Why I Miss Being a Dirtbag

I was recently watching the movie Dirtbag, a documentary about the legendary climber, Fred Beckey. It brought back so many memories of my own dirtbag days, although Beckey would put me to shame with how he stuffed pages of a novel he was reading into the liner of his jacket, then burned it in the morning to heat some tea water… or the beans and maggots dinners he had.

The movie defined being a dirtbag as “one who forgoes material comforts and defies societal norms in pursuit of a nomadic mountaineering lifestyle.” Yes, please.

What I loved about it was the simplicity and freedom of having everything I owned in the back of my station wagon, and the luxury of time. Time to just BE. I was working as a seasonal climbing guide and Outward Bound instructor, and I made $55 a day when I first started, for a 24-7 job.

There’s a saying in mountaineering that “on either side of the socio-economic spectrum lies a leisure class,” meaning you either made shit tons of money so you didn’t even have to work to make it and had tons time to do what you wanted, or you were a dirtbag and didn’t have a lot of money, but you had all the time in the world to do what you wanted since you lacked social or financial obligations like a regular job or a mortgage.

I also miss showing up at a climbing site alone (pre-cell phone) and seeing if anyone I knew had left a note up on the message board saying that they were there. Or the joy of a good buddy finding me as they noticed my prayer flags flapping in the wind on my car while I was making dinner in camp, and then us staying up late deciding what climb we’d do the next day, sorting the gear and memorizing the route and tracing guidebooks. There was something to be said about having more opportunities for synchronicity to blow my mind.

I miss showing up in Curry Village in Yosemite after a long climb and waiting for the tourists to walk away from their half-eaten pizza, and the sheer joy I felt as free, delicious food filled my belly, so my funds could go towards the pitcher of beer. I miss the long days, nights and endless weeks in the mountains with my good friends. You do one hard climb with someone and you can know them better (and they, you) than someone you’ve spent time with daily while at work in “the city,” even if that’s been for years.

Simplicity, nature and adventure make for a very, very content life. (—> that’s Fred Beckey at 93 years old! And he still camped on the ground next to his car at this age – no motels or AirBnB for this guy!)

Still, I am glad that these days I can be a Dirtbag by Choice. It’s nice to know I can pay for my medical bills and take care of my family and friends if something happens to them. And yes, I really like sushi too. And plane tickets. And retreats/workshops…

In the end, I think the key is not being attached to it all. I’m glad I had my dirtbag days, because it showed me I could have very little materially, and still go to bed feeling – truly feeling – “I am so fucking happy. I feel so fulfilled, so complete, so in love with life, that today would be a good day to die.”

When we have experienced being happy with less, we are not as scared to lose what we have. When you have the experience of being happy as a single wild woman, it is less difficult to leave a shitty relationship. When you’ve had the experience of creating success from nothing, you are less scared to quit a job. The fact that I have experienced viscerally that it is possible to feel such bliss while owning very little (and not just “knowing” it intellectually) makes it less scary to take risks with my business and lifestyle design, and helps me feel more free.

What could you lessen your attachment to that would help you be more courageous? Is it having to have a really big house or a fancy car? Thinking that you “should” make a certain amount of money? Proving something to friends or family?

What’s your version of “dirtbagging” it? What would it look like for you to live simply, or with a lot less than what you have now? In the end, you don’t really have to do get rid of it all – but you need to ditch the attachment to these things, because that’s what chains you down. It’s often good to “practice” by traveling with very few items, or stretching out your funds while on the road with a really low budget, or backpacking for an extended time with everything you need on your back. But there’s lots of other ways too.

Working on being less attached is a step towards true freedom.

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