The Fork In The Road


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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
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