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June 19, 2011

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Our sons have LIVED the world

JOHN and Nancy Vogel quit their teaching jobs, rented out their house and completed the school drop out procedures for their twin sons so the family could travel from Alaska to the southern tip of Argentina. On June 10, 2008, the Vogels started out on a 30,000-kilometer adventure that lasted around three years.

The American family had to deal with food, bad weather, lack of energy at times and mental fatigue along the way. Yet, Nancy said the most annoying thing was being criticized for pulling Daryl and Davy, then age 10, out of school. Nancy's response to the criticism was summed up neatly with one word: "Hogwash!" The parents believe the boys have learned many valuable lessons on the road. The twins know they can do anything if they put their mind to it.

After nearly three years, their dream finally came true. The Vogels reached Ushuaia, the southernmost town in the world in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, on March 21. Upon arrival, Daryl and Davy became the youngest people to travel around the Americas by bike, according to Guinness World Records.

The family returned to their home in Idaho on April 4. John and Nancy told Shanghai Daily in a recent e-mail interview about their journey.

Q: Why did you take your sons on this trip?

A: Time. As teachers, John and I spent more time with the kids of other families than with our own. We saw them growing up so quickly and changing day by day, but we weren't there to see it. We figured we only had one chance at this parenthood thing and we needed to take the time NOW to be with them. If not, they would grow and move on to lives of their own and the opportunity would be lost.

Q: At the very beginning, did the boys complain? Did they want to give up?

A: No. Never. Once they made up their minds that they would pedal from Alaska to Argentina, they never questioned or doubted that they wanted to finish or not.

Q: You visited many places by bike before you had kids, and now you travel with your kids. What are the differences?

A: Traveling with the kids is even more fun. John and I enjoyed our travels before we had our children, but we enjoy them more now. But yes, it's different. We travel more slowly. We seek out water parks. We play a lot more.

Q: Some people say it's not good for boys to drop out of school at such a young age and take such a long trip. Your view?

A: Hogwash! Our sons have LIVED the world. They've lived history and science up close for years now. They learned about Darwin's theories of evolution in the Galapagos Islands where Darwin formulated them. They learned about Mayan and Incan history by climbing on their pyramids and temples.

One very recent lesson we learned was about the Falklands War between Argentina and Britain. They saw an actual warplane with pictures of the six British ships it sank painted on its side. They heard the stories from both sides. They heard about a ruthless, egomaniacal dictator and an obstinate, pigheaded prime minister. They saw the folly and the wisdom on both sides of the argument. They understand why Argentina invaded and why Britain fought back.

My sons have a much greater understanding of their world than the vast majority of 13-year-olds and I have no doubt that knowledge will serve them well in the future.

Q: What's your biggest challenge?

A: The mental part. When we're tired and a headwind is blowing and we're being blasted by pieces of sand like BBs from a shotgun and we're pushing our bikes up a steep hill. Why? Why push on? That's when you dig back into your brain and pull out every ounce of determination you have and put one foot in front of the other.

Q: Your sons aren't getting a conventional education. Is this an issue?

A: Not at all. Since both my husband and I are long-term teachers, we know what kids "should" know and have made sure our boys know it. They may have learned it on the road rather than in a brick building, but that makes no difference.

Q: What do you think the boys will get from this travel?

A: We will never be sure exactly what the takeaway from this journey will be, but we've already seen certain things and I'm sure there will be more. They are both very confident and capable. They know they can do anything if they decide they want to. They've already dreamed the impossible dream and reached the unreachable star. If they can do that they can do anything.

Q: Did your sons make any friends on the trip?

A: The boys have met and befriended many people on this journey, but that has certainly been one of the biggest challenges. Although they play with many other children, it's only for a few days before we move on again. We are looking forward to returning home where the boys will have the opportunity to establish friendships that can last more than a month.

Q: Is there any place you have never been that you really want to go?

A: Absolutely. There are a lot of places I would like to visit, but if I never get there I will have no regrets. I've lived life to the fullest and have taken advantage of every moment I've had.

Q: You've visited so many places, which one impressed you the most?

A: Each place has its special charm and I can't really say which one impressed me the most. For example, people had warned us to avoid the coastal desert in Peru. "It's nothing but thousands of kilometers of boring, ugly desert," they said. And yet, we found it magical. The shadow dancing on the sand dunes was something I'll never forget. There was a beauty out there that I had never seen in any other location on earth.

Q: Traveling by bike can be difficult even for adults; how did you keep your boys energized?

A: Are you kidding? Having to make more energy for young boys? I wish there was a way to make more energy for exhausted adults.

Q: You have visited China before. What did you think?

A: We lived in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, for two years when the boys were four-six. We enjoyed it and enjoyed learning about Chinese culture.

Q: What are your plans?

A: At this point, we have no other plans except to return to Boise (Idaho) for at least six months while we think about what we want to do. We may continue to travel, but we may stay in Idaho.

Q: What's your advice for people who want to take big bike trips.

A: Do it. It's not as hard as many people think it is.


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