Life lessons from a bike trip

We learn something new everyday – or so goes the old saying.  Years ago, when I was going about my normal, ordinary life as mother, wife, and teacher, I’m not sure I truly believed that.  Sure, every once in a while something popped up and I looked at it and said, “I learned something new today!”  But every day?  Nah.

Things are different as I’m touring the world on my bicycle.  Now, each morning I wake up and think, “I wonder what I’ll learn today.  I wonder what new situations we’ll find ourselves in before we lay our heads down tonight.”  I can say with all honesty that I learn something new every single day.

Now that we are nearly to our goal of Ushuaia, I’ve been thinking a lot about what my sons have learned on this trip from Alaska to Argentina.  Yes, they’ve learned a lot of ‘school stuff’ – history, geography, cultures, languages.  But the real value of our journey goes beyond that knowledge.


The real value of our trip is all the ‘other stuff’ they’ve learned since we set sail from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska over two years ago.  It’s the other stuff they have learned that will carry them through life and help them climb over obstacles and figure out how to get through tough times.

Perseverance:  You’ve heard the saying – when the going gets tough, the tough get goingMy sons have lived it.  Most days on our journey are easy – the sun is shining, winds are favorable, and roads are good.  But then we have our days when things are not quite so nice – we battle headwinds, get soaked by cold rain, push our heavy bikes through mud or deep sand, or climb hills that never end.

That’s when my sons shine.  Those are the days when they jump in with every strength they have to overcome the obstacles in their path.  They are determined to reach their goal and are willing to push through tough days, knowing better times lay ahead.

pushing through sand

One day in northern Peru I walked the streets of Trujillo with my boys and complained about everything.  It seemed like Peru, itself, was conspiring against us – bad hotels, bad food, bad headwinds, bad, bad, bad.  I was miserable and was about to throw in the towel.

“Mom,” Daryl said.  “It won’t do any good to complain about it – complaining won’t change anything.  All we can do is put one foot in front of the other and get out of this area into a better place.”

I wish I had his wisdom.

Teamwork:  I’ve heard it said that being able to work as part of a team is one of the most valuable skills a person can have for today’s workplace.  If that’s true, Davy and Daryl will shine – they’ve learned how to be part of a team.

My sons have figured out there are times when they just need to do it to get all four of us to our goal.  The day we entered Guatemala comes to mind as a good example of teamwork – we wouldn’t have made it if we didn’t all pitch in with everything we had.

Daryl in Guatemala

That particular day we faced a 23-km stretch of dirt road.  It was one of those roads lined with fine dust, and every time a truck came by it spewed massive clouds of dust into the air.  We pushed on through the clouds, bouncing and jiggling over the rough surface.

Three kilometers from pavement, we hit the hill.  A steep climb through terrible road conditions.  I climbed off my bike to walk.  Shortly thereafter, Davy climbed off his.  And then John realized there was no way he could pedal up either.  We laboriously pushed our heavily-laden bikes up the hill, but it soon became apparent John and Daryl wouldn’t make it up with the tandem.

“Davy!” John called out.  “I need you over here!”  Davy is the stronger of the two boys and was needed on the heavy tandem.  Daryl ran over to take Davy’s bike so his brother could help Daddy.

John and Davy worked together to get the tandem up the hill, while Daryl and I struggled with the two singles.  It didn’t take long to realize we wouldn’t make it up either.  Daryl put Davy’s bike down in the dust and helped me push my bike fifty yards before we stopped, gasping for breath.  While Daryl held my bike in place, I walked back down to Davy’s and brought it up.

We played leapfrog with the bikes, slowly working our way up the climb.  It was interesting to see the boys use whatever strength they had and to pitch in where they were needed.  We didn’t hear a single word about “my” bike or “your” bike – if they were needed to get someone else’s bike up, that’s where they went.

That’s what teamwork is all about – jumping in to help the team reach their goal.  It’s not about doing my part only – whatever is needed for the team is what we’ll do.  Davy and Daryl have learned the value of working as a team and know that it’s only working together that we will reach the end of the earth.

the boys take my bike

Take Baby Steps: Any big goal won’t be accomplished in one giant leap – it’ll take a whole series of baby steps.  When you put enough of those baby steps together, you’ve done something big.  The key is to keep your eye on the goal and take baby steps to get there.  After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

It’s easy to lose sight of where you’re going; to lose sight of the forest for the trees.  It’s easy to get bogged down and give up before reaching your destination.  If you remember it’s all about baby steps, you’ll make it through.

Davy and Daryl have learned to set small goals – some days it’s just making it through the mud and muck of today and getting back on solid pavement; other times it’s braving a cold rain in order to reach a warm dry house, and sometimes it’s reaching a city 500 miles away.  But each one of those baby steps brings us one step closer to our goal.

Lima - a long ways away!

Deal with detours when they happen:  Too many people ‘what-if’ themselves out of reaching for their dreams.  What if this happens?  What if that happens?  If you focus on the what-ifs, you’ll never go anywhere.

Detours will happen as you reach for any big goal.  As you take those baby steps, there will be times when you come face-to-face with some diversion you hadn’t planned.  You have two choices – try to forge ahead with your original plan, or go with the flow.  It’s usually better to go with the flow.

Know before you start that detours will happen, and accept that you’ll deal with them when they arise.  You can’t plan out every eventuality – don’t even try.  When it happens, use your knowledge and experience to come up with the best solution you know of and move ahead.

My sons have learned that lesson well, and just take each day as it comes.  If there’s a problem, we’ll deal with it.  If not, we move on.  It’s as simple as that.

Alberta, Canada

Someone once told me there are four basic steps to doing anything big:

1.    Decide what you want to do
2.    Come up with a plan to get there
3.    Start walking
4.    Go back to the drawing board

I think that’s exactly right.  Figure out what you want to accomplish and consider the steps you’ll need to make it happen.  Then go – and know you’ll change your plan many, many times before you get there.

Davy and Daryl have gained a wisdom I can only dream of through their years traveling the world on their bikes.  They’ve faced difficult situations and have figured out how to overcome them.  They’ve learned how to plan and implement big projects.  They’ve learned to work together for the good of the team.  They’ve learned they can do anything if they decide it’s what they want to do.

I have no doubt that wisdom and knowledge will serve them well in the future.

Davy and DAryl

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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9 Responses to Life lessons from a bike trip

  1. Grand Canyon Harry January 22, 2011 at 4:11 pm #

    Another work of art Nancy. Great job is all that I can say. Another chapter for your book. Love the photo – don’t remember seeing it before.

  2. nancy January 22, 2011 at 4:17 pm #

    Which photo? There are a bunch of them up there!

  3. Grand Canyon Harry January 22, 2011 at 5:23 pm #

    Sorry – I just realized that. The las one with the big smiles. Tell David he is the only boy his age I know that can sit down and have his knee in his chin. Just kidding of course.

  4. Debra Speakes January 22, 2011 at 8:51 pm #

    The other legacy you have from all you have endured, all you have learned, all you have achieved — is the fact that you shared it with the world and have inspired who knows how many people to live their own lives a little more “real,” a little less “safe,” and with a little more sheer courage. I’ve already told you of how you inspired me to tour France on horseback instead of by bus, and I frankly can’t imagine doing it any other way now. I can’t wait to go ride through the Dordogne, and ride through Ireland, and ride through Italy . . . and before I “met” you, I never would have considered doing anything but a guided bus tour of those foreign countries — because that would be “safe.” And oh, how boring! You’ve shown us that the world is nothing but a series of little tiny chunks of real estate, each with its own riches and challenges, and its own stories to tell. You’ve reminded us that until 100 years ago, EVERYONE traveled out in the open, either on their own power or by horse, but living with the elements and surviving by their wits — and WE CAN STILL DO IT.

    Thank you for having the courage to do what you’re doing, and the unselfishness to truly share it with us, the good and the bad, the sacrifices and the rewards. I wish I could be there at the end to cheer you across your finish line. Know that I will be there in spirit, as will thousands of others who are following your journey.

  5. Kathy January 22, 2011 at 8:53 pm #

    Can you hear my applause all the way from California? Well said, Nancy. And your sons certainly do shine!

    And I really liked the lesson about dealing with detours. Those “what if’s” can be mentally paralyzing.

  6. mrbill January 23, 2011 at 7:29 am #

    And we learn thru you, I’m enjoying the Adventure.

  7. maggie may January 23, 2011 at 7:18 pm #

    what a truly awesome adventure!

  8. Orlene January 24, 2011 at 5:07 pm #

    What a fantastic blog! Every parent needs to read this, and then teach these steps in practical ways to their children and grandchildren. What fantastic life skills your boys have learned through this trip. I know you must be very proud of them.


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