Ed Abbey, a runaway winner for most curmudgeonly curmudgeon.

Ed Abbey, a runaway winner for most curmudgeonly curmudgeon.

There’s something cathartic about hearing the truth from someone who doesn’t sugarcoat it. Historically, the label “curmudgeon” has been applied to angry old men yelling at kids to get off their lawn, but in our world it’s become a term of endearment, or a badge of honor – men (almost always men) who speak truth to power. Nothing like a good foot-stomping rant every now and then. These five are among the best.

1. Edward Abbey
Everyone’s favorite cranky desert rat (maybe the original desert rat?), Ed Abbey wrote in the introduction of A Voice Crying in the Wilderness: Notes from a Secret Journal: “Nowadays, curmudgeon is likely to refer to anyone who hates hypocrisy, can’t, sham, dogmatic ideologies, the pretenses and evasions of euphemism, and has the nerve to point out unpleasant facts and takes the trouble to impale these sins on the skewer of humor and roast them over the fires of empiric fact, common sense, and native intelligence. In this nation of bleating sheep and braying jackasses, it then becomes an honor to be labeled curmudgeon.”

2. Henry David Thoreau
Thoreau, the patron saint of stepping away from society for some introspection, was inspirational, yes. But he was also kind of a downer in a way. Some quotes:

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  • “How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.”
  • “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”
  • “A bore is someone who takes away my solitude and doesn’t give me companionship in return.”
  • “Men have become the tools of their tools.”
  • “If we will be quiet and ready enough, we shall find compensation in every disappointment.”
  • “Men profess to be lovers of music, but for the most part they give no evidence in their opinions and lives that they have heard it.”
  • “It is not enough to be industrious; so are the ants. What are you industrious about?”

3. Yvon Chouinard
Yvon Chouinard has devoted most of his life to building one of the most sustainable and environmentally responsible companies in the world. During that time, he’s become a bit of a realist, and unafraid to say what he thinks. A few quotes:

On the future:
“Well, I’m a real pessimist. I think as a society we’re toast, to tell you the truth. I don’t know whether it’s going to be running out of water or topsoil, or disease, or endless wars being fought over resources.”

On Everest:
“You get these high powered plastic surgeons and CEO’s, they pay $80,000 and have Sherpas put the ladders in place and 8000 feet of fixed ropes and you get to the camp and you don’t even have to lay out your sleeping bag. It’s already laid out with a chocolate mint on the top. The whole purpose of planning something like Everest is to effect some sort of spiritual and physical gain and if you compromise the process, you’re an asshole when you start out and you’re an asshole when you get back.”

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On leading an examined life:
“Leading an examined life, I always say, is a pain in the ass.”

On sustainability:
“There’s no such thing as sustainability. There are just levels of it. It’s a process, not a real goal. All you can do is work toward it. There’s no such thing as any sustainable economy. The only thing I know that’s even close to sustainable economic activity would be organic farming on a very small scale or hunting and gathering on a very small scale. And manufacturing, you end up with way more waste than you end up with finished product. It’s totally unsustainable. It’s just the way it is.”

4. Will Gadd
Will Gadd has very likely climbed more pitches of ice in 24 hours than you will your entire life and has climbed harder, steeper, more visionary, and ballsy routes than most of us will ever consider getting on. And he’s lived to tell about it, which is an achievement in itself. If you read his blog, you’ll 1) note that it is very direct, and 2) probably be smarter and safer yourself when climbing. A few gems from it:

  • “The reason so many climbers view rappelling as dangerous is that so many climbers rappel dangerously.”
  • “Diets and Ponzi schemes all end the same: The people who bought in either quit or are taken for a ride.”
  • “One of my main rules for ice climbing is, ‘If you get hit with falling ice it’s your own damn fault, and you deserve it.’ Ice falls; I don’t want to hear a call of ‘ICE!!!’ unless the whole climb is falling down. Yelling ‘Ice’ while ice climbing is like yelling ‘PUCK!’ in a hockey game or something, it’s part of the sport.”

5. Bike Snob NYC
Bike Snob NYC has since 2007 been one of the most popular cycling blogs on the Internet, for good reason: Eben Weiss is a master of snark. The kind of stuff you read, laugh, then say “ouch,” but somehow you don’t end up disliking him (mostly). He wrote the blog anonymously for a long time, which he parlayed into a column for Bicycling and a book – one reviewer wrote, “Some people have a knack for cracking you up while telling it exactly like it is.” Of course, Weiss probably puts it best himself in the About section of his blog: “While I love cycling and embrace it in all its forms, I’m also extremely critical. So I present to you my venting for your amusement and betterment. No offense meant to the critiqued.” LINK

Honorable Mention: Eeyore
Eeyore, the pessimistic, passive-aggressively complaining, old grey stuffed donkey who was a friend of Winnie the Pooh, may be one of the most lovably depressing children’s characters of all time. Something is always wrong for Eeyore, although he usually has a creative way of saying it, i.e., “One can’t complain. I have my friends. Someone spoke to me only yesterday.” Perhaps to cheer him up, English majors at the University of Texas organized an event called Eeyore’s Birthday Party in 1963. It has been celebrated annually since, and notched its 50th anniversary in 2013.


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Brendan Leonard is a contributing editor to Adventure Journal. Follow him at his blog, Semi-Rad.