Why I Cycled to the End of the World

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I get asked a lot of questions when people find out I rode my bike from Alaska to Argentina.  How did it happen?  How is it that a 50-year-old wife, mother, and schoolteacher ended up cycling to the ends of the earth?  

Indeed, why did I – mom, wife, schoolteacher, ordinary woman complete with an extra 40 pounds and twin skin – cycle from Alaska to Argentina with my family?  It’s kind of… well, shall we say – not the typical path through motherhood?

Nancy at monkey refuge


It all goes back to one spring day in 2006 when my husband came home from work after a particularly grueling day in the classroom.  That day the kids had been bouncing off the walls – must have been full moon orsomething – and John came home that afternoon and collapsed into his favorite chair.  

His eyes glazed over and he stared out the window – I could tell he wasn’t looking at the barn which needed fixing or the grass which needed mowing.  He was farther away – much farther away.

“Nancy,” he said, “I don’t want to do this anymore.  I want to buy a triple bike and take off with the kids.”

Entire family with triple bike

I…  I…  I wasn’t quite sure what to say.  I mean – he wanted to take off on bikes?  With the kids.

My reaction can only be summed up one way:  Are you crazy?  We are parents, dear husband.  We have children.  You know – like living breathing little things?  Parents – with children – don’t head out on bicycles!  It’s not what parents do!

But I didn’t say anything, because I figured he would forget about it and move on to some other hare-brained scheme the next day.  But the next day came, and he continued talking about taking off to ride bikes around the country. And the next day…

And a few weeks later, we went to visit my mother and John turned to Mom and said, “We are considering taking a year off from school to ride bikes around the country with the kids.”

I figured it was time to start taking the man seriously.

The most amazing thing happened when I started thinking about what he had been saying for the past couple weeks.  I realized that maybe – just maybe – it was me who was crazy.  Maybe it was me who was nuts for falling into the rat race society expected of me without even a conscious thought.  

I got up early every morning and dropped the kids at day care and spent all day with other people’s kids.  Then I picked up the kids, fixed a quick dinner, took the boys to soccer practice, cleaned the house, washed the dishes, threw the clothes into the washer and collapsed into bed exhausted.

But I didn’t question it because… well, it was what parents do.

And I thought John was the crazy one?

Within a few days, we had made the decision to go for it – life was too short not to. We didn’t want to end up old and gray and sittin’ in our rockers thinking, “I wish I woulda…”  We have one chance at this thing called life and only one chance at parenthood – if we don’t take advantage of it NOW, we’ll lose the opportunity.

And so – our ‘one year career break’ started.  In 2006.  And it’s now 5 years later and we’ve spent 4 years cycling 27,000 miles together as a family.  It’s been wonderful – a truly magical experience.

Whole family cycling

I’m reminded of the words of a dear friend.  One day in the short window of time between when we had decided to hit the road and before we actually started pedaling, her son committed suicide.  I went to visit her and she came to the door and gave me the biggest hug I’ve ever had and said some of the wisest words I’ve ever heard.

I’ve thought about her words a lot as we’ve cycled the highways and byways of the Americas.  Through her grief and torment and tears she said, “Nancy, take advantage of every moment you have.  Tomorrow may never come.”

So I challenge you now:  take advantage of every moment.  You don’t know what’s around the corner. You don’t know what tomorrow may bring.  You have only today; tomorrow may never come.

tandem with donkey cart

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