Changing Gears: cycling the PanAm

Today,travel blogger  Nancy Sathre-Vogel of Family on Bikes launched their new book, Changing Gears, the story if their epic bike journey cycling the PanAm from the top of Alaska to the tip of Argentina. She shares one day in this 3-year trip with Santa Fe Travelers.

It was the day. It comes in every parent’s life. A day when she suddenly realizes the tides have turned. When children grow up and parents grow weak. When we, so strong and capable for so many years; find ourselves on the other side of the equation and relying upon the strength and wisdom of our children.

I knew all along that day would come, but I never expected it would be while cycling from Alaska to Argentina. For some reason, I figured my kids would remain innocent little kids for the duration of our journey and, at some point way off in the future, that shift would happen. Needless to say, that’s not what happened.

cycling the PanAm

Panama, along with the rest of Central America, was very hot and humid. Dehydration was a very real risk we faced every day, photo/courtesy Family On Bikes

The inkling I had that the change would happen sooner rather than later came in Panama, when my sons were only eleven years old. That day I was sick, and we were riding through a very hilly area in the highest temperatures we had experienced so far. My gut periodically cramped up, feeling like someone had stabbed me with a sharp knife and was slowly rotating it inside. But what really worried me was my dizziness. I wasn’t sure I wouldn’t pass out on the side of the road.

My son, riding his own fully-loaded bicycle, stayed on my tail all day, guiding me, escorting me, protecting me. I remember looking in my rear-view mirror and seeing that tall, handsome young man on a bike behind me, and I remember very clearly the feeling comfort it gave me. I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Davy would know what to do if/when I collapsed. My babies were growing up.

cycling the Pan Am

The unending green jungle landscape, although beautiful, got tedious after hundreds of miles, courtesy Family On Bikes

A few months later, we were in Ecuador. Grandma had given my sons a Nintendo DS for Christmas, and it was their most prized possession. And then one day, the card got corrupted. The data was gone. The Nintendo no longer worked.

Davy and I hopped on a series of buses and taxis to get to the mall in Quito, over two hours away, to see if we could get it fixed, but the shop was closed on Sunday. We went back to rejoin our family disappointed in our lack of success.

The following morning, I looked up from my morning coffee to see both my sons standing in front of me. “Can we go to Quito, Mom?” they asked.

“On your own?” I replied. “Are you crazy?”

“I know how to get there,” Davy begged. “I went with you yesterday. We’ll be fine. Really, we will.”

cycling the Pan Am

Daryl, enjoying the Nintendo Grandma gave the boys for Christmas, courtesy Family On Bikes

I knew I would have to cut the apron strings someday. I knew my babies would sprout wings and head off on their own. I knew that, at some point, I would have to buck it up and give them their freedom. That day was then.

We went over the plan, made backup plans, and sent the boys on their way. My husband and I hung out all day, fretting and stewing over all the things that could go wrong. Our sons – barely twelve years old – were navigating around Ecuador and the massive city of Quito on their own. Would they be okay? Could they handle it?

Amazingly – or, perhaps, predictably – our boys arrived back at our hotel that night triumphant. They had succeeded in every single thing they set out to do. The got the first bus up and over the pass, then waited for a second bus to take them into the city. They managed to find a taxi driver to take them to the mall where they got their Nintendo fixed, and reversed the process on the way back to the small village where John and I waited. They even stopped for pizza and brought some back for us!

I know there is a lesson here somewhere. I know I could get all philosophical and all, but really – all that matters is that kids can do more than we think they can do. If we let them.

cycling the Pan Am

Leaving Quito, we climbed over a 13,000-foot pass before dropping down into the Amazon basin. It was this pass the kids had to traverse on their own to get back into Quito to fix their Nintendo, courtesy Family On Bikes

Nancy Sathre-Vogel is a 21-year classroom veteran who made the decision to leave her teaching career behind to travel the world on a bicycle. Together with her husband and twin sons, she cycled 27,000 miles throughout the Americas, including traveling from Alaska to Argentina. Now she lives in Idaho, pursuing her passions of writing and beadwork. She is the author of the just released book, Changing Gears about the family’s epic bike journey cycling the PanAm.

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4 Responses to “Changing Gears: cycling the PanAm”

  1. Leigh
    March 22, 2013 at 10:26 am #

    I had a lot more freedom growing up than any kid does now – not that I ever headed into a foreign city at 12 but I did have to get my bike fixed in England while on a month long trip at 15. I took a train, got it fixed and cycled back to the Youth Hostel in the dark. There is hardly a parent I know right now who would allow that – and Nancy I think you’re the exception. I think it’s wonderful to be given your independence and to put your trust in your kids.
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    • Billie Frank
      March 23, 2013 at 7:07 am #

      Times certainly are different. I used to ride the NYC Subway alone at 10. I don’t think most parents would allow that these days. Nancy and the entire family are intrepid.

  2. claire thomas
    December 17, 2014 at 7:28 pm #

    And here I was feeling empowered that I have taken to coast to coast trips solo and camping to volunteer out in the badlands – and then I met a cyclist from Japan doing the route alaska to argentina and offered him a lift and he said no he had to do it himself. congrats to all of you. I asked him to stay in touch via email – the mom in me saw him biking through the snow in new mexico on route 84….

    • Billie Frank
      December 19, 2014 at 4:44 pm #

      To me what you did is very empowering Everyone has there own journey. I was very empowered by a solo journey to Colorado and New Mexico with my dog forty years ago. We caught rides off ride boards and did a little bit of hitching. I felt like I’d conquered the world.

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