An Ounce Of Naiveté

It was the winter of 2006. I sat in the back corner of a tiny internet cafe in Dharamsala, India, sipping my nth cup of salty, yak-butter tea–not the most appetizing of beverages, but with the right cold, wet, dreary circumstances, it has incomparable warming and comforting qualities. The dial-up modem screeched and groaned, cut in and out, as I waited patiently for my webpage to load. The stuttering image finally came clear: a bicycle, the perfect machine for my future shenanigans.

My four-month trip to India was coming to an end. I had a layover in Paris to see my parents, then one in Philadelphia, before reaching Eugene, Oregon. My plan was to get off the plane in Pennsylvania, skip my connecting flight, and buy a bicycle to ride home to Oregon. I grew up riding bikes, but would never have called myself a cyclist. My interest with the steel two-wheelers lay more in hitting tricks on a ramp or getting from point A to point B in a utilitarian fashion. I rarely went on long rides and had a small understanding of bike maintenance or the types of rigors bike touring could put one through. None of that mattered, though, as any potential obstacle to making my trip a success was greatly overshadowed by the excitement of the immensity of the journey ahead.

The first day of the trip, a couple hours out of the gate, I broke my chain, miraculously only two miles from a bike shop. I discovered chain links and the utility of the curious contraption at the end of my multi-tool. On the second day, I broke a spoke. I did not know you could break them. Luckily, the mechanic at the shop had taped a couple spares to my frame. I learned how to thread them and to true my wheel with my brake pads. On the third day, I found out about saddle soreness and chamois cream. And, so it went. Each and every day of the trip, I learned something new about a place, my bike, and myself.

I had enough food and gear to get by self-supported for several days and a general sense of where I was going: west. The spontaneity of the trip made it unnecessarily arduous at times, but infinitely more exploratory. I had not set off to ride over 4,000 miles to have some linear experience. I reveled in the unexpected, the good and the bad.

Somewhere between reaching the Oregon coast and now, I lost touch with that devilish, irresistible desire for adventure, the true, gritty kind that gets a story or two out of you rather than just a set of statistics. While I have adventured plenty since then, something subtle in the underlying zeal of my perspective has waned, that ounce of naiveté, a child-like quality that allows for the spontaneous and the uninhibited, a sentiment I wish to rekindle.

Just recently, I have felt that fire burn again inside of me. I have felt the wonder and excitement of formulating new dreams and projects without letting the ego interfere or concern for what others may think. I have started to soften up my calloused mind, to loosen my filters and preconceptions and let the child within be again.

While exploring distant places may be a part of this renewal, I am most excited about what lays right at my doorstep, forays into the woods and vagabonding over the high peaks. With the onset of winter a whole new world reveals itself to the senses. A quieter yet harsher environment, with more involved consequences but higher rewards. Naiveté does not imply carelessness. Rather, it demands a shift in perspective from the automated, learned view of what a place has to offer. It allows for curiosity and letting oneself be surprised by what the mountain may reveal. I can never know a place too well. I should never put limits on a place’s depth. If I keep searching, if I keep being awed, my sense of adventure will forever be renewed. And, that is a feeling worth revisiting again and again.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Regiment versus spontaneity, organization versus naiveté, do you find yourself gravitating toward one kind of approach to your outdoor play or another?
  • When was the last time when you threw plans to the wind and let yourself go where the mountains led?

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Joe Grant

frequently adventures in wild places, both close to home (a frequently changing location) and very far afield. He inspires others by sharing his words and images that beautifully capture the intersection of the wilds, movement, and the individual at Alpine Works.

There are 11 comments

  1. NGTrailRunner

    Great post, Joe! The very notion of doing something simply for the adventure of it and "because I can," has been at the fore of my own thoughts recently. It's interesting to me that while many of us as runners seem to gravitate towards trail and ultra running because it offers the glimpse of a true adventure, we can often times become stuck in the same training ruts, routes, etc. I can understand and appreciate that family and work responsibilities often curtail our ability to be as adventurous as we would otherwise like, but I do think it's possible to find adventure and rekindle that same sense of wonder in smaller more day-to-day ways. One of my favorite things is to take my 5 and 8 year old out on the trails and let them explore in the woods. Sharing in their awe is almost as fulfilling as going on my own adventures…I'm also trying not to run my "normal" routes during training this winter, and refusing to have a pre-determined "route…" I love your concept of naiveté…one of my favorite personal adventures took place (a looong time ago) over a half year when I backpacked throughout Western and Eastern Europe with zero agenda…I'd wake up in the morning, go to the train station and get on whatever train was next…sometimes it led to wonderful experiences and adventures and sometimes it was a bust, but on the whole it was an incredible thing. At the end of the day, I think what is most important is to continue to seek a new adventure and to attempt to find adventure in our everyday lives in places one may not think it would be found. Once again, enjoyed the article and love your incredible photography!

  2. jaxcharlie845

    Great photo's! And I'm sure we all relate to losing naivete as we age and get more settled in our lives and careers. I'm not sure I'm bred to do anything but planned adventures though, and have always envied the ability of others to just throw caution to the wind and set out on a grand adventure.

  3. ClownRunner

    We struggled for millennia to control our environment–so that every single day didn't have to be a dangerous adventure–and now in the Post-Post-Post-Modern world we struggle to find an ounce of spontaneity in our everyday lives. As always there is a balance to be found somewhere, the answer must lie somewhere in the middle. I think the difference between your bike adventure and your present adventures is that you have become "too" aware of your desire for spontaneity. You have found the Buddha in your writings and photography and adventures, but now you must "kill him". I'm not sure how you do that, though. You have become "someone"–a spokesperson for adventure and beauty–and now there is "no going back". You will still experience awe and freedom, but you will never recover that naivete when you were a "noone". But all of us desk jockeys thank you for your sacrifice of your innocence.

  4. senelly

    Thanks for the reminder. Not everyone notices when the fire dies. Rekindle… the word says something about a flame going out and then getting relit (or spontaneously relighting itself). Here's a thought: enjoyment, the thorough kind, the reveling kind, the I-love-this-and-never-want-it-to-end kind can be a real flame snuffer… if one overstays. Just as it's true that enjoying the wild can cause its loss (those first footprints and left-behind trash on the moon are still there), relishing anything can interrupt the progress of one's journey. Trying to keep a flame lit after the heat-fuel-air is gone can seem chilling. Yup, staying in the moment can be tough when one tries to prolong enjoyment. Turning the page depends on turning a corner. As the old song says, "The bear went over the mountain… to see what he could see".

  5. bryankraham

    Great post. I read the book "Wild at Heart" by John Eldredge and it gave me the same feelings as this post. To go out and just live, no script.
    Bryan @ BSX Athletics

  6. Jimmy Mac

    Wow, great writing. I am continually amazed by Joe's pieces both here and on his personal blog.

    The line "I have started to soften up my calloused mind, to loosen my filters and preconceptions and let the child within be again" absolutely slayed me, thought I was going to start crying at work today reading that. Just, wow.

    Keep 'em coming from Joe, iRF. Thank you.

  7. MattMuchna

    I find myself draw towards the freedom found in "naiveté" and solo adventures, where the destination is only an excuse to explore. The beauty of totally immersion in the present and not in an itinerary has lead me personally to people and places unimaginable. However, lately I have found a beauty in cooperative treks and established group outings, such as races or group runs. The camaraderie gives me hope in humanity, and allows for a level of natural reciprocity when sharing the same bit of wilderness at the same time. It is a balancing act for myself, constantly pushing one aspect only to turn around and gain a new perspective of the other.
    Great post, Joe! Live that dream.

  8. UKquosh

    I frequently dream of walking out of the door with just a backpack and not knowing where we'll be going or for how long. I guess this is me trying to get back some spontaneity in our lives. But you are right. This can be achieved close to home and without visiting new places.

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