Real Life Connections: Family on Bikes

It’s one of those truisms of life that you don’t live it alone. The people you meet change you. Sometimes for worse but mostly for better. Sometimes in little ways, sometimes big. Sometimes they help keep you on the right path, sometimes they show you a new one. Some people you only meet briefly, others are with you for the whole journey. You get the idea, please don’t make me continue on the road to cheesedom.

Nancy Sathre-Vogel entertaining a cycling crowd

With that introduction, I’m finally getting started on one of the segments of Val in Real Life that I’ve had in the works but never got off the ground…obviously. This collection of posts will highlight people who have had an impact on how we do things here at Val in Real Life HQ so they will be appropriately filed under Real Life Connections. At least until I think of a better name.

Our inaugural feature is of the nothing-short-of-fabulous Vogel family of Family on Bikes fame. These four rode the entire stretch of the Pan-American Highway for nearly three years from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to Ushuaia, Argentina. If that isn’t all sorts of groovy I don’t know what is.

Now that they’ve completed their journey, they’re sharing their story…which is what brought them to Atlanta recently. They ventured out to Stone Mountain to give a talk to cyclists so of course I packed up the boys, a vat of extra-garlicky homemade hummus, and trekked out to the rock for the potluck and presentation. And yeah, I got to see what awesome looks like. That would be the Vogels.


People like the Vogels defy labels I suppose. In fact, I’m torn between calling them an ordinary family who accomplished something spectacular and calling them an extraordinary normal family. Either way they’re an impressive, incredibly likable, and very grounded family. They took on this challenge for the love of the adventure, not the notoriety. They also found they could inspire others. Call it the cherry on top.

All kinds of Groovy
Camp Granola crew with Nancy

Their presentation to the group was a real eye-opener to the struggles and triumphs of their journey. To hear the story from them in person was quite a treat. We were all engrossed and amazed. Aside from the story of the adventure itself, they highlighted the intangibles of such an epic experience. Their message is one of developing a larger worldview and embracing similarities across cultures.

Typically you find people in the Vogel’s position trumpeting the beauty of differences which is great. I certainly love different and the richness it gives all of us. But what made the Vogel’s perspective so unique was how they focused on the similarities of humanity not the collection of cultural traits that make us all different in a textbook sort of way. In other words, they hold a broader view beyond the details of differing languages, music, food, and geographic borders. Once you strip away those differences, what you’re left with is the core of what it means to be human and the compassion that results from understanding.

By embracing that basic human-ness, they opened themselves to being vulnerable. And while vulnerability is typically not a trait people generally pursue (quite the opposite), seeing people as simply people gave them the room to ask for help when they needed it. They were bound to need it on an undertaking such as theirs. Rather than wait for a friendship to grow before becoming vulnerable, they let their vulnerability be the gateway to friendship. It’s quite poetic don’t you think? In the end, that attitude gave them a priceless experience in which they were engaged on a very personal level with the people they met across so many lines on a map.

Why is this important to me?

I hope I’ve been able to articulate in a few paragraphs why their story is so compelling to me and why they are the first feature in this series. Not only was it very cool to meet the people who completed such an amazing feat, but that they took away from the experience more than just a sight-seeing tour is what sets them apart. That’s something I want for our family not only in our travels, but in our ordinary everyday lives.

I like to think I have a little Nancy on one shoulder reminding me to appreciate the people we meet in our daily routines and a little Nancy on the other reminding me to forge our own amazing adventures. Like she said, a three year biking adventure isn’t for everyone, but you can design your own paradigm shift and have an adventure of your own styling. The point is to take the plunge whatever way you can. Our particular Camp Granola adventures won’t look exactly like the Vogel’s but we can certainly use it as the bellwether for what is possible.

And now for your moment of green…

Shades of Green
Feeling green and groovy after meeting Family on Bikes.


  1. Wow – what an awesome write-up! I am very, very impressed that you were able to take all that away from my ramblings! I think you’ve summed up our experiences just about perfectly – how ’bout you come over to my blog and write for me? Seems as though you can say it better than I can…

    Thanks for the evening – and the hummus – it was great fun!

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