The Fork In The Road


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Bruce Kay

Gym climber
Dec 7, 2012 - 09:40pm PT
What - You distract me from climbing Related Staph Infections for this?!?


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.
Bruce Kay

Gym climber
Dec 8, 2012 - 12:47pm PT
” – My life is a drawer full of forks –

Ha so true, and everytime you need to butter your toast you are reminded of it! But nothing but forks? Surely at some point you must of had a few hot knives mixed in there? That always used to crack me up. You open up anybodies cutlery drawer and sure enough there's one or two burnt out hot knives. But at some point you stop seeing them. Not in your drawer and before long not in any body elses either. Somewhere along the line all that gets left behind and on you go to something else and all that hot knifing gets filed in another drawer all together.

But getting back to adventure, all that hot knifing was an adventure. Hell damn near anything is that busts out of the stifling norms of convention and safety. Being in a street gang is. Goofing with your kid is. I was pretty young when I first heard Thoreau's "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song unsung within them" (or something like that) and I hardly had the sense then to know what he was talking about but for some reason it stuck. Thats what we all fear but i bet even Thoreau had to make a buck somehow. I well remember in the thick of my child rearing days finding full moon nights excrutiating simply because it somehow screamed bivouac and long glorious alpine climbs and yet there I was ball and chained to a bunch of diapers!

Psychotic. Hell some people don't even get to see the moon at all. Anyway so you gotta suffer through some psychotic episode of your own making for a while, welcome to the club. Turns out that at that point in time long alpine routes with glorious moon lit bivies just arn't in the cards - dosn't mean you can't enjoy the excrutiating wishful longing but you better just file that in the appropriate drawer for now and find thoreau's song somewhere more tangible. Best put down that hot knife too.

I remember distinctly coming home from a 3 week mountain adventure well satisfied and happy ( but of limited shelf life of course) yet fully cognizant that due to familial obligations that was going to be the last one for a long long time. The funny thing is I could fore see getting back at it someday which helped a lot, but what i didn't realize then was that everything changes. Quite a few of those things I'd filed away for future endeavor I'm hardly even interested in any more! Gyped! But the thing is that dosn't matter either. It only matters what your idea of adventure is right now and different is no less satisfying than whatever your preconcieved dogma was then.

Maybe I just like my warm slippers more than I used to?
Bruce Kay

Gym climber
Dec 8, 2012 - 01:11pm PT
Does anyone have a copy of "The Rat" or whatever it was that Mo Antoine wrote on the subject way back?

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.
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