A Journey of 17,000 Miles – An Interview With Nancy Sathre-Vogel from Family on Bikes

by ChristinaPilkington on August 15, 2012 · 4 comments

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Today, I’m so excited to bring you an amazing interview by a new friend, Nancy Sathre-Vogel from Family on Bikes.

I first was introduced to Nancy when I ran across her blog in 2008. I spent hours and hours reading about her family’s journey on bikes from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to Ushuaia, Argentina – a journey of 17, 300 miles through 15 countries.

Not only did her incredible family, which also includes husband John and twin sons Daryl and Davy, accomplish that epic feat, they also had taken a 12 month biking road trip across the USA and Mexico only two years earlier.

After getting the opportunity to meet Nancy in person and have lunch with her last year, I knew I wanted to interview her and share her story with you, too.


1. I know your sons learned so much hands-on through their years of traveling with you. What were some of the things they learned leading up to these big trips? What did the preparation process teach them?

Our first big trip (the one detailed in Twenty Miles per Cookie) was a spur-of-the-moment journey; from the day my husband first brought up the idea to the day we hit the road was less than three months. Although we asked the boys if they were interested, as 8-year-olds they had little idea what we were talking about and simply went along with what we wanted to do.

That said, we did make an effort to get in shape and went out cycling every chance we had to get the boys used to the idea of riding longer distances. Once we got their triple bike, there was a lot of fiddling and modifying to get the bike to fit all three passengers. Both boys were very patient and endured many hours at the bike shop and willingly tried all the options. They didn’t really understand it all, but at least saw what the process was.

After that year, as we prepared for our 3-year, Alaska – Argentina bike tour, the boys were a bit more engaged in the planning process, although not to a huge degree. I would venture to guess that mostly what they learned from that process was simply the fact that there WERE a lot of preparations. I don’t think they are/were cognizant of exactly what went into it, but they knew John and I spent enormous amounts of time doing something.

2.I had a wonderful time meeting you last year at a local homeschooling conference. My favorite part of your talk was when you were telling about how one of your boys was having a difficult time learning to read. Then you shared how one day after a few months of travelling his reading just took off. Could you briefly share that story here and why you believe traveling helped his reading skills?

Although Daryl learned to read at a very early age, Davy was a reluctant reader. He loved stories and would listen to us read for hours, but he showed no indication of wanting to learn to read on his own. I (a long-time schoolteacher) was mortified when he tested well below grade level in reading in Grade 1. We had always read bedtime stories, but now we ramped it up and started reading with him every single evening, encouraging him to read to us. We took advantage of every opportunity to have him read.

By the end of Grade 2 he was at grade level in his reading – barely. He still didn’t like to read, but could struggle through. We set off on our journey determined to continue working with him on his reading. Our plan was to ride during the day, then spend evenings having Davy read to us. That plan was…. ummm, shall we say flawed?

John and I were so overwhelmed with the logistics of our day-to-day life on the road that there was no way we could take time to read with Davy in the evenings. After a long day on the bikes we still had to set up the tent, cook dinner, wash dishes, read a bedtime story, and collapse. Davy’s reading skills was very much low man on the totem pole, if you know what I mean.

Fast forward about two months. We have now cycled about 1000 miles and explored all kinds of nooks and crannies. We woke up to pouring rain and decided not to move – it would be a long day with four people crammed in the tent, but better than cycling in rain. I pulled out our read-aloud book, Where the Red Fern Grows, and started reading.

I read a chapter or two then handed the book to John who read for a while. Then Daryl read. We handed the book from one to another, intentionally skipping Davy because – as we all knew – he couldn’t read it. For reasons still unknown to me, at one point John handed the book to Davy. He read it flawlessly!! In two months of travel, the kid had gone from reading at a barely-second grade level to a grade 4 level.

My thoughts, although I have no scientific proof of it, are that his brain was so stimulated by everything he had seen and done, that he had grown connections between his brain cells that he could call into use when he needed to read. Although we hadn’t done any specific work on his reading, he learned it anyway simply from being in challenging and stimulating environments.

3. Did you and your boys set any type of learning goals to accomplish at the beginning of the trip?

When we first took off, our intentions were that it would be a one-year career break. We had no inkling it would lead to further travels. Our sons were 8 and we figured they would be able to “catch up” once they got back into school. And, we figured, if they needed to repeat the year, we were good with that. We doubted that would happen, but we were OK with it if it did.

As it happened, our boys came back to 4th grade significantly AHEAD of their peers. One year on the road, living life naturally, had actually increased their academic learning in all areas.

When we took off for our PanAm journey, we had the other experience under our belts, so simply relied on our journey to teach the boys what it would.

4. Another thing you mentioned at that homeschooling conference was the main thing that mattered to you was that they boys were learning something new every day. It didn’t matter what they were learning but THAT they were learning. Can you talk a little more about that?

One of the things I’ve seen in my lifetime is that we can’t know it all. There is simply too much information out there and any one person can’t know it all. While one person might know all the ins and outs of the phases of the moon, someone else might zero in on the parts of a flower. It’s good to have a basic idea of a lot of different things, but there is no way anybody will know it all.

So then it comes down to this: What will we focus on? What will we encourage our children to learn? How can we know what they will need in their lives?

And the answer is that we can’t know.

My feeling is that as long as the kids are actively learning and creating connections in their brains, they will be laying the groundwork for wherever they go in life. It’s all about stimulating the brain to learn – something. Anything. Just learn and allow the brain to develop. Once the framework is in place, it can be used for anything.

I think it’s very easy for us to assume that the schools or curriculum developers have all the answers. They somehow “know” what kids will need to know and have it all built into the curriculum so that, when the kids leave school and enter the workforce, they are “prepared”.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The curriculum is simply a list of topics and could very easily be written differently. Instead of learning about dinosaurs, kids could learn about just about anything. There is nothing inherently important about those dinosaurs; there is nothing wrong with learning about them, but they could learn about anything. It’s all about learning. Something. Anything.

5. Besides having lots of time to bond together as a family, what have been the most important lessons your sons have walked away from after biking thousands of miles across the Americas?

It is hard to know exactly what our sons have taken from their travels. I often say there is no “control group” of Davy and Daryls who have not traveled extensively, therefore no way to know what they would be like if we hadn’t traveled with them.

I think what they’ve taken away is an understanding that the world is accessible and it’s not scary. As they say, the world is their oyster and they know they can travel at will. They may choose to settle down in one place and never travel again, but they know it’s all an option.

The other major thing they’ve learned is that they can do anything. If they can ride a bike from one end of the world to the other, they can do anything. It’s just a matter of making the decision that they want to do it; then they’ll take baby steps to get it done.

6. Can you tell us a little more about the latest book your working on, when it might be released, and where readers might pick up a copy?

I’m really excited about my upcoming book about our journey through the Americas! One Family, One Dream, One Very Long Road details our 17,000-mile journey through 15 countries. I have now completed the rough draft and am just starting on the revising/editing stage. It is too early to even begin to predict a release date yet, but I will be announcing it as soon as I can on my website, www.familyonbikes.org and in my monthly newsletter. You can sign up for the newsletter here.

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  • Amy @worldschooladventures

    Loved this interview! Great questions Christina!

    • christinapilkington

      Thanks, Amy! I really enjoyed the opportunity to ask Nancy some questions I didn’t think to ask her when we met earlier last year.

  • Elizabeth

    Love this! You are both amazing women.

    • christinapilkington

      Thanks so much, Elizabeth!

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