The 17,000 Mile Bike Ride On The Longest Highway In the World With Ten Year Old Kids

Vogel 3 year family cycling trip:

When was the last time you did something that scared you? Something that was entirely out of your comfort zone? I’m not talking about painting the walls in your bedroom hot pink or eating at that dicey Mexican joint down the street with questionable meat. I’m talking about doing something of epic proportions- life-changing!

Meet The Vogels

The Vogel Family: They cycled 17,300 miles along the Pan America Highway with 2 ten year old boys

In June of 2008, Nancy and John Vogel, two school teachers from Idaho, set out on a journey with their ten-year-old twin boys, Daryl and Davy, to be the first family to cycle the Pan American highway. (The longest road in the world which goes from Alaska to the very tip of South America)

For three years, the Vogel’s pedalled 12 to 15 days a month, 4 to 6 hours a day using nothing but their bikes and pure leg and feet power the entire 27,300-mile journey that would take them through a total of 15 different countries.

This is the Pan American Hwy from tip to tip
This is the Pan American Hwy from tip to tip.

Along the way, they did and saw some fantastic things.

The tandem bike for two

  • -They cycled through torrential rains.
  • -They got chased by a big ass bears.
  • -They endured food poising and soiled pants en route.
  • -They broke language and culture barriers.
  • -They had near misses with traffic, countless scrapes and bike repairs.
  • -They slept anywhere and everywhere along the way: in hostels, camped in tents by the side of roads, behind restaurants, in peoples yards, on the beach and even stayed with people they met along the way.

They had a true-life family adventure that tested them both physically and emotionally.

They Must Be Crazy!

The Vogel Family is a down to earth normal family

When I first heard of the Vogel’s back in 2011, I thought they were crazy to drag two ten years old kids on such a long and physically challenging bike trip.

The more I read about the Vogel’s, the more I realized they weren’t crazy at all. Although I did not know them personally, their life resonated with me very deeply. 

They Led A Pretty Normal Life

They worked hard as school teachers for years saving money for retirement like everyone else.

Every day before heading off to teach other peoples children, they dropped their own two sons off at daycare.

They chauffeured their kids to and from after school sports and activities. They cooked dinner, pinched their pennies and pretty much lived like the average family would.

The one defining difference that separates the Vogel’s from most is that they decided to take the road less travelled and acted on their seemingly impossible dream despite their fears, despite the naysayers,  despite going against the grain of what society considered “NORMAL.”

If going against the grain makes them crazy, then I want to be insane too. 

How Did They Pay For The Trip? They Must Be Rich.

I know what you are thinking. They quit their jobs to cycle for three years. They must be loaded and rolling in dough.

NOPE!  Nancy and her husband John, are long-time school teachers. I don’t know a lot of rich school teachers, do you?  They aren’t t trust fund babies either.

They Did It The Old Fashioned Way.

Their trip was possible using a combination of years of savings and rental income. You can read in more detail about how they made it financially happen by reading this article, Nancy wrote called “How To Afford Long Term Family Travel.

They also kept their monthly spending relatively low during their three-year journey. Their average monthly spending was about 1,500 USD per month.

How Much Gear Did They Carry?

family on bikes

The Vogels had a total of 3 bikes between the four of them. Nancy and Davy rode single bikes while John rode a tandem bike with their other son Daryl.

They filled each bag with clothing and other items that they needed for all four seasons, including sleeping bags and winter jackets for when the temperatures dropped below zero.

They also carried a small stove and pot for cooking and occasionally had to carry a few days’ worth of food for the longer hauls when they would be out in areas where there were no other humans.

School For The Boys

To keep the kids on par with their peers, Nancy and John road-schooled their kids. Road schooling is a term used to describe children who are home-schooled while travelling long term.

The boys each did mathematics, wrote journal entries, essays and researched the areas they passed through. If they had the time, they also did earth sciences.

Where Are They Now?

Vogel Family: Family on bikes reach the end-of-the-world

The Vogel’s completed their 17,300-mile journey on March 21st, 2011, when they arrived in Ushuaia in Argentina, often regarded as the southernmost city in the world (pictured above).

They are now back in Idaho, where they are enjoying a different type of adventure that is until they decide to go on another adventure.

What Would You Do If You Were Not Afraid?

Changing-Gears-a-family-family cycling trip

If you are interested in learning more about this family’s incredible journey from Alaska to Argentina, you can read their book called “Changing Gears: A Family Odyssey to the End of the World” written by Nancy. The book chronicles her family’s adventure from start to finish. 

I guarantee by the end of the book, you’ll be inspired, humbled and in awe of what they did. So much so that you might go out and do something that scares you.

All photos used are the property of the Vogel family.

Photo of Annie André:

Annie André

About the author 

I'm Annie André, a bilingual North American with Thai and French Canadian roots. I've lived in France since 2011. When I'm not eating cheese, drinking wine or hanging out with my husband and children, I write articles on my personal blog for intellectually curious people interested in all things France: Life in France, travel to France, French culture, French language, travel and more.

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  1. WOW. What a story. They are so strong. They had the will to take it till the and. This is so inspiring. Thank you for sharing this motivating story.

  2. Quite an amazing adventure. It takes courage to embark on that trip and bringing the kids along! Good thing they are both teachers so they can homeschool (err…roadschool?) their kids.

    1. I agree. what an amazing journey they did. I definitely think being teachers made homeschooling easier but I know many many people who homeschool who are NOT teachers.

  3. That would be an extremely memorable experience. They probably forgot more places than most people can remember places.

    I have to give props out to fellow school teachers. Way to go! It just shows that you don’t need a lot of money to do things like this.

    Anyway, I’ve been thinking about buying a bike recently…so now that I’ve read this I think I’ll go out and get one. Maybe that will lead me to an adventure too. :)

  4. So Annie, you asked what I’ve done that got me totally outside my comfort zone. You know, besides eating something spicy which I do NOT like at all. So my answer is absolutely nothing. I can’t compare to what the Vogel’s did.

    I love to ride bikes but I wouldn’t enjoy the weather. I can camp out on an occasion but I don’t enjoy it. I can’t stand to go more then 2 days without a bath or washing my hair and I hate to be cold. Hate, hate, hate it.

    No one would ever want to take me on a trip like that. I think it would be a cool adventure but only if I had some bed to lay down in every night and we wouldn’t travel during bad weather.

    Guess that’s not much of an adventure then is it!


    1. Adirienne,
      I see your point about not camping for more than a couple of days. What the Vogels did is not for everyone. But we all have things that scare us that are out of our comfort zone. Weren’t you scared when you started your online business and it was all new, wasn’t that scary? That’s an adventure in and of itself.. Non? :)

      1. I wasn’t really scared when I started this because I was so ready for a change. I did get more scared as time went by and nothing was happening because I was so lost and confused still. Then I was so excited to start learning more about me then anything so it’s been more of a challenge then me being scared of doing something new.

        Make sense!

  5. Interesting indeed!

    Gosh! They surely seem like daredevils to have traveled so much – 4 years! And I like the way they were cycling away, which isn’t easy on such a terrain! Hats-off to their spirit, and yes, being school teachers means the funds aren’t all that much, yet they saved up and used it up here. Amazing!

    Thanks for sharing. :)

    1. Harleena,
      they definitely are an inspiration to people out their that you can do almost anything you put your mind to.

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