Family Taking Vacation from Canada to Panama Canal Entirely on Bikes

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DES MOINES, Iowa - Chris Conk says he, his wife Julie, and kids, Leo and Charlotte, are your average, run-of-the-mill Canadian family.

But their idea of a family vacation may be a little bit different - and possibly more intense - than yours.

"We are taking one year off from our normal routine, basically reconstructing a routine based on bicycling from Quebec to the Panama Canal," Conk said.

That's about a 7,000 mile bike ride.

"A big motivating factor for us to travel this way is because it gets us involved and interacting with local people," he said. "If we're in our own car, we'd zip by cities or zip by small little villages."

Conk, a professor, gets to take a year off from work and still receive a percentage of his salary. His wife, Julie, is a glass artist, and has the ability to take the time off with ease. Leo, 11, and Charlotte, eight, are keeping up with their studies on this year hiatus from school. Conk says the idea to spend nearly an entire year on a bike ride came as the family sought a way to spend more time together.

"We normally wake up in the morning, I go to my teaching job, Julie goes to her studio to work on glass, the kids go to school. They get home from school at 4:30 off the bus. There's hockey practice, there's some other gymnastics practice or whatever. And we don't really have that much time as a family together," he said. "Weekends, we want to be together, but we can't because there's sporting events and that, so, basically we said, 'We want that time.'"

So they're giving themselves that time with a fun twist. Beginning the bike ride this summer, they're four months into the trek - and less than halfway done.

"We've ridden around 2,000 miles so far," Conk said.

The family estimates they'll reach the Panama Canal by late-April. That's if they don't choose to spend a month relaxing somewhere in Central America beforehand. Depending on how long their stops take, their arrival could be later. And depending on how late they arrive to their destination, they may choose to bike part of the way back.

"It's a possibility," Conk said.

The family may take a cruise ship to Columbia. They also are thinking about taking one up to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and biking the rest of the way back to Quebec. It all depends. And they aren't sweating the uncertainty, because that's a central part of the trip; the family is collecting license plates ditched on the side of the road in each state and province they pass through, and sometimes, finding those can happen at the very last opportunity.

"It's like a fun treasure hunt," Conk said.

At the end of the trip, Conk says he hopes his family is able to look back and feel like they gained something immeasurable.

"I guess when you're a parent, you want your kids to be good citizens and amazing human beings," Julie Grenier, Chris Conk's wife, said.

Conk agreed, adding the trip is pushing them all to grow.

"It's getting out of your comfort zone to push yourself intellectually, physically, environmentally, and socially," he said.

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