“My gawd! Isn’t this great? It’s deer feces!”
Those eight words stand among the most inspiring I’ve heard in my 63 years.
It put a lot of things in perspective for me.
And they were uttered by a 17-year-old.
I realize those words are never going to make it onto a Hallmark card or the latest reincarnation of the Jonathan Livingston Seagull genre of soothing platitudes. But they put me on a different course in how I looked at the world and viewed others’ views.
I was 31 at the time. I was in the middle of a vacation I had been looking forward to for close to a year crisscrossing Sierra mountain passes from Tahoe to Yosemite on a solo fully loaded touring bicycle ride. As bizarre as it may seem for someone that could give the motor mouth in the old Federal Express commercials serious competition, I live to get away five to six days by myself where I may not utter more than 10 words for the entire time to another human being.
Brian McClain was riding with me because of Mark Jones, a sports trainer at Lincoln High, who unbeknownst to me was on a mission to get someone for the highly talkative teen that was enthralled with road bicycling and who he thought could benefit from mentoring from someone with the same enthusiasm for cycling.
When Mark suggested I invite Brian on one of my day rides in the Sierra, I resisted. Mark persisted. I continued to resist. Then one day Mark told me that all Brian could talk about — a huge white lie by the way — was being able to get someone to take him bicycling on mountain roads.
We ended up going on some day rides out of Lincoln. During one of the rides I mentioned about my planned six-day trip. Big mistake. He instantly wanted to come.
Long story short I finally relented but as soon as I did I started questioning my decision. I really value being alone at times.
My only condition for him was to have a professional mechanic get his bicycle in shape for the trip and that if he couldn’t afford it I’d pay for it. Brian did all of his maintenance but I did not want anything to mechanically go wrong in the middle of nowhere while being responsible for a 17 year-old. We would be covering just over 630 miles in six days that included more than 25,000 feet in net elevation gain.
On the fourth day as we were leaving Lee Vining to head up Tioga Pass to Yosemite National Park’s high country via Highway 120, we were barely 200 yards from Highway 395 when I learned Brian did not follow my “one condition”. Brian’s crank arm came off and in the process did damage to the bottom bracket. It was a repair you couldn’t make on the road.
I was furious. As Brian went on about how he could fix it — a complete impossibility as we needed new parts and tools that we didn’t have — I did my best not to verbalize my anger. I’m sure the sternness of my tone and my facial expression did not fool him.
I was stuck in the middle of nowhere with a 17-year-old that was my responsibility.
I was fuming, but not for long. Brian started to apologize for ruining my vacation. He actually started crying saying it was his fault and that he was always screwing things up.
It hit me like a ton of bricks. I was being self-centered. I could just wallow in my frustration, ruin my vacation, and make Brian feel even worse or I could act like there were more important things in the world than me.
I then told Brian we would try to book another night in Lee Vining, call my mother to get one of my other racing bicycles, and see if we could get someone to bring it down from Lincoln to Lee Vining. If not there was always Greyhound.
The plan ended up working. Brian’s grandparents along with his mother and sister would come down later that day in their RV with my bicycle.
Meanwhile we were stuck in Lee Vining for another day. I was resigned to spending the day in the room watching TV. But Brian was restless. He could see Mono Lake, perhaps a good two miles away, from the motel window and suggested we hike down to it.
This might sound crazy given what I do today, but hiking even two miles or so cross country was nothing I was ever going to do. But then again after 15 minutes of watching TV — one of my least favorite things to do — I figured what the heck.
The hike started our just as I expected — repetitious scenery, hardpan and rocks that hurt my aching feet, and a list of other things that if you fast forward to today are all things that I embrace. Rest assured I wasn’t embracing them that day.
Brian was talking a mile a minute — coming from me that is a rich statement to make — about everything under the sun from the Apollo space program to politics. I listened as we walked content not saying a thing.
I was watching where I was stepping as we walked as we had entered an area with a lot of animal droppings.
Then all of a sudden Brian stopped, turned toward me and said the eight words I’ll remember until the day I die — “My gawd! Isn’t this great? It’s deer feces!”
I looked around. All I saw was animal droppings. Then I looked at Brian. For a split second I thought he was certifiable. Then he excitedly shared how his favorite instructor — biology teacher Mark Fowler — had one day showed the class different animal feces. Brian was finding incredible joy in what was before him — something I thought was mere crap.
In that instant it was if I had been struck by a lightning bolt. The difference between disgust and enthusiasm was a matter of how you looked at what was before you. Don’t get me wrong. I was still crap. And while I haven’t become a professional trapper or hunter, identifying scat comes in might handy especially when you are hiking in mountain lion country.
What it did was jar me from the tendency to look at things — including arguments — from only one side. If you can do that you may amaze yourself at what you discover or how there is value in someone else’s view that could be wedded with yours in a fashion to move the world along. And if nothing else you will see the world not simply as crap and non-crap on both a figuratively and literally basis.
If I were to translate Brian’s words that day into something more mundane it would be along the lines of “you can’t see until you listen.”
That said, “My gawd! Isn’t it great? It’s deer feces!’ is more of an attention grabber.
Just keep in mind you never know where you are going to find inspiration whether it is through the eyes of an enthusiastic 17-year-old looking at the world or — for want of better words — something at first glance you view as crap.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.