Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Mark of a [Dirtbagger]

I was talking with my good friend Blake over at The Mark of a Gentleman the other day, and he asked me if I would be interested in doing a guest blog for his site. Now of course, I was more than flattered by the request, and so I happily agreed to the undertaking. However, this left me with a quandary: what would I write for the MOG, a men's lifestyle and fashion blog. After a few more correspondences, Blake suggested something great! An exposé of the dirtbagging lifestyle and how it fulfills a man's need for adventure. So here it is, my thoughts on dirtbagging and adventure in our modern society.

"Every man dies, not every man really lives."

Above: the prolific tagline from the 1995 film Braveheart. If any movie (not involving a beloved dog) has ever captured the heart of a man, it's Braveheart. It has everything: love, honor, glory, and most of all adventure! I think there is something in all of us that craves a real adventure, something bigger than ourselves that holds its own meaning.

Perhaps I suffer a bit too much from the Golden Age fallacy, but it seems that it's a little harder to have these types of life changing adventures in our modern age. In a world of automated toilets, fast food, and high-speed internet, the opportunity to live by our wits and eat only that which we kill seems all but lost. The task of returning The Ring to Mordor seems even more insurmountable when we have to be back to work by Monday. So what is a man to do in this stifling world? While The Ring may have already been destroyed, and Scotland already freed from the imperialism of the British Empire, there are still many an adventure waiting for you, Man of the 21st Century.

The journey is the destination...

“In Spanish there is a word for which I can't find a counterword in English. It is the verb vacilar, present participle vacilando. It does not mean vacillating at all. If one is vacilando, he is going somewhere, but does not greatly care whether or not he gets there, although he has direction."

If you haven't read it, I highly suggest you do. This autobiographical work is truly a tale of the modern adventure. Steinbeck outfits a truck with a camper top and sets forth on a 10,000 mile journey around the United States with only his dog Charley to keep him company. Now, not all of us have the time or the money for such a radical Don Quixote-esque undertaking, but that doesn't mean we can't take part in some sort of amazing journey. 


Photo by: Peter Longno
Dirtbagging can be the modern answer to this inborn desire. The purest form of dirtbagging is giving up the amenities of modern life and the conveniences of a steady job in order to pursue your passion. Many a climber scrape by on random part-time jobs while living in tents, cars, and hostels in order to be closer to the rocks that they love. You've seen them around Boulder and Yosemite; bearded and unwashed, they sleep in their vans and cook in camp stoves. They are wearing the same clothes they were when you saw them yesterday, but lug around a $1,500 trad rack and wear $170 climbing shoes. This is the ultimate example of financial dedication. Far from homeless, these are the dirtbaggers, the men and women who have decided to cast off the mold of a traditional life in pursuit of what drives them. Now obviously I'm biased towards the climbing community, but the same force is what drives those who live aboard their sailboats, live out of backpacks on the Appalachian Trial, or otherwise pursue their particular passions at the expense of a normal life.   

I suppose I idolize these people a bit; I can't claim their unyielding passion. As a law student I have opted for a slightly more traditional life, but that doesn't mean I don't share many of the same desires. This desire is what has motivated me, a weekend warrior of climbing, to spend two months living out of the back of my car in order to do as much climbing as I possibly can during the last summer of my academic career. 

Nor do you have to give up your spirit of adventure just because you have a job or a family. There are still plenty of opportunities just waiting to be grasped: 
  • If just getting outside is something that brings you to the brink of your comfort zone, then plan some camping trips. After all, no one ever had an adventure who didn't step outside their front door. 
  • If you are comfortable outdoors, try a backpacking trip. The trip can be as long as you want: just the weekend in that national forest, a couple of weeks through the mountains, or even two or three months on the Appalachian Trail. Some of my best memories are from week-long trips through the mountains of New Mexico. Maybe after a few trips, the idea of hiking the AT sounds appealing to you; but there's no way you can take three months out of your life to through-hike it. That's OK-- many people who complete the 2,200 mile trip through 14 states do it by section hiking. By section hiking, you can complete the entire trail piece by piece when you have the time. 
  • Pick up sailing, climbing, mountain biking, kayaking, backpacking, or mountaineering, anything that will get you out in the thick of it. Spend the night on a big exposure with nothing but a bivy and your iron will. Find something worth being on the drift for! 

The Fun Scale 

If you ain't bleeding you ain't trying!
Now, the most important, and possibly most beneficial, practice of the dirtbag lifestyle is redefining the word "FUN" in your life. For years my friends and I, as well as adventurers around the world, have  spent evenings around the fire talking about The Fun Scale. 

The Concept is simple:

Type I Fun: Good food, good friends, a cold beer after along day at the crag. These are the visceral things, things that are incredibly enjoyable in that moment. 

Type II Fun: Now things get a little more interesting. The unexpected squall that crops up, leaving you to batten the hatches and rough out 30ft seas; the night it gets so cold your 0º sleeping bag might as well be a My Little Pony slumber-party bedroll; or the day you scare yourself senseless because your third cam blows and you take a 20ft ripper down the wall. These are the kind of things that may not seem fun when they're happening but end up being the things you remember, the things that stories are made of. These are the things that you and your buddies will reminisce about for years to come.

Type III Fun: Quite possibly the loosest definition of the word. These are the full on torture-fests. These are the days you subject yourself to conditions that may never be fondly remembered. But hey, who said adventure was all sunshine and rainbows? Besides, these are the stories that people actually want to hear! 

However, the goal of the scale is not to fill your life with Type I Fun; the goal is to recategorize fun in your own mind. Try to recognize the fun of Type II situations in the moment. When the rain is pouring down, and you are soaked to bone, enjoy it! This is the story you will be telling your friends later, this is the adventure you have been searching for! 

This is your life and it's ending one minute at a time...

So here we are, men longing for adventure in a seemingly sterilized world. It's up to you... to grab life by the scruff of the neck and take it for everything it's worth. Wrestle a bear, catch a catfish with your arm, grow a moustache, the world is your oyster! We love books and movies about adventure; they resonate with us at our very core. It touches something within us, some primal desire to shake off the shackles of the mundane and truly live life; to earn our place in this world; to stand shoulder to shoulder with the heros of old and once and for all lay claim to our destiny! 

Find something you love, and GO LIVE YOUR LIFE! 

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  1. Awesome post, mister.

    Though technically speaking, Scotland hasn't quite escaped the imperialism of Great Britain. Scotland (like Wales and Northern Ireland) is a constituent country of the United Kingdom, which is governed mostly by England (in London). Currently, Scots are pushing for independence from the UK. In the autumn of 2014, there will be a referendum for the Scottish to vote on whether or not they would like to become an independent state.

    I say this because I learned it when I went to the UK a few months ago and got to meet some Scottish people! Interesting, no?

    1. Wow, thanks for the info! Well, I guess if fighting for Scotland is on your to do list then you still have a chance!

  2. Man, I needed the fun scale reminder! Thanks for that.