Why I cycled to the ends of the world

I get asked a lot of questions when people find out I rode my bike from Alaska to Argentina.  How did it happen?  How is it that a 50-year-old wife, mother, and schoolteacher ended up cycling to the ends of the earth?

Indeed, why did I – mom, wife, schoolteacher, ordinary woman complete with an extra 40 pounds and twin skin – cycle from Alaska to Argentina with my family?  It’s kind of… umm, shall we say – not the typical path through motherhood?

Nancy with monkeys

It all goes back to one spring day in 2006 when my husband came home from work after a particularly grueling day in the classroom.  That day the kids had been bouncing off the walls – must have been full moon or something – and John came home that afternoon and collapsed into his favorite chair.

His eyes glazed over and he stared out the window – I could tell he wasn’t looking at the barn which needed fixing or the grass which needed mowing.  He was farther away – much farther away.

“Nancy,” he said, “I don’t want to do this anymore.  I want to buy a triple bike and take off with the kids.”

I…  I…  I wasn’t quite sure what to say.  I mean – he wanted to take off on bikes?  With the kids?

My reaction can only be summed up one way:  Are you crazy?  We are parents, dear husband.  We have children.  You know – like living breathing little things?  Parents – with children – don’t head out on bicycles!  It’s not what parents do!

But I didn’t say anything, because I figured he would forget about it and move on to some other hare-brained scheme the next day.  But the next day came, and he continued talking about taking off to ride bikes around the country. And the next day…

And a few weeks later, we went to visit my mother and John turned to Mom and said, “We are considering taking a year off from school to ride bikes around the country with the kids.”

I figured it was time to start taking the man seriously.

entire family

The most amazing thing happened when I started thinking about what he had been saying for the past couple weeks.  I realized that maybe – just maybe – it was me who was crazy.  Maybe it was me who was nuts for falling into the rat race society expected of me without even a conscious thought.

I got up early every morning and dropped the kids at day care and spent all day with other people’s kids.  Then I picked up my sons, fixed a quick dinner, took the boys to soccer practice, cleaned the house, washed the dishes, threw the clothes into the washer and collapsed into bed exhausted.

But I didn’t question it because… well, that was what parents do.

And I thought John was the crazy one?

Within a few days, we had made the decision to go for it – life was too short not to. We didn’t want to end up old and gray and sittin’ in our rockers thinking, “I wish I woulda…”  We have one chance at this thing called life and only one chance at parenthood – if we don’t take advantage of it NOW, we’ll lose the opportunity.

And so – our ‘one year career break’ started.  In 2006.  And it’s now five years later and we’ve spent four of them cycling 27,000 miles together as a family.  It’s been wonderful – a truly magical experience.

Whole family

I’m reminded of the words of a dear friend.  One day in the short window of time between when we had decided to hit the road and before we actually started pedaling, her son committed suicide.  I went to visit her and she came to the door and gave me the biggest hug I’ve ever had and said some of the wisest words I’ve ever heard.

I’ve thought about her words a lot as we’ve cycled the highways and byways of the Americas.  Through her grief and torment and tears she said, “Nancy, take advantage of every moment you have.  Tomorrow may never come.

So I challenge you now:  take advantage of every moment.  You don’t know what’s around the corner. You don’t know what tomorrow may bring.  You have only today; tomorrow may never come.

tandem with donkey cart

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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14 Responses to Why I cycled to the ends of the world

  1. Jenn Collins @ Monkey Butt Junction April 24, 2011 at 4:54 pm #

    I think what you’ve done is an amazing thing. Instead of the wake, work, home, sleep, wash-rinse-repeat, you’ve given your family a grand story, a tale like no other. I admire that.

  2. Iain Mallory April 24, 2011 at 4:59 pm #

    Awesome! Anybody that doubts the validity of doing something ‘crazy’ and taking life by the horns and really going for it should read this.

    It is all too easy to be cautious and remain, safe and secure, it is only by realising that sometimes to really live we need to take an occasional risk.

    Man by nature is a curious species and it is in our nature to explore. I am extremely pleased for you that as a family you have achieved so much, and I am sure will have inspired so many to question their own values and possibly even take that all important risk.

    Thank you for sharing

  3. Rain April 24, 2011 at 5:19 pm #

    I’m so glad you’ve had the courage to give this gift to yourself and your kids. I know that financing it all was a struggle, but you’ve managed that beautifully as well. My husband and I have lived on that same edge as you (although not on bikes ;-), but our adventures ended when our son was born and we can not foresee the day when we will be able to hit the road again. I’m so glad that you have and continue to take advantage of every moment so that others may share in it as well. Thank you!

  4. Rachael Maddox April 24, 2011 at 6:21 pm #

    I am so so happy to read this story!! My husband and I are three weeks in to our 8 month US bicycle tour and we’re having the most incredible, challenging, amazing time ever! Who knows when we’ll have kids, but I will remember your story and let it be a source of magical inspiration. Lots of love! Ride on 🙂

  5. Chris walter April 24, 2011 at 6:47 pm #

    Love this post! 🙂 it’s all possible!

  6. Jacob Bear April 24, 2011 at 7:51 pm #

    Thanks for sharing this story. I’m beginning to think that the with unstable conditions of the economy and global events, there is NO sane reason to remain in the ratrace. Even the security this path once offered is in question. What if we all did what you did, questioned our routines and pursued our dreams–if we all did this it would transform the world! I have a feeling that by following your heart you’re helping the rest of us to follow ours. Good luck in your future travels!

  7. Gina Munoz April 24, 2011 at 8:20 pm #

    Nancy… I am so glad and happy to have you among my friends. You are such an amazing family and you can not imagine how you inspire the lives of many.
    Hope my country and my city will be on your minds and hearts… I will follow my dream to go to Ushuaia… not from Alaska but from Sta. Cruz :).
    Un abrazo grande y cariños para tí y los tuyos.

  8. Ted Nelson April 24, 2011 at 10:24 pm #

    You are an inspiration to us all. Loved following your journey on facebook and twitter.

  9. Bluegreen Kirk April 25, 2011 at 6:22 am #

    Yeah I am sure if I went to my wife she would have said the same thing that you said to your husband only not in as nice of a way. Seems like the journey ended up being a great experience for the family.

  10. Justin @ Great Family Escape April 25, 2011 at 10:23 am #

    The dishes will do it to you every time! It’s the routine. Who needs it. I know it is tough at times and everyone has to do what they have to do, but if you can dream up a better way, might as well go for it.

    Thanks for going for it!

  11. Gillian @OneGiantStep April 25, 2011 at 5:42 pm #

    It’s not about bicycling, or traveling, or stepping out in any big way. Like you said, it’s about making sure that you’re doing whatever you WANT to be doing today b/c you never know about tomorrow. You guys are truly an inspiration! Cheers!

  12. Harry & Ivana April 27, 2011 at 6:45 am #

    Good for you.

    But I think the pressure should be on the other parents: why would they force their children to stick in one place, keep them from exercise, keep them from enriching their world, keep them from experiencing new cultures, food, language and nature?

    Why would they teach that only their beliefs are true, that money is the ultimate goal, that all strangers and foreigners are bad people you should not trust and that tomorrow is supposed to be the exact same repetition of today?

    That if you do something stupid, you should blame others for it, that if you do something great that you have to thank somebody above for it?

    Let them explain it; you have been great parents like you should have been.
    Thanks for sharing your adventures and good luck and joy to all commenters who will hit the roads soon, your life will be changed forever, and it a wonderful way.

  13. nancy April 27, 2011 at 7:09 am #

    Thank you all for your wonderful comments! It’s always a hard decision to do something “out of the box” with kids, but we’re so glad we did!

    Harry – you’ve got a great point. Why is it that what we did is so out-of-the-box rather than the norm? The world would be a better place if more kids had experiences like ours did.

  14. Wimsalabim April 27, 2011 at 3:30 pm #


    I need stories like this, because I will start the same trip in a month. On my one, but I don’t think I will feel alone often.

    Thank you for sharing!

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