Changing Gears – Book Review

By Oletta Branstiter

For a generation of “snowflakes” who seek “safe spaces” for their “triggered feelings”, this book may be too much to handle. In fact, for those currently enrolled in a liberal University, I suggest that you stop reading right now.

Everyone else will be enlightened and inspired by this true story and epic adventure. As a public school Library Specialist, I present a book talk to end the year with a challenge to my students. I quote Nancy Sathre-Vogel, author of Changing Gears – a Family Odyssey to the End of the World.  She asks, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” This is the question she answered when her 10-year-old twin boys begged her and her husband to attempt to bicycle the 17,000+ miles of the Pan-American Highway.

She asked all the questions any mom would: How can we just quit our jobs and sell all of our possessions on such a whim? Our sons want to get their names in the Guinness World Book of Records. Is this a valid reason to traverse the globe on bicycles? What if we encounter dangers? What if we get lost, run out of food or break down in the middle of nowhere? What if someone gets sick, or we run out of cash? What if….?

Then, she asked herself, “What would I do if I weren’t afraid?” Like Dory in Finding Nemo, admonishing Nemo’s father for not wanting anything to happen to his son, Nancy knew that lots of things were going to happen to her naturally curious and adventurous young sons. She decided she wanted to be with them when they happened.

So, in 2008, John and Nancy Vogel quit their jobs as public school teachers, sold all of their possessions except for the bare necessities that they could haul on two bicycles, a tandem cycle and a tiny trailer and bought tickets to begin their adventure at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska- the trailhead of the Pan-American Highway.

During their almost three-year-long trek, the Vogels encountered marauding mosquitoes, brazen bears, hunger and health challenges, wild weather, impossible inclines and cycle stealers. But they also met many wonderful, generous and helpful strangers that consistently blessed their travels.

Changing Gears reads like a dramatic movie screenplay. Nancy brings the reader along for the ride to experience every challenge and accomplishment. Her casual voice invites us into the learning opportunities, friendships, hardships and humor her family experienced as they traversed the many countries, cultures, wildlife and terrain of the nations along the Pan-American Highway from northern Alaska to the southern tip of Argentina.

The vast majority of families will never step out in faith like the Vogels. We won’t be choosing adventure over the assurances of safety and security. Our choices will serve to ensure the sheltered existence of typical Americans in the 21st century. We’ll choose to remain in low gear.

We’ll also miss all the opportunities to expand our horizons, test our mettle, strengthen family bonds under extreme circumstances, and achieve a remarkable accomplishment.

For those of us who prefer to experience their adventures vicariously, I recommend reading Changing Gears – a Family Odyssey to the End of the World and exploring their extensive website:

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