Cycling the World: A New Film About a Big Journey

Apr 15th, 2024

Watch Cycling the World on Vimeo on demand with 20% off using code “AdventureCyclingAssociation” at checkout until May 15.

When McKenzie Barney was 29, she flew to Ho Chi Mihn, bought a bike, and pedaled across Vietnam. Afterwards, she rode across Europe and then headed to Africa. By the time she crossed the length of Africa from Cairo to Cape Town, she realized she could keep pedaling around the whole world. She also realized she had a story to tell.

Over the course of three years, Barney cycled 29,000 kilometers across 28 countries and five continents. She mostly rode solo, filming her adventures with an iPhone and a Sony RX100 point-and-shoot camera. Later, she turned this footage into a 32-minute film telling the story of her journey and what it meant to her. You can watch that film, Cycling the World, on Vimeo.

McKenzie Barney cycling the world image
Photo: McKenzie Barney

I watched Cycling the World a few times, and each time I got something new from it. It’s pretty rare for a person to bike alone around the world — more so if that person is female, and even more so if they’re an experienced, independent filmmaker. Cycling the World is the story of a unique journey from the perspective of an expert storyteller.

McKenzie Barney, Filmmaker and Adventurer

Before riding around the world, Barney studied film production at the University of Florida. Throughout her twenties, she wrote and produced nationally syndicated television shows, filmed outdoor adventure campaigns, and worked with brands and advertising agencies. Eventually she co-founded a production company and filmed a documentary about thru-hiking 1,800 miles across New Zealand. This led to more commercial, broadcast, and digital film projects for clients like National Geographic.

McKenzie Barney in front of flags
Photo: McKenzie Barney

As Barney filmed more outdoor adventure content, her interest in long-distance, human-powered journeys began to grow. She solo hiked for a month in Patagonia, and then completed the Pacific Crest Trail with her partner Jim. She grew accustomed to long days of physical exertion and lots of nights camping out in the wild. By the time she flew to Vietnam and bought a bicycle, she was already captivated by an active life in the outdoors.

Cycling the World Film

Cycling the World starts with Barney’s interior motivations: to see the world and value time over material possessions. The film splices in some of Barney’s backstory as a hiker, and then segues into her round-the-world cycling journey.

Photo: McKenzie Barney

Much of the footage begins in Africa, where Barney first decided to chronicle her journey. We see what it’s like to ride across the wind-swept Sahara, through tiny towns and wildlife preserves, and set up camp outdoors along the way. Later we also see footage from the infamous Nullabar plain in Australia, long sections from South America, and the beautiful Uyuni salt flats in Bolivia where Barney ended her trip. Barney captures special moments with people, animals, and new climates. We can see the dust on her clothes and the smile on her face the whole way through. Not everything goes perfectly, and that’s part of the adventure. But by the end of the film, it’s clear why she made the choices she made.

Barney also addresses lots of questions people might want to know about this kind of journey: the highs and lows, how she solved problems, how she funded the trip, and her reflections on what it meant to see the world as a solo female traveler.

In Barney’s own words:

“Far away from noise, distraction, and rush, far away from the epidemic of busy, there exists ultimate peace and safety in nature. And I believe that it’s out here in the wild, where we’re all born from — with the wind as our soundtrack, and the trees as our walls, and the sun as our clock — this is where safety and security lie. Where we’re not bound to concrete walls, living in a box, driving in a box, watching a box. When we break those self-created confines, we come back to nature where we’ve always belonged. This is where I feel most safe as a woman alone.”

Photo: McKenzie Barney

Cycling the World is a chronicle of one woman’s extraordinary, life-affirming journey. It’s also a beautiful reminder that we all belong to nature. And it’s the kind of film that might just launch you into your own journey, wherever you wish to go.

McKenzie Barney: Behind the Lens

LK: Who do you hope your film will inspire?

MB: My biggest hope with this film is that it lights a fire in souls that may have buried their dream in a drawer labeled ‘someday’ and moves them into action. More specifically, I hope this film inspires young women. My rather unconventional narrative approach to this film reads like a poem, an ode to a young self, to remember that courage is built like a callus, and to always believe in my path no matter how uncommon. On my bike journey I would come across women often, and I would try to amplify this poem of self-sufficiency and capability that women have, even when we travel or do things alone.

Photo: McKenzie Barney

LK: Who inspires you?

MB: If it weren’t for the women explorers before me, I would have never taken this journey. My heroes are women who push boundaries in far corners of our atlas, and bravely share their stories to tell about it. Those like Robyn Davidson, who walked across the Aussie outback with her camels; Liz Clark who solo sails the seas; the great Lael Wilcox with the new ground she continually breaks as a female ultra endurance cyclist; and Jenny Graham who holds the world record for fastest woman to cycle the world. Of course most of all, my mom and dad are my biggest heroes for teaching me to have big dreams and believe in myself enough to pursue them. Anyone who dares to think differently and live a conscious, well-examined life even if it’s far outside of the norm — most notably of which my partner in life James — is my hero. Continuing the ripple effect of exploration in both the inner and outer landscape is what drove this project. I talk about this in my Bonus Footage video extensively.

Photo: McKenzie Barney

LK: Tell us about your film tour. Where did you go, and what was it like?

MB: After deciding to produce an entirely self-made documentary — from filming to writing and even the editing/post production — it felt natural to continue the theme. So I pursued bicycle shops, outdoor brands, and universities that aligned with my message in Cycling The World. Surprisingly, everyone responded enthusiastically, wanting to host my Film Tour around the US.

The following were my stops on tour: Cycleast in Austin, Texas; Keystone Bicycle Co in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; University of Florida; ZenCog Bicycle Co in Jacksonville, Florida; Treehouse Cyclery in Denver, Colorado; Storm Peak Brewing along with Big Agnes in Steamboat Springs, Colorado; Patagonia store in Palo Alto, California. I was fortunate enough to have many of my favorite cycling/outdoor brands partner with me in the tour including: Patagonia, Kona, Rapha, Swift Industries, Big Agnes, Tailfin, Ombraz, Oveja Negra, Bedrock Sandals, Revelate Designs, Chamois Butt’r, Bikes or Death and SRAM. The tour was a dream. I screened the film, did a Q&A session, and had many top-tier giveaways. Eternally humbled by the turnouts, many times exceeding over 100 people. The highlight of my Cycling The World USA Film Tour was interacting with local communities across the United States.

Photo: McKenzie Barney

LK: What are you up to these days? Any trips on the horizon?

MB: Next up, I’ll be touring my film in New Zealand along with my partner James’ book The Road South that tells the story of our cycling adventure down the length of the African continent. We’ll be touring the South Island of New Zealand in May along with our tour partner Kona.

LK: What’s the best way for people to follow your journeys?

MB: The best way for people to follow along is on my Instagram: @mckenziebarney. Otherwise my website has all of my global expeditions, films, writing, and speeches. But most of all, I hope everyone watches the film and reaches out to let me know what they think or what it inspired them to seek.

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