The Original Dirtbag

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
#DoYouThinkYouCouldClimbHereAt89?

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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