Big Things (Zapala, Argentina)

We’re falling apart – both physically and mentally.

I wrote a few days ago about our gear falling apart – our clothes are in tatters and our bikes are falling apart.  Yesterday I broke yet another spoke, so my bike is in the shop being fixed now.  Will everything hold together for another 2700 kilometers?  We can only hope.

The harder part, though, is the mental half of the equation.  We’re finding it harder and harder to remain focused and motivated to keep going.  Will we hold together long enough to reach Ushuaia?

It would be so easy right now to just hole up here and vegetate for the next three weeks, but we know we can’t.  We’re racing Old Man Winter and none of us wants to be pushing our bikes through two feet of snow.  If we are going to make it to Ushuaia, we need to push on.

I’ll freely admit there is a part of me who feels we should just climb on a plane and head north right now.  Why bother with these last 1500 miles?  It’ll be mile after mile of barren pampa with blasts of wind so strong they’ll knock us off our bikes.  Do I really want to do this?

I think back to a conversation I had with Ramon, a man I met in Poza Rica, Mexico.  “Nancy,” he said, “we’ve been studying about doing big things in my classes for my master’s degree.  Basically, to do any big thing, it comes down to four steps – decision, plan, start, redo.”

He’s absolutely right – that’s exactly what it comes down to.  Those basic four steps:

  1. Make the decision
  2. Design a plan of action
  3. Start
  4. Go back to the drawing board

But the hardest part of the whole thing is making the decision.  I’ve said all along that the hardest part of our journey was making the decision to take it in the first place.   How does one make the decision to drop out of everything society expects from us to make our own path through life?  As parents, we are expected to drop the kids off at daycare, spend the bulk of our waking hours in an office somewhere, pick up the kids, fix a quick dinner, take the kids to soccer practice, and then collapse into bed exhausted.

We decided – through whatever convoluted path we followed to get there – that we didn’t want that life.  We wanted a life on two wheels. We wanted a life cycling from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego.  We made the decision.  We came up with a basic plan of action, and we started.

But now we’re back to the drawing board.  We’re back where we started.  Do we really want to do this?  Is getting to Ushuaia really that important to us?  If it’s not, I can guarantee we won’t make it.

It’s getting hard now.  Someone once said that bike touring is 90% mental and 10% physical.  I agree with that.  Yes, I can physically push on.  I can keep those legs going in circles for hours and hours.  But do I want to push on?  Do I have the mental fortitude to deal with another two or three months through Patagonia?

The hard part is that all four of us have to make the decision.  All four of us have to agree on what we’ll do.  If one of us wants to head home, do all four of us do that?  Or does that one agree to push on?  How does a team balance all those questions?

We’ve never been in this position before.  Sure, I was ready to throw in the towel up in northern Peru, but that was a different situation.  Now, I really don’t know.  I know I want to reach Ushuaia – but I want to get there, like…tomorrow.  I don’t feel like spending another 50 or 60 nights camped by the side of the road.  I don’t feel like battling winds straight from the depths of hell for another couple months.  I don’t feel like being bitten by tabanos for another 75 days.  I don’t feel like foraging and gathering food from poorly stocked stores.  I don’t feel like stuffing my sleeping bag and rolling up the tent.  I don’t feel like pedaling my heavy bike up 30-kilometer climbs.

So we come back to the beginning – to the decision part of doing this big thing.  Is reaching Ushuaia on two wheels important enough to me to continue on?  Is accomplishing this goal that I’ve dedicated so many years of my life to worth the inconveniences and pain it’ll take to get there?  Do I really want to do this?

At this point, I suppose my answer is yes.  Yes, it’s worth it – for now.  Yes, I’ll push on.  Yes, I’m tired and my spirits are low and there’s a huge part of me saying quit now.  But there’s another side saying it’ll be worth it in the end.

My mom always said, “It’s only for a little while.  You can do anything for a while.”

I keep telling myself it’s only a couple of months.  I can do anything for a couple months.  Yep – anything.  Even the Patagonian winds.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

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30 Responses to Big Things (Zapala, Argentina)

  1. Nikia January 3, 2011 at 3:06 pm #

    I’m so proud of you all! I’ve been following your travels since the US trip. I showed my son (who is an extreme mtn biker and always training) your blog and you all now inspire him to get on his bike for his 30 – 60 mile training ride after a hard day at work or when his spirit is flagging.

    You are such an inspiration to so many! Whether you make it to the end I am so proud of what you’ve done so far! OMG! Proud to “know” you. You have two incredible boys and husband too! Whatever you all decide you’ve done one HELL of a job! You should be SO proud of your family’s accomplishments!

    All the best!


  2. Gillian January 3, 2011 at 3:08 pm #

    You can do it!! You’re soooo close…don’t stop now. If you stop your trip will always have an asterisk next to it…forever. You’ve come so far – keep your eye on the prize and imagine how you’ll feel once your there. Recognizing, and talking about, your feelings will help. Chin up and push on! Cheers!


  3. Karen Tucker January 3, 2011 at 3:09 pm #

    Hey, don’t give up NOW. It’s such a small fraction of the trip. If you give up now it will be like running 25 miles of a marathon and instead of crossing the finish line, just turning around and going home. What a waste of effort!

    I have great faith in you and your family from afar. This is only a temporary setback, and if anyone knows how to overcome it, it’s you. Finish, and finish strong.


  4. tazzieval January 3, 2011 at 3:17 pm #

    Would it help to have a bit of fibre and spin or crochet a definite length each stopover so you had an item at the end of the trip? So THIS was constructed over the Patagonian windlands. Even a knitting nancy so you get x meters of icord from a variety of local fibre as you go. Items needed are lightweight & small (says me who doesn’t cycle and doesn’t know how any bit of extra weight may change the dynamics). A knitting nancy is like a cotton reel with 4 nails in end, and you loop the wool over pulling the cord thru the other end as you go. You are either now rolling your eyes in Oh Mi Heavens response or simply falling about with laughter at this odd Aussie. Whatever your decision, that you can make it together as a healthy loving family is very special. All power to your octet of legs.
    Valeri in sunny Tasmnia


  5. Debbie January 3, 2011 at 3:18 pm #

    I’ve been following your blog for well over a year now and your family truly is my inspiration. I’ll never be able to attempt a trip like yours – my husband and son are ‘philosophically opposed’ to an adventure of that magnitude but I have convinced them to think about a summer cycling through Europe. I’ve also bookmarked a few of your roadschooling pages and have sent links to different friends and relatives.

    Whatever decision you and your family make about the remainder of your trip, you should be so very proud of what you’ve accomplished already. You’ve touched so many lives in so many ways. As long as you continue to blog, I’ll continue to follow! Best wishes and good luck.


  6. nancy January 3, 2011 at 3:25 pm #

    We’ll make it – I’m fairly certain of that. I know we would have too many regrets if we called it off now. That being said, I’m not looking forward to these next 2.5 months! I may change my mind (and I hope I do!) but that’s how I’m feeling right now…


  7. Jeff Alan January 3, 2011 at 3:25 pm #

    I understand the pain you are feeling but I am really hoping for you and your family will continue. I have been reading and saving your blog for quite a while now. I get great inspiration in my life and I am sure there are many other that do also. You may not realize the power you have to set an example of succeeding difficult challenges.

    Please do your best to finish, if not for yourself but the others out here.


  8. Emily (@EmilySNC) January 3, 2011 at 3:38 pm #

    Nancy, whatever you end up doing, you haven’t failed. You have achieved something that 99.99999% of people can only dream of. I’ll never forget when my husband and his father decided to abandon a bike tour in Wisconsin after encountering day after day of battering headwinds. They decided that all the joy had gone out of their adventure, so they had us come pick them up. I was disappointed — not in THEM — but just that they were unable to finish what they intended to do. But I still considered them hugely successful because they tried. Most people never even get to TRY. You and your family have done much, much more. So, if all of you, after much soul-searching, decide to stop the tour a little early, no one will fault you, and it doesn’t take away from what you’ve accomplished. You are my hero!



  9. Liz Wilton January 3, 2011 at 3:41 pm #

    Anyone who struggles to believe how much of mental challenge cycle touring is, has probably never cycled anywhere for a considerable length of time. It’s tough, really tough at times and as you ask yourself for the 30th time that day “Why am i doing this?” Thinking “I could be doing just about anything else right now, no one is forcing me to do this, I’ve done so much already, I don’t need to prove anything…we could just go home now” it can be all consuming and so hard to lift yourself out of that state of mind. It’s not just a case of cycling, it’s the whole lifestyle, always changing and constantly moving, pushing you to the limits.

    Ultimately you are doing it for yourself, it’s your choice to be there and if you decide you no longer want it enough then that’s also your choice. However, you know we have an amazing capacity to dig deeper each time, deeper than the last time, more than we believe is possible. You’ve already done this so many times and yet I’m guessing you know that there is still more to draw upon, that mentally you are stronger than you dare to believe and that you can do this. If you want to.

    How would you feel if this was all taken away from you tomorrow, if someone somewhere had the power to stop you cycling on and ended it all? A part of you might feel relieved, thankful, grateful that the decision was taken out of your hands. But i reckon after that, you’d feel angry, cross, indignant and would fight hard to be allowed to carry on and complete your journey. If you can imagine that, maybe you could draw upon that determined emotion somehow?

    I think you guys are awesome, you’ve had an amazing time, with unique shared adventures. You can do it, and you have so much in your favour to finish this incredible journey… you must be fitter, stronger than ever before, you are a great team – closer than many families could ever have the opportunity to be or hope to be; your boys are there for you and you for them, 100%. You have so many people around the world rooting for you all, believing in you and sending you their best wishes, we love following you – if we could blow back those Patagonia winds for you a bit, we would. So hang on in there Nancy, and as Chris and I say Just keep pedalling!

    Best wishes, love and hugs to you all!


  10. nancy January 3, 2011 at 3:57 pm #

    The hard part is knowing I am doing this because I WANT TO!! And yet – right now I don’t want to. Yes, I want to reach our goal. Yes, I want to be able to say I did it. But now – it’s tough. We’ll push on and keep going. I hope this mental attitude changes when we get to the Lake District.


  11. Neil January 3, 2011 at 4:10 pm #

    I can’t see you giving up when you’re so close. I don’t really think this is much different from Peru…if anything it’s easier because the end of the tunnel is near.

    I was wondering, though, if you might be in a position to reduce your bike’s loads. Now that there’s only a couple of months left, it seems like there might be some gear in your panniers that won’t see the light of day again. If you can ditch that or ship it home (or to a contact in BA or something), then the lighter weight bikes will be that much easier to move the rest of the distance.


  12. nancy January 3, 2011 at 4:13 pm #

    We sent a small package home from Mendoza, but we can’t get rid of much else – we may still run into wicked winter weather so need all that winter gear even though we haven’t used it since winter in Bolivia. it’s frustrating for sure, but we need everything we have.


  13. Sarah Outen January 3, 2011 at 4:46 pm #

    Every step you take, takes you nearer and nearer…every step you take, takes you nearer to home.

    I had exactly the same out on the ocean last year – there were times when the way ahead seems to great. But you just have to focus on the next little bit – the next few hours, the next day – one by one.

    Going home is no dishonour or disgrace – goals get reshaped all the time. But to push on and keep chipping away little by little, finding little things to smile about, will be out of this world.

    Sending you warmth and energy from this side of the pond,

    Sarah x


  14. Harry & Ivana January 3, 2011 at 5:19 pm #

    Hey Nancy, it seemed Mendoza tourism has spoiled you too much ;-)

    But I know the feeling. It will help to break it up in smaller pieces. Don’t think of it as 2700km, but check a cool place on the map (Carretera Austral? Perito Moreno Glacier, Torres del Paine, Punta Arenas etc) and just hurr to one of those points and reward yourself with 3 days off.

    Winter will wait, you have plenty of time.
    Speaking of which, just send some stuff ahead by post. Find a WarmShowers host, CouchSurfer or even hotel in any big place ahead (Ushuaia?) and send them everything you do not need now.

    Check those bags again, they are full of useless items. Not? Check again :)

    You can mail them ahead: if you don’t need them you will be glad you did. if you need them, you have 3 options: replace them, get them mailed back to you or go faster!

    Enjoy the wonderful world of Patagonia. It will be our new home once we get ourselves and our bicycles there ..

    Cheers, Harry & Ivana


  15. Marie January 3, 2011 at 6:14 pm #

    Any chance of hitting Ushuaia after winter. Just an observation that you’ve always been a family that stopped to smell the roses along the way. The journal was as important as the destination. Maybe head on over to the coast, take your time and finish after winter is over? It’s option, though I think that you are just “hitting the wall” so to speak and will get your second (third? fourth?) wind as the goal gets closer and become excited again about what you are doing. Just power through these dog days and you will get there.


  16. Willow January 3, 2011 at 6:35 pm #

    Hello intrepid travelers! can’t believe I found your website/blog just this evening. We traveled overland (planes/trains/automobiles) through Peru, Argentina and Chile a few years back with our then 9, 11 and 12 yo. Your post brought back every little memory of our trek thru Torres del Paine. Our youngest weighted about #60 soaking wet and the wind kept blowing her over. The rest of us were constantly leaning one way or the other in order to stay upright. This went on for DAYS and you are navigating thru it for WEEKS. Our hats off to you and a bow. I’ll leave you with a famous quote from a stranger on one of our trips “Oh, you’ll get there alright. Now, how long it takes you and what you look like when you there – now, that’s another story”.
    Lean into and go!


  17. Sharlene January 3, 2011 at 9:30 pm #

    You have been such a huge inspiration and I can’t begin to imagine what biking through Patagonia must be like but I do know that YOU CAN DO THIS. And YOU SHOULD DO THIS. You have come so far. Don’t give up on those far flung dreams that are so so close to becoming reality.


  18. Kathy January 3, 2011 at 10:22 pm #

    Nancy, you and your family have a HUGE group of people who are sharing your journey in spirit. We are all rooting for you, sympathizing with you, and sending you “hang in there” vibes. I just wish that I could diminish that wind for you, make the tabanos go away, or even roll up your tent and sleeping bag for you! All I can do, however, is let you know that I (along with so many others) REALLY CARE. I hope that you get some more days with the wind at your back!


  19. Yvette January 3, 2011 at 10:34 pm #

    *big hugs*

    Sorry to hear the final push is being difficult. If minor bribery can make a difference here in your psyche, I will personally send you guys money for a free ice cream sundae in Bariloche. I am dead serious about this, and before you write me off let me tell you the dulce de leche ice cream sundaes in that town are to die for-


    I offer because I know the Mendoza to Bariloche stretch can be trying even when you’re on a bus for a mere day, but the scenery picks up once you hit Patagonia proper at least. And I believe in the power of ice cream.


  20. Ushuaia-Info January 4, 2011 at 6:30 am #

    Come on!, keep it up! Ushuaia worth it!!!


  21. nancy January 4, 2011 at 6:54 am #

    Thank you all so much – it means the world to me knowing that people throughout the world are supporting us.


  22. mrbill January 4, 2011 at 6:56 am #

    You have to push on, there are little treasures yet to be discovered, as yall know life is hills and valleys, at present your in a valley but tomorrow you may be on top the hill. I also have my selfish reasons, I want to read about your adventures.


  23. Keith Snyder January 4, 2011 at 10:33 am #

    On a 400K brevet this summer, I kept passing billboards for Dunkin Donuts’ new hot tuna melt, $2.99!

    I passed one around 4AM, around mile 180 or something, after a long stretch of pitch-black rural roads, before another stretch of pitch-black rural roads, when each pedal stroke was just a beat in the slogging cadence of WHY-am-I-DO-ing-this, and honest, I know you totally get this:

    A $2.99 tuna melt at Dunkin was SUCH a better idea than a 400K brevet.

    Like, for real. Like three is more than two, or gravity obeys the inverse square law. It was a simple fact of nature. A $2.99 tuna melt? Smart. 248 miles in one shot on a bike, with a time limit? Not smart.

    And 4am is the low point of the human soul anyway, when we feel most pointless and hopeless. So at that point, I’ve learned to switch to a different rule of behavior, one that doesn’t have a grand finale as its goal:


    And eventually it was 5am, and then 6am, dawn broke, and the roosters and birds started up, and eventually I finished, and a month or two later finished a 600K and got a little medal and a decent amount of bragging rights.

    So just remember:

    The only thing that’s ALWAYS fun?

    Is bragging rights.


  24. nancy January 4, 2011 at 10:36 am #

    Oh my – we’ll have bragging rights, that’s for sure! Love that story!


  25. Amory December 14, 2011 at 4:12 am #

    Imrpesisve brain power at work! Great answer!


    Nancy Reply:

    Great answer, indeed!



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