have the philosophy that we want to give our children as many varied experiences as we can. We lived as expats in various countries when the boys were young, we spent four years (in total) traveling on our bikes.
What we hadn’t given our sons was the chance to be part of a larger community and put down roots. Now, we plan to stay in Boise where our sons are in Boy Scouts and on a FIRST Robotics team. We are still homeschooling, but the boys are each taking a few math and science classes through the local school. It’s a fantastic experience for us all!
Thanks to Nancy Sathre-Vogel for her time on this interview. I highly encourage you to pick up Changing Gears: A Family Odyssey to the End of the World to read more about the Vogels journey from Alaska to Argentina and you can order the DVD of the Vogels’ documentary at Family on Bikes. Who knows… you may be inspired to take your family on a extended trip too.
Photo: The Vogels at the end of the road – literally and for their three-year adventure.
Photos courtesy of Nancy Sathre-Vogel.
Disclosure: Although I did receive a free copy of the Changing Gears book, I was not compensated to write this review. I’m just a huge fan of the Family on Bikes blog.PAID ENDORSEMENT DISCLOSURE: In order for me to support my blogging activities, I may receive monetary compensation or other types of remuneration for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog.
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