In March 2008 John and Nancy Vogel quit their teaching jobs, took their twin boys Daryl and Davy – both 11 years old at the time – out of school and rented out their large suburban home in Boise, Idaho. They crammed all their worldly possessions on to two single bikes and a tandem and set off to cycle the Pan-American highway, which runs from the oil fields of north Alaska right down to the tip of Argentina.
Three years later in March 2011, they reached Ushuaia, the end of the South American continent. They had covered 17.000 miles, turning Daryl and Davy into the youngest people to accomplish the Homeric voyage from Alaska to Argentina by bicycle (and a mention in the Guinness Book of World Records).
The kids say they absolutely loved the trip and would do it all over again for sure. But It wasn’t always that way. A year before their journey, the Vogels did a smaller warm-up cycling trip of about 9,000 miles around Mexico and the US. Ten days after setting off, Davy declared he had had enough and wanted to go home. “John and I started panicking,” says Nancy. “Our greatest fear was that our kids wouldn’t like it. We’d quit our jobs and bought this outrageously expensive bike, but we knew there was no way we could ride around America if the kids were miserable.”
So Nancy took Davy aside and told him that if he could just hold on until they got to southern California, she would take him to Disneyland. “He turned to me with a great big grin and said he’d carry on,” she says. “Of course, he had no idea that it was thousands of miles away, but I was convinced if we could get through the desert and to the coast he would start to enjoy the cycling for what it was.”
It was a similarly shaky start this time, when the Vogels set off from Alaska. To qualify for the Guinness world record, they had to start their journey on the bleak Dalton highway. “It’s incredibly isolated – 500 miles of nothingness – and has long been known as one of the most difficult cycle routes in the country.”
In the event, Nancy underestimated how much food they would need to get them through it, as the boys were eating three times as much as she had accounted for. By the time they were halfway along, there was nothing left. The Vogels were saved by a group of rather more knowing motorcyclists, who gave them some freeze-dried food. “Had that not happened,” says Nancy, “I really have no idea what we would have done.”
In the early days of the trip, Nancy says she used to cycle along worrying about where they were going to sleep that night, but now, two years in, she has learned that there is always somewhere. “You name it, we’ve slept there,” she says. “We’ve slept in a dead gold miner’s house, on the interstate corridor 20ft from traffic whizzing past at 80mph, in a cabana by a swimming pool, under the Alaskan pipeline, and many times in the houses of incredibly kind, generous people we have met along the way.”
Typically, Nancy says, they cover about 50 to 80km a day, but that drops to 30 to 60km if they are at altitude. They also try to have roughly 12 to 15 days off every month. The highest they have been is 4,528m in southern Peru and the furthest they have travelled in one day is a whopping 143km.
The Vogels managed to survive on a budget of about $50 (£32) a day. About 50 to 60% of their costs are covered by the rent from their Idaho home, with the rest being covered by money from website donations, sponsorship and articles written by Nancy. If there is any shortfall after that, then the Vogels dip into their retirement fund. “We felt for us to have this time with the kids now is worth it, even if we do have to work a few extra years later on in life. The idea that we are abusing our sons by forcing them on this journey is ludicrous. I am convinced they are the luckiest boys on earth.”
The twins have been taught by their parents all the way – John teaches them science and maths, Nancy, English and art. “It’s going to be hard going back,” says Nancy, “because they now have such different priorities in life and they are way, way ahead of their peer group in terms of education. They are not going to be able to just slot back in.” But that may not be an issue. “We’ve been thinking about doing another trip, maybe six or seven months after we get back – cycling round the entire world,” says John. “The boys are more enthusiastic than I am.”
Nancy has extensively documented their trip in the book ‘Changing Gears, a Family Odyssey to the End of the World’. It is an amazing read especially if you have ever thought about traveling with your family….
Who said you can’t travel with kids?!!