The Original Dirtbag

*If you’ve just clicked your way here to vote in the Rockstar Rumble I would love to have your vote.  Either way, enjoy the article and thanks for reading!

If you’re not a climber, you’ve probably never heard of Fred Beckey. That’s understandable, it’s a fringe sport and famous climbers are few and far between to the general populace. It’s too bad since climbing, both rock/ice and mountaineering, is such an amazing sport.

It seems climbing only makes news when a climber dies, in which the all-too-often public reaction is to bash them for doing something so dangerous with tropes like “he had it coming” or “Darwinism at work!”. These same people probably have a donut in their hand and are gulping an 84 oz. tub of Coke from 7-11, but the irony and the definition of dangerous behavior is lost on them. So be it.

Fred Beckey is affectionately known as “the original dirtbag” in the climbing world. To help out non-climbers, being a “dirtbag” in climbing parlance is mostly a compliment (as is being a ‘millionaire dirtbag’ which was brilliantly coined at Eat The Financial Elephant).

The definition of a dirtbag climber is a person with no job and no desire to get one who basically climbs all day, every day. They couch-surf at friends houses, they live in old cars, they camp in public parks, and they dumpster-dive. All to climb. They’re basically homeless people with a bad climbing habit. But many of the best climbers in history started as dirtbags, since the level of talent and fitness necessary to do the things they do requires such monk-like devotion.

Pigpen. The original-original dirtbag


Why am I telling you all this and what the heck does it have to do with FIRE or money? Well Fred Beckey just died a few weeks back at the ripe age of 94. He lived as a dirtbag up until the very end. Remember the average lifespan for men in America is still 78.5, and that’s a current estimate. Beckey was born in 1923, best I could find is that a male born in 1923 was expected to live to be 70. Needless to say he overachieved. And he was climbing right up to his death.

Fred Beckey In Action In His 80’s
#HeWasStillYoung #WhatHaveYouClimbedToday?


Say what? Yep, the guy was still climbing rock and ice in his mid-90’s. He was fitter at 94 than most of those donut-eating, soda-drinking blobs of fat who bash folks in comment sections about dying while climbing. He never married, never had kids, and eschewed most of the trappings of normal life. He didn’t give two shits about ‘normal life’ and he was famously vocal about it.

By all measures, he lived a stress-free life. Sure, there might have been some stress from time to time to find his next meal, but once he achieved legend status in the climbing community he was well-supported by other climbers. He never went without.


I Don’t Care About Climbers, Why Are You Telling Me This!?

Ok, why am I writing about this again?  Yeah, to the point, your work stress is shortening your life. Mine too. All studies on the topic clearly show this. Scarier still, stress could be changing your DNA. Additionally, the people who, on average, live longest are priests, rabbis, nuns, monks etc. Simple and stress-free lives. Remember how I said Beckey had to have a monk-like devotion to climbing? Yeah. Exactly.

One of the biggest and most advantageous reasons to pursue financial independence and/or early retirement is to squash your job stress, which the data clearly shows will likely extend your life. 

Who doesn’t want their life extended?

I’ve heard seemingly intelligent and sane people say “no way man, I don’t wanna live that long, especially since you’d likely be in a nursing home forcing down apple sauce 3 times a day…” or some similar thing. Beckey was climbing 5.7 level at 93 (I won’t get into what that means but there’s a good chance you can’t do it yourself). He was still living man! He had climbed all over the world but didn’t even get to the Dolomites until he was 89! 

The Italian Dolomites


Stress comes in many many forms, and work stress is one of the most pervasive. But once you achieve FI, there’s an immediate wave of relief in the subconscious part of the brain that says “I could lose this job and still be fine, probably forever”

Instant stress-squasher!!

Mind you, it doesn’t kill all work-related stress, but for me, it sure squashed a big part of it. But wait, the stresses in other parts of our lives such as relationships, kids, health problems etc aren’t helped by being FI.

Or are they? When you’re FI, you now have more time to devote to making your relationships better. Dude, it’s your turn to clean the toilet, she’s gonna kill you – but hey now you have time!

You also now have more time to cook quality meals and work out, which make you more healthy and alleviates some of that stress. And on an on. You get the picture. Buying back your time gives you the resources you need to reduce stress in many areas of your life.

So back to Beckey. Did he live to 94 in such great health because of a stress-free life?  Perhaps. I’m inclined to believe it was a huge factor. Of note, Hugh Hefner also died this year at 91, but he relieved stress in other ways…… 

Or Beckey could just be an outlier, who knows. But there’s no argument that the scientific research clearly shows stress is a killer and generally shortens one’s lifespan. To me, this is one of the top reasons to get FU money, become FI, and do what makes you happy.  Either way, I love apple sauce!

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48 Responses

  1. I hadn’t heard of Fred Beckey… he sounds amazing! When I think of the happiest, longest living people in my life, they are always active, mindful, intentional, and kind people. Some worked jobs, some raised families, but they all kept a “spark” and a desire to keep going and try something new. I certainly aspire to this type of life! ~Mrs. Adventure Rich

    • Accidental Fire says:

      Yep, being active and as stress-free as possible is my goal in life. I’m really good at the active part, but reducing stress always seems to be a struggle. Guess I need more time in the mountains 🙂

  2. Rachel M says:

    Loved your description of a dirtbag and pictorial of pigpen. That was only topped by a great article. Having seen my parents at the non-active end of the spectrum, like you, I’ll take my applesauce with a side of goodbye nine to five and a dash of FU thrown in for good measure.

  3. Wow, dude sure is a badass for being an old fart! 🙂

    “there’s no argument that the scientific research clearly shows stress is a killer and generally shortens one’s lifespan” love this

  4. Team CF says:

    I just relaxed by simply reading this post 😉 Thanks for the stress free afternoon. However, I’m still going to have to work hard to make it into a low stress, but long and healthy life. Thanks for the motivation!

    • Accidental Fire says:

      Glad it helped you relax! Getting into the low-stress zone is incredibly difficult. It’s all relative, a better goal is just “less stress than now”. And then keep trying to beat that every year

  5. PF Geeks says:

    Enjoyed reading this! One of my primary aims in reaching FI is to reduce stress and find a level of security for the rest of life. As a pastor, its fun to see that I have a longer than average life span! Time to keep hustling to hit the FI life.

    • Accidental Fire says:

      Thanks Pastor! Yes, according to many studies you’re destined to get to your 90’s and maybe beyond – enjoy the long ride!

  6. Ty says:

    The point about stress is certainly a valid one. This time of year stresses me out with all of the consumerism! My wife always bugs me about not buying anything and saving as much money as possible. I’ve learned to tell her now that I’m buying my freedom and that Time is the ultimate luxury item!
    I’m not a climber, but I’d love to spend my FI life mountain biking around the world, living out of a small RV.

    • Accidental Fire says:

      Funny how the holidays, a time of supposed joy and happiness, become a time of stress. Gifts, visits, travel, etc etc.

      And I’m also a huge mountain biker and have been into bikepacking (formerly called bike touring) lately. My first goal is to bike across the US, but a round-the-world trip would be sublime!

  7. Miss Mazuma says:

    First off, huge congrats on getting Rockstar Finance cred!! Such an awesome accomplishment your first month in!!

    Secondly, I am so grateful you shared Fred Beckey’s story. Though I hadn’t heard of him in particular, sharing the stories of “the originals” are so important in this space. Being a “dirtbag” isn’t revolutionary, it has been done for generations before ours. Reaching FI isn’t reinventing the wheel, it’s just about hopping out of the mainstream and jumping over to the path less taken. Though no two journeys are exactly the same, the path begins to wear when the first set of footprints crushes the ground of unknown territory. I am beyond grateful to all the pioneers that have paved the path to FI, but more so to those who have inspired me to live a life away from the “norm”. Thank you, again, for sharing one of their stories.

    PS – Have you watched 180 Degrees South? I’m not a climber (I prefer hiking with my feet on the ground), but it struck a chord with me.

    • Accidental Fire says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment Miss Mazuma! Yes, being on Rockstar Finance was completely unexpected, and especially this article! To date it was my least-read post, probably because the title. It just doesn’t sound related to personal finance I guess. Maybe I need to choose better titles…

      You’re absolutely correct, ‘dirtbags’ have been around for a long time and it’s just another moniker for “alternate lifestyle”. Those of us reading these FIRE blogs are probably already leading lives away from the norm, or at least dreaming of it.

      And no, 180 degrees is on my list. I don’t have Netflix (frugality!!) but Amazon Prime has it for an extra fee. I need to watch it soon, it looks inspiring!

      Thanks for stopping by!

      • The biggest thing you need to take away from 180 Degress South is the interviews with Yves Chouinard and Doug Tompkins and their original Dirtbag Years which did include some time around Beckey. They of course went from Dirtbag to founders of Patagonia and North Face. This is one of my favorite films

        • Accidental Fire says:

          Yeah looking forward to it. Such a shame about Hopkins and how he passed. But they were still living the dream!

          I almost had a chance to meet Chouinard at the Grand Teton Climbers Ranch in 2011. I was doing some climbing there and he was supposed to come to one of the Fri night campfire parties, but he didn’t show. He has a cabin within walking distance of it.

        • Coach Carson says:

          Awesome article and congrats on Rockstar.

          I love 180 south. Cool music, ideas, and characters. Similar ideas to the FIRE movement in many ways because it was about conscious living, finding enough, and getting outdoors.

          Keep up the good work!

  8. Mr. Groovy says:

    “Buying back your time gives you the resources you need to reduce stress in many areas of your life.”

    Amen, brother. Been stress free for a year now. Discovering FI and the FIRE community is one of the best things to ever happen to me. I highly recommend being rich, free, and dirtbaggy.

    • You’re living the dream man, heard your appearance on the Choose FI Podcast and it was one of my favorite episodes! Indeed, it’s all about time. Sometimes I play the Pink Floyd song of the same name to remind myself of that. The sun is indeed racing around to come up behind me again, so I better start enjoying life more!

  9. jlcollinsnh says:

    Hey AF…

    Love the post.

    Love the dirt bag concept.

    Love that you gave credit to ETFE for the term “dirtbag millionaire”

    Love the Beckey story and am very confident I can’t do a 5.7 whatever that might be.

    Love the fact you found reason to make a link to one of my posts part of this. (Am honored, too!)

    What a great intro for me to your blog!

    • Accidental Fire says:

      Wow, now my day is complete! Thanks so much for stopping by and reading Jim, I’m the one that should be honored. “The Simple Path To Wealth” is the book that I recommend to financial novices. When it came out I was already FI but read it anyway since I loved your blog. You’ve done a great service to others in writing that book.

      Hope you’re enjoying your new lake house, and thanks so much for the kind words!

      • jlcollinsnh says:

        Thanks for the very kind words, AF.

        BTW, Audible just sent me some promotional codes for free copies of the audio version of my book SPW.

        If you’d like to offer this to your readers send me an email and I’ll send a couple to you.

        Up to you to figure out who gets them. 🙂

  10. Love it dude. I’m hoping I’ll be riding up until 94. Need a term for a grungy ole cyclist….

  11. The title of this definitely caught my eye – I was hoping that it would be a climbing-related article with the word “Dirtbag” in it, haha! I hope I’m still climbing at that age!

    • Accidental Fire says:

      Didn’t know you were a climber Michelle! With your lifestyle you can just wander to all of the best climbing locales based on the seasons. Very nice!

  12. Oh man, we needed the “Will Belay For Food” photo in this article. I wonder how many knew what Dirtbag meant and also too bad more people didn’t know who Beckey was. Can’t wait to see the documentary when it comes out as the trailer looks awesome.

    • Accidental Fire says:

      I was planning on using that pic but I wanted to show him climbing, while looking every bit of 90 yrs old. There’s also this one of course….

      That documentary is gonna be great!

  13. winningpersonalfinance says:

    I couldn’t agree more! Get to FI to reduce stress. I’m counting the days!

  14. Great, entertaining article.

    Learned something about climbing, was inspired by Fred Beckey’s story, and you reminded us all of another reason to strive for FI, getting rid of stress!

    It’s funny how we do things for certain reasons, then somewhere along the way forget some of those reasons and latch onto new reasons, all ultimately good ones, but in this case I totally forgot about the benefit of much reduced stress that will come with reaching FI and how that will likely benefit us all in more ways that just not having to work anymore.

    Love your writing style. Looking forward to checking out the site and future articles.

    • Accidental Fire says:

      Yes, I’ve only been part time now for two months but I can already feel the stress going down. It’s perhaps not as fast as I would have hoped, but it’s going down for sure. Plus, I’m now able to get things done on “off hours” like grocery shopping in midday. Empty stores, no lines, less stress there as well. It’s glorious!

      Thanks for the kind words and for stopping by!

  15. SharonW says:

    I saw your title and said “Fred Becky” out loud to my husband, who was very confused. Loved your take on his life. He’s a legend in the Olympics and North Cascades. I’ve run into people who saw him when they were hiking or climbing the area. Regular visitors to the PNW mountains had Becky encounters. He was very generous with his climbing knowledge and ready with a story if you found him at camp.

    • Accidental Fire says:

      Awesome! Yeah the guy was an encyclopedia of crags, routes, and destinations. I think he wrote like 20 books or something too, an he did have income that way.

      I love the PNW and especially the Cascades, hoping to get out there next year to do some climbing. Thanks for the kind words and stopping by!

  16. Great post. I do think work stress and the way we live in general is SO BAD for our health. So many people misinterpret FIRE to mean that you plan on sitting on your butt on a beach somewhere. Most want to work…just at what makes them the most happy.

    • Accidental Fire says:

      Yep, as MMM says, “work can be great when you don’t need the money” Getting to that position is pretty sweet!

  17. Love this post! Man, perfect timing and a great way to start the day. That is all!

  18. I’m not sure how I missed this post the first time! Awesome job.

  19. I love the dirtbag millionaire concept. I think I see myself in that. I have not (yet!) tried rock climbing but if I get into it now at age 58, I could be doing it for the next 36 years. Nice!

    • Accidental Fire says:

      It’s never too late to get started. Contrary to what some think, it’s not a dangerous pursuit when done properly

      Thanks for the comment Susan!

  1. December 4, 2017

    […] 5. The Original Dirtbag by Accidental Fire […]

  2. January 24, 2018

    […] The Original Dirtbag (Dirtbag) – This post is great because it explains how the lifestyle of a relatively obscure climber relates to money. The numbers behind what to do with your money have been written about 20 times over, but posts like this that relate financial independence to other parts of life and pop-culture help bring new followers into the community. The more you can draw links between the FI lifestyle and other parts of life, the more people you will convert! […]

  3. February 14, 2018

    […] The Original Dirtbag (Dirtbag) – This post is great because it explains how the lifestyle of a relatively obscure climber relates to money. The numbers behind what to do with your money have been written about 20 times over, but posts like this that relate financial independence to other parts of life and pop-culture help bring new followers into the community. The more you can draw links between the FI lifestyle and other parts of life, the more people you will convert! […]

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