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Who´s Out There Now: Family on Bikes

Written By: jeff

Posted On: August 10th, 2010

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Family on Bikes Getting Started in Alaska on the Dalton Highway, USA. Copyright

In this week´s ¨Who´s Out There Now¨ feature, we bring to you John, Nancy, Daryl and Davy, or as they are more popularly known, the Family On Bikes.  Many of us traveling the world like to think that our journeys are epic and inspirational. But, in the case of the Vogel family, it really is. You probably already know that they are biking from Alaska to Argentina. So, I wanted to try and get out of them some of the lesser known details about their trip.

1.  So, where in the world are you answering these questions?

We are in La Paz, Bolivia right now.  We intended to stay here for about ten days to rest up and get ready for a tough journey through Bolivia, but found a great German-trained dentist here so decided to have some dental work done.

2.  It is winter in Bolivia and it gets really cold there. How are you handling the journey during the winter months?

Very coldly!  This is the coldest winter on record in this part of the world – which was not planned for!  Thankfully, the massive cold spell hit while we’ve been here in La Paz and have had a house to stay in rather than when we were out cycling the altiplano and camping out.  We’re hoping this passes before we move on…  That being said, it was cold as we approached La Paz and it will be cold when we leave here.  Our coldest night so far was in southern Peru when it got down to around 7 or 8 degrees F. We have warm sleeping bags so are OK.  It’s not pleasant being confined to the sleeping bags from 6 in the evening until 7 in the morning, but we deal with it!  Fortunately, it always warms up during the days, so the pedaling itself isn’t a problem.

3.  At the end of July, you wrote a retrospective piece thinking back to where you started over years ago and where you are now.  Now that you are about 3/4 of the way through the trip, how has your perspective changed on the challenge on actually finishing and arriving to Ushuaia?

I actually think we’ll make it now!  I will admit that, when we left, I figured the chances of us actually reaching Tierra del Fuego were pretty slim.  Now, with only about 7000 km left, I am fairly confident that we’ll make it.  The amazing thing is that I look back on the journey and realize it hasn’t been nearly as tough as I thought it would be.  We take it very slowly, which helps tremendously.  Even those massive climbs aren’t so bad in retrospect!

4.  What have the boys taught you about travel during the journey?

I think a better question is what haven’t they taught me??  I have learned so much from them – kids make the best travelers!  The most important thing I’ve learned from them is to not cry about things that you have no control over – it won’t change anything. When we were in northern Peru, we went through a very tough period.  I felt like Peru was beating me down – kicking me and spitting on me and leaving me for dead.  I was down, down, down – ready-to-throw-in-the-towel down.  One day I was walking the streets of Trujillo with the boys and complaining about everything.  Daryl said, “Why bother complaining, Mom?  You won’t change anything.  All you can do is keep going and it’ll get better eventually.”  Such wisdom from a 12-year-old.

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Navigating the High Altitude of the Andes in Colombia. Copyright

5.  I´ve personally driven through the mountains of Colombia and I can attest to the wide swings in altitude, the narrowness of the roads, the switchbacks, and the swings in weather from sunshine to downpours as you ascend and descend. It´s a pain driving it. How did you ever manage on bikes?

It’s not nearly as bad on bikes as in a car!! I remember years ago when we were cycling the California coast…  Just north of the Redwoods my mother got very ill and I had to return to Boise to care for her.  I took a bus to Eureka to rent a car, then drove back north to where John and the boys had everything packed up for me so I could drive home.  I remember driving that road through the Redwoods – a very narrow, twisty, windy road – and thinking, “My husband and sons will be biking this tomorrow!!!  YIKES!”  But they all reported that it wasn’t bad at all.  Drivers knew it was twisty and windy, so they drove cautiously and gave cyclists a wide berth.  That’s how it was in Colombia.  The drivers knew the road was narrow and were on the lookout for obstacles.  It wasn’t bad.

What was tough were the climbs.  We learned quickly that a 7000-foot vertical climb is nothing there!  After spending so much time in southern USA, Mexico, and Central America where the highest we climbed was about 2000 feet, we were not used to climbing!  It took a while to get our climbing legs back.

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Biking Through the Peruvian Desert. Copyright FamilyOnBikes.Org

6.  What´s your preferred terrain to bike in? Your least preferred?

That’s a hard question.  I guess I have to say I like a variety.  After passing through the mountains in Colombia and Ecuador, I was THRILLED to reach the desert!!  But then, after 1500 miles of flat, barren, coastal desert in Peru, I couldn’t wait to climb up into the Andes again.  What I can say with certainty, however, is that I don’t like riding in a cold rain!

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Chased by a Bear in British Columbia, Canada. Copyright FamilyOnBikes.Org

7.  What was your first ¨We´re not in Kansas anymore¨ moment?

Probably up in northern British Columbia.  As soon as we passed the sign announcing we had entered British Columbia, we started seeing wild bison by the side of the road – I didn’t even know wild bison still existed!  Within about a 40 mile stretch, we saw dozens of bison, a bunch of big horn sheep, caribou, and quite a few bears.  We were even chased by one of the bears. It was an interesting experience to realize that we were just another part of the food chain out there.

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Entering Honduras. Copyright

8.  What´s been your most ¨local¨ experience so far?

Probably when we visited my Peace Corps family in Honduras.  I hadn’t seen them for 22 years, so was soooo excited to be back!  We stayed for three weeks and it was magical.  The boys got to attend classes at the school I had worked at as a volunteer, and we were accepted into the family immediately.  It was so much fun to just be part of that great big extended family – going to birthday parties, outings to the beach, etc…  It was great for the boys to have that experience of being ‘one of the gang’.

9.  What has been your most embarrassing moment?

Oh gads – do I really have to remember this?  When we crossed into Mexico, someone had arranged a huge media blitz, but hadn’t told us.  So we rounded the corner of the plaza and came face to face with major paparazzi!!  Seriously – there must have been at least fifty cameras there.  As I was the only one in the family who spoke Spanish, the honors were mine!

The problem was that I hadn’t spoken Spanish for years and didn’t have a very extensive vocabulary.  I did OK for most of the questions, but then came one…  The cameras were rolling…

“Excuse me,” I said, “Would you repeat that?”

“Bladda, bladda, bladda….”

“I don’t understand.  What does that mean?”

“Bladda, bladda, bladda….”

“I’m sorry.  What is it again?”

Remember, the cameras were rolling.

“Bladda, bladda, bladda….”

Finally, some woman asked it in terms I understood, “What advice would you give for other parents who might want to do a journey like yours?”

I was able to answer the question and move on – but gads!  Having to ask over and over and over again with the cameras rolling is not a pleasant experience.

10. What´s your secret for getting the most out of your journey, especially given the duration of it?

I will admit there are times when we don’t.  Sometimes, we pass through areas and don’t even bother going to see the “tourist sites”.  That being said, we see so much of the local culture in our normal days, we have no need to see most of those sites!  On a journey like ours, you really don’t even have to work to get the most out of it.  Every day we are out there in the middle of everything and we see it all without even trying.  As we cycled through Bolivia, I kept seeing people stomping on potatoes with bare feet – and my curiosity was aroused.  As soon as I could, I asked someone what they were doing.  If we had passed by in a bus, I don’t think I would have even seen it!

I think the trick is to simply keep your sense of curiosity engaged and you’ll learn automatically.

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Crossing the Equator in Ecuador. Copyright

11.  How many kilometers do you cover in an average day? Or, what would you consider a good day and a slow day?

What’s an “average day”? There ain’t no such thing!

I would say we “typically” ride 30 – 45 miles if conditions are good – relatively flat road, no headwind, etc…  We try really hard to keep daily mileage below 50 miles.  There have been times, however, when the next hotel was 60 miles away and we really wanted to make it so we pushed on. It really depends on the terrain and wind – we’ve had days we were really pleased with 8 miles!

12.  So, will you be biking ¨the world´s most dangerous road¨ in Bolivia? Any qualms about it at this point?

We haven’t decided yet if we will ride it.  We have some friends (another cycling family) who really want to cycle the Death Road, so we may join them.  If the timing doesn’t work out, I suspect we will skip it – we’ve done so many massive descents it isn’t all that important to us.  What’s the difference between a 14,000-foot descent (on the Death Road) and a 10,000-foot descent (we’ve done many!)?

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Riding Alongside the Wild Bison in British Columbia, Canada. Copyright

13.  Finally, our lightening round.

  • Best dish you´ve found so far – Daryl likes lomo saltada (Peru) and carne asada (Mexico & Central America).  Davy loved the refried beans and tortillas in Mexico
  • Most exotic food eaten – Daryl wants to try cuy (guinea pig).  I think it looks like a rat.
  • Most breathtaking moment – riding alongside a massive bison as he thundered along the side of the road.  With each stride, he sent up little clouds of dust with his hooves and we pedaled faster and faster to try and keep up but, in the end, he outran us.
  • Biggest disappointment – Costa Rica.  So many people go there and rave about it, but we found it overrun by tourists.
  • Most memorable place – the Arctic tundra.  So different from anything else I had experienced. (
  • Most memorable person –I met a woman who lived beneath an active volcano in Ecuador. The volcano had been erupting for 11 years, and her house was right in its line of fire.  At one point, they woke up to find a football-size rock in their living room and a big hole in their roof.  She taught me a lot about life.
  • Best thing to have on a long bike ride – Comfortable saddle and clothes!
  • Worst thing to have on a long bike ride – A saddle that hurts your bum
  • Best thing you packed – A few toys for the kids.  We don’t have many, and the kids don’t play with them very often, but they sure are important to them!
  • Dumbest thing you packed – My husband would say it’s the box of beads I have stashed in my trailer, but I think he’s wrong!
  • Funniest travel habit your family has – We don’t do anything funny!  (But we’ve taken to pouring water into the boys’ ears if they don’t get up in the morning…)
  • Place you wish you could´ve stayed longer – Too many to list.  We were taken by surprise by Belize – wonderful place!  Panama was also a surprise – the part between the canal and Costa Rica was delightful.

You can follow the Vogels online at, Facebook or on Twitter @familyonbikes

Every week, Career Break Secrets profiles a different traveler or traveling couple who are embracing the ¨Because Life Is Out There TM¨ travel spirit.  These are people who have taken the plunge to embark on a career break and are currently traveling the world.

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2 Responses to “Who´s Out There Now: Family on Bikes”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jeff Jung, Jeff Jung. Jeff Jung said: Who's Out There Now? Family on Bikes. Read about this amazing family of 4 riding from Alaska to Argentina… [...]

  2. Erin says:

    Wow! What an inspirational family. I can’t imagine the strength (physical and mental) it takes to do a journey like that. Thanks for sharing.

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