The Responsible Dirtbag

Home for two month a couple years ago.

Home for two months a couple of years ago.

The outdoor industry works very hard to romanticize the notion of the dirtbag.  Whether it be surfing, skiing, or climbing, the media surrounding these sports glorifies the existence of living a simple life while pursuing one’s passion.  The idea of living out of one’s car and waking up everyday to send the next climb, catch the next wave, or ski fresh powder is easily digested by those of use who wake up everyday and punch a clock.  When the grind of “regular” life sets in, there is no more enchanting of a notion than packing up my climbing gear and/or skis, hitting the road, and leaving the stress and responsibility of life behind.   

While I often day dream about hitting the road with nothing to impede me from sending my next project or skiing fresh pow, the reality is that the dirtbag lifestyle is not wholly for me.  Living out of my car is fine for a week or two, but the fact of the matter is that I like to sleep in a bed.  While couch surfing and tent living allow easy access to the crag, truth be told, no matter how nice the couch or how fancy the sleeping pad, it just doesn’t replicate the luxury that is a bed.  Further introspection reveals that not only do I enjoy sleeping in my own bed but I enjoy returning to my humble apartment at the end of the day.  The simple pleasures of a nice place to live, a good meal, and steady paycheck are as important to me as the idea of living freely on the road.  The consistency of returning home every night has a soothing effect on my conscience–an effect that is heightened by the occasional mini road trip.

View from our tent at Miguel's at the Red River Gorge.  Not a bad place to spend a week.

View from our tent at Miguel’s at the Red River Gorge. Not a bad place to spend a week.

I have been searching for a term for the number of people who I meet that are much like me: while having not eschewed societal norms to pursue their passions, they are instead prioritizing their passions while living “regular” lives.  These people are more than weekend warriors, but are not complete dirtbags.  The best term I can come up with is responsible dirtbags.  That is, people still holding down “normal” lives while also being core participants in their respective endeavors.  While I respect the true dirt bag for turning their back on the model life and pursuing their passion unencumbered, I would argue that it is much harder to be a responsible dirtbag leading a double life.

Just because responsible dirtbags do not wake up at the crag or in the ski resort’s parking lot does not mean they can’t get out everyday, it just means they have to work harder and have more imagination to do it.  Whether it be waking up early and skinning laps before the ski resort open, working second shifts in order to ski before work, sneaking in a bouldering session after work, or resigning yourself to climbing in the gym a couple nights a week, it is possible to hold down both a “real life” and your dirtbag status.  The responsible dirtbag makes the most of the opportunities around him.  The local crag might be a far cry from Hueco, but it’s a place so convenient that it makes you forget that you have been doing the same bouldering circuit for the last five years.  The rock gym is even farther removed from crag, but on the positive side you are able to get a workout in and enjoy the camaraderie of the local climbing community.  The same can be said of the local ski hill.  What it lacks in vertical gain and gnarliness it can make up for with convenience and fraternity.

Ashley in the: bedroom/living room/study/kitchen/don't ask where the bathroom is

Ashley in the bedroom/living room/study/kitchen (don’t ask where the bathroom is)

The responsible dirtbag can sneak away from normal responsibility and take a multitude of smaller trips over the course of the year by using their time wisely.  Taking two vacation days stacked against the normal two days off allow for four days away while only using two days off.  If you are like me and have a floating schedule, you can stack your two days off together with the two days from the previous week allowing for four days away without having to burn any vacation time.  While the true dirtbag climber might scoff at four days away, there is a lot one can accomplish in four days.  While those smaller trips might not be as epic as the year-long road trip, they are enough to satiate one’s thirst for travel and adventure.  Furthermore, by using vacation days wisely the responsible dirtbag can still take one or two longer destination trips per year.

The responsible dirtbag makes the decision to trade some of the freedoms of the road for the security and comforts of society.  A consistent pay check provides some of life’s little luxuries that the dirtbag may miss out on, while simultaneously providing for the future.  My full-time job provides good food, a nice place to sleep, reliable transportation, medical insurance,  a 401k, and the possibility of upward career mobility.  Even better, my job allows me to do this while still skiing a hundred days a year,  climbing when the weather is nice, and finding plenty of time to run and ride my bike.  I think deep down all of us want to pack up and take that epic road trip, but the reality is that it is difficult to do.  It might only be sticking your toe in the pool, but give being a responsible dirtbag a try.  So what if you haven’t been able to break away for that lifetime trip? Steak is better than Ramen, couches are better than camp chairs, and a little security isn’t all that bad either.

Cozy camping at Horse Pens

Cozy camping at Horse Pens

With all that being said, I am still ready to take that epic road trip. But I am doing the best I can with what I have for the moment.  Sometimes I really envy this guy, though: