Sarah: Cycling work ethic

I want to be on a journey with no destination and no time limit.

It started out that way, more or less. The idea was, ride the Great Divide, then keep heading south, see how far we get.

Feels like a sense of destination gradually crept in, as more and more people asked us “Are you going to Ushuaia?” Apparently it’s the done thing: cycle from Alaska to Ushuaia. It’s the obvious line, top to bottom, and I do see that there’s a pleasing symmetry and sense of completeness in that. There’s also the pull of the deep south. Though we don’t care overly much about reaching Ushuaia itself (well, we didn’t start in Alaska, why finish in Ushuaia?) we do both very much want to see Patagonia. There is magic in the very name. A place you’d rather be. In my heart, despite claiming to have no goal, I have always known I’ll be disappointed if we go home without seeing Patagonia.

Then someone slapped a time limit on it, and that changed everything. Do we just mosey on at our same meandering pace, and get to where we get to – giving up the idea of Patagonia? Or do we try to reach a “goal” within a limited time frame – turning this into a time-pressured, destination-oriented journey such as we never wanted in the first place? I don’t want to be trying to get somewhere. I want the genuine freedom of real travel, where it’s all about the journey. Following one’s nose. Riding long and winding loops, just cos they appeal on the map. Stopping and starting as one fancies. Taking the adventures that come and investigating opportunities that present themselves.

Or am I deceiving myself? Perhaps we are, after all, goal oriented people. Certainly we both seem to need some sort of sense of “forward progress”. We’ve definitely picked up the pace in South America compared to what we were doing further north. Without a goal, why would we not just stop at lunchtime every day and laze under a tree all afternoon? (Come to think of it, what would be wrong with that? Sounds a very fine idea…)

Destinations and time limits aside, we seem to have developed a rather ridiculous cycling work ethic. After a while it ceases to be something you are doing for fun and becomes more like a full time job. We feel guilty if we start late, finish early, take too long for lunch, ride a shorter distance or time than usual, take too many rest days. We’ve set ourselves a standard and a whole bunch of rules – about cycling! How daft is that! It’s only coming from ourselves – no-one else really knows or cares about these details of our day to day lives. I don’t know why this has crept in. Maybe even here, living the ultimately free and simple life of the cycle tourist, it is hard to throw off our cultural tendencies. Where there is no externally imposed structure or routine, we create our own.

Still looking for a balance. Still dreaming of a truly open ended trip.



  1. A very nice post, and the work-ethic is something I find myself constantly battling. Despite not having any real goal for my trip, I still find myself thinking about daily targets and veering off my Southward course.

    Cycling with someone else for a month already broke my cycling taboos of leaving after 9am and caring about how far I go in a day. Hopefully I won´t fall back into old habits now I´m solo again.

    Recently I have removed my odometer and confined my map to a pannier unless I actually need to decide which direction to go in. I used to think of my odometer as a necessity but realised that it´s just more noise to distract from the peace of cycling.

    Another cyclist hoping to remove these silly mental barriers…

  2. Ha ha my excuse is that I like to have the odometer for “navigation” (how far to the next corner?) but yes, I should throw it out….I did do a previous trip without an odometer but it’s hard to go back. I think I also would be even more number obsessed if solo. Thanks for your comment, nice to know someone identifies with this! Sarah

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