Friday, October 18, 2013

Changing Gears: A Family Odyssey to the End of the World - Book Review

Raise your hand in the air if you've ever dreamed of heading out on the open road, selling your house and possessions, and taking off on a wild adventure across North and South America?  Maybe you even dream of going further yet to travel across Asia, Africa, or Europe.  We all have the dream.  Most of us anyway.  But, how many of us have the courage to actually follow through on the dream?  To actually sell or lease out our house, to box up our belongings we've bought with our hard earned money - or to even sell them!? It's easy to dream.  Harder to realize these dreams.  Even harder with kids in tow.  Add bikes to the big adventure and a journey that's entirely pedal powered.  Now, we're talking crazy.  Right?

Riding through the Arctic Tundra

Or not.  At least to the Vogel family it wasn't.  This Idaho family of four dared to ask themselves the question, "What would you do if you were not afraid?" The answer to this question resulted in a three year cycling road trip from the north edge of Alaska to the southernmost tip of Argentina at Land's End - with two children who were but ten years old when the adventure began.  Changing Gears is a story of great courage, determination, and family teamwork.  From broken or stolen bikes to sickness, injury, torrential rain, gale forced head winds, frozen feet, and even an incident with a large black bear chasing one of  the boys,  the book is full of adventure from cover to cover.   Author Nancy Sathre-Vogel had me hooked from page one where she jumps right in with the Alaskan bear story.  And at that moment, I confess - I looked up from my book and said, "this family's crazy!"

Heading into the Southern Hemisphere

As it would tour out, a lot of people accused the Vogel family of being crazy.  Chapter one addresses the subject and is aptly titled "Crazy is not necessarily a bad thing," after a student in Nancy's class said:
"I call you my crazy teacher...Because nobody actually does what you're doing!  People talk about riding a bike around the world, but nobody actually does it!"
The Vogels took their fair share of criticism from other parents as well.  After all, they removed their two boys from traditional education for three years to teach them in the great school of life from the road instead.  Always a controversial subject!  Some even accused them of child abuse because clearly two pre-teen boys would prefer to be at home playing video games and soccer with their friends instead of chasing their parents' dreams around the world, right?  To that, I'd just have to say that these critics haven't read the book yet.  I suspect Nancy and her husband may have been tempted to throw in the towel many times if their boys hadn't have kept pushing to finish the journey and succeed in their quest for a world record. 

Reaching the end of the world, Argentina

I'm merely a novice cyclist but I found Changing Gears to be incredibly powerful and inspiring.  It reaches far beyond a road biking adventure to an epic journey with power to motivate and challenge us out of our comfort zones.  In the final chapter Nancy responds to the question, "How did our journey change us?"  She explains:
"The hardest part of the journey was in making the decision.  Committing yourself to a big goal - whatever the goal is - is difficult.  It will consume every moment of your life for years but, if your "why" is big enough, you'll make it happen."
So, my challenge to you, my readers, is this - first, go out and grab a copy of Nancy's book.  Be inspired, soak it in, and read about what it means to really pursue your dreams with all your heart, mind, and soul.  Second, identify what your dreams are as a family or even as an individual.  Your dreams might not involve cycling around the world with your children.  Maybe it's much more simple.  Maybe you just want to travel somewhere as a family, anywhere.  Maybe you want to introduce your children to a new family sport or activity from climbing to backpacking or skiing.  Maybe there's a trip you did back in the day that you'd absolutely LOVE to do again - with the kids this time.  We all have dreams.  What are yours?  And what's stopping you from realizing them?

First step though, pick up a copy of Nancy's book and be inspired.  Then take it from there.  

Changing Gears is available in both paperback or Kindle edition on and

To follow Nancy on her blog, go to Family on Bikes 



  1. Love it... now I want to read the book and come up with a plan for an adventure!!

  2. Tanya, I must read this book--it sounds great from your review, and you really capture the essence of their adventure! My husband and I sold our house, my car, and a lot of our possessions to hike the Pacific Crest Trail (and prior to that had rented out our house to bike across the country on our tandem), but the Vogels took on an even more inspiring journey with two kids. Thanks for letting us know about it.

    1. Thanks Gail. The book was inspirational for me. Can't wait to read yours.