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This van life, rock climbing article by Scott Milton is still true 21 years on

The top Canadian climber talks about life on the road, but also gives an example of what you shouldn't say to your mom

The following was the first of a column called The Ramblings of Milton by top Canadian climber Scott Milton. It appeared in Gripped’s June/July print issue back in the year 2000, and was titled Don’t Phone Home.

It started with an introduction of Milton which was accompanied by a photo of him on Globetrotters 5.13d at Horne Lake:

This is a new column written by one of Canada’s best and most recognized sport climbers and boulderers, Scott Milton. Scott spends most of his time on the road, but calls Calgary home. His achievements including Canada’s first 5.14b, Existence Mundane at Acephale. Recently, he has participated in new routing on long, difficult and remote faces in Africa with Todd Skinner and Paul Paian.

In the below video watch Milton on The Prophet 5.13d/14a in Arkansas being belayed by an incognito Fred Nicole.

Don’t Phone Home by Scott Milton

March 29th, 2000, Bishop, California – Three days ago, I was bouldering on the granite monoliths of a unique area known as the Druid Stones. I was happily throwing myself at some of the sharpest holds I have ever encountered on granite, and goading, a couple of lunkers from Oklahoma to do the same. They were foolishly following my advice, as they had no idea what sort of derma-damage they were in for.

We made casual conversation between bouts with the rock and breaks to stem the flow of blood from flappers and splits.

“Gol-ly, that shur makes a mess of yer hand after a day, don’t it?” The slim one remarked, as if I didn’t notice the ‘Patches the Clown’-like tape gloves he was using to keep his fingers from looking like a drawing of the inner workings of the human hand.

“Are you guys in med school by any chance? ‘Cuz, I think this might be plasma oozing out of my finer tips,” I answered.

Slim took a quick look at my fingers, winced, and made an effort to change the subject as fast as possible. “How long ‘r you and Sandra here fer?”

“Well, we’re not too sure exactly. We’re having lots of fun, so we might stay for another two weeks or so.”

“How long you been travelling fer?” The Not So Slim one asked me.

“You don’t want to know,” Sandra told him.

“A couple of months?” NSS guessed eagerly, imagining his wildest dream.

“Really, you’ll sleep better no knowing,” I said.

“Wadda ya mean? Come on, tell us,” Slim begged.

I had to think about it for a moment, and finally calculated how long Sandra and I had been travelling fulltime.

“About nine years,” I told them.

“Goll-dang!” Slim and NSS exclaimed in unison. (I think Oklahomans have to practice synchronized colloquialisms in junior high).

It wasn’t until that exact moment that I had any inkling of how long we have actually been on the road. It is just what we do.

Later that night, I got to thinking about how we had happened to be on the road so long, and I realized there was only one way to find out the truth. Obviously, because of mental trauma I had repressed certain memories, which could only be dredged out by hypnosis.

So, the next day I went in search of an Aid-Guy, (Hey, I was real close to Yosemite, it wasn’t hard to find one.) I Just initiated a conversation with him and let him spew about how hard his last “climb” was. You know, the splitter he nailed up on Cheese Dip Dome. Nothing puts me into the other world faster than listening to someone who thinks he’s climbing while he’s standing in his ladders, wingin’ pitons into a route that has been free climbed at 5.11 or, God forbid, 5.12.

“Bong, bung, bing,” his impression of a good pin placement transported me through time and space. Like a piton piercing my forehead, all the sights, sounds, and smells of the crucial moment in my life were laid out before me.

I had already been travelling for a year or two when I sealed my fate as a homeless wanderer. The pivotal moment was a phone conversation I had with my mother:

“Yes, I’m still climbing.”

“No, I don’t think my VW Buss is old.”

“No, I’m not ready to go back to school.”

“Yes, I still have medical insurance.”

“No, I don’t think I’ll make it home this Christmas either. I’m meeting some people in Texas. A place called Hueco.”

I don’t know if it was the phone conversation, or my pronunciation of the word Hueco, but my mother must have pictured a compound full of devout fanatics waving assault rifles at FBI and ATF agents, who were warming up their tanks and loading up incendiary grenades.

She seemed, for once, slightly interested. “Oh? What are you going to do there? There can’t be any climbing in Waco. It’s all flat desert from what I’ve seen on TV.”

I blurted out the first thought that came into my head. In retrospect, I think it may have been the wrong thing.

“Well, you see mom, I’ve joined a new climbing commune, and we are all going to live together in the desert. In fact, tonight is my initiation. I have to chew the throat out of a live beagle (my mom has a beagle), and then I get to make a chalk bag out of it. I’m quite excited about it all. Everyone is so nice, and we all get to flop around together on crash pads.”

Not surprisingly, there was an awkward silence. I decided I had better hang up before she had time to reply. Some things are better left as they are. I say these sorts of things to her in hope of making her think about my life, and how society’s perception of a productive lifestyle is not necessarily for everyone.

The imagery of the past faded, and I found myself once again in the company of the Aid-Guy who was still nattering away. “Wow, this guy actually things he’s climbing,” I thought as I staggered away out of earshot, successfully breaking his hold on me.

So that was it. I could never go home again. That beagle comment was a little too cutting to repair anytime soon. It could take decades. My destiny is to remain on the road. Actually, it has been a good thing. I tend to get bored after about four weeks in one place.

I have learned that as a climber, and as a person, I must have new input and stimuli to grow and improve. To progress, it is absolutely imperative to see and experience as much of the planet as we can. Get out there, and be free with the knowledge that you are allowed to have fun. Life should not be filled with regrets.

The Welsh hardware manufacturer DMM coined the motto: “Climb Now, Work Later.” I took the liberty of morphing it into the following: “Work when you’re old, and rest when you’re dead.”

Milton is currently based on Canada’s west coast and sometimes posts on Instagram. We’ll have more from past columns of The Ramblings of Milton this season.