A summary of our journey

I’ve been working on getting all my old newsletters online along with slide shows for each one – it’s been a massive task!  I am now almost completely done – only the very most recent one is left.  So – for those of you who haven’t been with us from the beginning, I hope this can give you an idea of what we’ve been up to these past 17 months!

Ready for takeoff:  June 6, 2008

Dalton Highway in Alaska: June 28, 2008

Alaska Highway: August 3, 2008

Crossing into mainland USA: September 10, 2008

In Montana, Wyoming, and Utah: October 17, 2008

Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico: November 19, 2008

Texas:  December 24, 2008

Northern Mexico: January 25, 2009

Mexico: February 21, 2009

Yucatan Peninsula: March 14, 2009

Belize, Guatemala, & Honduras: April 15, 2009

Honduras: May 13, 2009

Nicaragua & Costa Rica: June 25, 2009

Costa Rica & Panama: July 21, 2009

Made it to South America: August 16, 2009

In the Colombian Andes: September 18, 2009

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About the Border Wall…

I’ll admit I’m like most Americans – I had heard about a border wall, but didn’t pay much attention.  “If they think it’s necessary, I guess it’s OK,” I thought.  Or maybe I didn’t think anything at all.

When we arrived into El Paso, we started hearing about the wall.

“You’ll be pedaling right beside the wall,” people told us.  “It’s the most ridiculous thing ever.”

Still I didn’t think much about it.  Yes – it was an enormous, uglier-than-sin monstrosity, but if they felt it was necessary… well, OK.

Forty miles later I sat outside a post office in Fort Hancock waiting for the boys.

“Did you see our wall?” a farmer asked as he pointed off into the distance at the wall about a mile or so away.  “God, that thing is ugly.  It’s the most useless, ridiculous thing the government has ever thought up.”

“I’ve lived here on the border all my life and we’ve never had a problem,” the farmer’s friend added.  “But what I don’t understand is that it’s only little bits and pieces of a wall.  If someone wants to get around, they only have to walk a kilometer or so to get to the end of that segment.  What’s the point of it?”

Huh?  When I heard about the wall, I somehow figured the plan was to build a solid wall along the border.  Now these farmers were saying it would just be a small segment here and another one there.  What’s the point indeed?

And then we got to Alpine.

“This border wall is stupid,” Dee told me.  “For a lot of ranchers, the river is the only source of water their animals have – and now they won’t be able to reach the river.  And another problem is that wildlife don’t respect the border and cross freely – with the wall they won’t be able to.

I had officially morphed from an ignorant American who had never even thought about the border wall to one who was getting more and more curious by the day.  What was the point?  What was the plan?

And finally, we got to McAllen and saw the ridiculousness taken to new heights.  It just so happens that a very wealthy neighborhood lies right on the border, and the last thing those people want is a great big ugly cement wall in their backyard.

So the engineers came up with a brilliant plan – they’ll build the wall into the levee.  On the Mexican side, the wall is the typical, ugly, 20-foot-high concrete monstrosity.  But on the American side, it’s just a nice, little, quaint, 4-foot-high retaining wall.

You see – the engineers worked their magic and buried the American side with tons and tons of dirt, creating a gradual climb up to the top.

After seeing the wall for so many miles and hearing nothing but complaints about it, I’m now more curious than ever.  And so I’m asking you – dear reader – to fill me in here.  Hopefully you know a bit more than I do about what they are trying to accomplish with the border wall.

So – without further ado, I present to you my list of questions.  If you can help me understand this thing a bit, I will be at your service til my dying day (or maybe I should just say I’ll be eternally grateful)

What is the purpose?  (I would think the purpose would be to keep illegals out, but refer to my next question before answering that.)

Why just short segments? (It doesn’t take much brain power to figure out you can simply go one kilometer to the end)

What about the wild animals?  How are they going to get across?

What about the farmers?  Where will their water come from?

Why is the USA spending billions of dollars on a gawd-ugly cement monument?

As I think about this wall, I’m reminded of my conversation with a border agent on our last trip.

“I always tell people to be careful what they wish for,” he told me.  “It’s only a matter of time before we stop the flow of illegals – but I wonder if that’s really what people want.  When they walk into a supermarket and pay $15 for a small basket of strawberries, they’ll wonder if it was really such a grand idea to stop people from crossing the border.  Is that really what they want?”

The border wall is at least 20 ft high all the way along and is totally ugly!

They´ve buried the wall on the American side so it isn´t quite so ugly for the residents.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

John’s Journal January 11

It was a strange thing to see sticking out of the waters of the Rio Grande River.  The other kayakers said they found an SUV down the river a ways so I paddled that way to check it out.  I didn’t see it until I was just about on top of it since there was only an inch or so of the top of the car sticking out of the water and even that was covered in a layer of mud. 

 

Why would anyone drive an SUV into the water?  The answer I got was simple.  Mexicans and Americans can freely use the waters of the Rio Grande so long as they don’t actually come ashore on the opposite banks of the river.  The river is a no-mans land that belongs to both countries but neither country has jurisdiction over it.  That means the Border Patrol cannot arrest anyone in the river.  When a drug smuggler is found in the US and pursued, if they make it into the waters of the Rio Grande they cannot be arrested.  We figured the driver of the SUV was smuggling drugs and was afraid he was going to get caught by the Border Patrol so he drove the SUV into the Rio Grande and escaped into Mexico

 

We found out later when we talked to some officials that they weren’t even aware of the vehicle being there.  It makes sense since on the US side of the river there is a wildlife sanctuary where only officials are allowed and the river is off-limits to Americans.  Los Caminos del Rio, whom we were with, had special permission to be in the sanctuary and to kayak the river.  No Americans were on the river or in the wildlife sanctuary to find the SUV.  It was amazing to me how easy it is for anyone to illegally cross the border as there was virtually no security.  For the life of me I can’t understand why they would risk their lives crossing the scorching, rugged desert mountains of Arizona, New Mexico, and other parts of Mexico when it is so easy here. 

 We had a great day on the river and were in the heart of the area where Mexicans regularly cross the river.  Along the river bank we found lots of clothes and garbage bags.  The Mexicans swim across the river with dry clothes secured in a garbage bag.  When they reach the other side they throw away their wet clothes and put on the dry clothes they brought with them in the garbage bags.  On the Mexican side there were many people enjoying a warm, sunny Sunday afternoon in the park.  I talked with a friendly Mexican family fishing on the banks of the river.  I hope we find similar people when we finally cross the border and head south.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Fun on the Rio Grande (McAllen, Texas, USA)

I’m wiped out – but in a good way.  It’s been a crazy, hectic day, but we’ve had loads of fun.

 

John and I headed out early this morning to cycle the canal trails with a bunch of local cyclists.  Eric, our host here in McAllen, is trying to establish the canals as official bike trails throughout the valley through Los Caminos del Rio, so we were anxious to finally get out and ride them.  It was a great ride through rural farmland.  The roads along the canals snaked through farms and it felt like we were way out of town – even though we were really only a mile or so away from the city.  I can’t help but think that, if more people knew about the canals, they would be out there walking or biking.

 

From the canals, we raced back to the house to pick up the kids and head out to a park along the Rio Grande for a picnic with even more local cyclists.  We porked out on chips and fajitas before singing “Happy Birthday” to the kids and diving into the cake.

 

With full bellies, we made our way to the river for a bit of kayaking.  The only challenge was getting the boats in the water – but Eric had a plan for that.  We could drive the boats to a point about 25 feet above the water, but then had to lower them down.  Eric and Daryl climbed into one of the kayaks right at the edge of the dropoff, then plunged down through the weeds to the river.  Daryl bounced off the boat as soon as they hit water, and flew into the river – but he came up with a smile.

 

For the next couple hours, everyone played in the river – some paddling kayaks, Davy & Daryl swimming, and Eric’s dog Buster trying to catch fish.

 

Now, we’re back home – exhausted but happy.  It’s been a wonderful day.

 

I’m wiped out – but in a good way.  It’s been a crazy, hectic day, but we’ve had loads of fun.

 

John and I headed out early this morning to cycle the canal trails with a bunch of local cyclists.  Eric, our host here in McAllen, is trying to establish the canals as official bike trails throughout the valley through Los Caminos del Rio, so we were anxious to finally get out and ride them.  It was a great ride through rural farmland.  The roads along the canals snaked through farms and it felt like we were way out of town – even though we were really only a mile or so away from the city.  I can’t help but think that, if more people knew about the canals, they would be out there walking or biking.

 

From the canals, we raced back to the house to pick up the kids and head out to a park along the Rio Grande for a picnic with even more local cyclists.  We porked out on chips and fajitas before singing “Happy Birthday” to the kids and diving into the cake.

 

With full bellies, we made our way to the river for a bit of kayaking.  The only challenge was getting the boats in the water – but Eric had a plan for that.  We could drive the boats to a point about 25 feet above the water, but then had to lower them down.  Eric and Daryl climbed into one of the kayaks right at the edge of the dropoff, then plunged down through the weeds to the river.  Daryl bounced off the boat as soon as they hit water, and flew into the river – but he came up with a smile.

 

For the next couple hours, everyone played in the river – some paddling kayaks, Davy & Daryl swimming, and Eric’s dog Buster trying to catch fish.

 

Now, we’re back home – exhausted but happy.  It’s been a wonderful day.

 

Riding the canals

 

The Mexican side of the Rio Grande

 

D & D blow out birthday candles

 

Daryl & Eric kayaking down the bluff

 

The kids spent a bit of time in the kayaks, but more time in the water

 

By the border wall.  In order to make it not so ugly, they are building it up on the American side so it looks like a normal retaining wall.  On the Mexican side it drops off 20 feet.

 

Davy by the wall.  Since he's now standing on the American side, so all this will be buried.  But this is what it will look like on the Mexican side.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Daryl’s Journal January 11, 2009

Today we went to some state park.  First we had a barbeque.  I liked it. 

 

Then we went kayaking. My favorite part was when I got to ride a kayak down a hill to the river.  The bad thing was that when we got down I fell off the kayak and I forgot to take my shoes off.  I wanted to just get about ¾ down (where a platform-like thing was), stop, then lower the boat down and get in it.  I even stopped it!  Then Eric (the person I was riding with) told me to let go of the branch I was holding to keep us stopped.  Bad idea! 

 

Later I went swimming because I didn’t like kayaking all that much.  I started on an island and tried to swim to the trail.  After getting knocked off course, I got on a kayak.  Later I got back on the island for another shot at swimming to the trail.  Davy also tried but gave up.  I got knocked off course, but kept going.  Finally I made it to the other side…but I was about 30 yards from the trail.  I then just went along the shore until I hit the trail. 

 

After than we went to the BBQ site.  I had some birthday cake and we left.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Davy’s Journal January 11, 2009

This morning we woke up with a note on the table.  It said, “We’re out riding.  Will be back later.  Love you!  Mom & Dad”  Mom and Dad rode with some people along the canals.

 

Last night Channel 5 did a story on us.

 

Later, we went to a park for a picnic.  We brought Buster the dog.  We had hot dogs.  They were good.  Me and Daryl made up an obstacle course on the playground.  After that we kayaked.  Daryl will probably tell you all about it.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Whirlwind in the Valley (McAllen, Texas, USA)

Yes, we’re still here in McAllen – and we’ve been busier than I could ever have imagined!  So busy, in fact, that I haven’t even written my daily journal entries.  I’ll do the best I can to remember the past few days!

 

Yesterday we headed over to Mission to ride their mountain bike trails.  Mission Trails, another bicycle club in the valley, has created a wonderful network of single track crisscrossing a paved bike path in Mission, and Jack graciously offered to take us out on the trails.  We had a blast – even though it was a short ride.  Davy especially enjoyed the trails and couldn’t get enough of zooming up the hills, then barreling down.

 

Our ride was cut a bit short for a couple of reasons – a TV crew was waiting, and I had to get to Austin.  Channel 5 here in the valley did a great story about our journey, and were very thorough in their interviews.  As soon as we finished that, I raced over to the airport to rent a car for the five-hour trip to Austin.

 

Davy has been growing like a weed lately, and has nearly outgrown his bike.  Since we started our trip seven months ago, we have raised his seat over two inches.  And the seat can only go up another 1.5 inches.  We figured his bike would last  - at most – another year, and very possibly less than that.  The easiest thing to do was to get another bike now, before we left the USA.

 

John spent a day looking at the bike shops in the area, but there was nothing here.  REI up in Austin, however, had the same bike Davy is now riding (Novara Safari), but in a size bigger.  The easiest thing to do was to drive up there to buy it.

 

So Daryl and I raced over to the airport, rented a car, then drove up to Austin.  At midnight, we pulled up to the house of one of Eric’s friends, and collapsed into bed.

 

This morning, we were at REI when the store opened, bought the bike, then turned around and dashed back to McAllen.

 

But then – disaster struck.  Davy has grown more than we thought – and the new bike is still a bit too small.  Yes, one could argue that I should have taken Davy with me, but he didn’t want to go and we never, ever, considered the possibility that an 11-year-old kid would possibly fit on a size large bike.  That’s the same size bike John needs!

 

So the plan is to rent a car again on Monday and take the bike back.  Davy will go with me this time so he can test the large and make sure it will work.  I’m not looking forward to hours and hours in a car again, but I suppose that’s the easiest solution to the problem.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Planning Mexico – John’s Journal January 10

“You haven’t asked for anything!”

 

That was GJ’s response after he and his friend, Claudio, kept offering, giving, and heaping commitments and gifts upon me, one after the other after the other.  I commented to them that I thought I was asking too much.  Their only response was that I hadn’t asked for anything and they were honored to help us get through Mexico safely while seeing the most spectacular scenery and experiencing the richest culture his country has to offer.

 

GJ organized a barbeque at his house the other day in honor of us.  Mounds of mouth-watering ribs, succulent chicken, zesty homemade dips, and sinfully rich deserts were served in his luxurious house.  This is where I experienced the true hospitality of the people of this community.

 

GJ is a well-connected person in both the US and Mexico and was genuinely concerned with our safety as we headed into Mexico.  That’s when he generously solicited the help of his good friend, Claudio.  GJ wanted to motorcycle in Mexico.  His friend Claudio had 30 motorcycle police meet him at the border to escort him 150 miles into Mexico to his destination.  I was humbled sitting down with a man of his stature.

 

Today we met with Claudio.  I was awestruck by this man.  He was the head of the motorcycle police brigade in Mexico and has connections that I couldn’t believe.  This guy personally escorted the Pope when he visited Mexico.  This is how he was honored to serve us:

  1. He gave us a cell phone.  He was going to go home tonight and program in all his many contacts into the phone so when we approach a town we can just press a button and get hold of a person that will escort us into town and/or find a place for us to stay for the night.  He also gave us an emergency button that we press and will have assistance within minutes.

  2. He will meet us at the US-Mexico border and get us through hassle free.  He’ll then escort us to a hotel he owns in Reynosa where we’ll spend the night.

  3. He will personally escort us on his motorcycle into Mexico to get us through the first 30 miles of the ‘dangerous’ border region of the country.

I feel a lot better about riding through Mexico now that I have this support.  I’m also confident the people we meet through Claudio will greatly enhance our experience in Mexico giving us deeper insights into its culture and history.

Planning Mexico with GJ and Claudio

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Team McAllen Does it Again (McAllen, Texas, USA)

Wow!  Team McAllen did it again.  What a day!

 

Al, one of the Team McAllen members, had managed to arrange an interview with the local TV news crew.  And we had managed to make contact with a local middle school teacher who invited us to present to her class.  The two were destined to meet.

 

The cameras rolled as we pulled into Liberty Middle School, said a quick hello to the principal, then dashed off to the classroom to talk with the kids.  After so many months away, it was great to be back in a classroom!

 

But then the principal turned everything around when she presented us with little goodie bags containing Liberty t-shirts, jackets, hats, notebooks, and pens.  Gosh – what an unexpected treat!

 

From school we made our way over to Taco Palenque, where you can find the best Tex-Mex food in the valley. We all stuffed ourselves with cheese enchiladas and bottomless chips & salsa – YUM!

 

Before we knew it, Al was back to take us over to Laura & GJ’s house for a barbeque with Team McAllen.  It was great fun to chit-chat with so many people. And the food was delicious! 

 

It was nearly 2:00 in the morning before we finally made it back home and collapsed into bed.  I don’t even remember a day this busy and hectic and wonderful!

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Daryl’s Journal January 7

Today we went to a school.  I don’t like answering questions.

 

Then we went to a restaurant called Taco Palenque.  It wasn’t that great, but not bad.

 

Then we went to a barbeque.  They had a Wii there.  First we played Sonic Mario Olympics.  I like the dream race the most.  Then we played Wii Sports.  It was really fun.  I liked tennis the most, then boxin, then bowling. 

 

Then after a busy day, we went to sleep.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Davy’s Journal January 7

Today we went to a school.  We were on Channel 5.  It was kind of fun talking with the kids there.  Daryl doesn’t like talking so he actually hid.  We had lots of pictures taken of us.

 

Then, we went to Taco Palenque.  All of us had a cheese enchilada.  Me and Daryl played on their playground.

 

After that, we went to a party.  There we (four boys and two girls) played rock band, sonic and morph at the Olympic games, and Wii sport.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Killer Bees (McAllen, Texas, USA)

Gosh!  Team McAllen is really treating us like royalty!

A local bicycle club heard about us coming and have really welcomed us to the city in a grand way!  Tonight they arranged for us to see a pro hockey game with the team.  It was great!

I figured we would go to the game and sit in the regular ol’ seats and watch the game.  But they had other plans.  When we arrived at the arena, we were ushered up into the “party suite” way up high over the ice.  Our suite came complete with a fridge stocked with sodas and a bunch of chicken tenders, so we could eat and drink while watching the action on the ice.

But the action on the ice wasn’t only the hockey players – Davy and Daryl were invited down to ride the Zamboni (the ice-cleaning machine)!  The boys had a blast riding around the rink!

A couple of injured players who couldn’t play tonight came up to the suite to spend some time with us and the team – it was interesting to talk with them.  I’ll admit I know next to nothing about hockey so it was fun to talk with professional players who could fill me in on what was happening down on the ice.

But the strangest part of the evening was when I was called out of the suite by some people in the audience.  The announcer had just flashed a video of us on the big screen and announced to the crowd who we were and what we were doing.  So I walked out of the suite over to the security guard to meet these people.

“Hi!” the woman said.  “We met you up in Jasper on the Icefields Parkway back in August!  You guys were taking a break by the side of the road almost up to the glacier and we stopped and talked with you for a while.  They just showed you and announced what you were doing and I thought, “I know those people!” so I had to come up and talk with you!”

What a small world.

Davy on the ice machine

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

End of the Road (McAllen, Texas, USA)

“Do you realize this is our last riding day in the USA?” John mentioned as we pedaled southward.

It seems unreal that we are actually at our crossing point – after following the Rio Grande for weeks we’re finally at the place we’ll cross. We’ve cycled through our second country – two of the largest ones we’ll pass through.

Today, in contrast to yesterday, was actually almost cold. Yesterday we were all stripped down to the point where the removal of any more layers would land us an indecency charge, but today we didn’t take our winter jackets off all day. What a fickle lady Mother Nature is!

But the best part of today was the reception the people of McAllen have given us! As we cycled into town, we had so many honks and waves and thumbs up. Many people shouted out their car windows – “Way to go!” “Good job!” It was like the whole town was populated by cyclists cheering us on.

It wasn’t until later that we discovered we were on the news last night – they had been alerted that we were coming and had taken some pictures off our website. That explained all the honks!!

Eric, the Executive Director of Los Caminos del Rio and author of Bicycling Mexico
has graciously offered us “plenty of floor space and a shower” while we’re here, so we plan to enjoy a few days of down time before we head south.

Kilometers today: 90
Kilometers to date: 9669

Daryl

Fighting traffic to get into McAllen

Riding the Texas Tropical Trail

Arring into McAllen - with palm trees!1

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

John’s Journal January 4

For months on end we’ve been in the desert. We first entered the desert as we descended the pass just south of Flaming Gorge in northern Utah.  It was just a few days ago, a few miles out of Laredo, where we left the desert and entered the coastal plains on a road the signs call the “Texas Tropical Trail”.

Gone are the freezing cold days where I had to pry the kids from their warm, cozy sleeping bags in the morning.  We won’t be using our gloves, hats, or wool socks until the Andes.  Might as well stuff them in some dark corner of our panniers.  Good-bye goat heads! We haven’t had a flat tire since Laredo!

So what do we have to look forward to?

  • Mosquitoes.  They’ve been ferocious at dusk and dawn the last couple of nights.
  • Warm mornings.  We’ll get on the road much earlier now.  Today I actually started out in just shorts and a t-shirt.
  • Humidity.  After a full day of riding in the desert, I didn’t feel at all dirty.  After a nice shower last night after riding 70 km today, I feel like I desperately need one now.  Our travels down the east coast of Mexico and then Central America will bring warmth and more humid weather so we might as well get used to it.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Heat Wave (Roma, Texas, USA)

“Hey Mommy,” Daryl asked, “do you remember that lake I jumped in up in the Arctic tundra?”

“You mean the one with ice still floating in it?” I questioned.

“Yeah – that one.  I wouldn’t mind jumping into that lake right now.  I’m hot!”

Our bodies are sorely unprepared for this head and humidity – and we’re struggling big time.  The kids, after one of their Coke-bottle soccer games at a rest area, were dripping with sweat.  It seems so odd – so foreign after months of cool, dry weather.

After a long, hot day, the sun eventually began its descent toward the horizon and it cooled off a bit.

“Ahhhh…” I thought as we pulled into Roma, “finally!  It’s actually quite pleasant!”

But then I saw the bank sign flashing ahead of me.  5:22  85°

85 degrees?  And that was the cool, pleasant temps?  I don’t even want to know how hot it got today.

Kilometers today:  69
Kilometers to date:  9579

Unique toys in the campground

Falcon Reservoir

Spanish influence everywhere

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel