Note: this is a new column for the Zine, Modern Dirtbags
The dirtbag in us never dies, but we do grow up. I lived as a hardcore dirtbag for many years, from Gunnison, Colorado to Potrero Chico, Mexico, but these days at 36 years old I’m more of a “work-bag”. I work 40 hours a week at a minimum, but I still manage to maintain the same level of fitness I had when I was dumpster diving and hitch hiking to save precious pennies to live as a full-on dirtbag.
by Luke Mehall, publisher of The Climbing Zine
Truth be told, I’m not near as good at it as many of my “work-bag” friends, some who spend their winters in alpine Meccas like Patagonia, or tropical sport climbing destinations like Thailand, and still have a job to come back to when it’s all said and done.
After graduating from college all I wanted to do was live the dirtbag life, like many of my Yosemite and desert heroes. And, I did. The problem was it was all too much. I didn’t take enough rest days, and ended up with overuse injuries. In Joshua Tree, where I once hid out for a hundred days straight the Weekend Warriors would express jealousy when I told them I was climbing full time, and only working 20 hours a week at Crossroads, the climber restaurant/hub. Problem was the only person who wasn’t jealous of me, was me. I longed for more stability in my life, to use my college degree, to have regular access to showering, and a warm bed.
About seven years ago, after my J-Tree experience, I entered back into a more Middle Class existence, with a roof over my head, a bed to rest my weary head, and most importantly a desk to write upon. I’ve got two books published now, and still hold down a “night job” at a local restaurant in Durango, Colorado.
Most importantly though: the climbing. Like many climbers I hover in a never-ending plateau grade wise, but most of my climbing accomplishments have come in my “work-bag” phase of life. My night job allows me to take weeks off at a time, and I’ve used the time to do the routes of my dreams in places like Yosemite, Squamish, and Potrero Chico. And since I live close to the Colorado Plateau, a new route is never far away. Fortunately since I have a home, a shower and bed are never too far away either.
Developing a work ethic
Let’s be honest, many dirtbag climbers are lazy. That’s what happens to some people when they’ve got too much freedom. Developing a work ethic is essential to getting better at climbing, and also to being successful in life. For every stoner who is on the never-ending road trip, there’s a Mom or Dad with multiple kids who holds down a full time job, and still manages to send 5.13. These are people who have solid work ethics and organize their lives so there’s still time to climb.
Living somewhere close to climbing
This is key for the “work-bag”; since your time is limited your fix must be close. Avoid places where you have to drive an hour (or more) to climb, there’s plenty of towns where climbing is a mere five minutes from town.
Get a flexible job (or three)
The 9-5 schedule with two weeks of vacation a year can be suitable for some “work-bags” but most of us want to spend more than a couple weeks on the road right? There are plenty of jobs that allow for weeks, and even months of climbing. Find one that will take you back after that month long pilgrimage to Yosemite. Restaurant work, guiding, high angle rigging, window washing, ski industry jobs, and marijuana trimming are just a few examples of good jobs with ample freedom to travel. One brutal reality: sometimes you have to work two to three jobs to save money for your dream trips.
Overuse injuries are all too common for the full time climber. When you have a busy life, climbing too much and running your body down is no longer an issue. Resting and recovering becomes much more simple. You value your climbing time more because it is limited and precious. I believe this leads to a deeper focus and an enhancement of time out climbing.
Follow your heart
Each climber has their own path with our unique sport, if you follow your own path, instead of what others are doing you’re more likely to be happy. Some climbers want to live in a van the entire year, and others just want a solid weeklong trip now and again. Find your passion. Whether its big wall or bouldering; living in a van on country roads, or having an apartment in Manhattan, climbers are more diverse now than we’ve ever been.
Follow your heart, and not the masses, because that’s at the heart of the original climbing ethos anyways, isn’t it?
About us: The Climbing Zine was started in 2010 by Al Smith III and Luke Mehall. It continues to the day with the mission of representing the true essence of climbing. Our crown jewel is our printed version, but we also do the interweb thing, and Kindle.