The Fork In The Road


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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?
Bruce Kay

Gym climber
Dec 3, 2012 - 10:55pm PT
Base, I spent a good part of my youth hucking those bombs and ski cutting and getting a ride on the back of a cat. Your last story and another thread running right now made me think again about how it all shakes out.

We had the top job on the ski hill for sure mostly because it was some sort of action every day but as you ought to know it don't pay squat so living the dream ain't sustainable except for trustifarians or the real lifer dirt bags or those that turn it into a hobby that pays a bit, and gets the family free passes and hopefully some dental plan while making some real bucks somewhere else. I crunched the numbers and bailed eventually. One of the gigs I moved into was providing avalanche safety for resource and construction industries working in hte mountains. It payed way better but it wasn't always as active or fun as the old ski hill days, for a variety of reasons.

But the thing is, try telling that to the blue collar working grunts grinding out those long cold miserable days under some bastard of a foreman while you're by all appearances helisking and hucking bombs out of helicopters - cry me a river! True that hardly happens at all, its mostly driving around in trucks getting fat on camp food and office work or just plain boring nothing.... all the stuff that drives us nuts but sounds like heaven to the grunts.

So its like what we were talking about before. We know how good it gets and no matter how much we don't get to do it any more, we know we will again eventually and it'll be as sweet as it ever was. Those guys on the other hand are often not that psyched to suddenly realize how good things can get, especially now when they're half dead at forty and whatever they're doing now odds are they'll be doing when they kick the bucket. Most of the guys just laugh about it but others look at us like we're Mitt Romney or something, poor miserable bastards.

You ought to know what I'm talking about being in the oil business. I have friends who's kids are now working in the Tar sands oil patch because thats where the money is. Lots of people are there. I hope they can all score big then get the hell out of it before they're sucked into it for life. I don't know about your business but the Tar sands sounds like Hades itself. 12 hour days, 7 days a week, minus 30, rampant drug and alcohol abuse, fights, camp life with a bunch of males watching UFC. Ugh. Of course we'll grab a few turns after a bomb run - who wouldn't?

Anyway for a good laugh check out the video playing on TR on page 1 right now

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.
The Chief

Climber from the Land Mongols under the Whites
Dec 4, 2012 - 09:56am PT
When I come upon each "fork in the road" that is presented me, I simply take without any hesitation, the path uncut directly in front of me, completely void of any certainty.

Challenging, maybe. But certainly more fruitful for my infinite personal/spiritual learning process which in human terms is called, Life.

Complete acceptance of uncertainty is what makes my life that much more viable to process and accept. Makes me focus on what lies directly in front of me and allows me to absorb that which is around me, so much better.

May not make any sense, but this short vid pretty much illustrates my post...

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.
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