I met a genuine dirt bag on Monday, May 8, 2023

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B the Hiker

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I met a genuine dirt bag on Monday!

View attachment 7054

Sunday was a nice ten miles on the Midstate Trail with my new hiking buddy Samia and her boyfriend Chris P. We ended up at a true gem a small federal park called Barre Falls. The Army Cops of Engineers designed a pretty cool frisbee golf course around the dam area, and we met a ton of golfers there.

No court on Monday, so I went up the Kinsman Ridge via Fishin’ Jimmy. I was in shorts and a t-shirt, but still spent the majority of the day hiking on snow, some as deep as thigh-high. It will be another two weeks before the monorail disappears, I would bet.

Anyhow, on the drive up Monday morning, I was listening to a 2012 podcast where the host Fitz Cahill opined that he hoped at some point in each person’s life, they lived out a vehicle. In part to discover how little they need to get by, and in part to have the adventure of going where the roads takes them.

I get off the trail at a the end of the day, and across from my car, there’s a gent sitting on the tail of his truck, and perhaps because I was so spent from the postholing and sliding and putting the microspikes only to take them off a few minutes later (which I must have done at least a dozen times that day), I asked him what he had hiked.

He didn’t know! He said, “I went up that trail over there until I topped out.” The trail was Falling Waters, and he had topped out on Little Haystack. The aspect of the tail was such that it got a lot more sun than what I had done, and the man, whose name I later learned was John, said the trail was pretty well baked and mostly clear of snow.

“I’m not from around here,” he explained. It turns out that John had gotten divorced, sold his house, and everything he owned was in his truck. He had driven down the West Coast, then across the country. “It’s a lot easier out West,” he said, “BLM land is easy to camp on.” I noted we had too much population in the New England for that.

He noted the sign in the parking lot saying no overnight camping. I tried to direct him to the Hancocks campground, not that far away. $20 a night.

“No,” he said, “I refuse to pay for camping.” I knew of a federal campsite nearby, but figured it wasn’t worth the effort to direct him.

I asked him if he had every listened to the Dirtbag Diaries. He had no clue about podcasts. No need, really, he was living it, after all. I noted that I had just heard the host talking about living out of a vehicle and how little one needed. John pointed out the bins where all of his life’s belongings resided. “You don’t need a lot,” he explained.

“Where are you going next?” I asked. John was a bit loose on geography, but the general gist was that he was going to head as far north up the Eastern Seaboard into Canada as he could go.

I never had that phase of my life, of not knowing where I was going or where I wanted to be. My entire life I have been Establishment, planning, publishing, goal-oriented. Sure, I can talk the talk, and I have been gifted with a love for the outdoors that allows me to swap stories with pretty much anyone I could meet at a trailhead pretty much anywhere, and in the end, that love is what binds us, I suppose. But the unattached, like John, who can’t tell you what they just hiked or where they are heading? No, I will never be that person, although I am glad they exist.
 
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What does that dude do for work? Odd jobs here and there? I can imagine you can really get your cost of living down but dirtbag or not, cars are expensive.
 
What does that dude do for work? Odd jobs here and there? I can imagine you can really get your cost of living down but dirtbag or not, cars are expensive.
Fred Becky aka "King of The Dirtbags" lived on a shoestring for decades while everyone else from his era eventually gave up and moved on with life. He had the same car for ions although his buddies wondered how he maintained the lifestyle for so long without a real job. He did write a few books and got some royalties but overall, it was always a mystery and still is as how did he do it.
 
I have met several individuals that are living off raiding their 401K funds and worrying about it later. Dirt bagging is rarely a means to an end, its just long term transition from one life to another for many.
 
Fred Becky aka "King of The Dirtbags" lived on a shoestring for decades while everyone else from his era eventually gave up and moved on with life. He had the same car for ions although his buddies wondered how he maintained the lifestyle for so long without a real job. He did write a few books and got some royalties but overall, it was always a mystery and still is as how did he do it.
I do not think that Fred Becky was ever a dirt bag, although no doubt a mooch, as he proved to me by eating about everything in my refrigerator when he was visiting one of my students at U Colorado’s Mountain Research Station one summer. Fred had met my student when visiting a climbing area in Missouri and kept a black book with addresses and phone numbers of all his climbing contacts across the country such that he almost always had a free place to stay on his travels. And, yes, true dirt bags rarely can maintain an automobile, as Fred himself noted near the end of the movie ‘Dirt Bag’ made about him a few years ago. For a long time, Fred owned a pink Ford T-bird, and for employment one of gigs was judging beauty contests in the Los Angeles area. In contrast, I think that true dirt bags were exemplified best by the Yosemite climbers in the 1960s/1970s who squatted at so-called Camp Four in the Valley. Chouinard also played the part of dirt bag well early in his climbing career when he and his partners lived off marmots that they killed with rocks in the Tetons; they could not eat the front legs that they found too grisly and sinewy, but were sustained for protein by the hind quarters. 🙂
 
I do not think that Fred Becky was ever a dirt bag, although no doubt a mooch, as he proved to me by eating about everything in my refrigerator when he was visiting one of my students at U Colorado’s Mountain Research Station one summer. Fred had met my student when visiting a climbing area in Missouri and kept a black book with addresses and phone numbers of all his climbing contacts across the country such that he almost always had a free place to stay on his travels. And, yes, true dirt bags rarely can maintain an automobile, as Fred himself noted near the end of the movie ‘Dirt Bag’ made about him a few years ago. For a long time, Fred owned a pink Ford T-bird, and for employment one of gigs was judging beauty contests in the Los Angeles area. In contrast, I think that true dirt bags were exemplified best by the Yosemite climbers in the 1960s/1970s who squatted at so-called Camp Four in the Valley. Chouinard also played the part of dirt bag well early in his climbing career when he and his partners lived off marmots that they killed with rocks in the Tetons; they could not eat the front legs that they found too grisly and sinewy, but were sustained for protein by the hind quarters. 🙂
Guess it's a matter of semantics and perspective within one's own mind. IMO moochers are dirt bags and dirt bags can be moochers.
 
What does that dude do for work? Odd jobs here and there? I can imagine you can really get your cost of living down but dirtbag or not, cars are expensive.
My understanding is that he got divorced, quit his job, sold everything, and hit the road. I suspect that once he ends up in Newfoundland, he will start thinking about laying down some roots again--much as peakbagger noted. ...That being said, he seemed pretty happy being rootless and living life on the cheap!

Brian
 
Baltimore Jack on the Appalachian Trail was thought of by many as a "dirt bag" He would appear down south in the spring on the AT and work/hang out along the AT bubble after hiking the AT several times. He definitely had a big following and I expect many hikers who idolized his lifestyle. His answers to where he disappeared in the off season usually went unanswered. It was not until he passed away that a lot of questions got answered. The Man Who Lived and Died on the Appalachian Trail I expect to many who had met him and Idolized him on the AT were really surprised.

A lot of folks head down to Georgia to hike the AT think that thru hiking it is going to solve their problems and reset their life. Its sort of dirt bagging with ultimate goal. I am unsure how many actually find what they were looking for. Some folks have a real tough time dropping back into the real world when they finish.
 
The Man Who Lived and Died on the Appalachian Trail I expect to many who had met him and Idolized him on the AT were really surprised.

A lot of folks head down to Georgia to hike the AT think that thru hiking it is going to solve their problems and reset their life. Its sort of dirt bagging with ultimate goal. I am unsure how many actually find what they were looking for. Some folks have a real tough time dropping back into the real world when they finish.
Thanks for the link. Good read!
 
I do not think that Fred Becky was ever a dirt bag, although no doubt a mooch, as he proved to me by eating about everything in my refrigerator when he was visiting one of my students at U Colorado’s Mountain Research Station one summer. Fred had met my student when visiting a climbing area in Missouri and kept a black book with addresses and phone numbers of all his climbing contacts across the country such that he almost always had a free place to stay on his travels. And, yes, true dirt bags rarely can maintain an automobile, as Fred himself noted near the end of the movie ‘Dirt Bag’ made about him a few years ago. For a long time, Fred owned a pink Ford T-bird, and for employment one of gigs was judging beauty contests in the Los Angeles area. In contrast, I think that true dirt bags were exemplified best by the Yosemite climbers in the 1960s/1970s who squatted at so-called Camp Four in the Valley. Chouinard also played the part of dirt bag well early in his climbing career when he and his partners lived off marmots that they killed with rocks in the Tetons; they could not eat the front legs that they found too grisly and sinewy, but were sustained for protein by the hind quarters. 🙂
Well, gosh, if Fred Becky was not a dirt bag, I'm not sure who is!

I would say that if someone is living on cheap and has no permanent address, they probably qualify as a dirt bag.
 
Well, gosh, if Fred Becky was not a dirt bag, I'm not sure who is!

I would say that if someone is living on cheap and has no permanent address, they probably qualify as a dirt bag.
I guess that I draw the line at owning and maintaining a vehicle. I think that the term ‘dirt bag’ originated with big wall climbers living in somewhat squalor at Camp Four in Yosemite Valley in the 1960s/1970s. Fred Becky was not part of that crowd as instead he traveled back and forth across North America putting up more first ascents of big routes than any climber in history. Also, I think that the huge number of books that he wrote disqualifies him as being a dirt bag.
 
Baltimore Jack on the Appalachian Trail was thought of by many as a "dirt bag" He would appear down south in the spring on the AT and work/hang out along the AT bubble after hiking the AT several times. He definitely had a big following and I expect many hikers who idolized his lifestyle. His answers to where he disappeared in the off season usually went unanswered. It was not until he passed away that a lot of questions got answered. The Man Who Lived and Died on the Appalachian Trail I expect to many who had met him and Idolized him on the AT were really surprised.

A lot of folks head down to Georgia to hike the AT think that thru hiking it is going to solve their problems and reset their life. Its sort of dirt bagging with ultimate goal. I am unsure how many actually find what they were looking for. Some folks have a real tough time dropping back into the real world when they finish.
That's a great story and well written. Thanks for posting that.
 
I guess that I draw the line at owning and maintaining a vehicle. I think that the term ‘dirt bag’ originated with big wall climbers living in somewhat squalor at Camp Four in Yosemite Valley in the 1960s/1970s. Fred Becky was not part of that crowd as instead he traveled back and forth across North America putting up more first ascents of big routes than any climber in history. Also, I think that the huge number of books that he wrote disqualifies him as being a dirt bag.
Again it seems if though the interpretation of a “Dirtbag” is in the eye of the beholder. Unarguably Fred whatever he was is among the best and put up some big routes with many of the above mentioned names within the climbing community of the time even after they moved on from being “Dirtbags”. Please don’t tell me Fred does not qualify as eccentric even if it was only even about the car he drove for many years. No doubt “Dirtbag” has it’s origins within Yosemite and Fred decided to take it a bigger step forward. Dirtbagging became a hobby of who could be the biggest “Dirtbag” at a given time. Just ask Jimmy Chin.
 
That's a great story and well written. Thanks for posting that.
Outside Podcast did a story (early Fall? of) last year on the depression many thru-hikes seem to experience when they come off the trail. As you noted, the reason seems to be that many thru-hikers start their journeys because there is something in their lives with which they are not happy and they are seeking to escape life for a while.

Thru-hiking provides a sense of purpose, but in the end, when it's over, many find that they have come back to that prior reality.

I suspect the gent I met at Falling Waters parking lot is probably not going to return home. I suspect when he finds he has seen what he is going to see, he will plunk himself down somewhere else.

Brian
 
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