Book Review: Changing Gears: A Family Odyssey to the End of the World is an Adventure Worth Reading

By Lou Melini

changinggearscoverDoing an overnight bike trip probably would be easy to plan for most cyclists. A week tour or a ride across the U.S. ramps up the logistics. Now imagine riding down the Western Hemisphere of North and South America with your spouse and twin 10-year-olds over the course of 2 years, 9 months and 18 days. Starting in June of 2008, this was the trip of a lifetime for Nancy Sarthe-Vogel, her husband John Vogel and their sons Daryl and Davy.

According to their website, the Vogel’s were not new to bike travel before the trip that is chronicled in Changing Gears. They even did a previous trip with their children in 2006-07. John’s extensive bike touring experience goes back to 1981. Nancy and John even met while doing separate bike tours in Southern Asia. They really increased the complexity of bike travel in Changing Gears.

Changing Gears is written through the eyes of Nancy. Reading Changing Gears is like reading several books compressed into 297 pages. There is the geography of the trip from the top of Alaska to the southern tip of Argentina with the various cultures and people along the way. There is a “book” of information about traveling with children. There is an assortment of “adventures” in the book and how the problems that were encountered turned out (including the numerous “road angels” they met). I thought it was fascinating how numerous motorcycle clubs were networking and escorting the family into and out of many of the Mexican cities that they rode through.

Probably the most inspiring aspect of the book was the energy produced by the boys who were determined to be the youngest people to have cycled the Western Hemisphere and be recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records. In addition, I was able to see the two boys go from scared 10 year-olds that needed their mother to 13 year-olds confident in their abilities to assess a situation, create a plan and execute it.

The trip started by flying from their home in Boise to Prudhoe Bay in Alaska. They flew with one tandem for John and Daryl and 2 single bikes for Nancy and Davy. In addition there was one BOB trailer and an Extra Wheel trailer. These were shipped along with 3 very large containers for all of the equipment that was to be stuffed into panniers and trailer bags. Just that was a costly and daunting task.

Their start in Prudhoe Bay was not at all auspicious. An oil worker helped them with their baggage after arrival who stated: “For the record, I drive this road on a regular basis, and I think you’re nuts”. On the day of departure, with 17,000 miles to go, Davy was brought to “the verge of tears” when he crashed moments after leaving the hotel parking lot onto the gravelly Dalton highway. After that mishap, they had 240 miles to the first town on the Dalton highway and the Vogel’s thought they were prepared by packing 50 pounds of food. With two hungry boys they ran out of food, or would have had a “road angel” not helped out. Obviously, no matter how much experience and planning one does, things happen.

And so went the travels of the Vogel family. I had a hard time putting the book down. It is very well written. It’s a novel, an adventure book, a travelogue and a “how-to” cycling book. It is additionally a book chronicling what families are supposed to be doing, though in this case the family is traveling on a total of 6 wheels (plus 2 on the trailers). If you have a child or 2 I will bet that while reading this book you will look at the little tyke(s) and think; “could it be possible”? When you complete the book you will find that the answer is “Yes”, it is possible.

So, after 2 years, 9 months and 18 days, Daryl and Davy became the youngest people to cycle the Western Hemisphere. They have all of the documentation. Unfortunately Guinness World Records dropped the “youngest category”.

For information to purchase this book and other cycle books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel go to www.familyonbikes.org.

Changing Gears: A Family Odyssey to the End of the World

By Nancy Sathre-Vogel

2013, Old Stone Publishing, ISBN-10: 0983718733

An Interview with Nancy Sathre-Vogel

I was able to interview Nancy Sathre-Vogel to hear how the family is doing since the big trip. Below is the interview.

Cycling Utah: Nancy, it will be 3 years in March of 2014 since completing the trip. How would you describe the differences in your boys compared to other boys their age since the trip?

Nancy Sarthre-Vogel: I often say that there is no way to know what effect our journey had on our kids – there was no control group of Davys and Daryls who didn't do it. I do think their travels have impacted their confidence, but I can't really say that with certainty either. All parents view their own children differently from other kids, so maybe that's just my bias speaking? In the end, all I can do is give them all I can and hope for the best.

C.U.: There were several comments you made throughout the book that there was a small but seemingly dedicated group of people that were accusing you of child abuse. What was that all about? How do you respond to them?

NSV. They were a small, but very vocal group. Some of the ladies took it upon themselves to “save” our children from the “abuse” we were inflicting upon them, and were almost stalkers to do that. Every time we were profiled in the news, they left comments on the article mentioning how horrible we were. They called the person in charge of the non-profit group we were volunteering with to tell her that she shouldn't allow us to work with her. It was odd, but I guess they are entitled to their opinion.

How would I respond to them? That's a tough one. Of course, if my kids really were being abused, I would want somebody to step in and do something. I've realized there is a fine line between abuse and an alternate lifestyle, and it can be hard to tell the difference. We need to be ever mindful of the fact that we are all different and, just because *I* can't imagine doing something, that doesn't mean that somebody else can't enjoy it.

C.U.: I am currently following a Montreal family with a 6-year old that are riding for a planned 3-year trip (nomad-dream.org). As an educator and mother, is there much research/information on the subject of long-distance travel with children?

NSV: No, there is not much out there regarding long term bike touring with kids – my site is probably the most comprehensive there is. I think there is a lot of power simply knowing that other families have done it and it worked, so it's important that we get the word out that it is possible to tour with kids.

Bicycle Touring with Children: A Guide to Getting Started is a small booklet about getting out there on the bikes with kids. I sell it on the website.

C.U.: Being on the Board of Directors of Warmshowers, I have to ask this question. Can you give me a synopsis of what it is like to have “road angels” help out? Did the actions of the “road angels” influence your family in how you currently interact with people?

NSV: Road Angels changed our journey! It was absolutely mind-boggling and humbling to be on the receiving end of those random acts of kindness over and over again. People reached out to us in so many ways, and we are all very grateful for that.

Does it influence us now? You bet! Knowing how much it meant to us when people helped us out encourages us to reach out to others. But beyond that, we know that people are kind and generous and we don't live with the fear that so many Americans have.

C.U.: Because of the 14-year girl that had to be rescued at sea while attempting the “youngest person to sail around the world”, Guinness World Records dropped the youngest category, including Davy and Daryl. Did the Guinness World Records ever recognize Davy and Daryl?

NSV: No, Guinness World Records never did officially recognize the record. They are no longer recognizing the “Youngest to do anything” – that whole category is no longer on their books. While we were all disappointed, we realized that the emphasis needed to be on what our children accomplished, not on a piece of paper. GWR sent the boys a nice letter acknowledging their efforts and commending them for sticking with it. As Daryl said, “We still have the world record, it's just not recognized by Guinness.”

C.U: What’s next for the family?

NSV: What next for us? John and I have the philosophy that we wanted to give our kids as many varied experiences as we could. They lived as expats until they were 7. They spent four years traveling on their bikes. We had given our sons some amazing life experiences, but what we hadn't given them was a home. We gave them the world; now it's time to give them a home.

Our hope now is to remain here in Boise until they move on to college. It's great to be part of a greater community and put down roots. The boys are involved with FIRST Robotics, which has been an incredible opportunity for them. They are also taking some AP math and science classes and an electronic class at the local tech center. It's all good.

CU: Thanks Nancy. It was a wonderful experience “observing” your family travel by bike in Changing Gears. It will be a book long remembered and highly recommended.

 

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