Written interview with Nancy Sathre-Vogel of (familyonbikes.com)
Tim and Cindie Travis (DownTheRoad.org) . Sept 2009
Would you please explain a tad bit about where you’ve been and where you’re
We have traveled through 22 countries on 4 continents, North and South America,
Asia, and Australia, but this is only a quarter or a third of the places we want
to visit. We still have a long way to go. In our near future we will visit
India, The Middle East, Africa, Europe, and beyond. We have no plans to stop
How long have you been/were you on the road?
We have been on this bike tour since March, 2002, over 7 ½ years. As said by
the Grateful Dead, “What a long strange trip it has been.”
What prompted such an extended journey? Had you done a lot of touring before?
I had bike toured quite a bit before this trip including several shorter
excursions and a long solo tour through the Americas. Cindie started touring
with me on a few short trips before this big one and basically hit the ground
What prompted this extended journey? That
is a good question and impossible to answer in a couple paragraphs. In a nut
shell; the idea for a long trip developed slowly during the years before we
left. I had enough experience so, the biking and camping part was easy for me
to picture but Cindie had trouble envisioning a traveling lifestyle and talking
her into it was challenging. After all, I was asking her to give up her
successful career, sell most of her stuff, and trade the home she loved for life
in a tent living on the road. The details of how I talked Cindie into letting
go and leaving it all behind can be found in Chapter 1, of our first book “The
Road That Has No End, How we traded our ordinary lives for a global bicycle
touring adventure”. If you are interested in reading this chapter I have
included a link below.
I know there are plenty of wonderful days when the sun is shining and you’ve got
the wind at your back. But there are also days when it’s raining or you face a
headwind or you’re climbing a hill that just won’t end. How do you get through
those days? What keeps you going?
When times get tough the battle goes from physical to mental. I learned early
on in the trip if I convinced myself I couldn’t do it well I couldn’t I also
learned if I convinced myself I could do it then I could, I call it my “ I can”
attitude and it has gotten me through the toughest times.
I have always been curious about the
world, other cultures, different foods, and with my geology background a desire
to see different landforms such as glaciers, mountains and deserts. So for me
curiosity to see what is around the next corner has always kept me going. In
addition, as the trip continued my own confidence in my physical ability
increased and the knowledge that things always work out; maybe not the way it
was originally planned, but still it works out.
While it is true that the vast majority of days on our tour are wonderful there
are always those bad days that stick out and, in terms of weather, a couple come
to mind. In the fourth month of the trip we rode over a pass in Michoacán,
Mexico and got caught in a hail storm. The hail came down so fast it filled the
vents in our helmets and by the time we got our tent up I was in the early
stages of hypothermia.
A few years ago we endured seven days of
solid rain in Diamond Head, Australia. Cindie took advantage of the situation
and did our taxes on the computer entirely in the tent but everything became so
wet that mold and mildew set in. We learned that bad weather comes with not
only intensity but also duration.
Just recently while camping in Nebraska
City, Nebraska we hid in our tent during one of the biggest electrical storms I
have ever experienced. All we could do is hold on to each other and hope the
lightning didn’t strike us.
In regards to what we do to overcome
adversity; like most people we try to work together as a team and just grin and
bare it. I believe the best thing to do in stressful situations is to remain
calm and try to think your way out of it.
We continue traveling because gaining this
kind of international experience and knowledge is worth more than anything a
career has to offer. Even if we won the lottery we would continue our tour. We
would, of course, upgrade our on bikes and living standard but, none the less,
we would still spend our millions cycling around the world. This lifestyle is
exactly what we both want to be doing, even on our limited budget.
As hard as it is to pick out one or two highlights – would you, could you?
Tell us about a couple of those incredibly wow-ing, drop-your-jaw experiences
The most jaw dropping experience I will always remember was watching the Perito
Moreno glacier in southern Argentina drop huge blocks of ice the size of a house
into the water below. The sound of cracking ice gave us a split second warning
and then “baboom!” The ice crashed into the water below causing huge waves to
crash against the lake shore. It was truly mesmerizing.
While in Malaysia we were lucky enough to go to our friend David’s niece’s
wedding. This was a real Tamil Indian wedding. I borrowed clothes from a man
they called “two meters” (I am 6’4”) and Cindie borrowed an Indian style pink
dress. We experienced the music, food, and dress as a member of a Malaysian
I will always remember the two months we
rode across the barely inhabited top of Australia on the longest and straightest
dirt road I have ever seen. This was not the hardest route in Australia but was
hard enough for us because of the remoteness. We spent our days enjoying a true
wilderness and nights camping near creeks. Sometimes the lack of excitement and
distinguishing features is the most beautiful.
What about those days you wish you could forget (but you know you never will)?
Those days when everything goes wrong and then even more goes wrong? Tell us
about a couple of those.
We were in the Andes of South America, it was a long day of climbs and descents
and Tim got three flats and the last one was on a steep hill and on a bit of a
blind spot so I had to wave trucks around Tim while he fixed his flat, and then
it started to rain. I was nothing but miserable.
The things that I wish I could forget but never will are seeing political
oppression and extreme poverty. For example, Vietnamese officials are paid to
walk around internet cafes and read what customers are writing on their screens;
this invasion of privacy makes me want to scream. During our nine months in
China we had numerous cops’ knocking on our door asking for our papers or
telling us it was illegal to stay in our hotel. At times, we were forced to move
to a state approved hotel that was licensed to accept foreigners. I meet the
people living in these countries and love their food, religion, and culture but
also feel sorry for them. If people are paid to read my email, how much privacy
do local citizens have?
Extreme poverty is a heart breaker. From a
car or bus poverty stricken regions can be seen with safety and speed; and the
option of looking away. Riding a loaded touring bicycle through an impoverished
area is an immersion into a very depressing way of life. I will never forget
cycling past scenes of entire families, including toddlers, picking through
trash piles looking for something to sustain them, there is no hiding, turning
away, or gas pedal to hit. The incredibly sad and defeated expressions on
people’s faces are unforgettable. On a bike we are not protected in a steel
cage, we see, hear, and smell everything whether it is disturbing or not. On a
bike we are not passing through; we are there.
You’ve toured through many countries and I know they each are unique and have
their advantages and disadvantages. But, if you were to talk with someone
relatively new to cycle touring, where would you recommend they go? Why?
The very first trip/s I suggest doing a loop from your house. This avoids a
number of logistical problems like transportation and navigation. The first few
times on a bike tour there are enough new things to learn and get used to that
it is best to keep the rest as simple as possible.
After a few trips in your backyard I
recommend the first long ride be something in your home country. For example,
an Australian might do the Great Ocean Road; Germans could do the famous bike
trail down the Rhine River. The idea is to do one of your countries favorites
and avoid the culture shock of international travel. For people in the USA (I am
American) I love and highly recommend the ride down the west coast, starting in
Astoria, Oregon to San Francisco or Santa Barbara, California.
After all the above experience you are ready
for international travel. I personally think this world would change for the
better if more people traveled internationally and saw their home country from
abroad. Have fun and don’t forget to write.
Any special tips or advice to wannabe tourers?
If the tourers are a couple I would suggest they ride together at the same pace.
There are a number of ways to do this, learn to draft and redistribute the
weight between the bikes until both riders can ride at the same speed. I have
seen numerous couples traveling together where the man is miles ahead of the
woman, the woman is on a death march to catch up and when she does her partner
is ready to get going again. This isn’t very fun for the slower rider.
Everybody has a different style of touring and what they hope to get out of it.
That being said, we have met bike tourists disappointed with how their trip was
going or turned out. These frustrations usually are in two areas; distance and
I often hear people complaining that they
are somehow behind schedule or need to catch up. Their ambitious schedule
probably came about in the months leading up to the trip when maps and guide
books were being studied. What seems doable on paper often falls short in the
field. Feeling behind schedule causes travelers to miss side attractions or
unforeseen opportunities to absorb more of the local culture. A schedule that
requires a trip to be fast can turn a voyage of discovery into a death march
watching only the shoulder of the road pass by. We personally prefer no
schedule at all where we are not going to the next place until we are tired of
the one we are at. Time is the gift that leads to discovery.
Also, in the planning stage it may seem
romantic to just live on a shoestring budget but, here too, idealism and reality
can be different. In terms of money, less is seldom better, and a higher budget
can lead to additional and often wonderful choices. Museums and restaurants are
great for understanding the places you travel and a hotel room during a bad
storm goes a long way in making the trip more enjoyable.
Some new bike tourists I meet run out of
money towards the end of their trip and start charging everything on a credit
card. Cindie and I have always hated credit card debt so ending a trip this way
seems disastrous to us and the people ending their trip this way seem frustrated
and often feel guilty that they fell short of their expected budget. The
solution, of course, is to save up a bit more before the trip. Easier said than
done I know but still good advice none the less.
So, in summary, I like to tell first time
bike tourists take your plan with your allotted time and halve the distance and
double the money. It is a bit of a tongue and cheek reply which really means,
especially on a first tour, scale back how far you want to ride and the number
of days you ride each week and add as much additional funding as possible.