Way, way back, during the fascinating craze of the iPod but before the launch of the iPhone, Fitz Cahall initiated a truly genius idea. In 2006, he worked as a freelance journalist for several publications, and spent his weekends and vacations skiing and climbing as much as possible. Always keen and receptive to new ideas for articles, Fitz noted that the most entertaining outdoor stories weren’t found in the outdoor magazines; they were discovered around the campfires, or delivered in tents while waiting out a storm, or simply retold back at the trailhead after a long day while sitting on the tailgate with a beer in one hand while the other hand searched through the pack for some ibuprofen.
At that time, podcasts were fairly new. Basically, podcast combines the words “pod” (from iPod) and “broadcasting.” Fitz knew about the cadence of people’s voices when they’re telling a story, he understood how laughter during some episodes or pauses during the tragic recounting of others underscores the heritage of storytelling, especially among outdoor enthusiasts. Ultimately, he wanted to share the types of stories that he liked to hear—those with the heartwarming moments that weave in and out of the adventures that lead up to those big moments.
Based in Seattle, Cahall’s outdoor network of friends branched across multiple sports and paths, and his own personal experiences fueled many of the early episodes. He picked up Patagonia as a sponsor, and later New Belgium Beer and Kuat Racks. And he started composing episodes or podcasts of The Dirtbag Diaries, downloadable free on iTunes.
While the term “dirtbag” may seem derogatory, it’s really an affectionate title that stems from an oft-quoted Eric Beck phrase that early Patagonia catalog copywriters adopted. They claimed a dirtbag was a super-dedicated outdoor enthusiast that forgoes most customary staples in an effort to be closer to their outdoor craft. Beck once said, “At either end of the social spectrum there is a leisure class.”
The modern dirtbag actually encompasses anyone that is driven and fueled by his or her outdoor passion, whether it’s rock climbing, skiing, kayaking, thru-hiking or riding your bike from Alaska to Patagonia. As of May 2011, Fitz reached a bucket-list dream where he was able to create a live Dirtbag Diaries podcast at the 5Point Film Festival. As of July 2011, the Dirtbag Diaries just reached one million downloads. Overall, anyone that appreciates sweating on a backcountry trail and listens to more than two episodes is instantly hooked. Soon after, anyone that exercises with an iPod turns the Dirtbag Diaries into a workout companion, and subsequently finds himself immersed in the craziest yet most vibrant outdoor stories ever told.
When asked which podcast was listeners’ favorite, or most downloaded, Fitz responds: “It would be hard to point to just one because the Diaries are so many things. They reflect our community, so they can in turn be humorous, prickly, serious and joyful. No one episode really stands out in terms of downloads because people who find the Dirtbag Diaries tend to download every episode, which is like 80 plus episodes. I think one of the classic episodes would have to be ‘Help Wanted’—the story of the climbers who worked on the Magic Kingdom’s Matterhorn Rollercoaster. I’m proud of a lot of these stories—‘Cowboy and the Maiden,’ ‘The Crusade,’ ‘True Meaning of Radical’—because a lot of people looked these stories over and I just felt like they were incredible tales. Fortunately, the Internet agreed with me. I think a lot of people are tired of hearing about Lance Armstrong or Everest summits. We’re looking for quiet heroes in our community.”
The genius of the Dirtbag Diaries podcast, versus other podcasts, lies in the roots of the dedicated enthusiasts that live in the dirt in order to be that much closer to their pursuit. Along the way, listeners can discover how world-class alpinist Kelly Cordes, a University of Montana grad, was a ranked amateur boxer. He delivers a knockout essay contrasting alpine climbing to the moment a boxer steps into the ring. Another episode shares the triumph and tragedy of the Hummel brothers, originally from Yakima, and the circumstances that created the greatest ski mountaineers—ever—in Washington. Or simply try and absorb the tale of Chad Kellogg and Dylan Johnson, both from Seattle, and their epic survival on the 10,000-foot long ridge of Siguniang in Western China. Some stories are about surfing, others are about sailing, others might touch on flyfishing, and others are as unique as being lost in the Sierras. Regardless of content, all testify to Fitz’s original idea.
Fitz says, “There are about 10,000 regular listeners. Most of our listeners are U.S.-based, but there are listeners scattered across the English-speaking world. Most of the people who listen do a bunch of different sports—mostly they like being outside. There is a touch of lean towards climbing, simply because that is my background, but we cover a range of topics from conservation, to biking, to war. I don’t think you need to be a hardcore climber or diehard skier to appreciate the show.”
The Dirtbag Diaries always delivers a mind-boggling adventure to your iPod. While the stories do flow from all over the world, the majority is centered 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 is simply amazing.
On your iTunes player, search for the Dirtbag Diaries under Podcasts. Otherwise, you can download complete episodes from the Dirtbag Diaries homepage at www.dirtbagdiaries.com.