The Fork In The Road


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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.

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