My esteemed colleague Brendan Leonard wrote a piece about what it’s like to try and date while living a “dirtbag” climbing life. Having never really lived in my car before, I can’t relate, but I do know that the dirtbag lifestyle is one that we are all supposed to aspire to at some point as partakers of the outdoors. Odd, isn’t it, aspiring to live in a car. But really, many auspicious outdoor personalities have undertaken this rite of passage. Steph Davis is one who comes to mind; I believe she lived in her Toyota Tacoma for five years or so. Lots of people I know say they are eager to ditch their worldly belongings and move into their Subaru. It’s even one of Morgan’s goals for the next ten years.
Myself, I never had this urge. I have traveled a lot but always with an established home to come back to. Still, I understand the compulsion. Living unladen and fancy-free sounds pretty cool in a lot of ways. But it’s not the path for everyone, nor should it be. There are lots of us who live the outdoor lifestyle in an authentic and serious way while pursuing advanced degrees, building careers, and having families. Myself, I took the corporate route, getting an advanced degree and working up to starting and building my own businesses, purchasing a house, and creating a schedule that allows me my outdoor pursuits. The amount of work it takes to stay active while establishing a career and home is pretty significant, so I thought that it might be worth taking some time to appreciate the Non-Dirtbags out there, the ones who put in serious office time and then keep the momentum to get out and play in the outdoors.
With much affection for my dirtbag friends, all the attention paid to dirtbags results in overlooking the contributions and accomplishments of those who are office-bound and working hard. I think of my Twitter compatriot, Josh Montague, who relentlessly powers through long nights at the lab working on his advanced degree; my hardworking Yukon friends Tony, Sierra, and Jenn, who all work full time jobs, but still find enough time to be a thousand times more awesome than is reasonable; and the Geargals writers as well – Morgan works full time for the Army and Irene is a full-time Forest Service Ranger, wife, and mom to three. Morgan and Irene make sure to take the time to get out and enjoy the outdoors while meeting their family and professional obligations. That’s no small achievement.
While the plusses of living in your car are obvious – simplicity, cheap lifestyle, no need to really work much, long days of doing whatever you want – the benefits of establishing a career and a home are pretty good too.
1. Security. Sure, you can always go hunker in your car for the night, but nothing beats your own home. You never have to borrow someone else’s shower, pay for a storage unit, or wonder where you’re going to sleep when you’re not traveling. You always have a place to dry your gear and you won’t have to pick it up and stow it until you’re good and ready. It’s home. And that’s a great feeling.
2. Retirement. I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to retirement. It’s not that far away for me and, done right, it can be rad. Some people think that it’s better to take your retirement while you’re “young enough to enjoy it” but I say no, wait for when you’re older and you’re financially set enough to REALLY enjoy it. I think traveling the world without too much financial stress is gonna be way more fun for me, and I plan to stay fit enough to continue doing all the activities I love to do. Life’s not over after 40, no matter what the kids say.
3. Accomplishment. I know you can’t go climbing every single day if you’re slaving away at a PhD. Sometimes you have to study instead of play. But believe me, this sacrifice translates into character-building that affects everything you do. The PhD will be done one day, and then you can apply all that focus to climbing or skiing or camping or whatever you want. And you’ll know how to finish a project, because your academic achievement is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do in your life. Now that it’s done – congratulations! Now you can relax.
4. Flexibility. Guess what? Now that you have a comfortable income and a place to put all your stuff, you can go live in your car if you want to! I’m planning to do just that this summer; I’m on a project a few hours from home four days a week until September. The perfect arrangement to enjoy the dirtbag lifestyle while always knowing a shower, a full kitchen, and my cozy bed is just a few days and a bit of driving away. Conversely, if you’re living in your car but suddenly want to have a house – well, you’ve got some serious work ahead of you.
5. Money. The time you’re investing in your career or your home will pay off in the end. There’s always time to dirtbag it later.
So if you’re reading this from a cubicle, dreaming of the open road but knowing you have other stuff to do first, don’t despair. You’re not any less of an outdoorsperson and you’re still doing it right. Let’s all take a moment to appreciate the non-dirtbags in our midst.