Last month, on the final night of my Pacific Northwest road trip, I pulled into an In-&-Out in Salinas. It had been a long day of driving, starting near Salem, Oregon, with the vain hope of escaping the smoke from fire after fire which plagued the west this summer. In retrospect, I probably could have found a place to backpack with somewhat decent air quality, but I had been away for seven of the previous eight weeks and the siren song of home was beckoning me. In the parking lot of my formerly favorite fast food restaurant (no more hamburgers for me, doctor’s orders), I rearranged the contents of the SUV, converting it to ‘sleep mode’.
Leaving the restaurant, I drove through town, found a park in a residential area, got ready to bed down, and proceeded to accidentally set off my car alarm. So much for stealth. After a short night sleep I drove down the coast, took advantage of a highway rest stop along the way, filled up with gas at Costco, and dined on a breakfast bar from the food bag. Later that morning, I parked the car outside a state park campground, walked in and spent a quarter on a hot shower. Ah, the life of a dirtbagger.
Or was it? There is a part of me that feels a kinship to this subculture of outdoor life. Dirtbaggers were people who ditched their jobs to climb or go off on extended treks. If they did work it was just long enough to provide an infusion of cash to fund their next adventure. My heroes resided in places like Camp 4 in Yosemite, or cruised the long trails. They slept in beater cars or couch surfed at their friend’s place. Their clothes were the latest style, from several seasons ago; patches were the norm. We won’t discuss dietary habits or personal hygiene.
To be sure, I’ve spent many nights crashed in the back of my old pickup, propping the aging camper shell open with a piece of wood; my favorite clothes had seen better days and had their share of repairs; but, until this year, I had never quit my job to pursue adventure (and I didn’t quit so much as retire).
Over the summer, while staying in Pagosa Springs, I visited the Voormi store and decided to make a couple additions to my ill-fitting wardrobe. Now, as soon as you use the term ‘wardrobe’ to describe your clothing, your ‘Hiker Trash’ status is summarily revoked. To further seal matters, my friend with whom I was visiting, asked her daughter if purchasing Voormi ruined my dirtbag image. She remarked that it elevated my ‘hippublican’ status.
Sarah was right of course. While I could choose to spend a night or three living the dirtbag life style, I could also rent a nice hotel room whenever desired, plus I owned a home; and though I try never to pay retail (I did at Vroomi), even if you’re buying Patagonia on sale, you’re still buying Patagonia! (Speaking of Patagonia, company founder, Yvon Chouinard went from dirtbag climber to billionaire!)
What else did I do on the last day of my road trip? Picked up an artisan loaf at Bob’s Well Bread, visited an art studio in Santa Barbara, and bought my wife fancy treats at Chocolats Du Calibressan. Not very dirtbag like.
Perhaps it’s time to embrace my inner ‘hippublican’. If one of my favorite adventurers is now shilling for Land Rover and another is working as a product designer and ‘ambassador’ for a major outdoor company, maybe it’s okay to move beyond thinking of myself as hiker trash. After all, regardless of the self-selected moniker, it’s the love of adventure which truly matters.