My review of The Dirtbag’s Guide to Life

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 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 .

Influenza and Me

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:

Initial flu 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:

Back in Action

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.

Get up to date weekly status on the occurrence and severity of influenza in Maine here.

Embracing Risk

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.

For more info, including registration form and details go to mainecoast .

Do the Health Benefits of Coffee Apply to Everyone? |

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 the rapid caffeine metabolizers, daily coffee consumption was protective, cutting the odds of heart attack by more than half—or at least until you get up to four or more cups a day. 

Genetic differences in caffeine metabolism may explain the Jekyll and Hyde effects of coffee.
— Read on

Pulling Back the Bow

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.

I devoted a couple of hours to researching background material for my new book.  I read the first three chapters of – “Stealing Fire:  How Silicon Valley, the Navy Seals, and Maverick Scientists are Revolutionizing the Wat We Live and Work

While the I-Ching was not mentioned in the book, both meditation and heart rate variability were.

My day was restorative, and I trust that tomorrow, I’ll have my mojo back and ready for a 30 mile bike ride, where I’ll join 126 other bikers in the Frost Heave Fondo.

Hello, spring!





Hearing Loss Threatens Mind, Life and Limb


Ever wondered if  family and friends who are concerned that you might be experiencing hearing loss might be right? Poor hearing is not just an annoying inconvenience.

“Two huge new studies have demonstrated a clear association between untreated hearing loss and an increased risk of dementia, depression, falls and even cardiovascular diseases.”

Read on via Hearing Loss Threatens Mind, Life and Limb – The New York Times

FYI:  I will continue to get mine checked yearly.