The Best Gifts Are Not Things You Ask For

the old trek

“Send me a list of gift ideas for you.” Why do we do this around the holidays now?

I mean, have you ever really said, “That was so thoughtful of you to buy me all the things on that list I sent you”? Have we taken the custom of gift-giving, and removed the heart from it so we can get what we think we need?

Maybe having a holiday where everyone gives each other a bunch of gifts has changed the meaning of the word — we no longer buy someone something when we think of them, but in December, when we have to buy something for everyone we feel close to. Maybe we give a little excessively, and we no longer think of our mother every time we use the food processor she put under the tree for us in 2008 (or was that 2009?) along with the other 17 gifts. Maybe we just got tired of buying people sweaters and wondering why they never wore them.

It’s easier to buy gifts for kids: We used to bounce around the house talking at least daily about how great the My Newest Disney Princess Doll was, or how we wished we had a GameBox 900000 so we wouldn’t have to go over to Jimmy’s house to blow things up on a TV screen. Also, we wrote letters to Santa. Adults are more complicated, harder to wow, and in general more spoiled.

In 2004, I was perfectly happy not being a climber. I worked at the REI store in Phoenix and deflected all invitations to join my co-workers at the climbing gym. Then my brother piled a climbing rope he’d bought but never used into a box and put it under the Christmas tree at my parents’ house back in Iowa. When I opened it, I was nonplussed at best, and probably told him Thank You in the same tone I would have if he’d just gifted me an old toaster. I took the rope back to Phoenix and eventually went out climbing with some guys from work. I sucked. I was scared, had bad footwork, and was a bad listener.

But something was there. I had been treading water in life for a couple years, really without an identity. I stuck with climbing. Six years later, I got my first article published in Climbing magazine. A couple years after that, I stood on top of the Grand Teton with my buddy Chris, coiling another rope over my shoulders, my brother’s Christmas gift long retired. I don’t think either of us saw that one coming when I opened that box in 2004.

One summer Sunday evening in 2006, my pal Nick buzzed my apartment and said over the intercom, Hey, come down here, I got something for you. I popped out the front door of the building to see him standing holding a red 1989 Trek 330, probably with the original tires on it. He had bought it from some guy for $240, probably half a week’s paycheck for either of us then. It wasn’t my birthday; he just bought it for me because he needed someone to ride with. I sure as hell didn’t need a bike then. But I rode the shit out of that thing.

It was my first real road bike as an adult, and it was perfect: Steel, classic, a downtown Denver bike. I rode everywhere and forgot about my car for five years. I fell in love with my city, riding year-round, flying around the streets at night, and met some of my best friends based on the fact that we both liked to ride bikes. I eventually broke the frame, snapping the seat tube weld directly above the bottom bracket. Four years after Nick bought me that bike, I rode another old steel bike across the country, lucky enough to get invited on a trip with an old friend, someone who probably wouldn’t have even thought of me had Nick not bought me the Trek 330.

I think about those two things a lot. Two not-shiny, not-new things that changed my life in incredible ways. Neither of those guys got up early on Black Friday, or stood in line waiting for a store to open because they saw some deal advertised somewhere. If twenty-something me would have written a letter to Santa, he never would have asked for a bike or a climbing rope. But without those two things, I’d be a very different person.

It’s hard to imagine needing something you don’t think you want. I guess it helps if someone thoughtful imagines it for you.

-Brendan

Semi-Rad is brought to you by Outdoor Research.

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6 Comments

  1. Aaron F
    December 20, 2012

    The same goes for someone who tells you to do something that you never thought you could…….like “Dude, buy a bike and ride to work, it’ll change your life. If you all you can do are find the ways you can’t, then that’s fine, but it’s really not that big of a deal. Yeah, you just fold your dress clothes, put them in a pack & dress when you get to work. It’s really a lot more simple than you think. Trust me, just try it”…….or at least it went something like that in my mind. 5-6 years later I’m still riding my bike to work everyday, even today when it was a sweet-ass 3 degrees outside.

    Sometimes all we need is a push, an idea, a way to make it work, or the encouragement by someone who cares. Better than a present are the people in our lives who make that happen. Their friendships are more than any gift we could ask for.

    Cheers buddy!

    Reply
  2. Matt Z
    December 20, 2012

    Totally. Best gift I ever got was a down sleeping bag when I was about 15. At the time I was like, “really mom and dad? a sleeping bag?” Fast-forward five years and I’ve spent probably a year sleeping in it everywhere from New Hampshire to Colorado, Texas to New Zealand. So much more useful and awesome than the Xbox or Playstation I was probably asking for back then.

    Reply
  3. Mike
    May 20, 2013

    My commuter bike is an old Trek 820 mtb I found at work hanging on the wall that encircled the old pool(I work at a country club). I took that old bike down and put it in the club lost and found for 30 days and kept glancing at it. I finally took it to a local bike shop to get it tuned up and now I ride the hell out of that bike! I have taken it on all the singletrack we have here in the Triangle and now commute on it round trip 9 miles a day. It’s gone through 2 chains, numerous sets of tires, a couple of handlebars, and now its racked and fendered. I think about the many miles i have put on that trek and the many friends i have made because of it. I love the hell out of that free gift/bike!

    Reply

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