"Twenty Miles Per Cookie" Highlights the Truth and Triumph of Family Adventure Travel
- Category: Dad's Dirt Roads: A Blog
- on Tue Jan 24, 2012
- by Mark Stephens on Tue Jan 24, 2012 - (4) Comments
The Vogel family hardly looks like a clan of serious cyclists. In their pictures, John, Nancy and their twin 8-year-old ankle-biters Davy and Daryl are often wearing cotton, sometimes denim, and no sweat-wicking jerseys in sight ever bear so much as the oft pervasive sponsor logo. Is that what a cyclist should look like anyway?
No, not necessarily. A cyclist is someone riding a bike, end of story. If anything, the Vogel folk just look like a standard, chipper suburbanite family headed down the driveway and around the block for a Saturday afternoon of some wind in the hair.
Except they didn't go for a short spin. Instead, they threw down over 9 thousand miles on a ride across the U.S. and Mexico.
John and Nancy grew tired of their daily grind as educators in Boise, Idaho and longed to travel by bike, much like they did before they had children. So they did something about their dissatisfaction.
John bought a triple and tuned up Nancy's single. They then packed a half-dozen paniers and a trailer and simply rode away for a year. More or less. Nancy Vogel's book, Twenty Miles per Cookie: 9000 Miles of Kid-Powered Adventures tells the story of how they managed the trip from her point of view.
And there's no great secret to how it's done. Success is largely a result of just one pedal stroke after the other.
A ride across America is a remarkable undertaking full of beautiful, memorable experiences. However, it's also full of quite the opposite.
"Ideal biking conditions," Nancy writes, "always seem to be short lived." Throughout the book she makes the reality of bicycle touring clear to the uninitiated: riding conditions most often suck. Wind, rain, heat, cold, wrong turns, and, oh yeah, those two boys adding a couple hundred pounds to the bike who get tired and infrequently pull their weight.
One of the finer aspects of the story is Nancy's coarse-grained filter, as she allows plenty of good bits pass through. You get the truth of what it's like to travel as a foursome on two bikes, sleeping in one tent, running out of food, going slower than planned, dealing with really long hill climbs, and relying on one another for sanity, safety, and kinship.
As you can imagine, between moments of bliss and hilarity, they fight, bicker and grow tired of one another. Just 18 pages in, we witness Nancy lose her cool and fires at her husband with a classic, if vulgar, "Shut the fuck up, would you?" Ah, finally, we think. Now they're starting to behave like cyclists...
But there's more. The brothers bicker, and John simply hits the brakes and kicks one son off the bike, forcing him to walk a mile. Seriously, would you think to consider just how you'd deal with disciplinary actions on a long term bike ride? I think not.
Yes, of course there's a happier side to the story, that's why you ought to read it. The family is an optimistic one, and the hardships are easily overcome with triumphs as simple as making it to camp before dark or fixing a(nother) flat. Nancy says, "One thing we had learned on our journey was that we could do most things; the impossible simply took longer."
Adventure travel often rides on the edge of modest disaster. For reasons unknown and unpredictable, the better specimens of humanity take up the slack. The family had been invited into friendly, warm homes along the way and treated to meals and helping hands here and there. In Mexico, farmers filled their bags with fresh picked oranges one day. Another day, a pair of Mexican men gave the Vogels a meal of tasty tamales and left stashes of Gatorade along the road every few kilometers simply because they wanted to help out the family.
So, while the book doesn't hide the dark sides of a family enduring difficulties and disagreements, it resolves them with the significant accomplishments along the way. It seems to make the point Yes, we did something hard, and it wasn't easy or perfect or all that much fun the entire time, but we're better people now and we wouldn't do anything differently. The book is utterly devoid of cycling lingo and gear talk, making it a story for parents whether they're interested in bicycling or not. You just need to be interested in the dynamics of family and achieving goals.
Twenty Miles per Cookie: 9000 Miles of Kid-Powered Adventures by Nancy Vogel is now available direct through her website: