‘The Road Chose Me’ – FIELDTRIP 006 with Kathy Karlo

I took a deep breath and finally felt ready to plunge back in. I needed to get my pen out. I needed more time. (Jesus, where does all of the time go?) I was so behind on a million life projects and self-imposed deadlines that I was starting to feel a little suffocated. Civilian life was treating me well, but at the same time, being surrounded by sameness was slowly starting to strangle the life force out of me. The things that once took the edge off of other stresses were becoming dulled, almost mute.

I was spending less time alone while more and more of my days were filled up with people and general routine, such as grocery shopping and post-work runs. I enjoyed coming home to a well-stocked fridge and making weekend plans at the crag. These were good constants to have. After just having spent twelve months on the road, all I wanted to do was sleep, write, and get really fat with my dog.


Some people romanticize the dirtbag lifestyle, sitting at their desks on a Monday morning and lamenting over how short the weekend was. I often spent my time romanticizing the other side, which sometimes happens when your muscles are sore and you’re living off of peanut butter and jelly tortillas for two weeks in a row and there is a longing for a warm bed and shower—when every destination is home and yet you have no address.

Don’t get me wrong, there is simply nothing in this world that can compare to that quiet excitement of packing up your car and driving away, knowing that you will be gone for a very long time, if not forever. Stumbling onward up steep switchbacks to beautiful granite cliffs that stretch on for what seems like miles. Beating up every muscle and bone in your body from sunrise to sunset, then returning to makeshift camps. Watching embers from a dying fire glide in the wind while you’re passing around the last swig from the bottle. Taking a huge gulp of cool, summer desert air and sinking into the calm of the evening. Waking up to do it all over again.


But how long can you do it for? Was dirtbag life sustainable? These were questions I asked myself over and over again. It often makes sense for those climbers in their early to mid-twenties, but what happens when you start thinking about settling down, maybe having kids? A career? What happens when you’re forty? What happens when you grow up?

I knew that, like most things in life, dirtbagging came with an expiration date. I knew that the money would eventually run out—not that there was ever much to begin with. I was making nickels and dimes on the road, but dirtbagging is relatively cheap and I didn’t really mind eating peanut butter out of a jar for dinner. At least, I knew my dog didn’t. Truthfully, I had been conditioned my entire life to keep one foot pointed in any direction, always ready to take off at a moment’s notice. It didn’t necessarily matter where or how far—there just needed to be a Point A and Point B. And that is why road life made sense.


But as much as I needed to explore a world of otherness, of freedom and possibility, I also needed to explore a world of constants and putting roots down. I had always told myself that I was doing the right thing by refusing to ignore all of the possibilities that life had to offer, and this was starting to apply outside of the climbing life as well.

I am learning that the adventure does not end when the road trip does. The open road is not always dusted with dirt and sand of the old country or the desert. Sometimes, it’s concrete pavement, gravel and rock smoothed out for a less bumpy ride. The funny thing about concrete is that sometimes, a root can grow from a crack. I once jokingly said that I didn’t know that I’d want to settle down in a climbing town because then I’d have to figure out what to do with the rest of my life.

As it turned out, living in a climbing town put me on a new path to the rest of my life. And that’s one of the beautiful traits of life: sometimes, we don’t choose the roads we’re sent down. Sometimes, the road chooses us.

Kathy Karlo lives a life on the move between rock, ice, and city life. She also runs fortheloveofclimbing.com – a blog focused on the climbing lifestyle and empowering women to engage within the outdoor experience.