The Path Less Traveled
May 16, 2014 | by Jeff Deikis
This is an article from the Spring 2014 issue of LSA Magazine. To read more stories like this, click here.
Graduating college amidst the worst period of economic distress since the Great Depression should have been a downer. Footholds in the job market were crumbling and recent graduates were moving back in with Mom and Dad to make ends meet. But I felt strangely unaffected. My head was loaded with Jack Kerouac novels and grand illusions of travel and adventure. I owned a sleeping bag, a backpack full of rock climbing gear, and a rusty Ford pickup truck, which I loaded down and pointed west. Then I hit the road.
When I graduated from the University of Michigan in 2008, I became a willfully unemployed, vagabond rock climber. I moved from state to state, cliff to cliff, wall to wall, rock to rock. I slept in the bed of my truck and I woke with the rising sun. My mornings consisted of coffee, high-fives and the promise of adventure — climbing in the sandstone uplifts of the Mojave Desert, in the peaks of the Sierra Nevada, in Yosemite Valley. My nights were spent in hobo-climber jungles, crouched around the campfire with the dirty and exposed, drinking cheap beer and talking excitedly into the night. We slept in the dirt, among the scorpions and sage bushes, lying in the inky purple darkness and staring up at the stars.
In this way, I spent years in joyful, penniless wandering. I learned how to live happily on a few dollars a day and spent my time in places familiar to most people only through the pages of National Geographic. If money got tight, I pulled some odd jobs — waited some tables, swung some hammers.
Otherwise, I spent my time climbing and skiing, exploring the mountains. I learned self-reliance. I met countless inspiring people from all over the world. I learned things about myself that one could only learn dangling from a rope 600 feet in the air with no one around to hear you scream. Sure, I don’t have a mortgage or a 401k or a fancy house in the suburbs with designer furniture, but I think I’m better for it.
Today, I manage western operations for the country’s leading climbing and mountaineering nonprofit organization. It’s a dream job, and one that would never have been available to me had I not followed my passions. But is this the endgame? I doubt it. Even with a great job, I know I won’t be here forever. The open road is calling. Maybe I’ll wind up in India or Nepal. Or maybe I’ll live in a shack on an island somewhere in Southeast Asia. Who knows where I’ll end up.
Here’s what I do know. It’s okay to follow your heart. It’s okay to be poor. It’s okay to seek the open road, to need room to breathe. To spend your nights in the bed of your pickup truck, rising with the sun, chasing the open road. Sometimes that’s the only way to discover what it is that you truly care about.
To read more stories from LSA Magazine, click here.
Photo credits: Slide 1. Amy Sturgill. Slide 2. Jim Aikman. Slides 3-10. Courtesy of Jeff Deikis.