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.