Geography Awareness Week Saturday Special: Family on Bikes


On the final “official” day of Geography Awareness Week (because we all know that Geography is meant to be celebrated all year long), we encourage you to GET OUT and experience geography in the field.

I can’t think of anyone adhering more truly to the spirit of hands-on experiential learning than the Vogels.

Dad John, 10-year-old twin sons Davy and Daryl, and Mom Nancy Sathre-Vogel are currently traversing the Pan-American Highway from Alaska to Argentina. When the journey is complete, Davy and Daryl will become the Guiness World Record holders as the youngest people ever to make the trip on bicycle. Pretty impressive, eh?

Read below to see how the family is discovering new geographic insights with each pedal. And make sure to visit the Family on Bikes website for more information, including an interactive map of their trek, and other great educational resources developed with the help of non-profit Reach the World.

Geography.  For years
I figured, like a lot of other people, that geography consisted of knowing the
locations of states and names of state capitals.  If I could memorize those bits of random
knowledge, I could consider myself “geographically literate.”

But somehow my eyes became opened over time.  Maybe I began to see there was way more to
this wonderful world of ours than a bunch of names.  Perhaps I realized that my Special Ed kids
may never be able to memorize a bunch of random facts, but they could gain an
overall impression of various areas.
However I came to the realization, I’m glad I did.

Geography is much more than memorization – it’s
understanding patterns around the world; it’s seeing similarities and
differences between the world’s peoples and places; it’s realizing that our
actions in America can and do have far reaching effects.  That’s what I’m hoping my boys will learn –
and all the other kids following along with us as well.

I remember one moment when I realized my boys were starting
to “get it;” when they suddenly put some of those random facts together and
applied them to their lives.  We were
cycling on the Colorado Plateau in the fall of 2006 – and it was cold.  As we visited Zion National Park and the Grand Canyon at 7000 feet in altitude, we shivered as we
huddled around our tiny camp stove cooking pasta each night.  Our teeth chattered until we mummified
ourselves in our down sleeping bags each evening.  It was cold – and we were getting tired of

One day, after weeks of shivering, we descended a long hill
and the cold wind blasted past us.  A few
hours later we stopped to set up our tent, still bundled up against the cold.

“Why is it still so cold,” eight-year-old Daryl asked.  “I thought it would be warmer now.”

“What makes you think it should be warmer,” I prodded.

“Well,” he replied.
“We came down a long ways today.
We should be down off the Colorado Plateau now – and it’s warmer at
lower altitudes.”

That’s when I knew we were on to something.  All those random bits of knowledge my boys
had been learning about the formation of the Colorado Plateau and the
spectacular canyons in the area had come together.  Daryl understood.  He understood the effects of that uplifting
of the land so many millions of years ago.
He understood the effects of altitude and how it affects
temperature.  He “got it.”

As it turned out, he was just a tad bit premature – we had
merely descended to about 6000 feet and we wouldn’t notice the change in
temperature until around 3000 feet or so – but we were thrilled that he had put
the pieces together.

As we travel southward on our bicycles, we are seeing –
first hand – all the patterns around us.
Our boys will see how all people, regardless of color or language, are
basically the same.  They’ll understand
the idea that houses and food – while different in many regards – are all
constructed with whatever happens to be native to the area.  They’ll come to appreciate that all human
beings, wherever they’re from, have the same basic needs.  And they’ll realize that a smile is a smile
in every language on earth.  And that’s

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