As passionate as I am about cycle touring, there is one teensy-weensy part of it that I could do without. It’s more irritating than a punctured tire, more exasperating than bad directions, even more maddening than a headwind that just won’t quit.
I’m talking about gawkers.
They thrive wherever the concept of personal space doesn’t. With heads aslant and mouths agape, they stand three feet away from me and watch my every move. Whether I’m setting up my tent or eating a cheese sandwich on a park bench, gawkers never miss a moment.
At first the attention didn’t bother me. In fact, it was kind of flattering. Curiosity is an endearing quality and it was nice to think that my travels captivated people so completely. So I went with it – I let mobs of people crowd around my bike and stare as I squirted grease on the chain.
Then it stopped being fun. There were times when I was sick or dirty or just burned out after a long day on the road, and all I wanted was to be alone. Yet nothing I did could make the gawkers go away.
Ignoring the issue always backfired. In China, an old woman was so emboldened by my apparent aloofness that she turned her attention from my blonde hair to my skin. Before I knew what was happening she licked her finger and tried to wipe the white from my arm.
Subtle hints worked no better. When I turned away from people staring at me in Turkey, they simply got up and found another view. If I put my hood over my head, they sat on their haunches and looked up at my face.
I tried a more direct approach, but stopped when I discovered how entertaining I was when I said “Please leave me alone” in a foreign language. Far from its desired effect, it actually inspired more people to gawk at me.
A very few times I got downright aggressive with folks, which probably wasn’t a good idea in the interest of safety. After all, the only thing worse than 50 people who think you’re fascinating is 50 people who want to beat you up because they think you’re a dick.
In the end, the answer to my problem was obvious.
I had to be broad-minded and consider that gaping isn’t the least bit rude in many cultures. I had to learn to love strangers and embrace their unblinking interest in me. I had to accept that I was afraid, not of people looking at me, but at what they might see if I opened my heart wide.
Okay, not that obvious.
Truth be told, I started hanging out in cemeteries when I wanted some privacy. Why? Because staring annoys the fuck out of me, and everyone agrees you shouldn’t gawk in a graveyard.
I am currently off the road as I save funds for the next leg of my journey. Regular posts will continue, however. Each week I will publish a flashback – a story from my past travels that never found a home on this site. Enjoy, and please remember that your comments, likes and shares are always appreciated.