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 (1874–1963)


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!

Social climber
Dec 1, 2012 - 11:24pm PT
hey there say, werner... i like what you said...
not sure if i see the full salad of what you meant, but to be, as to the
ol fork in the road:

when you first take the fork-side that you choose, well, in a sense, you have also chosen the other side, too: you've chosen to 'save it' ...

we can't possibly be everywhere in the world at once, or do everything ALL at once...

if we choose the side of our fork, right--the rest falls into place:
the other side of the fork 'turns around' and either partake of some
of it... use some of it for our 'meal of life', or decide to reject
what it offers completely, as:

we don't NEED that 'adventure portion' --we are 'learned' as to who we
are and happy as for going with our 'gut feeling'...

can't say for sure:
but if one does have regrets as to certain folks in the road, perhaps one
has not fully learned all of who oneself is yet?
and needs to explore a bit more and find the missing pieces...
*not meaning to ditch what is built as to family and home (self and a tent/lone room) --just study a bit as to what happened, at the fork,
and then TAKE it from there...

good luck base104--perhaps after a bit more study, and your sail,
things will fork-over a satisfied new portion to this meal of life,
for you...


nice post for all to reflect on, thanks for sharing...

Ice climber
the ghost
Dec 1, 2012 - 11:30pm PT
Whether you climb(ed) full time or part time, you are much better off than those who have never climbed.

I suspect that most climbers:
-define themselves by their skills & attitudes, not by their possessions
-realize that life is much more fun if you have a reasonable degree of physical fitness
-are no strangers to adversity, and thus handle it better

Mountain climber
honeoye falls,ny.greeneck alleghenys
Dec 1, 2012 - 11:37pm PT
base,well written,i cant add to that much, but to say, go for story is almost inverse,i poured my life into hockey the first 20 years,all the way to college.had 6 shoulder injuries.moved to cali,surfed,bouldered,built back up.since then i have been a carpenter/contractor,always lookin to get away.4 years ago,everything changed,at 54 i have learned to live on nothing.its time to live at the crags,the bc ski spots and the rivers.just a different fork is all.

Sport climber
Boulder, Colorado!
Dec 1, 2012 - 11:39pm PT
Like a real fork? and it popped your tire? Well don't that beat all! good thing it wasn't a land mine eh?

Yes, a real fork. A dinner fork. And it did make my tire go flat. I couldn't even be grumpy about it since it was so absurd!

I too am happy it was not a land mine. :)

Mountain climber
Anchorage AK, Reno NV
Dec 1, 2012 - 11:39pm PT

Mighty Hiker

Vancouver, B.C.
Dec 2, 2012 - 12:15am PT
When you come to a fork in the road, take it. (Attributed to some folk philosopher.)

Aren't we lucky to have all the choices that we have, and to be able to live as we do? 99.99% of all humans who've ever lived, and 90% of all those currently living, might envy our fortune.

Trad climber
AKA Dwain, from Apple Valley, Ca. and Vegas!
Dec 2, 2012 - 12:33am PT
photo not found
Missing photo ID#276519

Social climber
joshua tree
Dec 2, 2012 - 12:54am PT
Good job Base!

Nice Up! jogill

I miss Walt too...

Big Wall climber
san jose, ca
Dec 2, 2012 - 12:55am PT
Good words for thought from a lot of people on here....
I graduate in May and have some major forks to workout...

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
Dec 2, 2012 - 01:52am PT
We all like to think we make our fork choices
willingly but do we really? Would that I
could count all the forks I've careened down.
I could stock a restaurant.

Trad climber
the crowd MUST BE MOCKED...Mocked I tell you.
Dec 2, 2012 - 02:01am PT
I would ride my bike from Round Valley to the Buttermilks every winter day and have them all to myself.



Went to work for REI early on, thinking it would sustain me in my climber lifestyle, but I quickly found out it wouldn't satisfy me intellectually. My brain hurt with questions: life, existence, determinism, and how to climb more.

Some school lead to summers off and climbing all over California, which lead to more school closer to Yosemite. Couple years of being able to go to the Valley regularly really let me feel a kinship for the area, and be baptized in climbing. The Prow some pitches on Half Dome, some cragging of the best kind, even a bolt or two on an potential FA.

But all the while I was schooling and maximizing my time. Summers, weekends, holidays, we were about climbing. Though not living the dirt bag lifestyle, it was modest. Rents helped as best they could, part time jobs here and there, and some good friends kept me climbing.

Student loans allowed for more school, and more climbing. All in all, quite a bit of balance between the 'climbing life' and the 'normal life'.

Do I wish that sometimes I would have done more hard cracks, more FAs, more Walls? Sure, in that vague amorphous sense that more climbing is better than less climbing. But now, having done enough things (onsights in the 11 range, climbing on 12s, high sierra routes, new routing, climbing on choss, El Cap, ice, bouldering, and even a renewed appreciate for offwidth!!! ones climbs should inspire, be fun and with friends, and not just be numbers or done because they are "classic." And also, the schooling has allowed me to do cool things I would never have been able to be exposed to before; to honestly say "I made a difference" in my own way.

The fork is what you make it. Any climbing is a blessing and a gift. Anything more is a fortune! Ride the wild pony indeed, wherever her meadow may be!


Trad climber
Dec 2, 2012 - 02:12am PT
You did it right. Whatever fork you take it's you on that road.
You were a good climber because you were happy to be there, and you really went for that and other edges with a running start. You lived, man. And you've got some left, too.
It is impossible to achieve the perfect mix of freedom and responsibility, and at either end of the scale lies a form of hell.

Sport climber
mammoth lakes ca
Dec 2, 2012 - 02:16am PT
I knew a guy who mixed his cement with a pitch fork...The guy was a real mortar forker...RJ
Todd Eastman

Bellingham, WA
Dec 2, 2012 - 02:23am PT
You don't have to dirtbag it to stay engaged and creative with your interests.

Trad climber
Santa Cruz Mountains and Monterey Bay
Dec 2, 2012 - 02:28am PT
regrets are a waste of time

to quote Pogo:

'We are surrounded by insurmountable opportunities!'


Dec 2, 2012 - 07:52am PT
Interesting post,many admire Fred Beckey's life but would not sacrifice to do so, I'm sure Fred's nomad life would not work for all, but something tells me that if Fred had to do it all over again he wouldn't change a thing.The fork with the college degree, job and family are the sure thing the other not so sure, who knows what lies around the next bend but of that came the mountain men, restless spirits who roamed the west in search of the next great adventure. In the end I'm sure many died lonely death's with few to mourn their loss but it is the life they chose and I doubt many of them had regrets.
Rick A

Boulder, Colorado
Dec 2, 2012 - 11:05am PT
Climbing is magnificent and all-consuming, and if you do it at a high level, it’s gratifying to get the admiration of your peers and your name in the odd guide book… But regardless of whether we have chosen the dirtbag lifestyle or a more conventional one, we can all agree that climbing is not worth getting killed for. Something that has not been mentioned so far is that for too many who took the road less traveled, it ended in a youthful fatality in the mountains and a lifetime of grieving for their families: literally a dead end.

I have known quite a few who pursued the game of constantly upping the ante in climbing accomplishment and risk. I played that game to a small degree, myself. One fork that I look back on is the summer of 1978. I was in the middle of my first year of law school, when Tobin Sorenson invited me to go with him to the Garwhal Himalaya, all expenses paid by sponsors, to attempt some beautiful, but objectively dangerous, unclimbed peaks. That trip got canceled, but had we gone, we might have accomplished some very daring and memorable first ascents (which would have led to further sponsored trips)…or it is quite possible that we would have died trying.

That summer,instead of embarking on a dangerous adventure with Tobin, I worked construction in Idylewild and it so happened that I fell in love with a beautiful girl, now my wife of 32 years. There is no doubt in my mind that I stumbled onto the right path, despite the inevitable stress and drudgery that comes with a career and responsibility for a family.

Dec 2, 2012 - 11:27am PT
Wow, you had a road?! What I wouldn't have given for a road.

And many many thanks to Crimpergirl for her fork in the road story.

Sport climber
mammoth lakes ca
Dec 2, 2012 - 12:37pm PT
I'm always intrigued-amazed by the medical professionals that work 16 hour shifts , have kids and family life , and still manage to get out and accomplish impressive athletic feats...

Trad climber
June Lake, California....via the Damascus Road
Dec 2, 2012 - 12:41pm PT
"Two roads diverged in a wood...and I...I took the one less traveled....and that has made all the difference."

Robert Frost
Jim Brennan

Trad climber
Vancouver Canada
Dec 2, 2012 - 12:47pm PT
You can't get there from here.


Trad climber
Carson City, NV
Dec 2, 2012 - 02:14pm PT
Looking back, it seems not so much about which direction to choose as it is just to choose.
Ones personality seems to dictate how long to stick with a choice and when to move on.

What do you want to trade your life for or maybe more importantly what not to trade your life for.
I was lucky enough to grow up in the mountains and have spent my life enjoying them.

I have two parameters that have helped guide me.
Never have a real job (office - cubicle) and always take the less traveled path. Seems to work for me. Never would have survived a real job.

When I look back on some choices I almost made for a career, I am frightened at how it could have been. I maybe could have done better ($$) in some ways but so far, how I have literally - spent my life - is pretty satisfying.

Great wife - awesome daughter - and I get to go rock climbing!

Trad climber
East Coast US
Dec 2, 2012 - 02:23pm PT
I think about this all the time...

Spring of '83. End of my sophomore year as an undergraduate. Owed $900 to the bursar's office after Ronnie Regan took away a big chunk of my grant money. Said he needed it to fund bigger, badder weapons development so we could all prosper from the trickle down of wealth. I just interviewed for a summer job with the Curry Company in the valley and scored a position as a carpenter paying a whopping $7/hr when the minimum wage was $3.35/hr. I had a plan to nurse my '74 AMC matador out to Cali, sell it, and make my way in Yos. Screw college. I was over it. No one was helping me and no one gave a sh1t about me. Time to strike out on my own.

That was on a Friday afternoon in Philly.

After binge drinking with other Regan castoffs all weekend and not studying for my finals because it just didn't matter anymore, my financial aid adviser asked me to come down to her office immediately. It was early Monday morning. For whatever reason, I actually walked the 5 blocks because I needed air and ended up on the steps to that building.

Long story, short, she found state and private grants that covered 70% of my lost federal funding and scored me a job at the university press (many interesting stories working there). My outstanding tuition balance was paid off and I had a Electromagnetic Fields & Waves course final in 90 minutes. Got a 'C' on the test, a 'B' for a final grade, and a stern lecture from my professor for slacking late in the game. I stayed home that summer and earned money to go back to school in the fall. Never took the Curry Company job and received a letter from them that I could never work for CC in the future.

I ended up graduating a few years later and got a job in the defense industry with Lockheed doing RADAR research, signal processing algorithm development, and simulation platform development in FORTRAN all in the quest for bigger, badder weapons systems. And the sh1t I worked on probably led to some very fast and violent deaths to humans who never had a chance in a fire and forget wartime environment.

The best years of my climbing career were still ahead of me. I did a number of big walls and some hard scary free climbing during that time. Then I met my wife, got a house, made three kids, and will have college payments in the not so distant future.

So I took 'that' path because of a hard working financial aid adviser. And it kills me to this day that I cannot remember her name.
Jim Brennan

Trad climber
Vancouver Canada
Dec 2, 2012 - 03:02pm PT

I took the job of a carpenter/labouror precisely to pursue climbing. It wasn't so much of a choice as an opportunity. After all, what better way to make money, quit to go climbing and live in a pick-up truck without the dire thought of having given up a REALLY GOOD career.

That was a LITTLE bit immature and expedient... But paths taken and forks in roads are really about adventures. There's no guarantee that university success, construction contracting or any other avenue taken will lead to the imagined goal.

Tangled up in Blue is in the best song Dylan ever wrote.

"But all the while I was alone the past was close behind, I've seen a lot of women but she never escaped my mind"...

The Muses Dancing:

Credit: What could possibly go wrong ?

So now I'm a middle aged contractor who skis and rides a bike because moving fast and breathing the air feels so free. Family, friends I have and the ones I've lost through climbing and "the life", are what make everything life is about today just as fantastic as ever.

"Some are mathematicians. Some are carpenter's wives. Don't know how it all got started. I don't know what they do with their lives"...

Spider Savage

Mountain climber
The shaggy fringe of Los Angeles
Dec 2, 2012 - 04:25pm PT
As a young man I enjoyed the vagabond life.

I drifted about learned to live on very little.

I wandered into LA with $17, a backpack and a guitar. Camped by the observatory the first night. Over the long years I built a decent middle class life and learned to love this city like I love the wild places of the West.

Now that the kids are grown, I can begin to think of those things I never got to do. Pick up some of those loose ends and continue on.

At least I mostly have the money now.


Trad climber
Dec 2, 2012 - 10:14pm PT
Base. It was many years ago we chowed down on some stir fried chicken in your van at the Buttermilks and discussed this very subject. At the time neither one of us knew what the future held. You have done well Mark. Stay the course.

Dec 2, 2012 - 11:08pm PT
now I standing here in 2ft of freezing rain water in The Pit

Journalistic license.

No rain in JT and was pleasantly warm all day long. Got windy as the day wore on.

Trad climber
Mancos, CO
Dec 2, 2012 - 11:12pm PT
"When you come to a fork in the road, take it!”

Yogi Berra, baseball philosopher

My life has had forks in the road, but did I really have a choice? Or was the choice made by my personality, expectations, assumptions, upbringing, biases, what mommy and daddy told me to do?

Or were the choices made by forces beyond understanding. Here's an example from my life I've never fully understood.

When I was about five years old, I distinctly remember one day listening to my paternal grandmother babbling on and on as was her habit. Her rant of the day was, "Your grandfather was an engineer; your father is an engineer; being an engineer is a good thing to do."

From that very moment, I made a solemn vow with myself. I never wavered from this vow. Though I had no idea what an "engineer" was - whatever it was - I vowed that I would NEVER be one. My thought process was simple and visceral. If my grandmother thought it was a good idea to be an engineer, I knew she was wrong and I didn't want to do it!

Did I have any choice about this issue? Was I simply driven by a primitive rebelliousness and a perverse sense that whatever my grandmother thought, I would do the opposite because I thought she was a lunatic (and not without good reason I might add).

Social climber
So Cal
Dec 2, 2012 - 11:15pm PT
Journalistic license.

No rain in JT and was pleasantly warm all day long. Got windy as the day wore on.

Very windy!

But it once again was pleasant just as the sun faded.

Social climber
Dec 3, 2012 - 02:36am PT
Man, I love your post BASE. I was lucky enough to meet another "lifer" in climbing who became my life partner. We live to climb at every opportunity. The work-a-day stuff? That is what you do to have those amazing moments of joy.

It gets blurry at 50, but mostly I sacrificed any career besides manual labor to climb 200 days a year for 10 years. Then I just couldn't find another thing that made me as happy for another 12.

Over 50, I question the wisdom of this decision - but as a climbing lifer I have ZERO regrets.

Especially since I met Skip.


Trad climber
Dec 3, 2012 - 02:49am PT
Nice post Base.

I've been able to climb a lot and I make a meager wage. Ive always struggle with what I could have been had I been able to focus one way or the other.

It's never been about a lack of passion, only whether or not I could handle what my passion demanded of me. As it is now, I am caught between both and therefore cannot fully enjoy either.

Gud luck with your passion.

Trad climber
The rock doesn't care what I think
Dec 3, 2012 - 10:40am PT
Why, we have a fork in the road right here in Pasadena!

Credit: LA Times

There's a good story behind that: Pasadena Fork in the Road

A very thoughtful post and discussion. I've been contemplating just this very topic recently and have a germ of an idea about something I'd like to write about it. With respect to climbing and the other aspects of my life, I've also been playing with the idea of the road less travelled. Except in my instance, the road I've taken feels like it's the third road, the even more less travelled.

This has a lot to do with my choices raising children, especially in light that I was a father for a good time before I even began climbing. This has limited what I've been able to do with respect to climbing, and I've sometimes wondered how it would have been different if I'd started before kids.

But I've always firmly held no regrets in my life. Including the disasters and mistakes. They've all been there and guided me when I see them from a higher perspective. Of course, in the thick of them as they happened, I didn't always enjoy that perspective! I am where I need to be. The challenges and struggles continue, but I wouldn't have it any other way.


Dingleberry Gulch, Ideeho
Dec 3, 2012 - 10:53am PT
Everything happens for a reason.

Or not.

Trad climber
The rock doesn't care what I think
Dec 3, 2012 - 11:13am PT
I agree with DMT on Beckey: I appreciate his life and I sense he does too. But that wouldn't be a content experience for me.


Social climber
An Oil Field
Topic Author's Reply - Dec 3, 2012 - 12:22pm PT
It wasn't like I was actually living on beans all of the time. Most of us picked up ski area jobs and skiied all winter. I used to drive a cat at mammoth.

That was the absolute coolest job I have ever had. Driving a snow cat. Man, can I tell some stories, but the coolest were avalanche control mornings. We all had our spot to go to, and most of the mountain was covered in red on our map for avalanche control.

I would get about 4 or 5 ski patrol on the back and give them a ride. I can't remember the mountain well enough to name the point, but I took them up there, which was really hard with 3 feet or more of new snow. You couldn't go up anything but the easiest runs to get there.

Then I would drop them off and they would take off below me tossing bombs and ski cutting chutes. I had a great view of the entire mountain from my spot, and would kick back with Johnny Cash on the stereo and a hot French Roast to sip on. The fixed cannons would take off and just as the light was coming up I would sit there and watch the fireworks. The explosions didn't really make a noise that I could hear, but there was a nice "thump" of the pressure wave hitting the windshield.

Climb all summer, ski and boulder all winter, occasionally ice climbing a little, and I was surrounded with friends who many of you old farts know well.

I would go fishing on off days with Joe Faint (RIP), ski with Allan Bard (RIP) and his crowd. Mimi lived up in Crowley and would come down to go bouldering with us. It was great. Bishop used to be this really quiet redneck town. The last time I went through there I almost cried it had become so "cool."

If I had stayed, I would have had a great life, just poorer. The people who I know who can do it were the ones with a good skill, like carpentry or something. They could take off and work for a few months and then come back with cash.

I was taking semesters or years off from college, but the real decision came a year after I got my Bachelor's degree. I had one last tremendously fun year and then moved back to Oklahoma and became a normal person.

The friends and connections from that time fill my memories. Later years of other things don't come close to that.

I think it was Fish or somebody who described Camp 4 as "A big house with a bunch of friends."

We only spent the spring and fall in Camp 4, and then would migrate to cooler climes during the summer.

Ahh, it was fun. Never to be seen again. I look at guys who stayed, and they seem to have adjusted to the life well and are quite happy.

I came back because that was sort of what was expected of me. Damn.

Right now I am out on a drilling rig, which I don't do much anymore. We make the young geologists do that. I am having to steer a horizontal, which is fun, but not as fun as soloing a favorite route for the 200th time.

Trad climber
Dec 3, 2012 - 02:33pm PT
Why this talk of a fork in the road? It is not a binary decision, go all climbing or all career. It is possible, with enough skills and luck, to succeed at both. There are a number of climbers who have managed to do both(think of George Lowe or Dave Cheesmond for example) at a high standard. The trick is to get a good career with ample time off and situated near a good climbing area.
I found that to concentrate on one thing only is boring after a while. Like after 3 months of climbing I would want to go travelling or even go back to work.
The biggest decision is whether to have kids. I am glad for my 2 wonderful daughters though they meant giving up on climbing for 5 years in the 90's.
Now I have a 60% part time work arrangement. I work in blocks of 12 office days (office hours and weekends off) then get 12 total days off. It is great and allows for some good trips. I get back to the office with my brain cleaned out and full of enthusiasm and am very productive.
I am lucky and am experiencing the best of both worlds.

Gym climber
Berkeley, CA
Dec 3, 2012 - 02:49pm PT
Well, if you want to sing out, sing out
And if you want to be free, be free
'Cause there's a million things to be
You know that there are

So many good things in life from which to choose... sometimes tough to be content with what we choose. Dreams ignite our vision of future possibilities, but also cast light on remorse for what's left undone.

I'd rather live with some remorse than give up my dreams.

Trad climber
The rock doesn't care what I think
Dec 3, 2012 - 03:03pm PT
Wow... I always wanted to be a snow cat driver! At least for a bit to see what it was like. Sounds like you had an awesome time doing that Base.


Dec 3, 2012 - 04:19pm PT
I look at guys who stayed, and they seem to have adjusted to the life well and are quite happy. I came back because that was sort of what was expected of me. Damn.

Well, guess I got it wrong for you in earlier comments. Sorry. Clearly memories of the old life are strong and will remain so for you. Hope your sailing plans help in this regard.

There was a "Fred Beckey" in the world of mathematics up until a few years ago. Paul Erdos, a Hungarian mathematician who is perhaps the most prolific mathematician the world has ever seen, lived for many, many years literally out of a shopping bag and minimal luggage. He would go, like a gypsy, from university to university, staying with colleagues while he gave seminars and worked on papers with his hosts. He never married, but stayed with his mother in her modest appartment from time to time until her death. His whole world was mathematical research, and was he good at it!

He lived his dream and was a vagabond genius. Even in old age (80+) he could enter a room, glance at a blackboard full of symbols representing a problem his colleagues had toiled over, and make a comment that clarified everything.

Beckey, on the other hand, simply lives the life of a vagabond without having to demonstrate continued excellence in climbing abilities. Good for him, but such a life never had any appeal for me.

Sport climber
mammoth lakes ca
Dec 3, 2012 - 04:45pm PT
What happened to Joe Faint...? I use to see him in town shooting pool at the old VI saloon...RJ

Trad climber
Fresno CA
Dec 3, 2012 - 05:06pm PT
I took what BASE104 calls the "easy road" after I got my undergrad degree. As an undergrad, I spent more time in the mountains on weekends and in the summer, and bouldering during the school year, than I spent in class or doing homework. I got by on next to nothing, and had three-day trips to Yosemite from Berkeley down to a dollar a day, gasoline included.

When I decided that my future was more conventional than dirtbag, a lot of my friends said I was wasting perfectly good climbing potential. It didn't help my psyche when a picture of Dale Bard -- one of those friends -- showed up in Mountain magazine shortly after I started full-time professional work.

I don't regret my lifestyle choice. I can't pretend that I had more to give to climbing than I had to give to conventional society. If nothing else, thinking of my wife and daughters confirms to my mind that I made the right decision.

John Gill's comments earlier on this thread, about being both a climber and an academic, really hit home to me. Just because I have professional responsibilities doesn't prevent me from thinking about, planning and enjoying my next climb, or my next adventure.

In any case, we're really just pilgrims here anyway. I admire those who can make the dirtbag lifestyle work for them. For me, that would have been the wrong path after college.



Trad climber
lost, far away from Poland
Dec 3, 2012 - 08:46pm PT
According to the Alternate Reality theory, for every decision you make, there is an alternative Universe where you made a different decision. You can experience just one, but there is also another you living in a parallel Universe. So nothing is really lost...

Trad climber
Santa Cruz/New Zealand/South Pacific
Dec 3, 2012 - 08:50pm PT
Joe Faint passed away a number of years ago in Montana. Good man Joe, RIP.
Charlie D.

Trad climber
Western Slope, Tahoe Sierra
Dec 3, 2012 - 10:40pm PT
In my view there are no forks, you're on a singular path that is your life that can be as in your case shared with a spouse and child howwever convoluted and or repetitive it becomes in time. Your choices and decisions certainly can change the outcome but don't discount circumstance and just plain luck. The real value is what you're learning along the way, as a business partner of mine likes to say "it's OK to make mistakes, let's just make different ones!"

For me I can see going full circle to arrive in a state where I can ski all winter and climb all summer. The place I wanted to stay when I was a kid just having fun all the time with my buddies, you know Peter Pans lost boys club. I'm working on it and can only hope my body cooperates. Plenty of choices there some good some bad, trying to live well so the body will be ready to do what the heart wishes. I've been fortunate and have been able to balance my passions both recreationally and professionally along with family. I have learned when you optimize on one you will compromise the others, I've always sought to balance it in my decision making sometimes with great success and other times with complete failure.

BASE, looking back is only good for informing your future actions. I'd say you're making some great choices, plenty of adventure out there on the water. Have fun and I'd take up the offer to camp out and visit the Valley with your old friends. Your path can include a rebirth onto stone.

Bottom line, my matra is to live well, love much and to let go. Just plain good luck thrown in doesn't hurt.

Berg Heil and good luck!!!

Charlie D.

Mountain climber
honeoye falls,ny.greeneck alleghenys
Dec 3, 2012 - 10:50pm PT
base,i agree w/the above,im headin west next april/ may,climbing w/mctwisted.........why not.......going to ski a bit too.

im what,start honing ,a little, now......when else?

Mountain climber
Ljubljana, Slovenia
Dec 4, 2012 - 09:16am PT
Thanks to the OP and everyone for this opportunity! and bravo.

My life is a drawer full of forks. LOL

In the long run, dirtbaging is quite similar to what is called the jazz life, or "la vie d'artiste". My parents were both artists and I was born on that road. As far as I am concerned, since I grew up in the Fontainebleau forest (close to the Mont-Ussy sectors), I soon was only climbing the rocks and tried not to pay too much time with school work. So it goes. Then comes the big fork: in 1970, we relocated back to Paris. I was a natural climber nawmean. The lack of proper environement had drastic consequences on my climbing. I'd now go climb on weekends, and that was not enough for me. I lost the flow. I remember making the decision in 1972, aged 17, to stop climbing. Forgot about it over night. Then I got thrown out of school. In 1975, the army drew a fork. After that, I got into playing music for a life, and attended music schools (bass). Whenever I was down low, my parents always helped out as much as they could, and there always was a spare mattress for instance. I dart bagged till 1991 (my son was aged 7 at the time, and we were living in Berlin), then I got jobs in arkestras. Till now. I've been in Slovenia for almost twenty years now and renewed of course with climbing. I even climbed my best-climb-ever aged 50.

Charlie D.

Trad climber
Western Slope, Tahoe Sierra
Dec 4, 2012 - 09:42am PT
^^^ha ha, a drawer full of forks and don't forget the spoons and knives! Dishing it out and cutting it up, the banquet we call life. Thanks B.
Mike Friedrichs

Sport climber
City of Salt
Dec 4, 2012 - 10:40am PT
Good topic and one we've probably all thought about from time to time.

I've come to believe that it is impossible to be happy thinking about yourself all the time. What will I climb today? How should I train? What do I need to eat for maximal performance? Too many I's in those sentences. How many suicides have we seen in our community? Far too many.

It's all about balance. How can I satisfy my needs and give a little back? Doesn't matter much how many times you had your picture in the magazines or how many FAs you have in the guidebook when you're staring into the mirror, contemplating your existential angst.

I've had a wonderful climbing career and still climb pretty hard. I also have a job (public health) that I find rewarding. I've climbed the best when I had a job, support from friends and community, and was able to do something to make the world a better place.

I've also been on my own for a pretty long time. Having a partner and someone to really share experiences with would almost be worth giving up climbing.

Dec 4, 2012 - 11:25am PT

They look like forks in roads, but they don't really exist, and there is no evidence that a person can point to that substantiates their existence. Everyone has a single arc of history. No one has ever exercised the option to another reality or life. The metaphor is the result of a creative imagination. You might as well pick up a novel or go out and see a movie. Either one of those comes without regret.

None of us can get outside of our natures. We all react to the events in our lives in our own particular way. One cannot do anything against one's nature. What you are and what you've done is all that you could do. It's the universe, not you.

Regret comes from a lack of acceptance, and a lack of acceptance signals a lack of understanding. What one understands, one accepts.

Whatever position one's been dealt by the universe must be embraced in the same way as one climbs solo: with total commitment and conviction, in the here and now, with no thought of self, and with no regard for achievement. Pure being supercedes causality and moral discriminations. One can BE their lives fully no matter what their positions--like an idler, a retiree, a circus clown, an opium eater, an itinerant sandhu, an old man basking in the sun--with total equanimity, free of the hope of success.

It's just thoughts and musings. Pay them no mind.

Do not, under any circumstances, depend on a partial feeling. Accept everything just the way it is.
(Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings, 1641)

Big Wall climber
Terrapin Station
Dec 4, 2012 - 11:31am PT
So many great posts and thoughts here!

My story is similar to Rick A. He said:
I have known quite a few who pursued the game of constantly upping the ante in climbing accomplishment and risk. I played that game to a small degree, myself. One fork that I look back on is the summer of 1978. I was in the middle of my first year of law school, when Tobin Sorenson invited me to go with him to the Garwhal Himalaya, all expenses paid by sponsors, to attempt some beautiful, but objectively dangerous, unclimbed peaks. That trip got canceled, but had we gone, we might have accomplished some very daring and memorable first ascents (which would have led to further sponsored trips)…or it is quite possible that we would have died trying.

My sponsored trip that fell through was Peru. I was 21 years old and had been pushing climbing and dirtbagging hard for six years. Losing that trip, was a turning point for me. I also had two important partners who I shared work with in the Oregon coast range who had moved on to other things. I also had an adventure friend who had joined the Army Rangers and seemed to be loving it.
Thus, I ended up at the USAF Survival Instructor school. I still used every day of R&R and 30 days of leave and weekends for climbing at Smith, the North Cascades or the valley. It still ended up being around 100 days a year!! So the military wasn't as detrimental to adventuring as many would think! That carried me another four years to the next fork.
Working overseas is when the real security/money/family started to sneak up on me....

Now I have four amazing humans for children, a beautiful wife, a warm home, reliable wheels and not quite enough time to climb, but I still do.

Wouldn't change a thing. It's been a marvelous ride.

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
Dec 4, 2012 - 11:41am PT
“Me miserable! Which way shall I fly
Infinite wrath and infinite despair?
Which way I fly is hell; myself am hell;
And in the lowest deep a lower deep,
Still threat'ning to devour me, opens wide,
To which the hell I suffer seems a heaven.”

“A mind not to be changed by place or time.
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a heav'n of hell, a hell of heav'n.”

"Heaven is for thee too high
To know what passes there; be lowly wise.
Think only what concerns thee and thy being;
Dream not of other worlds, what creatures there
Live, in what state, condition, or degree,
Contented that thus far hath been revealed.”

John Milton, Paradise Lost
Charlie D.

Trad climber
Western Slope, Tahoe Sierra
Dec 4, 2012 - 11:41am PT
MikeL.........word!!! It's the first day of the rest or your life, make good choices.
High Fructose Corn Spirit

Gym climber
-A race of corn eaters
Dec 4, 2012 - 12:23pm PT

Then again, his philos and attitude, imo, leave much to be desired. When he confounds your push to achieve or to take the bull by its horns (in related posts), or he throws cold water on your passion (in posts, mostly on another thread) and you call him out on his incessant debbie downer nihilism or fatalism... he blasts your passion as excessive or condemns it as deplorable ideology; he may even reference your "nazi" proclivities. Sure, the art of living is a balancing act and achievement a struggle on too many fronts to count. But express them before MikeL and chances are he'll pick it at, at some side of the balancing or effort, and point out the pointlessness of it all. Don't be fooled.

Otherwise, many fine and thought-provoking posts here.

Trad climber
BackInTheDitch BackInTheDirt BackInTheDay
Dec 4, 2012 - 12:29pm PT
MikeL. . . if we're ever within a 100 miles of each other, I'm taking you out to dinner. . . JUST TO HEAR YOU TALK!

Nicely done!


Mckinleyville, Ca
Dec 4, 2012 - 01:28pm PT
Nice introspective topic and good replies; lends itself to climberthink; I enjoy your writing, BASE. Analyzing this particular aspect of history is classic mental exercise and art. I’ve got my own “farmers mix” of random thoughts to add: sometimes one might not know they had a choice of paths at all; sometimes the path chose them. I like MikeL’s view of it, which I take the liberty to interpret as: all being part of a cosmic destiny which is spontaneously creating itself one’s whole life.

The “choice of routes” just serves as a marker for phase change, like a builder’s set of plans often turns out to only represent an orientation device when drastic revisions are forced upon the project. Talking about the fork in the road to me means mainly a good opportunity to tell a good instructive tale, and I like a good tale and good writing.

All my major divergent path choices (from the conscious-academic-type to the sudden-violent-change-and-resulting-adaptive-choice-type) have led me from one moment to the next, and I really have no regrets about how I got here today, only temporary disappointments, or anger, or celebrations. But it would not be scientific to wish I could start all over again, or that anything might be any better as a result; it would just offer a new set of forks in the road. I might prefer wooden chopsticks, after all.

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Dec 4, 2012 - 01:32pm PT your ST to ST email...unfortunately I'm traveling and my "portable electronic devices" are not friendly when trying to respond to ST to ST email. Michael and I would love chatting with you when I get back this week....keep that spirit alive....I feel you can't go wrong!


Trad climber
Santa Cruz/New Zealand/South Pacific
Dec 4, 2012 - 01:38pm PT
Ah rrider-"Man who eats with only one chopstick has only one path."

Mckinleyville, Ca
Dec 4, 2012 - 01:47pm PT
Guido, that's the beauty of being a simpleton!

Trad climber
'cross the great divide
Dec 4, 2012 - 02:42pm PT
Very nicely written thoughts Base. I'm with Mike F. If one takes the fork where "its all about me", that's a dead end. The truth is, the supreme challenge in life is to find the balance. For those of us that always think of ourselves as "climbers", whether we're out climbing or trying to convince our wife that life can be lived less expensively, we will always feel the tug of a responsibility-free life.

I once read an interview with Colorado mixed master and pioneer Duncan Ferguson where he said of hard mixed and of raising kids, that the most committing things in life bring the greatest rewards. If we were all climbers all of the time, other than climbing some great routes not much of the necessary things would get done. I find myself happiest when I am struggling with the balance that I seek in life. I also seem to climb better too.

Trad climber
Fresno CA
Dec 4, 2012 - 02:51pm PT
Nice response, wbw.


Trad climber
a semi lucid consciousness
Dec 4, 2012 - 03:00pm PT
Very interesting responses & points of view... I agree with what you are saying, Mike Friedrichs :-)
Charlie D.

Trad climber
Western Slope, Tahoe Sierra
Dec 4, 2012 - 03:20pm PT
HFCS, hmmmm sounds like a lot of history. Again my mantra:

Live well
Love much
LET GO!!!!

Much to learn even from the people who piss us off!


Charlie D.


Dec 4, 2012 - 11:48pm PT
They look like forks in roads, but they don't really exist, and there is no evidence that a person can point to that substantiates their existence. Everyone has a single arc of history

Simple determinism or fate, or something a bit more intricate? If one assumes that time is a pre-existent block and moments are slices of that block, then in a sense one has both free will and yet is trapped in a matrix of fate. But I suspect you are being both poetic and mildly mystical here.

If I flip a coin at an intersection of two roads and proceed according to the result do I exercise free will and contend with fate simultaneously, or in a linear cause & effect fashion? If time is a block, however . . .

In Stanislaw Lem's ergodic theory of history he proposes (in his theory of time travel) that under certain circumstances altering a detail of history could produce the same or a similar long-term result. E.g., if Hitler were killed at an early age another rabid and eloquent leader would appear and the Third Reich and its atrocities would follow.

Let's see. If Mark had made the alternate educational decision long ago, he could still have ended up in a typical, civilized existence, rather than feeling excluded from normal society like Walt. And what of Walt? Had he opted for normality, he could still have ended up as he did. Puzzles upon puzzles.

The Will of Allah . . . ?

Just musin'

An abstraction on Base's dilemma. No help for him here.

'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Ontario, Canada, eh?
Dec 5, 2012 - 12:15am PT
Wow. Lots of great thought-provoking posts here. I need to think about this one a bit longer before I can properly reply.

But I bet ol' Jean-Paul Sartré will have something to say.

Mountain climber
Ljubljana, Slovenia
Dec 5, 2012 - 12:43am PT
But I bet ol' Jean-Paul Sartre will have something to say.

I remember the dude from 1973. He (we) would be trying to sell "Libération", a newspaper now institutional but forbidden as it first came out.
Though a bourgeois, J.P. liked the "dirt", and I guess he helped out with his thumbs up for us kids.
Personally prefer A. Camus.


'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Ontario, Canada, eh?
Dec 5, 2012 - 12:47am PT
Sacré merde! I rarely make typos, but TWO typos in ONE name. Yikes! ^

I fixed it.

Mountain climber
Ljubljana, Slovenia
Dec 5, 2012 - 12:52am PT
OK Pete

One more, LOL :

"Sacrée merde!"

Dec 5, 2012 - 01:31pm PT
Jogill said to my declaration that "forks in the road" don't exist:

Simple determinism or fate, or something a bit more intricate?

Jogill, your idea of determinism may need a bit more complexity.

Causality is a form of determinism. To wit:

(i) How does one define and articulate a universe that has an infinite number of variables, none of which can be accurately described, interacting with every other variable, across an infinite space and time? (That's quite a matrix.)

(ii) How can one account for a determination of Anything? How does Anything happen?

(iii) Reality / the universe (and everything in it) appears to be a mystery when you look at any of it closely. "It's turtles all the way down."

(iv) I'm fine with "the will of Allah" or XYZ if that does it for anyone. Just words; just pointers; no real findings that get to the core.

Social climber
An Oil Field
Topic Author's Reply - Dec 7, 2012 - 09:24pm PT
Sorry to bump a dead thread of mine, but one of the biggest problems I had was the difficulty of finding true adventure.

I can't live without it. It's been that way since I was 14 and somehow grabbed The White Spider in the library, where I would hang out during the summers as a little kid. If you can imagine a 13 year old boy in Southeast Oklahoma, which is hilly and forested with oaks, but about as far from the Eiger as the nearest star.

I read that book over and over that summer. Man I had FOUND it. Then I found the local gang and the first generation of climbers here grew up together. They are still my closest friends, although I see them rarely, if at all. Everyone is scattered across the world now.

It was different from the California or Colorado climbers, who just had to wake up to go climbing. Our climbing was fun, and almost every route was an FA. We started spending as much of our time in Eldo as we could, and The Naked Edge was sort of our version of Astroman or Valhalla.

I think it was much easier for those who lived in California to make it. For many of us, it was a low paying job in Mammoth or Tahoe. No home to go to in the winter. The jobs paid little, but were cool as hell. That cat driving job was something I would have done forever.

So when I went to go work, I had to move a thousand miles east, and within a couple of years I had a baby on the way and a buttload of responsibility to learn and get ready for. Raising a child comes first. I don't care who you are.

I remember my last BASE jump very well. It was a bright day with a foot of snow around one of our favorite 1500 foot antennas. I had jumped the sucker at least 30 times. Anyway, I was foolish and jumped my skydiving rig with a super fast skydiving canopy. I opened off heading and flew through the wires, missing one by a few feet by a quick turn.

My old buddy John Hoover (rip) jumped a few seconds later and he saw the whole thing from above. Normally I would have laughed it off, but I had a baby at the house and it really scared me. I never made another BASE jump.

The last real climbing I did was coming off of the sofa and taking my brother in law up the Nose. It was lots of fun, although we were pretty slow as I had to teach him everything on the route. He led his half of the leads until Camp 5 where I took over just to get off by dark.

Anyway, ya know that crappy Class 4 traverse after the King Swing? We did that as it got dark, and even though I knew better, I lowered out the pig with a tag line, which got caught in that flake which has a thousand cut ropes on it. I had to go down to the pig then transfer over to the tag line and go down to free it. I remember the clusterfuk of changing over to the tag line in the darkness with my headlamp as the car lights cruised the road below. As I was going through all of the change over and stuff, I suddenly thought, "Man. What am I DOING up here. I've got a two year old boy back home." It all worked out fine, but when we topped out and untied, that was pretty much the last pitch of my life. I had responsibilities to someone other than myself, and if you are a parent, you know that those responsibilities lie with this little life, who is now 20 years old and off to school, making good grades and pretty much all self sufficient now.

Those years of raising my son were pretty hard. You have to be there every minute to be a parent, and you have to be very devoted. A baby isn't a puppy.

I remember teaching him how to piss outside when he was a kid. We went over to a tree, turned our backs to the women, both pulled out our junk and I let fly trying to paint my name with the little guy doing the same thing right next to me. Now those are cool moments. It is a lot of work being a parent, but they are great. Out of all of the crazy sh#t that I have done over my life, when they handed him to me in the delivery room was the most unbelievable experience of my life.

See the difference between me and Walt? My road was now one way with no exits for 20 years. I still took off for months and took off to explore the blankest and most inhospitable places on the continent for many years, but lately I have been totally sucked in to the dress up in dry cleaned clothes, shave, and have meetings with people who were not only groomed for the normal life, but excelled at it. Hell, they were as happy as the climbers in Camp 4 for that matter. It isn't like the normal life isn't a good life, it is just different adventures, mainly having to do with big sums of other people's money.

Right now I am steering a horizontal well which will cost 4 million bucks when done. We have had troubles with the mechanics of one of the directional tools and it got pretty hairy at one point.

Hairy in the sense that you had to make decisions that take a couple of days of rig time to fix, meaning a couple of hundred grand. Not my money, but I treat it like it is.

So the time flies by now. A year seems like nothing, but parenting was a great success and everything is finally on autopilot now. The marriage has lasted, mainly because you have to be stubborn and learn not to blow a fuse over little things that become bit things somehow.

I have led an interesting life, so I'm not complaining. I still need some adventure, so I am adjusting to a permanently hobbled knee and looking at something new, which I have done since I first read The White Spider.

I dunno. It was fun climbing, but the real adventures were the best part. Soloing a 5.8 for the 200th time was no adventure, but climbing in the mountains or doing a wall were. Best of all were the friends. Now and then I will spill the beans and start telling hilarious old stories, like showing an attorney how to do Walt's "jacket trick," but they just don't get it. That is another universe to them.

Ahhh. I wish that people could see what our eyeballs have seen.

Does anyone have memories of moments that were so intense that you can remember every second? The smell, the sound, the light, everything seared into our brains.

Sometimes I think that life is a collection of moments, and I have certainly been blessed with my fair share. Some of us collect these moments like coins. It isn't like we are better than other people. Not at all. People are people. Some are kind, some are not. Some are complicated and deep and it takes a while to soak them in.

Back to adventures, which are the moments that I crave like heroin.

I'm not done. I'm just planning ahead for the next set. The only thing that is different is that I have a mortgage and life insurance and am too round to fit in my old clothes.

All of the moments, the good and the bad ones, are not to be regretted. The only regrets are harming another. How we treat others comes easy to some, but I had to learn it. The best way to learn it is to have your nose rubbed into a pile of sh#t at some point. Then you learn the depth of human experience a little, and realize that everyone is living their own lives. I've learned to not judge others too harshly, or hurt them with a careless remark.

A few years ago, I contacted a few people who I had harmed in the past. A gay kid in school who I called a faggot when I was all of thirteen. I remembered and regretted that. He had no recollection at all, but that wasn't the point. I needed to try to make it right. I found him and apologized from the bottom of my heart. How we treat others is one thing that I have learned by getting older. I used to be a little prick. Ask a dozen people here.

Adventure and those moments of absolute clarity. I'm gearing up for my next round of those. It has gotten too quiet. Yeah, they are selfish sometimes, but if you can do a little planning, its fine.

All I know is that every second of our lives is important. Not so much for ourselves, but to those around us who are more gentle or brittle.

I gotta run. An email with the latest surveys and all that just pinged my inbox. Sorry to ramble.

Go read that story about Walt. It is pretty damn honest.

Man, I miss him, but when he died with Bill Russle trying to revive him, it really took a chunk out of my heart. I think about Walt's choices now and then, because he really made a hard turn in his life when he quit Lockheed. I know that he regretted it sometimes, but I would give a zillion dollars to see what his eyeballs saw. The good ones...not the ones where he got tossed into the cooler.

OK. Onward. I have no advice to give. Everyone's road is so complicated and unique. Just don't hurt people if you can help it. That will be the real thing that haunts you later.

Sorry for the rambling.

Can you all share a couple of those moments that our burned into your brains? Just the good ones. The bad ones are a drag, and we all have them.

right here, right now
Dec 7, 2012 - 10:05pm PT
I gotta say Mark,

I really like what you wrote in the OP. To me it is standalone and even a bit rhetorical. Remember Halloween when we'd all get home, up-end our booty bags and line up all the candy treats? All the kids comparing their sweets in elegantly arranged little housing tracts on the hardwood floor? No need for that here. What you wrote is wonderful simply as a display of life's natural tension. Left fork, right fork, Walt, kids, boss, dirt bagging … There's always love lost, unrequited love and transient bliss.

‘Kind of hard to beat the reaper, the boot heel of sociopolitical forces, the luck of the draw with family and so forth. You get what you get, and all the while there is longing. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose: even goodtime Charlie's get the blues. (Ha ha that was whacked!). Ever notice how falling in love has a pain, a sweet pain, a searing feeling of separation from and a drawing toward the beloved in one slow smooth push of the stiletto as it pierces the breastbone? And also notice how that pain is not so dissimilar from that tearing urgency felt during the breakup?

It ain't all good. It's bittersweet.
Your writing is terrific. It's its own reward. To hell with the questions and this spirited plumbing of the depths of the whole damn hayride.

If you can write the way you do you didn't miss out on so much.
Life is always so close, success so near our grasp: “but about as far from the Eiger as the nearest star”.

Hats off to you brother … for being there with us, for reminding us.
Dingus Milktoast

Gym climber
And every fool knows, a dog needs a home, and...
Dec 7, 2012 - 10:17pm PT
Can you all share a couple of those moments that our burned into your brains?

Out there
Out there
Credit: Dingus Milktoast

Credit: Dingus Milktoast

Credit: Dingus Milktoast

Credit: Dingus Milktoast


Dec 8, 2012 - 10:39am PT
Most of us feel our lives are filled with long bouts of normality, punctuated by brief moments of terror. That's what you seem to be thinking in your mind, Base. But your writing is filled with serious and substantive consideration, decision, and realization.

Excitement may exist in other places than on the rock for you. But the rock probably provide a more direct, simpler, and sharper sense of challenge when compared to that found in the ambiguous complexities of modern living.

Life's challenges are clear on the rock. I think many of us here long for that straightforward simplicity that we found in climbing. It's a great sport in amazing settings with a few special others.

What do you think you'll remember on your death bed? Many people report they remember the times of love, of those dear to them.

If that's the case, then you appear to be in exactly the right place. Cheers.

beyond the sun
Dec 8, 2012 - 02:24pm PT
This is a very interesting and (for me) timely subject.

I've forked several times. After University I forked one way, becoming a ski bum for several years. Then, fed up with being poor, forked another and started a professional career for several years. Fed up with office culture and the monotony of rat racing, which was not worth the reward for someone who never cared about material things, I forked again and went back to live in the mountains, presumably to ski again, but in reality because it was the polar opposite of the path I was headed down.

I was mostly happy, but unfocused. It was then at the age of 25 that I discovered climbing. We all know what happens when that bug bites. Everything finally made sense and there was purpose.

I managed to stay on that path for a solid 10 years before forking again back to "real life" due in equal part to horrible chronic injuries (tendonitis, lower back problems) that wouldn't go away, plus the insecurity of not having any kind of career or well paying job in my mid 30's.

I taught myself to become a programmer, got involved in other sports and was relatively content for almost another decade.

Now, at age 44, with the old injuries 95% gone, I am about ready to fork back yet again. I have become burnt out on programming (no one was meant to sit in front of a computer toiling for others 10+ hours a day) and started climbing again about 2 months ago.

Coming off the couch after 10 years was a serious kick in the ass. I stayed in shape all these years, but we all know there's a BIG difference between "in shape" (meaning not fat) and "climbing shape".

When I left climbing, I was well into 5.12 territory and nibbling at 5.13. I was solid on Yosemite cracks well into 5.11 range. I had BIG plans that never came to be.

Now, even though my mind thinks I should still be at that level, my body has other ideas. It's like starting all over - I am struggling with 5.10. Though the frustration of coming back makes me want to quit again every time I get my ass kicked, the love is back and I improve just the right miniscule amount every week to keep from quitting in disgust.

So now at 44, with enough money saved to live numerous years without working, and with no wife, kids or debt, feeling aimless, I figure now is the time to fork again for a while and go back into "the life" - and this time I can at least do it with some style. No more dirt sleeping and bread & kethup dinners. The extra comfort will help make up for the lack of skill, so in the end it ought to balance out (someone please check my math on that).

I know 44 is a child's age on this forum, but I am finally starting to feel old and this may be my last chance to call upon whatever my body has left in it, before I finally have to dial it back for good.

Wish me luck. I plan to be back on the road full time come spring.

Trad climber
SF Bay Area, California
Dec 8, 2012 - 05:35pm PT
hehe, wanna talk about child's age?

Lots of good posts, thanks for sharing everyone.

For me, strangely, I've found that many of my forks that lead me towards climbing often lead me away from many of my other social groups. It's still odd to continually make these choices that fulfills my passion, but draws me away from my non climbing life.

I remember once, bailing on a conference with friends for a non climbing hobby that I'd been looking forward to for weeks.

2 days before, I get a call from a climbing partner to go hit a mountain I'd been lusting over for the past year, and within minutes, I'm ready to take the weekend to climb.

Many forks fer sure...and a lot more for me I think.

but I figure, I'm just stumbling through, and if I stumble well enough, I'll be able to reel about and hit up both roads for a bit ;)

We'll see...there's still a fair amount to come!

Thanks again for all the shares!



Dec 8, 2012 - 09:19pm PT
I'd be with Tarbuster, Base, hat off to you and what you were able to convey.

Yes, I've seen things I won't forget, such as the look in the eyes of the new born, but here are a few experiences from a non-climber.

One of our nursing home residents put his life of 90 years into 12 pages of single-spaced type. His career had been with Blue Funnel, a UK shipping line.

"in mid-1940 one of the company's passenger/cargo ships...was converted to a troop ship...We assembled our first convoy, boarded our troops [in Durban, South Africa] and sailed at dusk for North Africa. I was on the bridge with the Captain. At six o'clock he said, "I'm going down for a quick dinner." I found myself in charge of the bridge of the Commodore ship of a blacked-out troop convoy in a submarine zone. I was 21. Fortunately, nothing happened, the Captain returned, and I stopped sweating...We were sent to Basrah, eight miles up the Shatt-Al-Arat River in the Persian Gulf. There we boarded two thousand Polish-Jewish refugee women who had managed to escape from Poland. We took them to Suez and they became the nucleus of what is now Israel. They were a fascinating group, every occupation from prostitutes to doctors and professors...[after the War] My next ship was "TELEMACHUS"...We loaded a full cargo under the auspices of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Association and took it to Athens...We unloaded in Piraeus...Athens was in sad shape...the days of tourists were far in the future...One evening, two of us went up to the Acropolis and were the only people on it. We sat silently on the steps of the Parthenon and watched first the sunset and then the moonrise. We could feel the atmosphere and history seep into us and the sensations have stayed with me all my life."

from The Life and Times of Peter John Geoffrey Power

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
Dec 8, 2012 - 09:22pm PT
Caravaggio started out as a stone mason! Glad he took the painter's fork.

Dave Brubeck went to veterinary school until his advisor nudged him down the musician's fork.
Dingus Milktoast

Gym climber
And every fool knows, a dog needs a home, and...
Dec 8, 2012 - 09:39pm PT
Cheers LS!


Trad climber
The state of confusion
Dec 9, 2012 - 12:12am PT

One of the comments above. . .

". . best of all were the friends. . ."

Still is.

Trad climber
Dec 9, 2012 - 12:27am PT
BASE104, you have made the best of both worlds. If I weren't so tired from a long trip from Pittsburg I would write more.

We talked about this very subject 20 some years ago sitting in a parking lot in the buttermilks.


John Penca

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Dec 9, 2012 - 07:20am PT
I must confess that I was never presented with the fork in the road dilemma that most people on this thread speak about. For me my intellectual life always came first. Probably the fact that I had been working at boring manual labor jobs for a good five years before I graduated from high school had a lot to do with this.

The most I ever set aside for pure climbing and dirt bagging was one summer and I promptly broke my arm the first week. After that I always looked to how I might combine the two with research and academic job always the more important factor. Hence I did my master's on mountain people around the world and my Ph.D. on Sherpas so I could live in the mountains, climb, and write about climbing.

The only downside to all this was landing a wonderful job on a tropical island where this ideal life got out of balance in favor of the academic. Hopefully this can be restored somewhat now that I'm retiring and going back to the mountains. It's nice to be at an age where I have plans but not ambitions.

Ice climber
Pomfert VT
Dec 9, 2012 - 09:18am PT
One of my biggest regrets is not going to college. I went to work instead. My best ever climbing years was 190 days. I have been blessed with some amazeing roadtrips, great friends and owned a few pretty cool vans. Spent my time in camp Slime. Mostly BINTD I worked in restraunts in the kitchen. worked my way up from dishwasher to eventually head chef. Mostly worked nights, trained martial arts, climbed and skied in the mornings and those spring layoffs. Working ski towns you go on unemployment the day after Easter and not full time again untill 4th of july weekend. State climbing and drinking team we called it.
Burned out on the food service industry and finally came to the realization that the pay sucks and no benifits. 20 years in the same steak/seafood joint and no pension, no health ins. The owner was nice and gave me $1,000 that I used for 6 week climbing roadtrip out west.

I became a professional ski photographer when I got back from that trip. Shot Equine events in the summer eventually becomeing self employed. Road that horse untill the combination of the economic crash and the digital revolution gutted the industry. Still do the photography part time but not much $$ in it these days.
The last 5 years I have been in the construction buisness as a day laborer. I make more money as carpenters helper than I did as the head cheff of a 100 seat restraunte. Still no health care. Both knees and shoulders need new wheel bearings. Body is worn out and no way of getting it fixed. Can't even afford new eye glasses that I desperatly neeed. Bad tooth that I can't afford to get fixed. Still paying off the debt from my photog buisness...

Yes I wish I went to school. I climbed 90 days so far this year. 12 FA's but no security and no money to travel and take time off for a roadtrip...

Dec 9, 2012 - 09:43am PT
Yours is an interesting counterpoint to Base's stories, Tradman.

Ice climber
Pomfert VT
Dec 9, 2012 - 10:43am PT
Just been layed off for just a week and got a call that I can start annother carpentry job tuesday. Part time , not sure how many hrs. Just missing one weeks work and $$ is tight already. Knowing this job will only be part time and that I have to prove myself on a new crew @ 50 yrs old but not as experienced in the field as most my age. Woke up with a sore throat and chest crud. Scared about about being sick starting the new job and my knees hurt. Scared about makeing rent this month and the bank payment on my debt. scared about not haveing any money for Christmas..

Most of my life I would not change but I do wish that I had been smarter about education and money. I was taught that money is not important. How you conduct yourself and what you contribute to society is important. I put as much work into getting a 4th dan as many probobly put into a college degree yet I never charged money for teaching. All I expected from a student was blood, sweat hard work and loyalty.

I am finaly realizeing that money is esentual to keep a roof over your head and keep your body functioning as you get older...
Mark Force

Trad climber
Cave Creek, AZ
Dec 9, 2012 - 01:11pm PT
Early one morning in the late 70s, while brewing up some coffee and making breakfast in C4, Jim Bridwell, who was camped in the site next to mine, came crawling out of his tent after a hard night partying and looked pretty rough.

That was my moment contemplating the fork in the road, looking into the future of my current path and, while sitting at that picnic table, I took the one that led to a wife (of now 33 years), kids, grandkids, and a profession; all of which give me great satisfaction. Still enjoy climbing (though at a distinctly easier level), now with my wife, kids, and grandkids. I also enjoy having a much broader world of interests to enjoy.

Never did thank Bridwell, though he never knew me (I was never on the A team; don't think I made the B team, either).

It was fun to dirtbag for a while. Still have fun grossing out my kids talking about dumpster diving and picking up breakfast off the conveyer belt at the Yosemite Lodge cafeteria!

Social climber
An Oil Field
Topic Author's Reply - Dec 9, 2012 - 01:56pm PT
Yeah, the best thing of all is the friends.

I wasn't so great at making friends, I was usually a worshipping subman, but DAMN do I have friends from every walk of life.


El Presidio San Augustin del Tucson
Dec 9, 2012 - 02:01pm PT
I've never thought of them as "forks in the road" but more as reference points.

The moment when I chose to quit climbing for twelve years.
I remember that instant, that hold, the view, all I was focused on and all I was missing, and everything I needed.
That one decision led to personal development that needed to happen, learning a trade, growing up, and living the ocean life.

The moment I decided to quit southern California and the surfing life and move back to my hometown in the desert.
I remember that last wave as a local- the speed, every cutback, the color of the sky and water.
I remember driving away, the bewildered looks of friends, and all that I learned and all the years that melted together in the blink of an eye with every tide, each new swell, and evey mini monthly financial crisis.
That decision brought me home, to a sense of place, to my Mom, to the old crack in the sidewalk I've tripped over since gradeschool, to the streets my grandmother, my great grandmother, and my great great grandmother rode burros on.
It led to a surprise career, a word I formally thought of as synonimous with "deathwish". It brought me back to rockclimbing, a crucial thread in the fabric at the core of my very being.

I've tried to embrace each "fork" as not a fork but just a turn, which around just lay more beauty, more struggle, more learning. It's just called life.
Believe in the mystery.

Hey BASE- thanks, brother, for the awesome posts and ensuing thread.

Social climber
An Oil Field
Topic Author's Reply - Dec 9, 2012 - 02:10pm PT
Yeah BK,

The book or piece is called "Feeding The Rat." My BASE buddies called it Feeding the Monkey.

Sometimes you just can't be happy unless you are doing intense things. Feeding the Monkey.

I'm like that. Gotta feed the monkey.

I am buying a sailboat on Cheapeake Bay right now. Not some zillionaire sailboat, but a 27 footer with a good reputation of sailing around the world many times, some trips around the horn. All that. I'm gonna take off next summer and go live on the boat and sail it in the bay for the summer. I got some learning to do. My sailing experience is racing 18 foot centerboard boats on lakes.

The best thing is that you can buy an Albin Vega in decent shape for less than 10 grand. I know of one for 8 grand. Not exactly a rich man's toy, but a vehicle for adventure. There are hundreds of these boats on the market at any time, but I couldn't find the right one on the west coast, which is much closer to the S Pacific and all that fun.

Don't tell my wife she doesn't even know. I've done this on the down low searching for the right boat for months.

The friends, though. They will stay with you for life if you just keep up and don't blow them off.

Ice climber
Pomfert VT
Dec 9, 2012 - 06:46pm PT
My current money/ health situation is not from lack of working hard. It is from not working Smart. I work my butt off in jobs that beat up my body but have no real security.
Jebus H Bomz

Reno, Nuh VAAAA duh
Dec 9, 2012 - 07:32pm PT
Awesome thoughts and shares, I wish I were wiser.

Forks, turns, whatever, I've learned that I can do a lot of different things and still be the same as#@&%e, just in a different locale doing the same old thing. Real, conscious change, that is much harder to instill. It took a severe, near-death beating for me to even confront that monkey.

Ice climber
Pomfert VT
Dec 9, 2012 - 07:45pm PT
2006.. quit drinking. Can only imagin what my situation would be now if I was self medicating.

right here, right now
Dec 9, 2012 - 08:32pm PT
Can you all share a couple of those moments that our burned into your brains? Just the good ones.

Here's a bunch of good moments, collected stories written by lots of your buddies here on the forum:
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