The making of an adventure mom: A look back at 28 years of marching to a different beat

The story of how I came to be straddled on my bike looking south at the longest road in the world

As romantic as it sounds to fly to the northern edge of the world with children and plans to cycle as far south as is possible, it didn’t happen quite that easily.

There were a whole lot of years where I learned hard lessons about how to do that and, more importantly, how NOT to do that.

I was at the tender age of sixteen when I faced my first potentially life-threatening situation in the wilderness and had to dig deep to find the courage and wherewithal to get not only me, but three of my siblings out of the mountains safely. As my older sister and I carefully talked through all possibilities and options and our younger brother and sister blindly trusted in our capabilities, I fended off panic and cautiously put one foot in front of the other until somehow, miraculously, we arrived back home.

As I look back upon it now, with many years to see how the pieces have fallen into place, I realize that that experience, that near disaster, laid the groundwork for many of my future adventures.  If I had survived that one, surely I could safely navigate others.

During college, I took advantage of weekends to climb around on Mount Rainier or explore the rugged coastline of Washington state. When I transferred to a university in Colorado, my adventurous spirit took me into the Colorado Rockies and canoeing down the Platte River in a blizzard.

Each time something went right OR wrong, I added another piece to the puzzle; another tidbit of knowledge and wisdom that I could draw on at some point farther down the road.

International travel became my passion in 1984 when I left behind the life I had known and starting working in Honduras as a Peace Corps Volunteer. During the next few years I learned that Honduran people weren’t all that different from me. They all had the same basic needs I did, and had their own dreams and aspirations.

It sounds funny to me now, but back then I truly believed that “other” people were somehow different from me in many fundamental ways.

When I left the Peace Corps, they handed me a bunch of money designed to help me get my feet on the ground when I got back to the USA. I took the money and spent seven months backpacking around South America instead.

Penniless, I arrived in my home country and set about looking for a job on an Indian reservation – my experiences in South America had piqued my interest in Native Americans. A week later I headed to Arizona to start a new job teaching on the Navajo reservation.

I learned then that things work out. Many people had told me the ‘responsible’ thing to do was go back to the USA right away and not waste that money. In the end, I made the right decision for me.

nancy in indiaFrom that point on, my life was filled with various adventures, each one teaching me its own lessons and taking me one step closer to Prudhoe Bay. I spent a summer biking from Norfolk, Virginia to New Orleans; another summer visiting my brother who worked in a refugee camp in Malawi. John and I took off in 1990 to spend a year cycling around Pakistan, India, Nepal, and Bangladesh.

It was 1993 when John and I took off for Egypt to spend the next twelve years living the expat life in Egypt, Ethiopia, Taiwan, and Malaysia. During those years we figured out how to navigate foreign countries (in more ways than just the driving sense!) and gained a deep seated respect for foreign cultures.

We dealt with our share of medical emergencies, which showed us that life doesn’t end the moment we leave our own country. I injured my back and broke my hand in Egypt; John’s heart went into arrhythmia in Ethiopia and he had to be evacuated out to Israel. Daryl broke his arm AND had pneumonia in Malaysia. I came down with pneumonia in Argentina. We found medical care to be both great and affordable in most places of the world.

festival at buddhist monastery in sikkim indiaOur sons were born during our fifth year abroad and we turned into an expat family. Hauling our kids all around the globe became a part of our life and we adapted quickly to the changes. It wasn’t long before we discovered that backpacking with young kids was even more fun; more rewarding than travel on our own.

On a beautiful spring day in March 2006 my husband came home from work and suggested quitting our jobs and heading out with our children for a year-long bike tour.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

We spent the boys’ third grade year exploring the USA and Mexico from the vantage point of our bicycle seats, then went on to spend the boys 5th, 6th, and 7th grade years cycling from Alaska to Argentina.

In each step of my journey, each phase of my life, I’ve learned various lessons that helped me push on to the next chapter.


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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31 Responses to The making of an adventure mom: A look back at 28 years of marching to a different beat

  1. Laura February 13, 2012 at 12:26 pm #

    Hello Nancy-

    Moving forward in your endeavors is a string and powerful thing- be proud-

    My advice is to keep it as centered on independence and travel as possible- and less bicycle niche related- I am looking forward to it!


    • Nancy February 14, 2012 at 4:48 pm #

      thanks Laura! I think it’s all about pursuing your passion wherever it leads – whether that’s travel or something else. At least that’s how I see it.

  2. Joel D Canfield February 13, 2012 at 12:37 pm #

    Nancy, this whole thing is fascinating. Even though we’re taking some time to settle down, we’re nomads at heart. We’ll enjoy and benefit from whatever you share, whether we use it now or later, for ourselves or others.

    • Nancy February 14, 2012 at 4:48 pm #

      @Joel D Canfield, It’s hard to get away from that nomadic tendency, eh? I’m surprised that I don’t want to take off now – but it’s only been 10 months. Maybe I’ll get itchy feet soon.

  3. Maren February 13, 2012 at 12:44 pm #

    Im so thrilled to see you push the ideas that were my favorite too – I guess one of the major threshholds for all families might be to find a clever way to pause in their jobs, or take them with them possibly…and to decide how to leave the house….how to pause with school or to homeschool….its a whole very individual apparatus that needs consideration. What an exciting project to dive into ! And Im thrilled to have the opportunity to support it !


    • Nancy February 14, 2012 at 4:49 pm #

      @Maren, For us, putting our lives “on hold” for three years was HUGE! How, exactly, does one go about doing that? There are so many factors in doing so it’s hard to push through it all.

  4. signy =) February 13, 2012 at 12:44 pm #

    interesting thought just hit me. See I am interested in adventure. Love reading about yours. I am already living one of my dreams right now already: dream family, job I love, picket fence — it’s all great. Really great. That makes it tougher for me to give up — than say … if I wasn’t living so fulfilled already. Yet I dream of adventure and that untethered living fascinates me. So perhaps … Dream Adventure Kit // or // Adventure Dream-to-Reality Kit // Recipe for Adventure kit or … =)

    • Nancy February 14, 2012 at 4:51 pm #

      @signy =),
      I LOVE that you truly enjoy your life with the white picket fence. I think it’s all about making conscious decisions. If we are where we are because of CHOICE then we’re content. If we’re forced into something, then it’s harder to be content.

  5. Margaret Fairchild February 13, 2012 at 3:20 pm #

    I wouldn’t need a kit to assist me in attaining my goals. I’m pretty much where I want to be and know what to do to get any further along. I will, however, enjoy reading about your journey, whatever direction you go.

    One thing I’m curious about is how the twins adjusted to regular school and associating with kids who have a much narrower range of life experiences? I’d thing this might be an issue for families that are contemplating withdrawing their children from school and from local socialization.

    • Nancy February 14, 2012 at 5:05 pm #

      @Margaret Fairchild, That would be a wonderful thing to address for sure. Many parents pull their kids out to travel, but don’t think too much about going back.

  6. Matt Rogers February 13, 2012 at 6:48 pm #

    I always liked your trip, but never realized that it could be an inspiration more than just the though of it. I have attempted cross country bike rides (and plan on actually finishing one sometime soon), but the public pressure to stay connected to the money-based world has held me back from doing the “crazy” things that I want to do. Thanks for being a public supporter of the “crazy people.”

    • Nancy February 14, 2012 at 5:06 pm #

      @Matt Rogers, It’s so hard to go against the grain! Society places so many demands on us and it’s hard to turn our backs on that and go our own way. I will say that doing it was the best thing I ever did!

  7. Lisa Wood February 13, 2012 at 7:00 pm #

    I like the idea of a kit to help reach goals of travelling 🙂
    Be interesting to see what you come up with! The idea of ebook, in audio sounds like it would be ideal – that way someone can travel and listen to how to set out exploring!


    • Nancy February 14, 2012 at 5:07 pm #

      @Lisa Wood, An audio book would be awesome! Hmmm…. need to put on my thinking cap for that one.

  8. Nicola February 14, 2012 at 2:39 am #

    I think you have a lot of wisdom to offer on making ANY life change – in other words it doesn’t have to be travel related, it could me something like changing job / partner / moving to a new area. I suspect that the life lessons you can share will be applicable to achieving any dream, be it big or small. Good luck on this new adventure!

    • Nancy February 14, 2012 at 5:08 pm #

      @Nicola, I truly believe the process is the same no matter what goal you have. It’s all about figuring out what you want to do and then taking baby steps to get there.

      Thanks for the well wishes! Exciting to be sure!

  9. Bob K February 14, 2012 at 3:34 am #

    You have a great writing style and I think you might be better off writing about your adventures which would I think would be appreciated by a wider audience. Most people are more interested in dreaming of the life than actually doing it and requiring a coach. Whatever you decide – Good luck!

    • Nancy February 14, 2012 at 5:08 pm #

      @Bob K, Thanks Bob. I really don’t know what format this will take, so I appreciate the input!

  10. Dolores February 14, 2012 at 10:32 am #

    I for one am somewhat house bound due to age and health issues. Get around ok,but no transportation on own. Call me a “Miss Daisy”. Most of my adventures lie with books and tv. Guess you can also call me a Dreamer and wanna be.Experienced in recreational and nursing asst. field. Love simple crafts. Think I should volunteer?

    • Nancy February 14, 2012 at 5:09 pm #

      @Dolores, Volunteer for sure! I know some people can’t get out and about due to various reasons – that’s why I feel so blessed I’ve been able to!

  11. bianca February 14, 2012 at 2:45 pm #

    Dear Nancy,
    Your ‘resource kit’ idea sounds FANTASTIC; especially if it has a more PRACTICAL focus (i.e. less about the psychology of pursuing your dream and more about how to actually DO IT– financially, logistically, etc.). I think that’s what you mean when you say “A timeline checklist of things to think about as you plan”? Personally, I don’t need any more convincing that pursuing my passion is both possible and well worth the risk; but when it comes to taking steps toward turning my inspiration into reality… well, there I feel more clueless. It would be SO helpful to have very specific examples from your awesome wealth of experience…
    Many blessings!

    • bianca February 14, 2012 at 2:59 pm #

      I guess I should add that I’m a single mom (12 yr old girl & 16 yr old boy) living on a shoestring, and my dream is to travel the world with my kids…

      • Nancy February 14, 2012 at 5:10 pm #

        @bianca, You CAN do it – it’ll take hard work and dedication, but you can do it!

        • bianca February 15, 2012 at 10:43 am #

          @Nancy, thank you so much for the encouragement!!!

    • Nancy February 14, 2012 at 5:09 pm #

      @bianca, I’m hoping to make it practical. There seems to be enough out there on the “why you should chase your dreams” side, but not much on the “how to chase your dreams” part.

      • bianca February 15, 2012 at 10:46 am #

        @Nancy, that’s EXACTLY what i meant… you’re awesome and i can’t wait to see what you come up with

        • Nancy February 16, 2012 at 2:02 am #

          @bianca, I’m working on it! Can’t wait to get it finished!

  12. Nancy February 14, 2012 at 4:51 pm #

    We’re excited to have you here Bob! Can’t wait to see you two again!

  13. Nate Shaw February 16, 2012 at 2:54 am #

    I am a frequent to the resources section on your website. I find great value in those resources. I also like the journal entries. It’s all great insight!

    • Nancy February 16, 2012 at 12:19 pm #

      @Nate Shaw, Thanks Nate! We’ve tried to put some of what we’ve learned in there – glad to hear it’s useful for you!

  14. Kimberly Shepherd February 24, 2012 at 12:32 pm #

    Hi Nancy –
    As I commented on your prior post, I think you and your writing serve and can serve as inspiration for people, young and not-as-young, who wish to do something different with their lives than what they have seen/what they know/what they’ve been told is “reasonable”. In my work with high school students I am constantly having to be a cheerleader for professions beyond physician or attorney or accountant, because students’ parents have told them they need to be in “safe” professions because of the economy and uncertainty about the future. You and your journey and accumulated wisdom can inspire and instruct and I for one will keep reading and keep sharing!
    Thanks –

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