In the ongoing process of writing my crackpot manifesto, The Dirtbag’s Guide to Life, I have a lot of thoughts that spin off in directions that probably won’t make it into the book - at least not directly. This essay falls into that category. Written the day after the Hammond Brothers were pardoned for having torched 140 acres of Oregon public land in an act of arson to cover up poaching they’d committed on that land, it's written in honor of Scott Pruitt's resignation.
Since November of 2016, America has been collectively flailing around trying to figure out what the hell is going on. And in my reading of the posts on my Facebook wall, there have been at least three predominant narratives circulating.
The first is the narrative of Trump supporters themselves, and the story they tell is that DJT is essentially a messianic figure. A long awaited political outsider who is shaking up Washington and re-establishing America’s political strength, and correcting the wrongs of a decadent progressive class that’s been eroding old fashioned American Christian values.
The second is the predominant narrative of the white moderate - whether they’re Democrat or Republican, it’s actually pretty similar. What’s happening at the highest levels of government is “not who we are”. It’s a series of almost unbelievable violations of American values that are pointing us towards a political apocalypse of historic proportions. Trump's an existential threat without analogue in American history.
And the third is the narrative that people of color and immigrants seem to generally be stating: Yep. This is the same shit, different day. The weepy head of the abscess is as ugly as it’s been in a long time, sure, but America is suffering from the same infection it’s had since its inception. Rich white people and the masses that enthusiastically guzzle the snake oil they sell them are stomping on everyone else’s neck so they can get more for themselves and protect their own. Grinding bones - preferably those covered in dark flesh - to make their bread.
While I’m entirely prone to hysterics myself, it really does seem like the third narrative is the only plausible one.
It doesn’t seem likely that this particular narcissistic rich white guy who’s spent his life exploiting, well, pretty much everyone, is going to be the savior even white conservatives are looking for (unless they’re conservatives in the 1%). And he's made it abundantly clear that he hates the rest of us, so we can probably rule out America Being Made Great Again for the plurality that voted against him or the 60 - 70% who consistently report that they disprove of his performance.
And the idea that some great holy American nation is crashing down around us seems a little ridiculous as well. Not because the terrible stuff we’re all freaking out about isn’t actually happening, and escalating - but because, let's be real, that America never existed beyond romantic ideology. White moderates may have constructed a just nation and a beacon of freedom in their minds, but there’s plenty of video evidence that innocent black children were being killed with impunity well before 11/16, ICE was raiding homes in record numbers under the Obama administration, and that Japanese grandma that lives down the road knows all about being shoved into a cage by the American government. When your worldview collapses, it feels like an apocalypse, but the better analogy for what's happening might be a slow, forced awakening of oblivious masses.
But the idea that America is a place where white people assert their power politically in both overt and covert ways, and where people of color, non-Christians and immigrants make easy targets whenever things go wrong? Seems consistent with everything else that’s happened in American history. And that those with the opportunity use political power to rile up and manipulate entirely willing poor whites with moralizing, dog whistles, violence, and empty promises while accumulating massive amounts of wealth at their expense? Even if you aren't the least bit cynical, it's the predominant story of the ‘20s and the ‘60s and the ‘80s at the very least.
So yeah, black people, immigrants and queers are right. Same shit, different day (even if they've added a megaphone and taken off the muzzle) is a much more plausible interpretation of current events than messianic fervor or apocalyptic terror.
What’s this got to do with dirtbags?
When you start assessing the situation through that lens, you recognize that the same trends are present in the various outdoors communities.
On one hand, there are voices arguing that government restrictions of the use of public lands has been destroying the livelihoods of hardworking Americans - the coal miners and the loggers and the ranchers and the fishermen are disappearing because of the heavy-handed and ridiculous government restrictions that prioritize spotted owls over human beings. The Hammond's were populist heroes and deregulation is about freedom.
On the other, it's easy for people like me to feel that the Trump administration is destroying an American tradition of conservation that makes the West what it is, and that public lands that American ecosystems - including human ones - rely upon for survival are under unprecedented threat. That the Trumpocalypse is worse than any catastrophe before it.
But while it’s true that the people in charge are terrible right now, reading history, it’s hard to feel that what’s happening is particularly novel. Whatever Scott Pruitt and whoever the climate skeptic coal lobbyist that’s replacing him are, they aren’t political innovators. Ed Abbey was freaked out about Arches getting paved when Moab was a backwater, and Lake Powell was Glen Canyon when he was contemplating blowing up dams. And Pete Seeger was singing about businesses pumping sewage into the Hudson in 1982.
So the bastards are drilling for oil in Bears Ears while pardoning domestic terrorists for burning down public lands in the name of “freedom”, but don’t give them too many points for creativity.
Same struggle, different day.
To bring Abbey up again, I can’t figure out when he said this, but he died in 1989, so it wasn’t yesterday.
"The most common form of terrorism in the U.S.A. is that carried on by bulldozers and chainsaws. It is not enough to understand the natural world; the point is to defend and preserve it. Sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul."
In a lot of ways it’s effing depressing that we’re fighting the same battles that Abbey was in the '60s.
But in other ways it’s reassuring, because it makes sense of things. We’re not facing anything new.
Those of us pushing for the preservation of wilderness aren’t struggling against some kind of Independence Day aliens that we know nothing about. We’re fighting the same tide that’s been coming in four times a day since the invention of soil exhaustion.
And the dirtbag’s role in the struggle isn’t anything it hasn’t been before. Use Twitter to organize and all that. Recognize the struggle is intersectional with every other struggle for humanity and justice in the face of exploitation and shortsighted selfish interest. But the fight’s essentially the same. So reread the Monkey Wrench Gang, throw a fresh coat of paint on the Rainbow Warrior, and chain yourself to a cactus in Bears Ears, literally or figuratively.
And don’t let the bastards grind you down.
Big shout out here to the people in our orbit doing more than just writing blog posts: Among many others, go support our friends at Oregon Wild who are working to prevent Cascade-Siskiyou from becoming the next Bears ears, and proactively pushing for more protection around Crater Lake. And our friend Ken Campbell and the Ikkatsu Project working to clean plastic out of Puget Sound and the Pacific through direct action and education. And Erica Prather keeping the spirit alive through Rocky Mountain Wild, the Sacred Rage podcast, and taking Cardboard Donnie to see what he’s missing firsthand.
For updates on The Dirtbag’s Guide to Life as it develops, click here.
And to help me spend less time working as a nurse and more writing stuff consider supporting us on Patreon.
A basic experience of life is that it's easier to figure out what you believe than it is to figure out how to behave as a response. That is, it's easier to define your values than it is to decide what actions you need to take in order to live them out.
Talk is cheap, and all that, but it's also true that even the most committed among us can't do everything. In fact, we can't do most things. Time and resources are limited, and all of us hold important values that we won't be able to take meaningful action on. That's something most people sort out individually as teenagers when pesky guidance counselors badger us to pick something to do after high school, and lament in our old age as we look back on the paths we might have taken, but didn't.
But building a business that's still in its formative stages, it's a reality that we're constantly butting up against. We feel motivated to do way more than we realistically can, and this is a constant process of prioritization and sticking with a focus even when there are plenty of worthy, or even pressing, distractions. The vast majority of our energy goes into the one thing that's really at the heart of this project: building connections between people in the outdoor community through story. We're doing that because of our values around inclusivity, equality, local economies and environmental ethics (which are stated explicitly, if not comprehensively, here), but every day presents new options of other things we could, and maybe should, be doing.
Individual and organizational actions can accumulate.
Even if you aren't also creating a DIY, niche market side hustle, I'm guessing you can relate to the sentiment, which is why I've come to think that maybe the most important thing we can do in the outdoor community is to play matchmaker between cool people doing cool things. Because, to crib a quote from Angel, we believe that individual and organizational actions can accumulate. None of us may be able to do everything, but if we use what we're good at to support other organizations and people who are doing the stuff that we value, then they might be able to do those things more effectively. And if we can be a venue through which good people and good organizations get to know each other, it seems like everyone wins.
Oregon Wild: Doing stuff we wish we could.
Since we opened shop in 2017, our instincts have been towards trying to partner and support other like-minded, local organizations with similar values, and while we've encountered those everywhere we've been, for some reason there seem to be a disproportionate number in Oregon. My theory is that a bunch of weirdo dirtbags move there without jobs because it's amazing, and have to figure out something to do with their lives so they start businesses and nonprofits. Whatever the reason though, we're excited to be heading down again for events in Portland and Bend in a few weeks, on July 10th and 12th, respectively. (Shameless plug: Buy tix here!)
At our Portland event in particular, we're excited to try something for the first time by teaming up in an explicit partnership with Oregon Wild, who are doing exactly the kind of work that we think is valuable and want to support. We've been planning the event with our friend Jamie Dawson from the organization, and will be accepting donations for them both at the event and during the ticket sales process on the website. While raising a bit of money might be the most concretely helpful thing we'll do for them, the fun part is that we'll be encouraging storytellers to focus on experiences that happened on Oregon public lands, as a way to distill the personal, emotional importance of the place. We think it'll be a great chance to experience some Oregon love, and to share that love with a wide audience through the podcast later. And, we hope, it'll create content that Oregon Wild can use to help other people understand the importance of the land that they're advocating to protect.
(SIde note, if you're a reader planning to come to the Bend event, your Oregon stories are more than welcome as well to share the heart of what makes your state such a great place to live!)
If you aren't acquainted with Oregon Wild, they're a nonprofit based in Portland focused on "Protecting Oregon's wildlands, wildlife, and waters for future generations".
Specifically, they're the people going to bat politically to make sure that protected lands stay protected, and that lands that should be preserved, are. Among a variety of other things, Oregon Wild are helping train and organize grassroots advocates through their Wild Ones program, organizing groups in Portland, Bend and Eugene that teach democracy skills training, and going to bat legally on behalf of supporters on the wonky issues that come up when government regulations are changed or challenged. Under a Federal government that seems actively hostile towards wilderness protection, Oregon is home to one of the most threatened regions in the country, in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, which is under the same government "monument review" process that recently opened Bears Ears and Grand Staircase in Utah to mining interests. There are strong pushes to open lowland old growth forest to logging in the monument and along Federal Wilderness areas on the Rogue River, and large areas that are currently protected are under serious threat of losing that status.
Our events are always in good fun and everything, but we're also happy to team up with Oregon Wild on this one to say screw that.
And if you're interested in learning more or supporting them, come hang out with us in Portland at the Skyline Tavern on July 10th, or check out their website! Or, subscribe to our podcast and stay tuned because the stories will be coming down the pipe!
If you like what we're up to and want to be a part of making sure it continues to happen, think about supporting us on Patreon.
To give money directly to a local on the ground who is organizing emergency relief for those affected by the Volcan de Fuego eruption in Guatemala, Trek for Kids, an organization run by a friend and Boldly Went Navigator, which organizes volcano tours in the area, is accepting donations at this link.
Travel is a beautiful thing because it teaches you how small and connected the world actually is, and we're feeling that this week because Volcan de Fuego is erupting in Guatemala.
Located about 30 miles from Lake Atitlan, where we studied Spanish in 2016, and just a few miles from Antigua, a beautiful colonial city we visited on the same trip, whole villages have been destroyed, and more are being evacuated as I write, in an area where we have friends and good memories. It's heartbreaking to watch - this is a beautiful area full of beautiful people. The eruption started on Sunday, but it is still very much an active situation, as flows are continuing at time of writing, rescues are ongoing, and towns are still being evacuated.
If you are interested in helping locals out directly, Javier Navichoc, our friend, and a Navigator in our network, has a guiding nonprofit called Trek for Kids that raises money through volcano tours in the area, and he is collecting donations to assist those affected. You can Paypal them directly by clicking here. And even a small amount helps - for perspective, the average Guatemalan lives on $200 US/month, so $10 - 20 goes a lot further there than it would in North America (where I'm guessing most of you are reading from).
Javier is a great guy, this area is his home, and he's on the ground already. We donated through Trek for Kids because it's the closest thing we can do to giving money directly to people in the volcano's path, and we're confident that the money will go to good use.
But if you're interested in other ways to help, this article gives a rundown of what's happening there, and also lists some other good was to support.
For those of you tracking closely, you might have noticed this week that we didn't put out a podcast on Monday, and have probably been less active on social media than normal. That's because, a few weeks ago we made a decision we've been debating for a while, and decided to sell our place in Seattle and make a move. Some kind of move. We're not exactly sure what kind of move yet. We wanted to let you know a little bit about what's up with us here so you won't worry, and because we're pretty stoked about it. We'd also love to hear your ideas. What should we do next?
We've been tossing around the idea for a while, for a variety of reasons, but mostly it comes down to the way that thru-hiking ruined us as productive members of society. Since finishing hiking the PCT in 2015, we've never really re-settled. We moved back in to a unit we've owned since 2005 in a Co-op on Capitol Hill in Seattle, but we've also been in and out for 2 - 3 months of every year traveling for business or pleasure. We've both worked as nurses again, but never full time, and we haven't been able to stomach the thought of recommitting to spending the majority of our time following a regimented work schedule. The vast majority of Angel's working time, and an increasing amount of mine, has been devoted to this business, and our post-PCT life could be accurately described as a quest to figure out how to make enough money to live on while doing (primarily) things that we want to.
38% of adults and 17% of children in the United States meet the criteria for Obesity.
This week Angel Mathis is stepping in with a post about weight, putting on her hat as a health care provider, and trying to provide some advice about how to deal with a topic that's both important and complicated from both a health and outdoor perspective.
The topic of weight, body size, and the outdoors is something that storytellers at our events are talking about, and I want to talk about it too. But I don’t want to reinforce the common idea that to be an outdoor enthusiast you have to be a certain size or shape. I want to help make room for people who frequently don’t feel welcome in the outdoor community - and that includes people of size - to use Jenny Bruso’s term. But I also want to celebrate people's stories like Demetri Zouboukos in Episode 63 of the Boldly Went Podcast, where weight loss was a major part of the process in overcoming barriers to accomplishing adventure goals. So it's complicated.
Weight is a topic that I’ve dealt with professionally for years, because I’m a healthcare provider by training - a nurse practitioner. I want to help people be healthy not just because I want them to be able to experience the outdoors (which I love), but because it’s my original vocation. There are plenty of great things about that, but my experience as a healthcare provider has also been an experience of what’s wrong about the way we approach weight.
For the last million or so weeks I've been tapping away on my computer working on our upcoming book, The Dirtbag's Guide to Life. Here's a first (still rough draft) excerpt from the introduction for you, addressed to the question of what a dirtbag is, and who the hell cares. With special thanks to Heather Anderson for being our spirit animal.
I'd love to hear what you think. Does anyone care about the humble dirtbag? People respond strongly to the term, and it's over-applied, but in my opinion there's not a better word to describe a character that, in my opinion, is a particular type of underappreciated countercultural icon.
If you're interested in getting updates as the book continues to develop, sign up here.
If there's a more interesting person than Gracetopher Kirk on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2018, I don't know who it is. Gracetopher's a queer writer and photographer who you might remember from this piece we shared a few weeks back. They've been published as one of Oregon's Best Emerging Poets, and are the most inspiringly intrepid of dirtbags, tackling the PCT on an absolute shoestring after spending last year recovering from a broken back that interfered both with hiking plans and employment possibilities. This year, they scrounged gear together, made a tent from salvaged material from a dumpster, and are crowdfunding for food by writing along the way.
At last check, Gracetopher's more than 200 miles in (Cabazon, for our hiker nerd friends), and moving along well. After coming to one of our Portland events before starting the trail, they've also been sending us dispatches along the way, which we're stoked to be able to share with you all.
They've sent us a couple of pieces describing the process of finding and creating their dumpster tarp, as well as the origin of their trail name MacGyver (unsurprisingly, those events are related), and we'll share those with you eventually.
But by way of introduction, I feel like a recent personal reflection they sent us on privilege on trail is a better place to start in getting to know them, and tracking their journey.
Gracetopher sent it after seeing and participating in a thread on Facebook about the relationship between privilege and the outdoors, which goes to show that even potentially contentious Facebook conversations will sometimes produce something worthwhile. (There's a metaphor in here about how social media is like a dumpster we all keep digging through because sometimes we find a useful tarp, but I'm feeling too lazy to work it in.)
The term "privilege" has become one of those zeitgeisty buzzwords laden with baggage gathered in a thousand social media arguments, but it's also come up repeatedly as a barrier to participation in the outdoor community as we've heard stories from moms just trying to exist in the outdoors, interviewed Sophia Dannenberg, a mountaineer and the first African American to climb Everest, and spoke with a mom whose daughter is a world class skier and long distance hiker with Down Syndrome.
Gracetopher's commentary gives some helpful insight into ways that issues related to privilege impact their experience in the trail community, and it's a chance to get perspective from a type of voice that doesn't get much of a platform traditionally. Is it surprising that overall the trip's been great, but that they've already had to deal with some weird bullshit from creeps on trail? I don't know. I can say that Gracetopher's an inspiring human, and I'm happy they're out there, blazing those literal and figurative trails. And I'm happy that we have a chance to share their experiences with you all.
(A small disclaimer: Gracetopher's agreed for us to share this, but because they're a working writer, I want to be clear that this isn't intended as a representative polished piece of work. It's a conversational contribution about privilege in the outdoors from someone living directly in the middle of the challenges that come along with being queer and poor on the PCT. They recorded it by dictating into their phone along the way, so this is wild, organic fruit grown directly in fertile SoCal PCT soil.)
Denali to Aconcagua by Human Power: A Treasure Trove of Found Material from an Amazing Adventurer You've Probably Never Heard Of: Sam Skrocke
In Episode 59 of our podcast, we feature a story from Truckee, CA's Sam Skrocke about a jaw dropping 2007 - 08 epic, where he biked from Alaska to Ushuaia, Argentina in southern Patagonia, and book ended his trip with ascents of the highest peaks on each continent - Denali and Aconcagua. It was part of an expedition with the nonprofit "Biking for a Better World", and raised $20,000 to fund the construction of a school in Nicaragua, but other than some local press in his native Tahoe area, there doesn't seem to be much about the trip online. We're stoked and honored that he's chosen to share some of his experience here.
Sam sent us 10 pages of previously unshared, densely typed narrative that he wrote up about the trip, and it's adventure nerd gold and the kind of thing that makes us love this process we're engaged in to collect some of the world's best, untold adventure stories. Below you'll find some of the highlights, which I hope will capture the magnitude of this mostly undocumented adventure.
This week, we're proud to share this post by Ellen Maude, who writes at Mauderunner and shared her story of running Rim to Rim to Rim at the Grand Canyon on this week's podcast.
Ellen is by no means an impostor: she's the ultra running, mountain crushing real deal. She's also a mom in her 50s, and her post speaks to the challenges that come along with being all of those things. "Impostor syndrome", or the sense that you don't belong or are inadequate to be doing what you're doing, is often something that's thought of as an individual deficiency to be overcome. But as Ellen points out eloquently here, it's also something that culture manufactures by repeated subtle digs - in this case against moms who are active in the outdoor endurance world.
Our events are time-limited, and our storytellers are chosen at random from a hat, so it's always a huge bummer when we get to the end of the night and there are still names that haven't been pulled. At our most recent Portland event, this was particularly true when we realized that one of those names was Gracetopher Kirk, who has been published as one of Oregon's Best Emerging Poets, and is leaving to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail literally as we speak (their flight from Portland to San Diego is today, around the same time that this post will be published)!
We reached out to Gracetopher after the event, and they were gracious enough to send on a piece they wrote that touches on a lot of themes that resonate with us - the relationship between life, death, family and the outdoors. It was also particularly timely as the story is set in the Wind River Range in Wyoming, and recently our podcast has included various storytellers from our Laramie events.
This is the first of what we hope will be several posts from Gracetopher, who is just the type of artist/outdoorsperson we love finding and partnering with. They have a real gift for outdoor storytelling, and are going to be chronicling their PCT hike through a Patreon page that will also help support them along the way. We're following and pledging, and we'd encourage anyone interested in supporting brilliant, unexpected and emerging voices in the outdoor community to do the same. Their Adventure Patreon is linked here.
Tim and Angel
The goat in the picture lives in Silverton, CO, and tried to kill us. We survived to bring you this dirtbag wisdom for the ages.