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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.