Photo: Dudarev Mikhail/Shutterstock

Member Spotlight: Not Your Average Summer Vacation

by Julie Schwietert Jun 3, 2008

Ahh… June. Time for the annual family vacation! The average experience of spending quality time with the family is generally equal parts fun and frustration.

But Matador member Nancy Sathre-Vogel is not planning an average family vacation. Nancy and her family will be hitting the road next week, traveling by the seat of their pants—literally. Nancy, her husband, and their twin sons are setting off on a bike trip that starts in Alaska and will end in Tierra del Fuego. We caught up with Nancy to ask her some questions about the trip.

Matador: Tell us a bit about your family– how old are your twins? How did the idea for the Alaska to Tierra del Fuego bike trip evolve?

Nancy: We are a family of four – Mom, Dad, and 10 year-old twin boys. This whole idea of biking to Tierra del Fuego sounds kinda…I dunno – out there? But for us, it’s really a natural progression.

My husband and I met on a year-long cycling trip around the Indian subcontinent back in 1990. We spent the year cycling through Pakistan, India, Western China, Nepal, and Bangladesh – wonderful, but intense cycling.

John and I continued touring every chance we got, and once we moved overseas to teach we took advantage of every school break to get out touring in various countries – Yemen, Mali, and Israel, among others.

Once our twins were born (while we were living in Ethiopia), we put our touring on hold for a while – but we always dreamed of taking off with them. That dream came to life in 2006 when John came home after a particularly hard day in the classroom and announced he wanted to get out of the rat race – he wanted to buy a bicycle built for three and take off. A few months later we did exactly that.

As we cycled Baja on that journey, we met a number of cyclists who were headed all the way to Argentina – and we wanted to badly to join them. But reality hit us in the face, and we realized we simply were not prepared for a journey through the Andes – our triple bike was great for a North American adventure, but it wasn’t the machine for a South American one. We put that dream on hold.

It didn’t remain in the holding tank for long though. A mere twelve months after arriving home from our last adventure, we’ll be taking off again – and we can’t wait!

Matador: What are some of the nitty-gritty details of your trip: how long do you anticipate the trip will take? Where will you stay along the way?

Nancy: We expect the journey will take approximately 2 ½ years, give or take a year or so, and we’ll most likely pedal somewhere in the vicinity of 20,000 miles.

Along the way, we will stay wherever we can. On our last journey we stayed in a dead gold miner’s house, in a cabana by a swimming pool, on the side of the interstate with cars whizzing past twenty feet from our heads, on the concrete porch under a café’s awning, and in many, many kind and generous people’s houses.

We expect more of the same on our upcoming journey. We are totally set up for self-contained camping, so can camp pretty much wherever we need to.

As for food, we will mostly shop in grocery stores and cook on our little camp stove. Restaurants are reserved for a treat – they are too expensive to frequent on a regular basis.

Matador: What do you hope your kids get out of this trip? How are you handling schooling along the way?

Nancy: We hope our kids learn that they are not limited by anything and that they can do anything they set their minds to. Yes, they will also learn the “3 R’s of Education,” but those will take a back burner to learning about life.

We will take advantage of each and every educational opportunity we find – whether it be national/state parks, historical sites, or daily life in small villages. We’ll seek out experts who can help us learn all kinds of things – from sea turtles laying eggs on beaches to ancient Aztec ruins.

Our boys will write regular journal entries to record their thoughts, which will help them with their writing. They will read all kinds of stuff – novels and informational signs and more. We will also carry with us some small math workbooks for the kids to work through.

Matador: Tell us a bit about your gear: your bikes, accessories, what you plan to carry with you.

Nancy: Our basic setup will include a tandem bike and two singles. John will captain the tandem, while I’ll be on one single. The boys will switch between the rear seat of tandem and the other single bike.

We’ll have two trailers – one behind the tandem and I’ll pull one. Strapped, lashed, or otherwise attached to the three bikes will be all kinds of stuff – our tent, sleeping bags, stove, cooking pot, rain jackets, clothes, laptop computer, and beads. (Yes – I did say beads. I figure a certain amount of beads is an indispensable item!)

Matador: What do your boys think about the trip?

Nancy: For the boys, this journey just…is. It’s not anything spectacular or unusual. They don’t understand all the hype around it at all. For them, it’s basically no different that taking an afternoon trip to the zoo.

Along the way, we will be volunteering our time with and raising funds for Reach the World ( – a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing the world to under-privileged kids in inner city schools. As we pedal southward, we will be posting what we’re seeing and learning on the internet, and the students will follow along with us. In essence, our journey will become their curriculum. We’re thrilled to be helping kids learn about the world!

To keep up with Nancy’s adventures on the road, check out the family’s website:

What’s your craziest family vacation? Would you ever consider a long distance bike trip? Share your experiences in the comments section below!

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