*An edited version of this essay will be appearing in The Good Life Magazine in May of 2015
Becoming a well-seasoned dirtbag is a skill acquired over years of intentional fun-seeking away from the boundaries of the urban corridor. Although it is best to start at a young age so that the intricacies of living on the road become second nature, anyone has the potential of aspiring to future dirtbag status (just look at Fred Becky).
**A Quick Word of Advice: Avoid calling yourself a dirtbag in public until you are at least 17 years of age. Avoid calling your parents dirtbags too....especially in front of figures of authority....like your teachers....even if they are. This is a term of endearment that some people don't understand.**
The following is an easy step-by-step guide to the conversion of a sane, high IQ individual on a promising career path into a low-wage earning, high velocity, free spirited, dirtbag. Results will vary among individuals.
Step 1-Develop a love for a sport or activity where destination travel is a key component. The love of travel is not a prerequisite but it does aid the transition process from responsible student/adult into carefree adventure seeker. Suggested activities and/or careers that will gain you dirtbag experience points include snowboarding/back country skier, climber/mountain guide, mountain/dirt/adventure biker, surfer, kayaker/rafter, long distance hiker/runner, fisherman, anything involving a sail, park service employee,outdoor ed. major, nature photographer/writer, geologist, biologist, and journeyman anything.
Step 2- Be (and remain) idealistic.Idealism makes up for the lack of working capital (i.e. cash) that upholds the self esteem of the responsible folks. When cash fails, ideals blossom. Have ideals about politics, religion, the environment, society. Have ideals about love and family, war and peace, and good literature.
Step 3-Be comfortable around dirt. This means, be comfortable around your dirt, other peoples dirt, being dirty and plain old dirt. Be able to lie in the dirt, without a blanket. Be able to brush the dirt off of an item and think of this as 'cleaning'.
Step 4-Cook out of a can or be able to craft gourmet meals using free and/or scavenged ingredients. This may mean opening a can and eating the contents with your fingers or a modified utensil (crackers) with or without heating up the contents of the can before consumption. Some items to consider ingesting include tuna fish, ramen noodles, ketchup soup, dried fruit, blocks of cheese,chocolate chip cookies, coffee with cocoa packets and salami sticks. When in doubt, be able to identify the local bakery or brewery to fill in where your personal talents fall short. Add +5 to your experience points when your Jet Boil meal incorporates vegetables and possibly, chopping.
Step 5- Be able to Tetris your under-sized, under powered Toyota Camry with all equipment necessary for a multi-week excursion with or without pets/co-pilot. This usually requires the purchase of multiple Rubbermaid roughneck totes that have been black sharpied with Duct Tape labels such as: Clothes, Camping, Food, Cooking, Gear and Emergency. Or skip the bins and the Tetris and aim for the 'scatter and dig' approach, maximizing the entire storage capacity of your trunk but requiring excess parking lot space for actually finding that last red cam. Add to your life's goals: purchase all-wheel drive Subaru (or possibly Toyota Tacoma with modified bed turned sleeping compartment/gear storage). If dirtbag is only a persona you don on weekends due to job constraints where personal appearance and mode of transportation invite judgement from co-workers and neighbors, consider the Honda Element as a more suitable urban substitute.
Step 6-Practice improvisation and creativity. As a dirtbag you will be called upon to improvise such necessary items as tent poles, shelters, splints or slings, can openers, and any number of items that may be missing, broken, lost or forgotten. It is your ability to think creatively that will keep you cozy, dry and safe in nearly any conditions presented.
Step 7- Don't forget some reads, a journal and a good camera. Travel with a compendium of obscure publications and dog-eared maps. Old guidebooks, copies of the Alpinist, Frequency or Taproot are always welcome companions when wifi service becomes non-existent. Develop an eye for natural beauty or that perfect descent and capture it on film. Draw, paint and create on your rest days. Art always scores chicks.
Step 8-Love yourself. You became a dirtbag because of your passion for the interesting and beautiful places in this world. Be comfortable being you, even when those around you are not comfortable with you being you. Learn to convey your passion to others through words, photos and essays. You may be surprised how many other people secretly long to be dirtbags too.
Step 9-Raise future dirtbags. Fill your kids' heads with propaganda like 'Camping is Fun!' or 'Jump around and you'll warm up.' Make rhetorical statements like 'Well, we could go out to eat but wouldn't you rather stay here and have a fire?' Bribe them with marshmallows and their very own headlamps. Let them choose the hike out of the book. Stack the family tree; introduce your dirtbag friends to your kids as 'aunt' and 'uncle'. Be prepared for these future dirtbags to grow up to become tax attorneys, investment bankers or fashion editors instead.
And, if dirtbagging it just isn't for you anymore, there are alternatives.There's always the home in the sprawl, the lawn to mow, 15 lbs of potato chips and beer hoping to join your midsection and a full televised sports schedule waiting to engulf you. If you have found yourself inadvertently stalled out on this side-adventure, remember that it is never too late to get back out there. The dirtbag life is always calling and the rest of us will still be here, waiting for you.