Cycle Touring Makes You Cynical

Frowning miserable man

I’m reading a book right now called “Keith’s Incredible Journey.” It’s written by a young man named Keith Jackson who cycled from Alaska to Argentina (a distance of approximately 18,000 miles) in just nine months – making him the youngest and fastest individual to have ever cycled this particular route.

Keith’s Incredible Journey” is essentially a collection of snippets from Keith’s journal, which he sent home during his bicycle tour on all kinds of writing materials (such as oatmeal boxes, cardboard pad backs, restaurant menus, etc.) and was later compiled by his mother into this one book.

In one particular journal entry near the beginning of his travels, Keith made the following note:

I find that as the trip passes and I become more weathered, that I become intolerant of anything short of what I think it should be. I find myself walking with my head higher and my feeling more sure and aggressive. I have a feeling of pride for my accomplishments. I feel as through I can handle fear. At this time I fear for my bike more than for myself. If I don’t watch it, I’m going to be an awfully mean fellow by the time I reach Tierra del Fuego.

This particular paragraph resonated with me because I too have felt this way on my bicycle tours.

When I first started bicycle touring, I was just a shy seventeen-year-old boy who was afraid of just about everything in the world. But as I became more comfortable with cycling, people and new experiences, I began to, like Keith, “find myself walking with my head higher.” I began to feel “more sure and aggressive.” And I too had “a feeling of pride for my accomplishments.”

This was a good thing! I needed the kick in the butt that bicycle touring gave me. I needed to feel better about making my own decisions, standing up for what I knew was right, and going against the grain. I needed the independence, freedom and growth that bicycle touring gave me and I am a better person today because of all my early cycle touring experiences.

But in this same paragraph, Keith hints at the more cynical side of the confidence and experience that comes with successful world travel.

Bicycle touring has a number of wonderful, positive, uplifting benefits that it can bestow on anyone who chooses to participate in it. But if you travel the world and come home thinking that everything is rainbows and butterflies, I’m not so sure you’ve truly traveled.

I can’t speak for Keith, but I know for a fact that bicycle touring (and travel in general) has made me a more cynical person. I don’t trust everyone I meet, I question everything I’m told and I am openly contemptuous when I see individuals or groups exploiting other people.

You could say that the cynical side of me is a bad thing, and you would be partially correct. It’s not good to always be so pessimistic and distrustful. But sometimes it’s a good thing to have your own opinion, to stand up for what you believe in, to question authority, to know how to think logically, and to be willing to say that you disagree with how things are being done.

I like to bicycle tour because of the physical challenges that it presents, but I also like to bicycle tour because it takes me to new places, introduces me to new people, presents me with new ideas, and forces me to think about how I see the world. It is the combination of these two things (the positive, happy cycle touring experience and the more cynical side that forces me to think about some of life’s biggest questions) that I enjoy so very much about bicycle touring. It’s the perfect combination, full of highs and lows, that in the end, is sure to leave you with a memorable and, overall, positive experience.


5 thoughts on “Cycle Touring Makes You Cynical

  1. Tony says:

    I kind of see what you are saying there but I also think that on balance touring/travelling makes me more trusting but maybe in a more aware way. What I mean is that we are constantly told by the media that the world is full of bad people but real life experience travelling teaches us the opposite. Yes there are bad ones but the vast majority are good.

    • Bicycle Touring Pro says:

      I agree with you Tony, I am more trusting of people… and more cautious all at the same time. It’s a weird balance of both worlds sometimes. But you’re right, I do think bicycle touring has made me more trusting of people overall.

  2. kevin says:

    Knowing you as I do Darren, a ‘cynical’ person you are not ! Perhaps what you term ‘cynical’ may be simply the the development of a mature, socially aware, thoughtful person. Any arduous physical experience, (bushwalking, sailing, cycling etc) has a contemplative aspect (even if you’re not fully aware of it, i.e. you have no choice but to be exactly where you are), and will build confidence and an ability to weigh things up calmly.

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