When I was nineteen, three of us from college piled into my two-seat Toyota SR-5 pick-up and drove across the country to visit Neptune Mountaineering. Oh yeah, we were going climbing too, but the purpose of the road-trip was really to go and visit Neptune’s. We called it “Mecca.” We took turns riding on the mattress in back when it wasn’t raining. When it was raining, we all squeezed into the cab, and – hopefully – the driver didn’t need to shift too much. During one of my turns on the mattress in the bed of the truck, I sat bolt up-right screaming after being woke from a deep sleep by the lights of a fast-approaching Peterbilt. I almost jumped out of the truck in my panic.
When we got to Neptune’s after driving all night, we were too broke to buy anything. But, it was raining, so we hung out all day talking to Paul Piana and looking at the museum-like displays and pictures. We eventually went out climbing while we were in Boulder. Before we left town, we went back to Neptune’s and bought t-shirts because we figured out that we had just enough money to do that and still make it back to school.
Most of us in this industry had a shop like this when we were starting out, a place where our passions for outdoor pursuits were fueled almost to religious fervor. As a kid, I used to ride my bike several miles just to get to Desert Mountain Sports in Phoenix, when it was on 16th Street. This wasn’t exactly Mecca, but it was a pilgrimage. For awhile, I thought the wizened old man who ran the place was Royal Robbins. With some imagination, the picture of Robbins on the back of Advanced Rockcraft sort of looked like this man, who by then for me had become some kind of high priest of my new religion.
There are lots of these stores across the country, each a Mecca to climbers, skiers, paddlers, and the like. I’ve mentioned two that were important to me, and there were several others, also. If you’re reading this, chances are you had your own “Mecca” outdoor store.