Frequently Asked Questions

How did this trip come about? or Whose idea was this anyway?

  Exploring Coral Reefs in Honduras John - The idea was planted in my head on our previous trip when I met other cycle-tourists who were riding from Alaska to Argentina. I marveled at their adventurism and inspired from the tales of the road that lay ahead of them. A trip of this magnitude grew and grew until one day after a particularly hard day in the classroom I said to myself - why not? Our kids learned so much on the previous trip, I was certain they would do the same on this one. It would be a once-in-a-lifetime family journey where the experiences would be our teacher and the road ahead our source of imagination, creativity, and inspiration. When I first brought this up with the family, Nancy thought I was crazy. The kids were enthusiastic, but Nancy had big-time reservations. After thinking about it for a while we all agreed to make the commitment to undertake this epic journey.

Nancy - I wish I knew - all I can say is that the planets were aligned right and our lucky star was shining. The genesis goes back to 2006 when John brought up the idea of a year-long trip around the USA and Mexico. My first reaction was, "Are you crazy?!" But then I started thinking about The American Dream and questioned if a normal, typical life in the suburbs was really what I wanted. We spent one year pedaling 9300 miles around the USA and Mexico in 2006-07 and, when we finished, we knew one thing - we wanted more. The Pan American dream was born.

 
What have been the highlights of the journey?
  Daryl - Liard Hot Springs in British Columbia, Canada which had a lot of caves to play in. A river hike in Belize - there was a river that went through the jungle, and you could float down it and slide down small waterfalls.

Davy - A river hike in Belize where we floated down the river and then climbed on rocks and jumped or dove back in. Riding through the tundra because we could see for a LONG way in any direction and it was perfectly flat. The Galapagos Islands because we got to walk right up to the animals and they didn't run away. British Columbia, Canada because of all the animals (bison, bears, big horn sheep, caribou) and Liard Hot Springs because it was warm and we could play in it.

John - The high point of the journey is establishing a deep, meaningful relationship with David and Daryl and being with them as they gradually grow from children to adults. Watching them evolve from self-centered juveniles into giving and caring adolescents is definitely something I will most remember about this trip.

Nancy - For me the best part, by far, has been the kind, generous people we've met throughout the journey. It's the oil pipeline worker who hid a big bag of snacks for us at the pump station gate, the guide who handed over all their left-over food, the families who invited us into their homes for a night or a week, the kids who delivered a bag of apples to us by the side of the road, the woman who brought us a big plate of tacos when all we ordered was tea, and the man who took us out mountain biking in the Andes. Rarely does a day go by when we aren't touched by the generosity of some kind soul.

 
What was the scariest/most dangerous moment?
  Daryl - One time in Albuquerque a car hit us. On our last trip (2006-07) we were chased by a dog out onto the road and a truck sped around the corner and almost hit us.

Davy - When a bear chased me in Canada. Me and Mom saw a bear and stopped to take a picture of it. Right about when we stopped the bear came up on the road and started walking toward us. After a little while it went back down in the ditch on the side of the road. We started to leave but the bear jumped right next to Mom. I was about 20 feet away and Mom wanted me to go so I wouldn't see her get mauled. Then I left very slowly and the bear chased me. We rode very fast and eventually got away.

John - In Moab, Utah we were trying to get to a person's house after a long day of riding. We thought it would be an easy ride, but we ended up riding down a long deserted road for miles and miles. It was pitch dark and no shoulders. Traffic sped down the road and didn't see us until they were almost upon us so whenever we saw a vehicle, we'd get off our bikes and walk off the road. After asking directions over and over, a man concerned about our safety lead us in his vehicle to the house we were searching for.

Nancy - Hands down, our bear encounter in British Columbia. I've never been so scared in my life!

 
Do you have a press release statment?
  Yes, you can print one out by clicking here
 
Have you ever wanted to quit?
  Daryl - No

Davy - No

John - No, I never wanted to quit but I've questioned whether undertaking this journey was the best thing for us - both for our children and for our finances.

Nancy - Yes. In northern Peru I felt like Peru was conspiring against us. I wrote in my blog that Peru was kicking us, beating us, spitting upon us - I was down like I had never been before. It was the kids' motivation that kept me going and Daryl who helped me put things in perspective. "Mom," he said as we walked the streets of Trujillo one day, "It won't help to complain about it - that won't change anything. All you can do is keep going and things will turn around eventually." He was right - as we continued south, things improved trememdously.

 
Describe a typical day on the road.
  Daryl - We ride about 50 km, then get a hotel room and do our math. After that we watch T.V. or read.

Davy - Riding, riding, riding, and then stop for the day and unpack and sleep in the tent or a hotel room. We stop to eat every once in a while when we ride.

John - One great thing about this trip is that there is no typical day. If there were a typical day it would be riding somewhere between 20 and 100 kms, stopping for many breaks and lunch along the way. Depending on the situation we'd either camp out in our tents or find a hotel for the night.

Nancy - A typical day? Are you kidding me? Although there is no such thing as a 'typical' day, we have a lot more routine in our lives on the road than we ever did at home. Back home, all four of us were pulled in different directions and we never knew what one another was doing - the boys had their own classroom assignments and social events; John and I had our separate jobs. Now, all four of us are working together toward a common goal and are focussed together. I would say that a 'typical' distance we ride is about 50 - 80 km as long as conditions are good, but we've had days when we were more than happy with 20 km!

 
How do you handle the kids' education?
  John - The only formal lessons they recieve are in math, which I teach. Writing comes in the form of journals and essays about locations they visit and history, science, and geography are taught when an appropriate opportunity arises. Reading is something they never have to be prodded to do; they are both avid readers. No need to say anything about physical education!!

Nancy - For the most part, we allow Mother Nature and our journey itself to be the boys' teachers - they do a much better job than we ever could! We take advantage of educational opportunties along the way (Galapagos Islands, Nazca Lines, Macchu Pichu, etc...) and make sure we talk with the boys about what they are seeing. When they climb up over a 15,000-ft pass to get to the altiplano, they learn about the geological forces that shaped the earth. They research and write about places they see; they read voraciously. The only subject we feel they do not get from the journey is math - we carry math books and the boys do their lessons in hotel rooms.

 
Where do you sleep at night?
  John - We have slept in many different places. If we can't find a hotel or a place to set our tent we get creative. We've slept in schools, fire stations, churches, and numerous other unconventional places.

Nancy - When we first started touring as a family, I found myself getting nervous as evening approached and we still didn't have a place to sleep. Over time, when we managed to find a safe place night after night after night, I began to relax and trust that we would find something - and we always have. In our more-than-three-years on the road, we have always had a safe place to sleep - not necessarily comfortable, but always safe. In North America, we nearly always camped; in Central and South America we've mostly stayed in small hotels. During our time on the road, we've slept in a dead gold miner's house, next to the interstate highway, under the oil pipeline, in fire stations, on the altiplano, and - many times - in the houses of kind, generous people who have invited us in.

 
What do you eat?
  John - That's a hard one! Basically when we are not in a city we pretty much eat what the locals do. This cuisine varies from country to country - sometimes it's delicious and other times a bit challenging to the pallet to stomach. When we are in a city (which is not very often) we go to the grocery store and buy ingredients for sandwiches. We try to buy as many fruits and vegetables as possible.

Nancy - That has changed over time. In North America, we shopped in grocery stores and cooked nearly all our meals over our tiny camp stove. Starting in Mexico, we started eating in restaurants more as they were more affordable. Now, we typically eat at least one meal per day in a restaurant eating the standard meal from the area - it generally consists of vegetable soup, rice or pasta, some type of meat, and a small salad. The rest of the day we eat plenty of snacks - fresh or dried fruit, cheese or peanut butter sandwiches, crackers, or nuts.

 
How do you afford it?
  John - Our primary source of income is our house which we rent out. We also make some money off our website/blog and from writing articles for various magazines and websites. We haven't dug into our savings yet but that could change in the future. We also have several companies that sponsor us.

Nancy - The main thing to remember here is that traveling as we do is fairly cheap - the four of us live on around $1500 per month. Around half of our expenses are covered by the rent from our home back in Idaho. The remaining portion is covered by donations, income from our website, articles I write, etc... Anything not covered at the end of the month comes out of our retirement account. We feel the time with the boys now is worth spending some of our retirement money - if we don't take advantage of this time now, we will lose the opportunity as the boys are growing fast!

 
What do you carry?
  John - Too much. Lots of clothes, spare bicycle parts, tools, 2 computers, 2 tents, sleeping bags, sleeping mats, pillows, cooking gear, journals and reading books for everyone, 2 large math books - the list goes on and on. Here is a detailed list of everything we carry.

Nancy - We have to be completely self-contained and prepared for all weather conditions. It was blazing hot throughout Central America and bitter cold in winter up in Peru and Bolivia. Many times, we find night falling when we are out in the middle of nowhere, so we need to be able to camp anywhere. We carry tent and sleeping bags, stove and pot, homeschooling supplies, clothing for four seasons, tools to completely rebuild the bikes and spare parts for the parts we feel are most likely to fail, computers to maintain the website, etc... The boys each have one bag each where they can keep their items; they each have a few toys and whatnot. The only toy that has come all the way is Daryl's blue stuffed monkey called Lil Huggies - he peeks out from Daryl's handlebar bag!

 
What was your favorite part?
  Asking me what my favorite part of the journey was is kind of like asking me to choose my favorite child! Each part of the trip has been special in its own way:
  • The artic tundra was incredible – it turned my preconceived notions upside down, rolled them down a hill, and then buried them as deep as nuclear waste! I have always known - beyond a shadow of a doubt - that the sun would set in the evening and rise again in the morning – but that’s not always true in the tundra. Riding in the far north was truly an incredible experience.
  • Northern BC was amazing as well! Each time we turned around, we found more bison, bears, or bighorn sheep. It was almost as though we were riding through the plains of Africa – but the animals were of a different flavor.
  • Mainland USA, with all her national parks, was another special place for us. We’ve always treasured America’s national parks, and truly enjoyed visiting so many of them as we made our way through our home country.
  • Mexican hospitality was evident with every bend in the road. The motorcycle clubs adopted us and provided escorts to get us through each and every city – which was an enormous gift!
  • Belize was a complete surprise. We had heard horrible things about Belize, so intended to pass through as quickly as possible. That lasted all of about five hours. We ended up having amazing opportunities to get off the beaten track and into the mountains – with gorgeous rivers, caves, and waterfalls.
  • Honduras was perhaps more special than anything else – for me. I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer there in 1984-87, and couldn’t wait to get back for a visit. We spent a lot of time visiting my favorite places, and then stayed my Peace Corps family for a few weeks.
  • Reaching the Panama Canal was a phenomenal experience - the dividing line between north and south.
  • Ecuador surprised us with so many colorful celebrations - it seemed like every time we pulled into a new village there was yet another colorful parade.
  • The coastal desert of Peru was beautiful. Barren, stark, with nothing but sand and wind - but gorgeous in its own way.
  • Lake Titicaca! We had heard so much about its beauty and we finally got to see for ourselves.

In other words – each place has been special for its own reasons. I can’t possibly say which has been my favorite.

 
What are the highlights of the journey?
 
  • Finally arriving in Prudhoe Bay after so many months of planning
  • Seeing herds of caribou grazing on the side of the road in the arctic tundra
  • Arriving at the end of the Dalton Highway – YIPPEE!! WE DID IT!!
  • Visiting Santa Claus in North Pole
  • Pedaling through northern BC – the Serengeti of the North
  • Seeing the American flag at the border – finally!!
  • Listening to the hiss of steam and smelling the mud pots at Yellowstone
  • Waking up to a couple inches of snow in Montana
  • Meeting fellow bicycle tourists
  • Being escorted through all the Mexican cities we passed
  • Swimming in the ocean – after so many miles of pedaling
  • Eating tamales and tacos
  • Hiking a Belizean river
  • Climbing to the top of Mayan temples
  • Snorkeling and scuba diving on the coral reef
  • Meeting up with my Peace Corps family in Honduras
  • Cycling past a steaming volcano in Nicaragua
  • Surfing in Costa Rica
  • Seeing the Bridge of the Americas over the Panama Canal
  • Climbing our first massive 6000-ft ascent into the Andes
  • Reaching the equator knowing our legs had powered us there from beyond the Arctic Circle
  • Visiting the Galapagos Islands
 
What are the lowlights of the journey?
 
  • Pushing the bikes up Beaver Slide on the Dalton Highway
  • Pedaling through rain on a dirt road and the road was starting to deteriorate and we were getting grumpy and then John and I got in a big fight…
  • Being chased by a bear
  • Coming back to the tent after a delightful evening visiting friends in their RV to find the tent flooded – John inadvertently left the fly open during a rain storm
  • Struggling to reach Missoula with both of John’s rim cracking and his brakes no longer functioning properly due to the rim trouble
  • Getting hit by a car in Albuquerque
  • Choosing the wrong road in Mexico despite plenty of warnings from local people and having to push the bikes through deep sand and mucky mud for miles and miles
  • Coming back to our bikes after going out for pizza and finding them drenched (and all our clothes, too) from the deluge that had fallen while we were out
  • Getting sick in Guatemala and being antsy to meet up with the Verhages but not able to move on because the kids were too sick
  • Battling lunatic truck drivers in Costa Rica - many thousands of them
  • Watching Davy undergo five surgeries for ingrown toenails - in Panama, Colombia, and Ecuador
  • Waking up in the desert of Peru and discovering that three of us had food poisoning from dinner the previous evening but having to push on anyway because we were in the middle of the desert
  • Battling headwinds for 1200 miles along the Peruvian coast
 
How much does a trip like this cost? How can you afford it?
  That’s kind of like asking, “How much does a house cost?” or “How much does a car cost?” It totally depends on what kind of journey you want – you can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for five-star accommodations and tours, or you can live very frugally and live on very little. I’ve written about this on our finance page.

 
Isn’t it dangerous?
  Are we afraid of bad people? No – people in other countries are just as wonderful as those in our own. Are we afraid of traffic? Yes – a healthy fear is necessary. Theft? Of course – any traveler should be. Read Life Doesn't Come with a Money Back Guarantee for more information on this.

 
How are the kids holding up?
  I hate this question – it always reminds me that I’m getting older by the day. The kids are holding up just fine, thank you very much. The real question is: how am I holding up?? The kids can run circles around me any day. They can outride me in a heartbeat. I’m the granny of the bunch – the kids sit around waiting for ol’ mama to come trundling up.

 
How do you make a decision to drop out of everything expected and go your own way?
  You agonize over it – for days and days and days. And then, once the decision is made, you dwell on it for more days and you question every motive you ever had for the journey to make sure you made the right decision. Even so – you will never know the “right” answer. I’ve written about this on our decision page

 
What was the hardest part?
  Making the decision. By far. Once the decision is made, all the pieces all into place – but ya gotta make that decision in the first place.

 
What do you do when one of your kids loses steam or motivation for pushing ahead?
  Damien over at Adventure in Progress asked me that question one time and I had to think about it for a moment. Honestly, I had never even thought about it – we just never thought about not continuing on. Anyway, this is the answer I gave him:

I don't know. It's never happened before. If and when that day arrives when the boys don't want to continue, we'll pack up and go home. Or are you talking about on a daily basis? On those tough days when we are exhausted and don't think we can make it into town? On those days we all pitch in and help each other so we can all make it together. It really is a team effort. We had that situation not long ago - on our first day of cycling in Guatemala. We had 23 km of dirt road and it was awful! The road was covered with a thick layer of loose dust and each truck that passed sent massive clouds of soupy dust into the air. It was hot, and all that dust mingled with the sweat on our bodies to cover us with mud. And then we reached a massive 2-km climb. All four of us had to walk up. I wrote about that day here. But the best part of it all is the fact that we all work together. We are no longer parents and children, adults and kids, teachers and students - we are equal members of a team trying to get through a tough stretch of the road.

You can read the whole interview at Adventure in Progress

 
What about school for the kids?
  Mother Nature and our journey are the best teachers around! I’ve written about this on our homeschooling page

 
What do you eat?
  Food. Lots of it. I’ve written about this on our What We Eat page

 
Where do you sleep?
  Anywhere and everywhere. We spend a lot of nights in our tent on the side of the road, at ranch houses, or in small villages. We spend a lot of nights in cheap hotels. And we spend a fair amount of nights in the homes of wonderful, gracious people who invite us in.

 

Here are a few random bits of trivia from our 2006/07 bicycle trip . . .

Where did you take baths?
 
  • A truck stop in the middle of nowhere in Mexico
  • Community “facilities” at a migrant workers camp
  • Behind a restaurant in Baja (yes – we begged the owner to let us use hers)
  • Plenty of hoses wherever we could find them
  • The Missouri River
  • A multitude of lakes
  • Occasionally in a bathtub
 
And sleep?
 
  • In a dead gold miner’s house
  • On the interstate corridor twenty feet from traffic whizzing past at eighty mph
  • Cabana by a swimming pool
  • Concrete floor of a carport
  • Under the awnings of a restaurant on the side of road
  • Beneath towering cardon cacti
  • On the Appalachian Trail
  • In a frost covered tent with kids making mad dashes out to puke all night
  • And many times in the houses of incredibly kind, generous people we met along the way
 
What were your favorite meals?
 
  • All-you-can-eat buffets anywhere we could find them
  • A bag of Lay’s potato chips (with ranch dip!)
  • Peanut butter and jelly – by the spoonful
 
Number of states cycled through:
  19 US states and 4 Mexican ones
 
Number of miles pedaled:
  9300
 
Number of flat tires:
  About one hundred, more or less
 
Number of granola bars consumed:
  Somewhere around 4,784,000 (give or take a couple thousand)
 
Number of bad people encountered:
  Nil. Nada. Zippo. Goose eggs.
 
Number of Road Angels who helped us out:
  I can’t count that high
 
Here are some articles I’ve written about a variety of things that might answer some of your questions:
  • Never Underestimate your Child : Kids are capable of a lot more than we give them credit for!
  • Culture Shock on an Extended Tour : We all hear about culture shock when moving to another country, but long-term travel brings it on as well. Here are the stages of culture shock so you’ll understand all those feelings you have!
  • Considerations for the Long Haul : Planning on an extended tour? Here are some tips and ideas to consider before you take off.
  • One More Pedal Stroke : How do we make it through those hard days? Those days when Mother Nature’s Wind Warriors are making our lives miserable? Or our noses are about to freeze clean off our faces? Or we’re climbing the hill to beat all hills? This is how.
  • The Stuff in the Middle : It’s not about the being there, it’s about the getting there. Sure, taking off from Prudhoe Bay was incredible, and arriving into Ushuaia will undoubtedly be one of the highlights of my life – but it’s everything in between that is the best part of our journey.
  • Life Lessons : Our journey is a metaphor for life in more ways than one. Here are just a few of the lessons we’ve learned on the road.
  • Wee Little Soldiers : Road Angels are those wonderful human beings who have gone above and beyond to make our lives a bit more comfortable and restore our faith in humanity. They are the people who make your jaw drop in gratitude. Here is the story of one of them.
  • The Jigsaw Puzzle Called Life : How did I end up here? I mean – how in the heck did I – a regular ol’ mom of twin boys, wife of a wonderful man, and long-time schoolteacher end up cycling to the ends of the earth with her family? This is how.