The Fork In The Road


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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, its 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.

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