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

by Dr. Jessie Voigts /
Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture
Oct 02, 2013 / 0 comments

What if you could truly explore the world? Or go from the top of the world all the way down to the bottom - on your own power? Can you even imagine it? Can you imagine what you'd see, learn, experience? One family did just that! We've shared the bike journeys of Nancy Sathre-Vogel and her family (Family on Bikes) before - their journey across North America, the book she wrote about it, and a podcast that Hannah Miller, one of our students, did with her.

Nancy has a new book out, called Changing Gears: A Family Odyssey to the End of the World. It details their journey from WAY up north (Prudhoe Bay, Alaska) to WAY down south (Ushuaia, Argentina). The journey took three years! When I was reading Changing Gears, I could NOT put it down. I kept imagining their journey as an action-packed movie, because it had SO MANY cliffhangers & tension points - in the forms of storms, wind, lack of water, injuries, broken parts, etc. It was a thrilling read - all the more so because Nancy not only talks about the details of the journey, but also of the places they go, the people they meet, and the incredible landscapes they traverse. We learn that road angels help in the worst of times (leaving water, offering shelter or safety), that ice cream is NOT always available - but you can usually find a pizza within a 20 mile bike ride, and that journeys bring family closer - it's the bonds forged through experience. This book? It's about living a life of curiosity and learning, of hard work, of dreams and goals, of success in many forms. I LOVED it.


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


I had the chance to ask Nancy about worldschooling, learning on this incredible journey, intercultural moments, fitting back in once home, and more. Here's what she had to say...


What were some of the most tangible (and intangible) things you and your family learned on this journey?

We learned so much! We learned that we really don't need much to survive and thrive. We learned that people are generally good and that the world isn't a scary place. We learned that we are capable of more than we thought we were and that all it takes to do something extraordinary is to start walking, then keep putting one foot in front of the other.


Family on Bikes

Day 3 of our journey! We were still in the Arctic tundra in the land of 24-hour sunshine and too far north for trees to grow. Although we had beautiful sunny days, there was still ice on the lakes.


Worldschooling is an incredible concept, one that you put into practice. What were you most surprised by what your boys learned on the road?

I was surprised at how easy it was for them to learn. It seemed like, as we passed through an area, the collective knowledge and wisdom from the people went into our sons' brains through osmosis. We didn't actually "teach" them that stuff, but they just knew it. I still can't explain how that happened.


Family on Bikes at the equator

At the equator


Family on Bikes- Market Day, South America

Market Day, South America


What were their favorite intercultural moments?

This is a funny question. For my sons, they didn't even realize that there were intercultural moments! To them, all those kids were just other kids to play with. They didn't care what language they spoke or what clothes they wore - Davy and Daryl just saw another kid behind all that.

For ME - my favorite moment watching my kids was the time we were staying with dirt-poor migrant workers in Mexico. My boys spent the evening playing with the local kids with their one toy truck. The whole crew was crawling around in the dirt-floor hut having a blast! I was so very glad that my sons didn't care that those other kids didn't have much money - playing with a toy truck was fun for them all.


Family on Bikes - visiting an indigenous family, South America

visiting an indigenous family, South America


How has fitting back into one culture been for them, after experiencing so many different cultures and places?

The hardest part for them was being foreigners in their own land. Although they speak English fluently, there were many words that they didn't know - and yet everyone assumed they did. After their first day back at school, they came home and Davy said, "Mommy, what's a binder? My teacher says I need a binder." It was such a simple thing, but he had no idea. A binder could have been an article of clothing, something to eat, or decoration to hang on the wall.

As time passes (we came back home two years ago) they are finding fewer and fewer things that trip them up.


Family on Bikes - climbing temple at Lamanai Mayan Ruins

Climbing a temple at Lamanai Mayan Ruins


If someone wanted to explore the world and learn on the way, what tips would you have for them?

Stop and smell the flowers!! Some of our most memorable memories are of unexpected treasures that we didn't know existed. While traveling in the USA, we always stopped to read the historical markers - which were wonderful!  When you arrive into a town, ask people what there is of interest in the area, and there is usually always some sort of natural or historical site nearby.


Family on Bikes - Columbia Icefield on the Icefields Parkway

Columbia Icefield on the Icefields Parkway


Family on Bikes -  Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Canyon de Chelly National Monument. The boys worked on their junior ranger program while leaning against a traditional Navajo hogan 


Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?

Just go. Dream big, and then make it happen. While a certain amount of planning is good, you simply won't be able to have it all planned out - start walking and figure it out when you get there. The magic is in the doing.


Family on Bikes - in Ushuaia, Argentina!

WE MADE IT!!!! There are no words to describe that moment. We did it - after nearly 3 years and 17,300 miles through 15 countries. We did it! 






I highly recommend Changing Gears to our Wandering Educators. It's an extraordinary memoir, filled with intercultural learning and diverse cultures and landscapes. Beware: you should schedule your day when you get it - you won't be able to get anything done, as you won't want to put it down. I love these kind of books.


You can find Nancy's book, Changing Gears, here.




Note: We received a review copy of Changing Gears from Family on Bikes - thank you!






A family bikes the Pan American Highway - for 3 years!

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