How did this happen? I grew up in Queens, New York, and New Jersey after that, and now I’m a lean, mean, rambling, brambling psychonaut of the extreme. I grew up dreaming of space travel, of mountains, of running away and hopping onto a train, just like in the movies. When I grew up a little more, I found skateboarding, my first love. And then backpacking. Then hitchhiking. And now climbing. Old school, living down in the dirt, a trad love affair at first sight. It combines every bit of all that I live for in this world. People, place, and time, a timelessness that makes me forget I will someday die, because I can just live in these moments forever.
by Hobo Greg
(this piece is printed in Volume 11, “Choss, Solos, and Reflection” Get your copy, or subscribe HERE) Banner photo of the author by Leo Bi
If adventure is an outcome unknown, a gambit of good judgment and good luck, then hitchhiking fits that description perfectly. You aren’t sure of any of the following while hitching: where you are now; where you will be at any point in the near future; where you will get food and water; where you will even sleep; and of course, when your next ride will come, and who will be behind the wheel of it. You are utterly exposed and at the mercy of those around you. Yet time and again, I only met the best, if weirdest, that humanity has to offer. I learned to rely on my guts and to fill them with the least expensive but most nutritious stuff possible (mostly peanut butter).
So, I was a dirt guy before I found climbing. In fact, it was while hitchhiking from Texas to California that I walked up to some climbers who were in the middle of a toke in a parking lot in Joshua Tree and said, “You look like friends I haven’t met yet!” Turns out I was right, and they took me up The Eye, a simple 5.3, showing me how to tie in, clean gear, and stack a rope. Though it didn’t feel that much harder than some of the gnarly bushwhacks and scrambles I had done before, the whole package had me hook, line, and sinker.
The next day, they put me on Sail Away, at 5.8, a proper rock climb, complete with shoes (the day before they told me you don’t need climbing shoes for 5.3). Shoes that I later bought from the guy for eight bucks, shoes that blew out so fast that I took to wearing them on the opposite foot, just to have some big toe grip. A harness came a week later from someone who picked me up as I was thumbing back into the park with water. And my home was a small alcove under a boulder.
This was my introduction to rock climbing. More, very much more than the physical act of climbing, I was drawn in by something deeper and longer lasting than the adrenaline of a send. Traveling nomadic adventurers, seekers of fifth class and good times. The Space Monkeys, and the High Priests and Priestesses of the First Satirical Church of Satan. Dirty, beautiful people with kind hearts and righteous attitudes, up for adventure, down for relaxing, and game for anything in between. Days dominated by radical explorations of the vertiginous—nights, a healthy/unhealthy dose of the bohemian lifestyle.
Enter, the Hobo.
Joshua Tree. Three-star climbing with a five-star hang. My exposé to the notion that there were others who wanted to drop out of the society we grew up in and form our own. We are a culture unto ourselves, loaded with traditions unique to our special place. We proudly carry on such fine ones as morning solo circuits, nightly Chasm runs, and Winnebago surfing at all hours of the day. Any tourist who unwittingly turns into Hidden Valley campground driving one of these monstrosities will invariably be descended upon by hippies who will climb the ladder on the back, stand up, and surf it like a wave.
In case you’re wondering, the known record is five climbers atop a single ’bago, and even though the cover was blown (how can you hide it when all the other climbers are pointing and cheering?), the driver was cool enough with it that a campsite was found for his troubles after he himself had no luck. Food and libations were thrust upon him and his friend as they were informed of their place in ’bago-surfing history. We really are a nice, friendly bunch, if a bit weird and smelly.
Yet there are times when it doesn’t go so smoothly. Sometimes a tourist kicks one dirtbag off and continues driving, only to have two others unknowingly hop on farther down the loop. A moon-a-’bago was just completed and pants barely pulled up when the brakes were slammed, sending one mooner clear over the air conditioner, but luckily short of the windshield, while the other held his ground. The jig was up, and both climbers jumped down and ran off into the rocks as the driver gave chase but soon quit, leaving most of the campground laughing at a father cursing his brains out in front of his kids. And all because of a little ’bago hopping!
If you’ve ever spent a night in Hidden Valley, you probably have been woken up by a drunken battle cry: “Chasm of Dooooom!” A dozen or so people usually go running from their campsites to join in the fun. Nobody really knows what the Chasm looks like, since headlamps aren’t allowed, and in the daytime, it disappears into a vortex, possibly all the way to China. But it feels like a cross between slow-mo parkour and the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark, when the boulder almost wins. Sliding, shuttling, shimmying, scuttling, scumming, squeezing, squirming over, under, and even through rock at one point (the infamous birth canal, a horizontal body squeeze that must be performed, just like birth, in the head-first-on-your-back orientation for maximum chance of survival), the chasm is indeed a full-body, full-sensory experience.
On anything but a new moon, there’s enough light to make out some portions of the Chasm but never enough to truly be sure of where you are in relation to all eight dimensions. Instead, you are on a team-building exercise with your fellow Chasm-mates, most of whom you have only just met at the beginning of this journey to the center of the Earth. But since this is a Chasm, one where the rules of physics no longer apply, your journey down begins by going up. After partaking in the ancient herbal ritual that marks the halfway point, the true descent into madness begins, and just when you think you’re lost and you’re gonna die here, your sorry carcass left for the pack rats, you emerge into the light once again. You made it; you had your first orchasm, congrats! Now you’re ready to lead your friends next time. That is, if you could even find it again, because maybe it’s turned into a swing set by now.
Most people I meet will say something like, “I wish I could do what you’re doing.” Most people I meet feel that they work too much, don’t enjoy life enough, and are worried that the time to really start living is slipping away from them. If you have kids, maybe you have to wait a while, but if you don’t, then save some money, quit your job, and go somewhere and do something. Why wait for the “perfect” time? Go now and figure it out later, for there is always more time to do the normal but not always enough to do the abnormal. Sure, in forty years, I may be greeting you at Walmart while you’re enjoying your retirement, but I’m retired now, when I’m thirty and can still do rad stuff, not when I’m seventy and am limited to bingo and ’bagos, only to have the latter surfed by dirtbags anyway.
Hobo Greg aka H-Bo Greg aka Fancy Van Greg aka Low Profile Greg is a guy…this guy! He enjoys lasagna, 5.9, and cumulonimbus clouds, and wants you to remember that “on either end of the social spectrum, there exists a leisure class.” Follow the rad @hobogreg and at hobogreg.com.
About us: The Climbing Zine was started in 2010 by Al Smith III and Luke Mehall. It continues to the day with the mission of representing the true essence of climbing. Our crown jewel is our printed version, but we also do the interweb thing, and Kindle.