The Fork In The Road


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Social climber
An Oil Field
Topic Author's Original Post - Dec 1, 2012 - 07:36pm PT
Many of us faced it and many young ones are soon facing it:

Continue on the dirtbag path, living your dreams and sometimes enduring lonely times, or going the easy path: Join the Human Race and go get a job and the wife and house and kids. Back then, climbing was a lifestyle. You couldn't own a dog. You couldn't have a car payment or the equivalent of an SUV. You didn't just go on weekends. It was 24/7, and if you weren't climbing, you were horsing around with the other dirtbags and laughing your kidneys out whenever Russ The Fish opened his mouth. And you were always dreaming of adventure.

At one point I found myself drifting further and further from the real world. This wasn't a one month road trip anymore, it wasn't even a lifestyle. It was my life. I wasn't even that good of a climber, but I climbed a lot and it now all seems like a blur. Many of my old friends hang out here on the Taco, which is how I got sucked into this hole in the first place. It is kinda like the Facebook of Old Climbing Friends. I can argue with Werner and Largo, even though they never knew me despite my being five feet away from them a hundred times.

For me, I wrestled with everything I had been taught and groomed to be. A normal person. I knew that if I kept on the dirtbag road for much longer, finishing the college degree and joining the real world was slipping away. A lot of friends wrestled with the same problem. Some remained dirtbags until they got whacked. Some are still at it. Then again, most eventually did what I did and ended up with the job, the house payment, the kid in college, and two dogs. If I hadn't had the experience of those dirtbag years I would have no idea, that at the age of 50, I am damn near tied to a post compared to the good old days of my youth.

For 15 years or so I would come out of retirement and go do a wall with a friend, but I no longer lived at the local crags. BASE jumping and skydiving dovetailed nicely into a normal Monday through Friday schedule.

I chose the easy fork in the road. A few took the other road, and the best example of a guy who gave up the most to continue the hard but good road of living in the dirt was one of my earliest friends, Walt Shipley.

I was reminded of all this today when I picked up the new Rock and Ice and there is a story about a summer in Chamonix with Walt and Duane. I look at the old pictures of us, that I have never even seen, and we look like babies.

Walt had it made. He was a true genius who chose the road of collecting experiences rather than the road of the IRS and house payments and having the neighbor feed the dogs when he took off for a week to go visit somebody who now lived on a golf course. He gave up a choice engineering job working on spy satellites for Lockheed, quit one day, built a decked out van to live in, and moved to the valley. He never really left. I first met him that summer when he made the permanent move. We met on a rainy evening in a hallway by the store over in the village. That hallway doesn't even exist anymore.

I have always needed adventure to keep my brains in place, so I invented many over the years. Now I am getting back into sailing and am buying a blue water boat in the next ten days. The boy has flown the coop and become a man, my wife has a career job, but I have had my own consulting business since shortly after I left Doug Robinson's "house" and all of the fun with Dale Bard and Bobbie Bensman, who also lived there. Mimi was just up the road and I would ride my bike from Round Valley to the Buttermilks every winter day and have them all to myself.

The last time I talked face to face with Walt was a few years before he died. I was coming through Yosemite just to show it to my wife. My son was too young to remember, but I remember Walt acting all goofy with my son, who loved his playing and couldn't bear it when it stopped. Walt played around with him in El Cap Meadow for at least a couple of hours.

Then Walt kind of got sad and said, "Man, I'm trapped here. I'm never going to be able to live in the real world." I guess the surface appearance of the toddler and my wife and the godawful expensive rental car must have jolted him a little. It was a shallow glimpse of the other road, the superficial part. He was having a moment of sadness about, after 20 years in the valley, he would never get a real job out there where people work, eat dinner, watch TV, go to sleep, and do it every day, more or less, until they die.

It was sort of gloomy to hear him say that. I felt the same way. I was now trapped by a world of responsibilities that extended way beyond myself, and there was no way of going back. I took the other fork in the road, and for both of us there was a sense of regret.

Looking back, I have no idea what the right move would have been. On the plus side, I have been married for over twenty years and I love my son in the way that only a parent could understand. On the flip side, I regret to this day driving back home to finish out the degree. I kept up with the adventures until my body started to fall apart, but I don't climb at all anymore. Even though I did a lot of other adventures later on, I still think of myself as a climber, because I grew up being a climber.

Have any of you had to make that decision and deal with the consequences, the good times and the regret?

I have a plan, though. I'm getting a sailboat next week and am gonna spend next summer sailing out of Chesapeake Bay. Everything about family responsibilities is more or less on autopilot now. How does dreaming about sailing around the world sound?

It is funny. You have to read that article and check out the pictures of us as 23 year old fit as a fiddle little terrors, totally happy living in the dirt, spending five dollars a day tops, and making friends who are still my friends to this day. It is like the are old army buddies or something. We grew up together wanting to do nothing more than climb and have great adventures.

Ahh..what would have happened if I had taken the other fork. Would I have been happier? I have no clue.
Dingus Milktoast

Gym climber
And every fool knows, a dog needs a home, and...
Dec 1, 2012 - 07:44pm PT
base I don't know you but from here and your kind and vastly intelligent words and awesome pics and stories.

One thing I know about you - you know how to jump on the back of a wild pony, grab her by the mane, kick her in the flanks hard and


Now you aint gotta do a wall to ride a wild pony. And you don't have to give up the family, a roof and a good car either. But you DO have carve out some time to ride wild ponies.

You need to MAKE time and KEEP MAKING IT. If you don't make the time its because you don't want to. Simple as that. Same for me as it is you.

Ride em Base. Change the definition of your game if needed, but you can tap the same wild core as your dirtbag youth did.... you just need to look for new ore.


Yes I have a thousand and one regrets, btw. But none so harsh at the moment I can't revel in getting past the flu and onto life's next adventure.


Social climber
An Oil Field
Topic Author's Reply - Dec 1, 2012 - 07:46pm PT
Oh, I know all of that. It is just that fork that we all have to take. I don't regret it all that much, but I read that story a few hours ago and it really took me back.
this just in

north fork
Dec 1, 2012 - 07:48pm PT
Enjoyed reading that base, well thought and makes me think. I'll get back to you in twenty years.

Sportbikeville & Yucca brevifolia
Dec 1, 2012 - 07:52pm PT
You sound like the master of your destiny. As it should be!

I get sentimental sometimes but the fact is, I have survived it all so far, and that's good enough.
Getting old ain't for pansies!

Mountain climber
Dec 1, 2012 - 07:55pm PT
Wow, great post.
I've certainly put some thought into this. Getting a van and just saying eff it all. I don't even have any huge responsibilities. Only a dog and girlfriend who'd love to come along. It's a tough decision and you put your experience rather eloquently.

Trad climber
Dec 1, 2012 - 08:14pm PT
Yep. I was in my mid/late-20s, had a good gig as a smokejumper for the USFS and climbed all winter during the off season. I was making OK money for a twenty something single guy with no rent to pay and climbed around five to six months a year. International trips, all over the west blah blah blah. I scrapped it all and went to law school!

I remember sitting in the rain and wind in a base camp in the Paine and thinking- I'm so f*#king over this. I actually remember the exact moment! I was just done (though still climbed a tower, yo). It wasn't the climbing, it was the lifestyle- I was getting lonely and was starting to feel boxed in. I think at some point the choice, as hard as it may be, becomes quite clear and more or less easy to make.

One can still climb or whatever and mix in a career and family, though the climbing standards suffer mightily (for most at least).


Trad climber
a semi lucid consciousness
Dec 1, 2012 - 08:16pm PT
Great post! What you write about speaks to me-and a lot of us here.

At one point, I was going to take some time and borrow my friends van & just climb/dirtbag while they were out of the country (on a bike ride from tip of South America to Alaska (for a year or two/they are still out on their journey)... but I chickened out... I still contemplate the fact that I think there may be a way to do it all... with a lap top and an internet connection, do you think you can have a foot on either side of that fork in the road, make a meager income, and climb like crazy? I know that my friends have made their journey a success... I think about how I could be out having adventures too, but then again, it all takes money, which involves work to earn... so there seems the dilemma. I stress too much when I do not have enough money. So that is part of what holds me back. And I'm ok with it, at least I have work that I love. edited: @ontheedgeandscaredtodeath-yes climbing standards suffer mightily for most ;-) ;-) oh YES they do, the frustrating side effects!

I like what you've written, and it's interesting no matter which fork you take, there is longing or wondering of what was missed not going the other way. How could there not be. Thanks for the thoughts. I like the idea of trying to tread water in both worlds.

Social climber
An Oil Field
Topic Author's Reply - Dec 1, 2012 - 08:17pm PT
I often felt that to know how good things can get was a curse of sorts.

Exactly!!! If we never had experiences like this, we would all be accountants and not even know that that world is out there. Knowing it is certainly a curse.

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Dec 1, 2012 - 08:19pm PT
Wonderful, heartfelt examination of what appears to have been a life well lived.
Happiness is sought by everyone but is ephemeral for most and illusive for many.
Who knows what fork is best, certainly money and fame have been shown to produce as much heartache as happiness.
I was lucky to be able to have a career in the outdoor industry that provided me with a good income and plenty of opportunity to pursue my passion for climbing.
I am at 69 married to a wonderful woman, comfortably retired and physically fit enough to still climb at a decent standard. Hell...I even have a house in Patagonia with a world-class view. People always tell me how lucky I am. Yeah....but my son died at the age of 20 and my daughter is currently dealing with life threatening problems.
Life is tough....we all do the best that we can.

Trad climber
Dec 1, 2012 - 08:53pm PT

One hell of a good post!

I have often had similar thoughts, but I can't complain. If I had it to do over again, I'm not sure that I would change a thing. Heck, I still get a chance once a year to go on a climbing trip and climb with the likes of the old fart who just posted, Jim Donini.

Seriously, I'm sure every human soul has questioned the paths they have taken, and the roads they might of gone down. The reality is that there is only so much time to live and one cannot due everything that one wished for.

Dec 1, 2012 - 08:55pm PT
spending five dollars a day tops . . .

In the 1950s I would meet Chouinard in the Tetons and we would camp together, boulder and climb a little together. He was living on about 25 cents a day, and I was plush with 50 cents. Yvon prided himself as a dirtbag, but beneath that sometimes grubby, grinning appearance he was a sharp man, and his "dirtbagging" transitioned to a lifestyle in which money and business led to Patagonia Industries and eventually a televised conference with President Clinton and fellow corporate leaders.

I never considered myself a "dirtbag" and always contemplated a life in which adventures on the rock were complemented with a family and an academic career of sorts. The life of a dirtbag climber - or even a "professional" climber - had little appeal because of its one-dimensionality.

Now, Chouinard is of course a very wealthy family man, and I have raised a family and live on a comfortable pension (not extravagant - my needs have never been great).

On the other hand, we all know serious climbers who dedicated themselves in a life-long manner to the sport - certainly not necessarily "dirtbags" - who, in old age, are sadly in need of fundraisers and monetary gifts from those of us who planned our lives a bit differently.

I have never regretted remaining an "amateur" in the sport and leading a more balanced life. Your description of the tedious monotony of quotidian affairs and obligations and their downward spiral into extinction is somewhat depressing. But, IMHO, is most certainly not (and not intended to be, I'm sure) an argument for "dirtbagging" one's life away.

Go sail your new boat and recapture those moments of adventure and daring . . . isn't it nice you can afford that boat? I would speculate you are much better off at your age having overcome your resistance to completing your degree years ago. From what you say, what you have missed is the wonderful world of Walt.

just southwest of the center of the universe
Dec 1, 2012 - 09:11pm PT
The Road Not Taken

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. 20

Robert Frost (18741963)


Dec 1, 2012 - 09:14pm PT

When I saw the fork in the road I picked it up to to use to eat my salad with ......


Trad climber
Dec 1, 2012 - 09:23pm PT
base, come on out and go cragging with me sometime bro. ill set you up in my dirtbag camper in the backyard. we'll climb cracks till were covered with gobi's, then come back and around the campfire , tell shipley stories till we drop (always a cold one in the frig for ya bud)

Dec 1, 2012 - 09:24pm PT
When you come to the fork in the road, take it.....
First world problems. That was a nice story in the mag Mark.
Ricky D

Trad climber
Sierra Westside
Dec 1, 2012 - 09:33pm PT
This is what is nice about schizophrenia - you get to live more than one life at a time.

Since I'm not - I'll have to wait until Alzheimer's sets in.

Dec 1, 2012 - 10:33pm PT
It pays not to be egotistical and think one can make the "right" choice. Face the facts. The best one can hope for is to make choices that "work".

Choices that don't work. never leave one wondering. So if you are wondering, just the fact you are wondering tells you your choices were "good".

Trad climber
BackInTheDitch BackInTheDirt BackInTheDay
Dec 1, 2012 - 10:35pm PT
I fully believe that, jstan.


Sport climber
Boulder, Colorado!
Dec 1, 2012 - 11:18pm PT
I actually did come to a fork in the road. I didn't see it. Ran over it and got a flat tire. True story.

I think there are many forks in our road of life. The trick for me was trying to leave as many paths as open as possible. I didn't want to make decisions that limited choices.

That you have options makes you a fortunate man. Congratulations!
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