In the third of the occasional flux heroes series, I´d like you to meet the Genner family. They have an EXTRAORDINARY story to tell.
I first met Steve, Pippa and their two boys Henry and Charlie whilst I was preparing for the Inca Trail and they were taking some down time from their epic journey between Mexico and Buenos Aires, which they´re completing on bicycles. Yes, you read that right, a family of 4, each cycling unassisted the length of the great continents of Central and South America.
After completing nearly 10,000 km of their journey South, the Genners were taking a few days well-earned rest in Cusco, Peru before I pounced on them over dinner one night to discuss our contrasting flux lifestyles…and of course how a normal English family physically hauls themselves through the Andean mountains, valleys and hellish dangerous roads of the Americas. Here’s their story, be sure to check out their blog, Life Is Like A Box Of Chocolates.
So, Genners, thanks for being Flux Heroes, can you start off by explaining how you came to be making a 2 year bicycle voyage through Central and South America?
Steve – the idea was to spend time closely as a family ( we have always been close anyway), spend quality time together away from the mind-numbing mundanity which is the current education system our children are subjected to. Also to live life as simply as possible on a tight budget, to meet people from different cultures and understand different ways lives are lived, to enjoy spectacular scenery and natural sights, and mainly to live life one day at a time.
What made you make such an extraordinary life choice?
Pippa – through the experience of losing both parents early, I have learnt not to leave things until later stages of life, to grab opportunities when presented. Also, disillusionment with our education system and its 100% focus on results. I wanted a wider, more rounded education for my children.
How do 2 young boys cope with life on the road?
Henry – when things are really tough and difficult, I just remind myself of what it was like sitting through double maths every week. Then it seems so much easier!
Charlie – I never really think of it as extraordinary or different, it is just now my normal life
“It is wonderful to see the boys growing up each day, it seems to slow the process down and allow us to savour it” Pippa
Is spending so much time together a good or bad thing for you as a family?
Pippa – it would be a lie to say spending 24/7 with each other is easy. It is wonderful to see the boys growing up each day, it seems to slow the process down and allow us to savour it. We have come to the conclusion that everyone needs their own space from time to time. But every time you come through a difficult time it makes the family dynamic ever closer, particularly through shared experiences.
What do you miss from the real world?
Pippa – my dog, Lottie, the smell of freshly mown grass, perfume, clean bathrooms, our wonderful kitchen.
“One of the hardest things is getting out of our comfort zones and camping in remote cold places with not enough food and water.” Steve
What are the best and worst things about life in the saddle?
Steve – worst are the moments of difficult physical demands, not just the actual cycling up ridiculous hills, but also getting out of our comfort zones regarding accommodation (camping) in remote cold places with not enough food and water. The fear of not being able to make everything safe for your children is quite a frightening feeling.
Best – the ‘me time’ , spending all day having my own thoughts. Also, being somewhere so beautiful and slightly remote that the world you have always known seems to be on a different planet. One other thing, the collective feeling of achievement when reaching the top of a tough climb to find the most magical views with much family hugging – Ecuador was a country in which this seemed to happen a lot.
What new things have you learned since being away?
Henry – I have conquered loads of fears, such as swimming far out at sea ( sharks ) or being underground in a Cenote in Mexico. New skills such as Spanish, juggling sticks.
Charlie – I have learned to be a good map reader and route planner. I have learned that I am quite social and much prefer being around people, not so much on my own.
Do you often think about the practicalities of returning to normality or not?
Steve – As the ‘finishing line’ begins to approach, thoughts often return to certain things which need to be sorted out. We are in the final throes of buying some land so that sometimes focuses the mind on home and takes away the focus on the trip which is frustrating. Also, Pip and the boys miss Lottie our dog from time to time and will spend time chatting about how it will be when we return.
Have you ever regretted walking away from home, jobs and school?
Pippa – No. We have definitely thought about it but certainly never regretted it. The times when it is most keenly felt are when one of the boys has an accident and you realise your vulnerability and then question bringing the children into this environment. But it is always a fleeting feeling and overall there are certainly no regrets – all is positive.
How has this adventure changed you?
Charlie – I feel I have grown up a lot quickly, such as trying to understand different views and ways that other people do things.
Henry – we take on more responsibilities like going out food shopping and then cooking the meal. Also, being sensible and responsible when riding the bike.
What have been your standout highlights of the trip so far?
Many of our best experiences occurred in Ecuador while staying with the Bomberos (firefighters). One particular day sticks out. We had been climbing steadily for most of the day when the weather turned on us. It went very cold and started to rain. We had just reached a very small town called Mocha high up in the Andes. There was no way we could reach our hope for destination. We started to ask around but it became clear there was no place to stay.
By this time we were sheltering under the roof of an industrial building, shivering, trying to see where we could possibly pitch our tent. It was now howling down. The centre of the town was a further 500m almost vertically up. We decided eventually to push our bikes up in the freezing downpour so that we might find a hot drink to get warm. The centre was tiny and everything was shut, it was so miserable.
Then Charlie shouted out that there was a building in the corner of the square which he thought was a Fire Station, but there were none of the usual signs. I replied something like, “don’t be daft, this town is way too small to have a Fire Station”. But sure enough, he ran over, knocked on the door and a Volunteer Fireman opened up and ushered us in. They could see our plight, they immediately put the kettle on (the place was tiny). We had hot drinks, they found some mattresses and a room for us to sleep. The showers were non existent and they apologised profusely. So, they cooked us a fabulous meal of stew, talked about life as firemen and life in the town and ensured we had one of the best nights’ sleep of the trip.
The next morning we awoke to a town transformed. There was a largish church festival going on under blue skies and a warm sun. We had a great breakfast before thanking the guys profusely and getting on our way. We all realised that when there are really hard times, there is usually someone who can and will help and that the bad times will not last for long. It is often a relatively small act of kindness or a slight change of fortune which will make the perceived difficulties melt away.
This piece only scratches the surface of the Genners’ adventures, for some great pics and more amazing tales, head over to their blog, Life Is Like A Box Of Chocolates at CrazyGuyOnABike.
Thank you to Steve, Pippa, Henry and Charlie for showing me an incredible new way to spend some time in flux. Good luck with the rest of your journey!