Take Us or Leave Us Alone

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We were booted from one of our favorite camping spots last night– a dirt parking lot at the base of a trailhead tucked away from any sort of commotion. An officer tapped on our window around 11pm just as we were getting a fire going. He wasn’t friendly– he had no interest in who we were or why we were there. We explained to him that we had not seen any posted signs telling us that we couldn’t sleep there, but he gave little regard to our logic and with no solid reason as to why he made us leave. His reasoning reminded me of a parent using the argument “because I said so,” as though it was a reasonable response to our concerns.

We put out the fire and drove away from one of our “safe places” with an increased perspective that today’s society in not very accepting those who choose to live differently. I don’t mean to be sensitive, but we do our best to be respectful and courteous of others, even when we are kicked out of bed in the middle of the night and told to leave. Thankfully we have a good base of family and friends around town who allow us to use their parking lots and showers. but when it comes to traveling and seeking out new climbing destinations, it has become increasingly difficult to find a welcoming space to set up camp without being told to leave or having to spend a lot of money.

I recently read an article by professional climber Cedar Wright, in which he talks about the dying breed we climbers refer to as dirtbags. (The Wright Stuff: Dirtbagging is Dead) A dirtbag is a person who breaks social norms, quits their job, and literally lives in the dirt in order to pursue dreams of climbing at any expense necessary. Back in the day there were certain locations and hang outs where a person willing to live the dirtbag lifestyle could be accepted into a community of outcasts– they lived simply and climbed rocks. Cedar reminisces of time spent in Yosemite Valley:

I learned so much as a dirtbag. Toiling on epic in-a-day ascents of El Cap gave me a tremendous work ethic. Living a simple life in the dirt in such a beautiful place inspired a deep love and respect for the natural world. 

The perspectives gained and stories told by these people, giants in our eyes, are what Matt and I have been inspired by as we make new goals and commit to become dirtbags ourselves. What we are realizing however, is that there is a necessary evolution to the dirtbag climber. We can no longer spend months living in Camp Four, the dirtbag base camp of Yosemite National Park. There are now costly time limits– to camp for free one must drive outside the park and spend the money required in transportation. The same concern is spread throughout the country as the entry prices to canyons, campgrounds, and National Parks have increased. Even sleeping on the walls in places such as Zion National Park now require a paid nightly permit. Structuring our travels takes extra time and effort as we look for ways to keep the expenses down while maximizing the time we have at any destination. There is a system, which we are slowly figuring out as we maintain a base source of income.

Our hope is that there will be a little more understanding from those who may not agree with our lifestyle, particularly in regards to authority figures. We do our best to stay low key and respectful in our travels and sleeping arrangements, and we feel that merits a reciprocated level of respect. To any such person who may be reading this: get to know us– we may offer you a cup of hot cocoa and some damn good company if you take the time to listen to our story.

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