Back in 2007, Fitz Cahall used his tiny bedroom closet in Seattle as a studio to begin recording what would eventually become The Dirtbag Diaries. Over 3 million downloads later, his humble Northwest adventure narratives have grown into one of the most popular outdoor podcasts on iTunes. Recently, Outside Magazine named it one of the 8 Best Outdoorsy Podcasts, writing that the podcast is “made by insiders and obsessives who pipe the culture of adventure straight into your ears.”
Telling stories around the campfire or while sitting on the tailgate at a trailhead, these are the hilarious and epic stories that never appear in most magazines. The narratives that sprout from the Dirtbag Diaries are not sponsored or promoted by Nike, Burton, or Red Bull champions. They are the weekend warriors who report their biking or paddling failures along with their successes. The podcast hooks listeners with epic climbs, absurd routes, funny coincidences, and a healthy dose of sarcastic wit to temper anyone’s ego. They always focus on the story instead of slick marketing or high production costs.
Cahall might have easily rested on the success of the Dirtbag Diaries, but he didn’t want to be known for just one thing. After all, he’s just as daring as his podcast subjects, but he never boasts about climbing 5.13 climbs, onsighting 5.12 trad climbs, or climbing The Nose in a day. Instead, he founded a storytelling agency, Duct Tape Then Beer, and began producing award-winning films like The Road From Karakol (Best in Fest Award, 5 Point Film Festival and Best Mountain Adventure Film, Kendal Mountain Film Festival) and 35 (Best Short Film, 2013 Banff Film Festival).
With a video camera, Fitz began collaborating with more storytellers than he could have with only a microphone. He worked alongside Mikey Schaefer, Austin Siadak, and Bryan Smith to bring dramatic stories to life including amputees climbing El Cap, activists in the Utah desert, and an angler in search of the most impossible fish story. These stories gradually encouraged more and more people, propelling Fitz to some of his biggest projects to date. He eventually landed projects with National Geographic, Arcteryx, Outdoor Research, and REI.
In summer 2016, Fitz blended a Dirtbag Diaries podcast into a short, inspirational movie, and it launched October 10. The title is simply “Paul’s Boots,” and the arc of the story brings together a widow in Australia, some size 13 boots, and a huge tribe of hikers on the Appalachian Trail. Fitz wrote, “Think of this as a nonlinear Olympic torch relay. We had three sets of boots and, throughout the summer, they were all on the trail at different points. Together, the boots and those that carried them, covered the length of the Appalachian Trail. 2,189 miles.” If you enjoyed the podcast, you’re going to love the movie.
Ultimately, 40 hikers between the ages of 8 and 70 were selected to carry a pair of Paul’s boots over every section of the Appalachian Trail. USA Today caught wind of the project and added a small dose of media attention. The podcaster-turned-moviemaker packed decades of Northwest adventures into the dream of sharing the richness of outdoor experiences, and the horizon is still unlimited in every direction. The 2017 production goals for Duct Tape Then Beer are equally ambitious, and there’s no doubt that they will accumulate more film festival awards in the near future.
Even now, the Dirtbag Diaries podcast remains Fitz’s original passion project. He says, “Don’t let anyone fool you. Character, tension, and heart make a great story, not helicopters and fancy cameras.” While the stories do flow from all over the world, the majority center on the Pacific Northwest. Admittedly, some are better than others strictly because interests vary or attitudes change. But until you hear about it, you may never know that someone built their own sailboat in their garage and sailed the length of Mexico solo. Each diary episode is simply amazing.
Fitz once wrote, “Story is the currency of outdoor culture. That’s not a belief. It’s a fact.” If you agree with this statement, like most people, then you must also agree that Fitz is among the wealthiest adventurers in the Pacific Northwest outdoor community.
Sign up for the Dirtbag Diaries on iTunes or check out www.ducttapethenbeer.com to watch their movies and see what’s coming around the bend. //
Jon Jonckers serves on the Board for the Friends of the Centennial Trail and is also an Assistant Cross Country Coach at Shadle Park High School. He enjoys shooting photos across the Northwest, and his pictures have been published in several national running and climbing magazines. Jon wrote about the Riblet Tramways in October.