Life is a gamble – and it doesn’t always go your way

You may or may not be aware of a rescue happening now on the high seas, but I’ve been gripped with this story since I heard of it. A family of four, with two small children, set out in their boat to cross the ocean. One thousand miles from the Mexican coast, their boat was damaged by a storm, and then their tiny baby got sick. Very sick. They called for help, and boats and helicopters made their way through the ocean toward them. At this point, it looks like the little girl is stable, but still critical, and the fate of the boat is unknown. They have been blogging about their journey at Rebel Heart.

rebel heart

But what has really struck me is the sheer number of haters out there.

“I don’t understand what they were thinking to begin with. I’m sorry, I don’t even like to take my kids in a car ride that would be too dangerous, and it’s like taking them out into the big ocean? It’s like – I don’t know.”

There is a tradeoff to everything. Yes, we could be overprotective helicopter parents, not letting our kids take a ride in a car, but what will that teach them in the long run? Maybe they will be “safe” for now, but what about in 10 years? 20 years? What will they have learned as a result of living in that bubble?

I’ll tell you what they would learn – they would learn to fear the world. They would learn they weren’t capable of taking on the world. They would learn to cower in their own little corner, afraid of anything that might hurt them. Is that really what we want?

I am a mother who took my own children from Alaska to Argentina on bikes. Yes, bicycles. 17,285 miles through 15 countries. Our journey took nearly 3 years. While everything went well for us and we had no major issues, I always knew that something COULD HAVE happened. And I knew that, if that “what-if” had happened, we would have been crucified as parents.

Any parent who chooses an out-of-the-box childhood for their kids knows there are risks. But there are also tremendous pay-offs. The lows can be very, very low, but the highs are amazingly high. The benefits are life-changing.

We faced our share of critics while on our journey. We dealt with people who felt we were endangering our children’s lives every single day. But in the end, we had to answer to our children. We had to provide our children with the very best childhood we knew how to give. We needed to encourage our children to reach for the stars and dream big and do great things. If we didn’t do that, we would have failed them.

And now, looking at this whole thing from the other side, I can say that our journey was worth it – and then some. All 1018 days were worth it. All those 15,000-foot mountain passes we pedaled over and all the massive winds we battled – they were all worth it. My sons learned from each and every one of them.

We were accused of teaching our sons nothing useful – that we were only teaching them to be “bums on bikes,” but they are moving on and spreading their wings in amazing ways. At age 16, they are now involved with FIRST Robotics, working at the cutting edge of science and technology. Together with their team, they won at the Salt Lake City regional event and just now (30 minutes ago) lost in the semi-finals at the Las Vegas regional. They will go on to the world finals in St. Louis in a few weeks, and I have no doubt that they will put up a good fight and do well.

Again, life is a tradeoff. We can take the safe route, but we have no guarantees of its safety. We might not see the failures of that route for 10 or 20 years. Or we can reach out and grab life by the horns and live it with passion and determination. Each one of us gets to make that choice.

I urge you to think about that. Consider all the benefits and costs, both long-term and short-term. Don’t take the easier route just because it’s “safer” now – will it be the best in the long run? Life is a gamble, and it doesn’t always go our way. But it doesn’t always go our way at home either.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

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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.

25 thoughts on “Life is a gamble – and it doesn’t always go your way

  1. Fantastic post. I hope the family are well and wish them all the best. I could not agree with you more. Yes it would be easier to sit at home and play it safe, but for some of us that simply doesn’t feel like living. Life happens, death happens, illness and accidents happen, no matter where we are. I’d rather it happen while I’m living my dream.

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    Nancy Sathre-Vogel Reply:

    @Sarah Somewhere, And also think about the long term consequences of “playing it safe.” Maybe we don’t see the consequences for 10 or 20 years, but they are there. What if your child WOULD HAVE been a world leader, making our world a better place, but she’s been taught to cower in the corner instead of taking the leap? Is that really what we want?

    We, in the cycling community, see this issue a lot. Some parents refuse to allow their kids to ride bikes because it’s “too dangerous.” And yet they are okay with their kids sitting in front of a computer or TV all day, eating bons bons. Later in life, those children end up living with obesity and all kinds of diseases that could and should have been avoided – but they chose to “play it safe.”

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  2. I trust that the rescue was a complete success and the baby fully recovers. I find it bizarre and so judgmental for people to criticize this couple for taking their children around the world on a boat. It may be past my own comfort-zone to be on open ocean like that, but to judge others for doing that is ludicrous.

    Like Sarah Somewhere said ” Life happens, death happens, illness and accidents happen, no matter where we are.” One could be sitting safely on their couch at home and a bus crash thru their living room wall and kill their child sitting ‘safely’ beside them. Or they could choke to death on a french fry.

    There are those who will let FEAR control them, and criticize those who don’t do the same.

    I take my proverbial hat off to those, like you Nancy, who challenge themselves and push beyond their fears and live the life of their dreams. It might not turn out all right, but at least you’ve LIVED an exciting life and presented the world to your children for them to explore with wide eyes, admiration & enthusiasm. We all die once, hopefully its in the midst of enjoying our life fully rather than playing it safe.

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    Nancy Sathre-Vogel Reply:

    @Karen, We all have our own comfort zones, and that’s okay. It always cracks me up when people criticize us for taking our kids out on bicycles, and they zoom off on their 4-wheeler ATVs. I’m like… “Wait a minute! You think a BICYCLE is dangerous, but you’ll put your kid on a motorized ATV and race around the backcountry?” Seriously?

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  3. I saw this post yesterday, and since then the rescue story has hit the major news outlets – it appears she’s rescued, in doctors’ care, and should be on land in a hospital in a few days:
    http://www.cnn.com/2014/04/06/us/pacific-rescue/index.html?hpt=hp_t2
    I heard on the local news-talk radio (WSB) that they “had the foresight to take a satellite phone” with them, as apparently marine radios won’t work if they’re not near enough to another ship. Having several modes of communication when going on a trip like this is always a good idea.

    I’ve had my own “issues” having grown up in a family that didn’t think I was capable of much, and I’ve been fighting it most of my life (yeah, I really should write a memoir). You may have seen this Atlantic story on the current trend of overprotective families and atmospheres for children – this article describes (among other things) what many would think is a playground too dangerous for children:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/03/hey-parents-leave-those-kids-alone/358631/

    Ben, ignoring the boo-birds.

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    Nancy Sathre-Vogel Reply:

    @Ben Bradley, Ignoring the boo-birds sounds like the best strategy. Although I get that their intentions are good in doing what they consider “playing it safe,” I have to wonder if they really are. Will their children grow up accepting mediocrity as their only option? Is that good enough?

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  4. Thank you for this. I have known the mother in this family for over 4 years, and I know how careful and meticulous they were planning for this trip. Seeing so many people be so negative about them choosing to live a life of adventure and follow their dreams just because something bad happened sickens me. I admire, and envy them. Disaster strikes every day but we keep living. And choosing to live adventurously in spite of that is what makes life worth living.

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    Nancy Sathre-Vogel Reply:

    @Cheryl, I feel badly for the Kaufmans. They planned, they prepared, they did everything “right,” but disaster happened. We all know it could happen to us as well – we are all only only one disaster away from ruin. I hope they are able to piece their lives back together and keep reaching for the stars.

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  5. good post… I was reading through comments people were posting and saw all of the “haters.” It’s really sad to see how ignorant people are and how they believe other people should live exactly like themselves. What this couple was doing is absolutely amazing and kudos to them for trying to accomplish this. If nothing had happened during their journey, most of these people would have had nothing to say. bad things happen all the time. Just like if someone decided to take their child to the store with them and got in a terrible wreck, would the parent be a bad parent for that? No. Shit happens and people should understand that more.

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    Nancy Sathre-Vogel Reply:

    @Taylor, Exactly, Taylor. Parents will be crucified if something goes wrong while they are doing “out of the box” stuff. Of course, when all is said and done, and those kids are living life fully as adults after an awesome childhood, nobody wants to come back and say, “Maybe that lifestyle was the right choice after all.”

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  6. Very well said. I hope that family is okay now. Life is what we make it. We don’t what happen next or tomorrow or etc. So we must live our life to the present not to the future. Death is part of our life, when it comes to us, we better accept it because we don’t have a choice.

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    Nancy Sathre-Vogel Reply:

    @Marie @ Budgeting for Travel, There are risks to every choice we make. It’s all about being educated about ALL the risks – too often we forget that we are risking life and limb every time we climb into our car.

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  7. I just discovered your book/blog from a CNN link. I’m a veteran homeschooling mom teacher and writer. Every since having kids I’ve struggled with fear and the need “to keep the safe”. I so admire those families who have ventured out of their comfort zone. While I’m not a biking person, my daughter loves to travel and I hope to get more comfortable with that myself. I look forward to reading your book and hopefully sharing my own adventures. Thank you for the inspiration.

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    Nancy Sathre-Vogel Reply:

    @Evelyn Krieger, I’m glad you found us! There are many pros and cons to every lifestyle we could possibly choose, and there is no right and wrong. That said, I am VERY glad that we did what we did with our kids and think they are better off for it.

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  8. Thank you SO MUCH for the support.

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    Nancy Sathre-Vogel Reply:

    @Charlotte, You’re welcome, Charlotte, but really – this issue goes so far beyond any of us individually. You happen to the “face” of it right now, and I’m sure that’s a hard position to be in, but it’ll pass. The important thing is to realize that every decision we make as parents comes with certain risks and benefits.

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  9. This hits me so hard. We are preparing to take off and live in Mexico with our children, and the only reason we haven’t heard more complaints about is because people don’t believe we’re actually going to go. The closer our departure gets them more I expect there will be protests and bashing by people who think we should play it safe and stay home. But after 20 years of sitting on my dreams I can’t stay here anymore.
    I want to see the world, and I want to show it to my children. We’ve taken them to Costa Rica and Mexico and they can’t wait to leave. We know what we’re doing is outside of the norm, and that’s one of the things the kids love about it. It doesn’t occur to them that someone might not want to live on an island in the Caribbean, that someone might object to learning Spanish. They have no idea that we could fall on our faces.
    Thank you for sharing my fears and showing that although sometimes bad things happen, at home or abroad, we get always get through it. Happy travels to all!

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