Book Review – Changing Gears: A Family Odyssey to the End of the World by Nancy Sathre-Vogel
When I first heard of the Vogel Family’s epic journey, a bicycle trip from Alaska to Argentina, I was amazed and told my family about it during dinner that evening. It’s still hard for me to wrap my mind around how a family could set a goal like that and stay motivated through all the challenges over a 3-year period. So when the author, Nancy Sathre-Vogel, asked for volunteers in the travel blogging community to review her book, I jumped at the chance. Not only did I want to help out a fellow author, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the book! And although their trip was not confined to the 50 States, I feel that the life lessons that they learned are most certainly relevant to my readers and am happy to spread the word and recommend this book.
I was hooked from the Prologue. The tale of Nancy’s 10-year-old son being chased by a 400-pound black bear got my heart pumping and I couldn’t put the book down. From there, Nancy goes on to tell how she thought her husband was crazy when he first told her they should quit their jobs and take off on their bikes, but how his idea forced her think critically about their lives.
“I woke up early and dropped the kids off at before-school daycare before spending all day with other people’s kids. After school I picked up my sons, fixed a quick dinner, took them to soccer practice, washed the dishes, threw the clothes in the washing machine, and collapsed into bed exhausted. I never questioned that because…well, I was a parent, and that was what parents did. And I thought he was the crazy one?”
And so, they decided that instead of running the rat race during the boys’ fifth, sixth, and seventh grade years, they would spend the time together as a family, cycling from Alaska to Argentina, with the boys attempting to break the Guinness World Record for the youngest people to bicycle this route. As someone who tries to be very proactive in my parenting and willing to challenge the status quo, I think this is awesome. I don’t think I could do it myself, but I applaud the Vogel family.
Before reading Changing Gears, I had many questions. Where did they sleep and find food and water? What did they do if someone got sick? What did they do in bad weather? How did they handle motor vehicle traffic? What did they do if the bikes broke? Nancy answered these questions throughout the book.
One of my favorite things about the book is the stories of all the “Road Angels” they met who helped them out just when they needed it most. As someone who has personally encountered a few Travel Angels in my travels (I can’t call them Road Angels because I met mine on a train and a plane), it was comforting to read that these strangers sent from above have been placed all over the world. In the Vogel Family’s journey, the Road Angels provided food, beverages, water filters, lodging, and more.
In Changing Gears, Nancy skillfully weaves together the tales of her family’s odyssey with the life lessons they learned along the way. She provides perspective on risk, success, and failure. She writes about how the boys rose to meet the challenges before them, and how they learned to function, then thrive in foreign cultures. Nancy and her husband watched their sons develop their own impressions of foreign cultures, rather than accept what they had heard in the media. She contemplates how society would change if everyone made their family a higher priority, what “home” really means, and how to appreciate the simple things in life, not taking anything for granted. Readers observe the twins maturing from boys to young men throughout the book. You will be inspired by the Vogel Family’s accounts of possibilities that opened up just because they asked questions, and how they used failure as a learning opportunity.
I loved reading about the outdoor adventures. The book is a terrific testimonial for the Leave No Child Inside campaign. The Vogel boys discovered Mother Nature’s playgrounds on two continents–the played creatively with sticks, jumped from rocks, soaked in hot springs, encountered wildlife, and discovered natural water slides. I also loved reading about the cultural treasures they experienced: festivals, parade, holidays, and local cuisine. Some traditions were very different from their American upbringing and others they discovered to be universal. I love that a school in Peru allowed the boys to attend school for a few weeks for the mutual benefit of both the Vogel boys and the Peruvian students.
The photo section is simply amazing. You will want to travel to these places too when you see the pictures.
Nancy also provides a glimpse into her questions and doubts. Her transparency is refreshing. She and her husband received plenty of criticism from people who accused them of taking away their sons’ childhood. After reading the book, I find the accusations ridiculous. The opportunities their boys had were rare and precious. But I appreciate that Nancy asked herself whether she had made the right decisions. In my experience (I was involved with leading moms’ groups for more than a decade), the parents I admire most are the ones who frequently ask themselves if they are doing the right thing and are willing to make changes. One of my favorite paragraphs in the book deals with making choices.
“I realized that every time we made the choice to do something, we made a parallel choice not to do something else. It was all about weighing the options and figuring out which option had the most benefits.”
I will add my own thought to that. Many people assume that continuing with the status quo is the least risky option, but that’s just not true. Sometimes there’s more risk in sticking with the status quo than making a radical change in your life.
Changing Gears will inspire, encourage, and challenge you. Please consider buying a copy or recommending that your local library purchase a copy.
Buy from Amazon.
Disclosure: This post contains a link to Amazon, an affiliate.