It seems like the era of the old-school dirtbag climber’s lifestyle is steadily evolving into a new era of dirtbag-dom. Back in the 1970s, being a climber was synonymous with a wanderlust, “living in a van down by the river” sort of lifestyle.
A sneak peak into The Climbing Zine Volume 5, The Dirtbag Issue [story by Erica Lineberry]
[cover photo by Manuela Eilert]
But nowadays, long-term (and free) campsites are quickly dwindling, gas prices are on the rise, and climbing as a sport has gradually become more mainstream. I’m pretty sure that the hippies of Yosemite’s Camp 4 back in the seventies would have gotten quite the chuckle just thinking about the idea of climbing in the Olympics. I’m also equally sure that your average plastic-pulling prima donna over at the rock gym doesn’t fully appreciate the outrageous feats of mental and physical strength demonstrated by their nomadic predecessors.
As the sport of climbing has evolved, so have the participants. Though climbers committed to an unwavering lifestyle of dirtbaggery definitely still exist, most of today’s climbers don’t look anything like their historical counterparts (on the surface, anyway…) Fitting all your belongings into the trunk of your car is no longer the dues required to make it to the top of El Capitan. In fact, most modern climbers are men and women who manage to hold down steady jobs, buy a house, and even raise a family – in addition to sending all the routes on their tick lists.
Since my husband and I have had the pleasure of adding our own little “Cragbaby” to the mix, we’ve had to make more than a few lifestyle changes, some of which still feel foreign after almost three years. We constantly find ourselves balancing our way through two seemingly contradictory lifestyles. During the week we engage in typical suburban life with a preschooler, where my job description may include Executive Chef, Head Cheerleader, Chauffeur, and Mommy Blogger all in one afternoon. But when the weekend rolls around, we pitch our tent wherever the weather is good, and I find myself skipping showers for days at a time so I can scale cliffs and hang out in the wilderness with the people I love most.
It took a while, but our family has finally hit our stride somewhere in between dirty hippie and urban yuppie. While this means we can function reasonably well in social situations with either group, it also means what’s “normal” for our family may seem a little strange to those that reside on the more extreme ends of either spectrum. To the dirtbag climber set, our lifestyle might seem luxurious and over-filled with belongings and technology. Our tent has more square footage than the average college dorm room, and we pack in enough headlamps to power a small town. To the soccer moms I run into at the local natural foods store, our family appears rather wild and unruly. A quick once over on the face and hands with a wet wipe is plenty adequate for post-climb dinner, and learning to crap in the woods is a much more valuable skill than learning which fork to use at a dinner party.
Becoming parents has forced us to become better planners, better partners, and I daresay better people, both on and off the rock. Most importantly, our life revolves around each other rather than climbing, and though a love for the mountains will forever run deep, it’s something we do rather than who we are. The result is a fulfilling balance that is far more rewarding than anything we could ever have imagined.
On cold and rainy days, we happily build forts out of blankets and watch “Thomas the Train,” instead of longingly thumbing through guidebooks and watching Dosage marathons. We take time off on purpose to do other things, rather than letting screaming shoulders and unhappy elbows decide it’s time for a break.
However, because sweeping, laundry, and mowing the lawn can always wait for another day, and PBJ’s and mac n’ cheese still count as a sit down dinner, we can easily carve out plenty of time to get away whenever we want to. While our suburban counterparts are shuffling to and from various errands, practices, and commitments on a Friday night, we are sorting gear and loading up the car for a weekend family adventure in the great outdoors. It hasn’t always been easy to balance the two lifestyles, but the rewards have proven well worth it time and time again.
And somehow along the way, we’ve become better climbers. In fact, both myself and the hubby are climbing a full number grade harder since our pre-kiddo days! I’m not sure how that happened, but my guess is that it’s this hybrid-dirtbag lifestyle keeping us balanced. We have very little time to train at the gym, so when we’re there we’re focused. That means motivation and psych stays high while burn out and overuse injuries stay low. Depending on cragging logistics, some days we’re lucky to get in three pitches each. And there’s no rushing a toddler, even on a drizzling, cold hike out fifteen minutes before dark, so keeping an open mind and a laidback attitude on the short-term has always been a must.
Broad, long-term goals, on the other hand, have been met with great success. For instance, after bagging my first 5.12 at the end of 2011, I decided to go for Twelve 5.12’s in 2012. Challenging, yes, but a general enough goal that I could work towards it wherever we could find partners, and not have to stress if I went a week or two without touching real rock. There were definitely times, especially in the last few months of my personal challenge where I would feel a self-imposed fear of failure start to slip in and climbing would start to creep up too high on the priority list again. But every time I lowered off frustrated from an “un-send,” I would look down to see my little boy smiling up at me, waiting to give me a big hug and I’d realize how trivial my frustrations really were and all would be restored to balance once again.
I for one am thankful that I live in a world where I don’t have to choose sides. Instead I have the freedom to enjoy both. That means my kiddo can learn firsthand to appreciate nature by playing in the dirt, scrambling over rocks, and getting holes in his jeans, as well as sing his heart out in the school Christmas pageant. He’s on a first name basis with everyone that works in the climbing gym, but also at the local Chick-fila, meaning he gets to “help” set routes and get free ice cream when his favorite waiters are on duty!
My lifestyle may or may not be similar to anyone reading this. Regardless of whether you’re a mom, dad, hoping to become one, or hoping to never become one, I’d be willing to bet that a lot of us identify more with a lifestyle that is more middle of the road than an uncompromising, dirtbag-til-death way of life. Does this make us, as a newer generation of climbers, less tough than our true dirtbag predecessors? Probably. That doesn’t bother me though. While I’m grateful of the road paved by our forefathers of rock, I’m also appreciative for the opportunity to snuggle my toddler to sleep every night in a soft, warm bed. Maybe this makes us posers, but I couldn’t care less. My family is getting out there and exploring the world together and enjoying the best of both worlds makes life more fun.
Regardless of where you call home and what tax bracket you’re in, I firmly believe that there’s at least a little bit of dirtbag at the core of every climber. It may not come out all the time, but that underlying dirtbag spirit that calls us to the mountains day after day and week after week is always going to be there. It’s your choice whether you want to celebrate it all the time, or only tap into it on weekends.
Erica Lineberry is proof that starting a family doesn’t mean an end to adventure! When she’s not out craggin’ with her family, Erica spends her time writing about the unlikely combination of motherhood, climbing, and the great outdoors. You can follow her adventures on her website: www.cragmama.com.