Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | February 25, 2016

The Sheer Joy of Adventure

As human beings, we possess an undeniable urge to seek adventure — to put ourselves in a context where we feel the tension between comfort and uncertainty. Venturing to the edge of everything familiar and then taking one more step in the direction of a distant horizon changes everything.

Adventure is not for the timid but instead reserved for those willing to begin a story without knowing how it’s going to end. In 1923, a New York Times reporter asked British climber George Mallory why he wanted to climb Mt. Everest. “Because it’s there,” replied Mallory. The following year Mallory disappeared on the world’s highest mountain in his bid for the summit.

A year before Mallory’s oft-quoted quip about climbing Everest, the intrepid British climber said, “…there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it.” In the end, noted Mallory, “What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life.”

Jim Olson Bike Ride
What started me reflecting on all this is a 1961 newspaper article from the Newark Star Ledger that my friend Peggy Loch shared with me. The article is entitled “‘Nothing to Do,’ 2 Teen Pals Take 3,300-mile Bike Ride.” It’s a fascinating story about two California teens who decided to bike from their home all the way to the East coast. Jim Olson, one of those teens, is Peggy’s dad.

I was five years old when Jim and his friend Richard Malmgren embarked on their great cycling adventure. These two guys set a three-dollar-per-day budget, loaded their gear onto their ten-speed bikes, and set off on their epic adventure. Even though they had no guarantee how their story would end, they nevertheless set off on the adventure of a lifetime.

Jim Olson Topeka News
The friends covered about 120 miles a day. Jim said that crossing the Rockies and the Appalachians proved to be “pretty tough.” They encountered all sorts of challenging weather conditions but never stopped. And, because they could not afford to stay in motels, the guys camped along the way. They slept in cornfields, ballparks, and once in a county courthouse.

Mile by mile they pressed on, determined to reach their distant goal. Six weeks later they arrived at the home of family friends in New Jersey. Other than being mentioned in some newspapers along the way, the teens did not receive any reward or recognition for their accomplishment. But that’s ok because that is not why they rode their bikes across the country. In the words of Mallory, what they did get was “just sheer joy” — the particular kind of joy reserved for those who do hard things.

Jim Olson and Tex
Today, Jim remains active and still rides his bike. He’s never quite lost his thirst for adventure. Jim’s grandson Tex, an Eagle Scout, shares his grandfather’s yen for doing hard things in the great outdoors. How cool for Jim to ride with his grandson — something he could not have envisioned when his legs were burning and his heart was pumping hard as he crossed over the Rockies.


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