I'm sixty-seven and live in the Maine woods. I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2007, the Pacific Crest Trail in 2010, Vermont's Long Trail in 2011, the Continental Divide Trail in 2013, the Camino Portugese (2016), and Newfoundland's East Coast Trail (2017) . I am outdoors every day. I offer guided backpacking trips and classes in Maine, through "Uncle Tom's Guided Adventures".
I picked up this book after seeing a brief review in an adventure magazine. It’s the third book written by Tim Mathis, who is behind the boldlywent.com website and promotional company.
“Partly a celebration of an underappreciated subculture of hiker trash, ski bums, and vagabonds, and partly a “how to” guide for adventure on the cheap, The Dirtbag’s Guide to Life is the first solid attempt to define an outdoor movement that has taken root in backpacker hostels, long trails, and climbing crags around the world.” ~ Tim Mathis, The Dirtbag’s Guide to Life
I would qualify for status in any dirtbag club. If you want to understand about dirtbags, I’d suggest Googling the term and then clicking the images tab, and you’ll see a comprehensive dirtbag photo gallery. You’ll see images like these:
For those of you who are more linguistically oriented, here’s the Urban Dictionary’s definition: dirtbag – “A person who is committed to a given (usually extreme) lifestyle to the point of abandoning employment and other societal norms in order to pursue said lifestyle. Dirtbags can be distinguished from hippies by the fact that dirtbags have a specific reason for their living communally and generally non-hygenically; dirtbags are seeking to spend all of their moments pursuing their lifestyle.”
I’m not sure that many folks who are standing at some crossroad where they are pondering a career direction would make the serious lifestyle alterations necessary to adhere to the tenets of dirtbag life, but if you have an interest in wandering, this book is a good start.
I’m reminded of a popular book of the 1980’s entitled Voluntary Simplicity by Duane Elgin. I have always wanted to re-read it and it looks like that book will be my follow up to this one.
I’d offer that any book’s references that back up a book’s premises reflect the best examples of successful applications to real life that are available to bolster their position. Within the pages are numerous examples of dirtbags that actually have money, as they have somehow captured a niche in society that allows them to live cheap and enjoy their hours on earth. Yvon Chouinard comes to mind. He’s a billionaire that prefers driving old cars. The Patagonia clothes that he wears are years old, and he hardly buys anything new. He continues to lead a very simple life, and describes himself as a non-consumer of anything. To this day, he claims that he prefers sleeping on somebody’s floor than in a motel room, which is clearly dirtbag behavior.
There is a downside to most dirtbags’ lifestyle (which gets harder as you get older), which is a perennial mandatory cheapness, often due to the lack of any reasonable retirement plan. If you don’t punch a time clock for decades, there’s no pension, and in some cases, those years of working intermittently for cash results in a very meager social security check.
The bottom line is that living a simpler existence away from the consumer-driven life can lead to a heightened respect for the natural world. Many of us older dirtbags have more than than a thousand dollars in our bank accounts. In my case I built my own small house over 40 years ago from wood that I cut down fr0m my wood lot that allowed me to have a post and beam oak frame house in which I still live. I retired from full time work 17 years ago, which has enabled me to experience at least 18 months of a 100% dirtbag lifestyle in earning my Triple Crown of hiking in 2014. I have patched together several “jobs” that allow me to continue to gather an adequate pile of those elusive pieces of rectangular paper with pictures of dead presidents.
I’m always fantasizing about hitting a long trail again, because I’ve understood that collecting experiences is more important to me than amassing creature comforts and material objects.
For those of you who are intrigued by the Google gallery of dirtbags, I’d suggest checking out the video Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Beckey (96 minutes).
Hailed as one of the most prolific and influential climbers of all time, Fred Beckey has become a cult hero in the outdoor world Dirtbag explores in cinematic rapture the unmatched drive, superhuman achievements and enigmatic genius of this man who set the bar for what is possible in an uncompromised existence. Co-stars are Yvon Chouinard and Conrad Anker. I don’t know how long it will be available, but do check it out for rental at the present dirtbag deal of $0.99 .
I’m hoping that I am not sick any more. I have been 100% healthy for the last 4 years, which has been a long run of symptom free life-even no cold symptoms, but illness finally caught up with me. It has been two weeks since I came down with a bad cold that turned out to be the flu. I do get a yearly flu vaccination. I have a newfound appreciation for folks with chronic fatigue, or any affliction that renders the body to limp along and experience distress.
I first noticed that something was wrong with 14 days ago after taking my daily heart rate variability (HRV) reading:
It was dramatically different from the usual numbers that come up, in fact, I thought that the chest strap had malfunctioned and took the three minute HRV reading a second time, and it was no mistake.
At one point in the last two weeks, everything ached; my eyes hurt badly enough that I couldn’t even read. I was blowing my nose constantly, spewing various shades of mucus discharge and phlegm. I had zero energy. I could barely make it up the stairs to the bedroom. I slept a full 8 hours each night, but also up to 5 hours each and every day. To ever hike again or especially pedal my bikes seemed a demented fantasy.
Right now I’m sitting in the emergency room on a warm Sunday noontime, waiting for the results of blood work and a chest x-ray — for my wife, not me. I passed on this flu to her so she’s behind me a bit on the time frame. The staff here at the hospital informed us that many folks with this flu end up here at the ER after they develop secondary bronchitis and/or pneumonia.
I monitored my recovery by taking HRV readings and watched the numbers slowly improve until I was back at my peak a couple of days ago:
I went for a slow walk yesterday, cranking out four miles. It went OK. This morning I rode my bike on the road for a couple hours at an easy 130 bpm pace to see how I would feel afterward. I was ok.
My advice is that this springtime flu is still making the rounds here in Maine. I was informed that Tamiflu is effective in knocking out this strain. If you can start Tamiflu within 48 hours of initial flu symptoms and a positive flu test, it is more likely to work, but in some cases may only shorten your flu by one day. My flu started with itchy eyes, a runny nose, and lots of sneezing. I also learned that the symptoms of a flu start a day before one is affected and the contagion period is 5-7 days.
I’m humble and patient, as I experience being an actual patient again.
Hank Lunn and I are co-leading a 90 minute workshop at Maine Coast Men’s weekend gathering of men. We were inspired to share our enthusiasm ( and fears) about if after reading the national bestseller Stealing Fire.
Consider attending! The price is right, and the risk of the weekend experience has proved to be transformative for many of us men.
In slow metabolizers, daily coffee consumption appeared to double the odds of a heart attack, or even quadruple the odds at four cups a day, whereas in therapidcaffeine metabolizers, daily coffee consumption wasprotective,cutting the odds of heart attack by more than half—or at least until you get up to four or more cups a day.
I don’t have a regular schedule. With self-employment work comes and goes, and the number of hours the I devote to working for others is up this time of year and then ends abruptly in early June. Weekends are sometimes not much different that my weekdays, especially on Saturdays, but this one as different.
I began my day at 5 am where I sat to meditate for 35 minutes, as I have been doing for the past 49 years. After my meditation, I ran the SweetBeat App for 3 minutes and took my daily heart rate variability reading, which showed a change from usual, alerting me that this would be a good day to take it easy, not push my physical activity with a bike ride or hike, an deal with any potential stressors that were affecting my well being. I’m a big fan of data : “If you can not measure it, you can not improve it.” – Lord Kelvin
Next, I decided to consult the Ching. I have explored several systems that assist in interpreting the results, and have come to rely on Carol K. Anthony’s A Guide to the I Ching, Third Edition. The print version of the book is what I use at home, but I also have it on my Kindle, so can access it when I am out on a travel adventure.
There are 64 possible outcomes when you throw the Ching and today my hexagram was described as Thunder. Anthony’s citation from this hexagram was essentially that, ” shock is good”. Find a new answer. Life has cosmic structure , and we are meant to find’s our life’s meaning. Receiving his hexagram reminds us that we are in danger of falling back into old patterns of doubt, and to correct the situation promptly.
“Shock, on the whole, is meant to make us recognize our natural limitations; until we do, the situation meetings a vise–like quality. The cosmic hammer pounds at our consciousness until we wake up to the inner reality.”
I paired today’s I-Ching reading with my HRV results to arrive at the conclusion that I would use the day to complete things that I have been procrastinating about. I finished unpacking the remainder of my gear from my winter camping trip a couple of weeks ago. I was finally able to take down my cotton tent that was finally dry and pack it away in an upstairs closet where it has escaped any mouse holes for the past 15 years. I did the same with a few tarps. I returned a couple phone calls, sent out several emails, bought the rest f the ingredients to me to make granola.
This trip took place outside of Jackman, an area in northwestern Maine that is a dozen or so miles from the Canada border. I’ve done several summer canoe trips around the Attean Pond/Moose River loop, as well as winter camping in this area.
I was pleased with the rooms and service at the Northern Lakes Inn , smack dab on Route 201 and within a snowball’s throw from a gas/convenience store and two restaurants. In Jackman, there are more snowmobiles around town than pickup trucks and Subarus.
For me, the hardest part of heading out to engage in deep winter camping is getting the gear and food together. Spring/summer/fall trips are no problem, unless it involves canoeing, which invites one to bring additional stuff due to the ability of a canoe to carry hundred of pounds. For a three days to a week of three-season adventuring I can pack in an hour. All my adventure gear resides in one spare room, where I work off a packing list that I’ve honed down to the point where I have 17 pounds on my back (before adding food or water).
Plenty of room = lots of stuff’
Winter camping opens doors that can lead to a pleasant experience due to the extra gear that assists in surviving and even thriving in the frozen north.
Foremost on that winter list is my 9 x 12 Egyptian cotton wall tent, weighing in at 17 pounds — a specialized piece of equipment that dramatically enhances the experience of being outdoors for extended winter periods due to the option of placing a wood stove inside as well as the addition of a pocket for a sheet metal thimble that allows stove pipe to pass through the front wall of the cotton tent.
I bought the tent fifteen years ago from Craig McDonald. MacDonald worked for 50 years for the Ontario Government as a Recreation Specialist, primarily in Algonquin Park. He’s mastered the sport after 40 years of snowshoe expeditions. In his spare time Craig manufactures winter camping equipment.
After parking the car at the end of a plowed side road, we stacked gear on two plastic and one wooden hauling toboggans, lashed down our loads, and trudged one mile over a relatively flat snowmobile track that eventually dropped us entered the edge of Attean Pond.
At this point we are hugging the side of the pond on our left and continuing on over clearly defined snowmobile tracks. It didn’t take long for us to realize that there was much more snow up here than I had even seen before, with absolutely zero areas of visible ice. Instead, there were windblown ridges, berms and at last one hidden slush pocket under the ice, which I found by accident. Snowmobiles are not hampered much by surface irregularities like us humans so we followed tracks the best we were able.
Eventually the flat tracks ahead of us multiplied as riders fanned out as the pond’s width expanded and we were left with much fainter traces that we sometimes could not even make out.
My two adventure partners on this trip were Pat and Mark, both who have been on one of these winter Jackman winter trips before. Each had also participated separately with me on prior trips. Pat is a self-employed contractor who is currently building a house for himself in Belfast and Mark wears many hats over in Vermont: professional sound engineer, Appalachian Trail hiker shuttle service, photographer, and recently a licensed drone operator, who will be putting to use his skills on this mini-expedition.
The sky was flat grey, and the wind down as we wound our way 4.5 miles across the surface of Attean Pond where we entered the mouth of the Moose River and made our way up just past the open falls.
Unexpected things happen when you enter the wilderness. We try to be prepared to deal such frustrations. On this trip we had multiple issues with plastic, which eventually breaks. Before we even got up here I was moving one of the plastic sleds out of the shed onto the top of my car. The upturned front end of one the industrial-grade plastic sleds I made all those years ago snapped off right ahead of the first oak cross piece. We had enough time before the trip left for Pat to fix it in his shop.
It didn’t matter, because Mark’s plastic sled’s front end snapped off on the middle of the pond, and then a short while later Pat’s toboggan broke again. There wasn’t much of an impact, due to the snow being packed by wind and snowmobile tracks. But then all of he plastic straps holding Pat’s MSR plastic snowshoes onto his boots either cracked and broke. Every single one of them.
Both Mark and I favor traditional wooden snowshoes on these flat land winter journeys; he prefers an oval Green Mountain style and I like the traditional Maine cruiser with the beavertail. My bindings are long lengths of lamp-wick, and have 10 years of trips of up to two weeks on the ice without incident. I’m carrying a spare pair of these cloth strips, so it would be a 5 minute deal to replace then when I have to. Mark has engineered his own bindings with elastic cord material that has served him well so far. Mark’s backup elastic cords harness was able to get Pat back pulling his toboggan again.
Our original plan was to advance further up the river to a sheltered area Mark and I had used on previous journeys beside a broad area of expanded river. It had been relatively easy to chip a water hole through the frozen ice the last time we camped here, when we learned the hard way that it was necessary to get out into the middle of the river to reach flowing water.
This time, we fumbled, and eventually tumbled into what I thought might be a reasonable place upstream of the open lead around the falls where I dunked my whole foot and lower leg into a slush pocket. The other two guys pulled me out onto solid snow and we brought in a downed spruce log that we used to support our stance as we filled cooking pots, buckets and canteens with water.
There was much more snow here than on any previous trip, and what was ahead of us with our plan to proceed up river as hard pulling on unpacked snow.
Plan B went into effect: Stay at our present campsite and do day trips out and back to here. This required one whole morning to locate enough dead spruce, harvest it, drag the lengths back to camp and saw, split, and stack enough wood to get us through the next couple days.
Life is good here, it just takes a bit of work to get there.
My Four Dog Stove and stovepipe weighs in at 14 pounds. That’s no burden since I’ve lost more than 14 pounds since I returned from my 2013 thru-hike of the Continental Divide Trail. This stove has proved capable of warming my tent to shirt sleeve conditions at below zero temperatures.
There are real safety issues to consider when using an axe to split wood in this much snow. I suggested that Pat and Mark work together to so this, so we worked out a plan to place a spruce log on the surface of packed snow, which would be the base for splitting lengths of wood, and baton the axe head with a sizable pole so that no one’s leg would be impaled with the axe head (I’ve witnessed one such accident on a previous winter trip).
A few “situations” came up:
#1 I heard Pat scream in terror after he entered the outhouse when he discovered that his new winter glove had fallen down into the hole of the crapper. Neither Mark nor I came to his aid.
#2 Mark’s back is bad, so he came up with the idea of stacking thee mattresses to sleep on, but the tower of power underneath him was tippy, so he lashed a long strap around all three mattresses as well as his legs. Urinating became a confounding variable.
All in all, the trip was a success. We each provided complete dinners-from soup to nuts-for the group, with breakfasts, lunches, and snacks on our own. I had a successful experiment with freezing cracked eggs for frying one morning, and also enjoyed very large and delicious bacon and cheddar cheese sandwiches on fresh seeded rye bread for breakfast. Pat was the coffeemeister, brewing up freshly percolated coffee for us every day.
Mark’s video drone footage is still being edited, so stay tuned for a bird’s eye view of our adventure that I’ll post on this blog as soon as he’s released it.