Our Ride with Nancy and her Family on Bikes

20,000 miles. 15 countries. 30 months. Quite the family holiday. Oh, did we mention this is all done on bikes?! Nancy, the mother of the online sensation, Family on Bikes, answers our questions about what life on the road entails, traveling from Alaska to Argentina…  

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How did the decision to embark on your 18,000 mile bicycle journey come about? Was it something you had dreamed of doing for a while?

The funny thing is that it was a pretty spur-of-the-moment decision. One day in March my husband came home from work and said, “Nancy, I’m tired of this. I want to take off with the kids.” Because he and I had always traveled on bikes, there was no question that it would be on bikes.

Three months later we had quit our jobs, bought a bicycle built for THREE, and hit the road. We spent one year on the road that time and never expected our career break to last longer than that. 

But… I dunno… one thing led to another… We enjoyed our time on the road so much. We met other cyclists riding the Alaska to Argentina route. We wanted to do it. And now – here we are! This time we are traveling with a tandem and two single bikes, but we’re still out there biking as a family. We took off from Alaska in June 2008 to cycle down to the tip of South America.

What was your greatest reservation before your epic adventure began?

When we first set off for our “one year career break” back in 2006, our greatest fear was that the boys wouldn’t like it. We had quit our jobs and spent a lot of money on our enormous triple bike – if they didn’t like it, then what?? As it happened, that ended up being a non-issue. 

Logistically, how did the trip work? Did you ride every day? How far would you bike on an average day?

Overall, we’ve averaged something like 17 miles per day for the 1,000 days we’ve been on the road. We take many days off – we probably cycle less than 50% of the days in any given month. And we don’t generally do long distance when we do cycle. We like to keep our daily distances short – preferably under 50 miles. Although we’ve done longer days (our longest was 92 miles), we don’t like it. 

What was the toughest challenge you faced (thus far) on your journey?

I think the toughest part has been these past few months since we entered Argentina. Argentina has been a challenge in many ways – long distances between towns (this is the first time we’ve had to carry water for more than one day), lots and lots and lots of wind, I came down with pneumonia, and it’s big – very big. 

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But those are actually fairly easy hurdles to overcome. The hard part has been the mental battle. When we entered the country many months ago, our minds told us we were nearly there – our last country!! YAHOO! And yet, we were still a very, very long way away from our goal. 

It’s been hard to remain focused when it seems like we’ll never reach the end of the road. I wrote about that in my blog one day a few months ago – I was pretty much down at the bottom of the barrel that day. The next day I wrote another blog entry talking about some of the other struggles we’ve faced. 

Now we’re pretty much over those hurdles – we’re very, very close! Now we KNOW we can make it and that the toughest part is behind us. It’ll happen!!

At Tripping, we believe what makes traveling so compelling is interacting with locals and learning about other cultures. What was been your favorite experience of the journey in terms of cultural exchange?

We have always said that the best part – by far – of our journey has been meeting the people. We’ve taken many weeks and months off to hang out in one place in order to get to know the people better and immerse ourselves in their culture.

But our favorite has been my Peace Corps village in Honduras. In 1984-1986, I served as a Peace Corps volunteer and chose to live with a family rather than in my own apartment. When I left the country in early 1987, I vowed to go back someday. That day came on this journey.

Even though it had been 22 years since I had last seen the wonderful people of my village, I was welcomed in as though I’d never left. And my family was welcomed as well. We spent a delightful three weeks there – being part of a great big enormous Honduran family. My sons had the opportunity of attending classes at the school I used to teach at all those years ago. 

It was one of those magical experiences that can only come by being there. 

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What are your insights or tips for parents considering homeschooling their children while on the road?

Trust your kids – they’ll learn. When I first started teaching first grade, I was scared spitless! I could teach kids to read better, but had no idea how to teach them to read in the first place! A friend of mine (also a teacher) said, “Relax. Kids will learn – in spite of their teacher.” He was right.

Kids learn. Their brains are designed to make sense of the world around them and if they are placed in a challenging, stimulating environment, they learn. As we travel, kids are always in new and stimulating environments; therefore, their brains are always growing those physical connections between their brain cells which makes it easier for them to learn anything. It appears as though their brains are so stimulated by everything that is going on around them that they just pick stuff up – like osmosis.

Travel is like life in that we must constantly adjust our expectations while on the journey. What aspect of your journey or specific event most radically defied your expectations?

We had done so much bike touring before we set off on this Americas journey that there haven’t been a whole lot of surprises. But gosh, on our first twelve months cycling around the USA and Mexico, we dealt with new issues every day! I remember joking with my mom that I felt that every time we figured out the rules of the game, the whole game changed!

The game of weather in particular. It started raining so we scrambled around trying to figure out how to deal with rain. As soon as we figured that out, the rain stopped. Then it got hot. Really, really hot. We ran out of water a few times until we finally figured out how to deal with extreme heat. We moved from dry heat to very humid heat and had to adjust as such. Then fall came and temperatures started dipping below freezing – enter a whole new game plan.

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The learning curve was steep, but we took it one step at a time. By now – after nearly four years traveling on bikes as a family – we’ve dealt with nearly every conceivable condition Mother Nature could possibly throw at us so we are prepared for it all. Still, every once in a while, something new happens and we’re back to the drawing board again. That’s how life is. 

Thanks Nancy! Good luck and safe travels to you and your cycling clan in the closing miles! Catch up on the Vogel family adventure here. Connect with Nancy and other families on the road in Tripping’s Traveling Families Network

  • Anis Velasco-Salvesen

    What an amazing story! I love that Nancy was able to return to the same village in Honduras where she had served in the Peace Corps 22 years prior and still receive a warm welcome – as though she had never left. I’m cheering for the Vogel family as they near the end of their epic 20.000 mile adventure!