Nancy Sathre-Vogel is mother of the Vogel family, who in 2008 cycled from Alaska to Argentina roughly following the Pan American Highway. The Family on Bikes blog inspires and informs other families how to follow their dreams and seek out adventure.
We had a quick chat to find out more about their 27,000 km ride, what it’s like travelling as a family and what they’re going to do with their Best Mum/Dad Blogger Award prize!
Why did you decide to start to travelling as a family?
My husband and I met while biking Pakistan and India in 1990 and we continued to travel together. A few years after we got married, we moved overseas to teach in international schools – which we did for twelve years. It was while we were teaching abroad that our twin sons were born.
The thought that we would stop travelling once we had kids never crossed our minds. We would continue to travel, we would just be doing it as a family of four rather than as a couple. Our sons had crossed the Atlantic five times before their second birthday; they had visited 17 countries by the time they turned five.
Even though we travelled extensively, we only travelled during school holidays. When our sons were eight, we made the decision to quit our jobs and take off for a year on our bikes in order to be together rather than pulled in so many different directions. We spent their third grade year biking around the USA and Mexico.
We enjoyed that year so much, we decided to continue on – this time for a three-year journey from Alaska to Argentina.
You and your husband are both teachers. What is roadschooling and is this something you would recommend to other families (even if they don’t have a teaching background)?
The beauty of roadschooling is that “school” is right there. We took advantage of our travels to help our sons learn about their world. By that I mean that when we were in Panama, we studied the Panama Canal. There is so much you can bring into that! Our sons researched the technical challenges of building the canal, the ecological impact of connecting the oceans, the physics of raising and lowering ships, and the effect of the Panama Canal on worldwide trade.
I don’t think there is anything special about roadschooling that any parent couldn’t do. Just be open and curious and interested in learning about your world, and bring your kids with you!
You’ve cycled 17,300 miles (27,842 km) as a family, through 15 countries. How did you find the energy to keep going? What were the exasperating moments?
I think the most important thing to remember is that our journey was just a series of small days. There was no one day that was more than we could handle. Could you go out and ride a bike 20 miles? How about 20 miles five days this week? That’s not so hard, right? And then you just do that over and over and over.
Yes, there were some moments that were hard. There were some days that were harder than others, and sometimes it wasn’t all that fun. If you are committed to your dream, however, you’ll be willing to push through those hard times in order to achieve what you set out to do.
As for energy to keep going… How do you find the energy to head off to the office every day? How do you find the energy to cook dinner and wash clothes? We will all have the energy for those things we’re committed to – and for us it was riding our bikes the length of the Americas.
What have you learned about travelling with kids?
That kids are great travellers! Kids are curious and inquisitive, they’re energetic, and they’re open to new experiences. It drives me crazy to see so many special travel items or books for travelling with kids. All that does is send the message that travel with kids is somehow difficult or challenging and the parents need to overcome enormous hurdles to get their kids on the road.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Parents know intuitively what their kids need. If we simply follow our intuition, we’ll be fine.
How long did the journey from Alaska to Argentina take and how did you prepare for the trip?
We spent nearly three years on the road. Preparation was more in regards to putting our lives on hold, and less about planning our actual journey. We needed to get the house fixed up for renters, pack everything up, etc… That was a huge hassle!
Although you’ve travelled extensively by bicycle, you recently won £500 from Carrentals UK for . How and where will you spend your prize?
We’re not sure yet. We will be travelling from Idaho to Connecticut next summer, so we might use it then, but we’ll have to put on our thinking caps and come up with options.
What was your favourite destination and why?
This is an unfair question! I think every place has things I like about it and things I don’t. I’ve got very special memories attached to some places, and other places didn’t make as much of an impact.
That said, India will always be special as it was the first place I travelled on my own. I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Honduras so lived with a very special family for two years there. We spent seven years teaching in Ethiopia and our child were born during that time. And, of course, all of the Americas because of the intensity of our experiences cycling through it.
What was your children’s favourite destination and why?
They have three favourite experiences: Liard Hot Springs in Canada, a river hike in Belize, and sandboarding in Ica, Peru.
Liard was amazing – a natural hot spring pool in the middle of nowhere in northern British Columbia. Bison hang out in the area, along with bighorn sheep, caribou, and bears. For us, it was a luxurious treat after many weeks on the road.
In Belize, we met a Canadian family who took us out into the jungle for a hike. It ended up being not so much a hike as floating down the river. Although they had to get out of the water to walk around waterfalls, my sons floated the whole way and had a blast.
And who could not like sandboarding! My sons were so excited to wax up a surf board and ride it down massive dunes.
What’s the best advice you would give to other travelling families?
Just do it. Whatever that dream is – that dream you’ve shoved down into the deepest crevasses of your brain – drag it out, clean off the cobwebs, and do it. Kids are capable of way more than we give them credit for.
What’s next for the Vogel Family?
Our sons are loving life in Boise, Idaho and are putting down roots. They are taking advanced math and science classes through the public schools and homeschooling the rest. They are also involved in a FIRST Robotics team and are loving learning all about the ins and outs of creating robots.
At this point, we don’t see that we’ll head out again, but we’re open to the idea. If our boys were to come to us and say, “Mom, Dad, we want to go travel again,” we would take off in a heartbeat. The trouble is that every time you make the decision to do one thing, you also make the decision not to do something else.
Living in Boise is great; travel would be great. It’s all about figuring out which option has the most benefits at this point in time. For now, that choice is Boise, but that doesn’t mean it will remain so.
The most exciting news we have right now is that my book is nearly ready! I’ve been working on writing a book about our experiences on the PanAm, and we’re hoping to release it on March 21, 2012 – on the two-year anniversary of the completion of our journey! It’s called One Family, One Dream, One Very Long Road: A Family Cycles from Alaska to Argentina.
Thanks Nancy and congratulations on your win!