Matt Niswonger

Dirtbags will rule the future


I have been following the student led protests across the nation in response to the school shooting at Marjory  Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14th. What I am seeing is a shift in national consciousness being led by a group of teenagers and it’s a wonderful thing. After decades of political gridlock around gun violence it appears rapid change is forthcoming.

I am convinced that life is a series of breakdowns followed by breakthroughs. In other words, life is messy. Whether you are talking about questions of national importance like gun control, or personal issues like health, career and family, the pattern of breakdown followed by breakthrough seems inevitable.

Recently while watching Dirtbag, the excellent film about the life of Fred Beckey, I had a mind-blowing realization. If you are not familiar with the movie, it is about the legendary mountaineer Fred Beckey, who spent his entire adult life climbing mountains non-stop. I was watching the movie and suddenly I understood that Fred Beckey Effect was right. His unwavering dedication to adventure is the way forward for all of us.

This may sound crazy, but I am convinced that our entire society is in the middle of a massive breakdown, and Fred Beckey’s life represents our breakthrough, our path forward as a nation.

Here is what I mean by national breakdown: Our president is hosting an ongoing reality TV show that gets weirder by the minute. The show is constantly playing on our smartphones, TVs and radios. At first it was interesting, but now it’s just a train wreck fueled by advertising dollars and social media. The show goes on, but we all feel exhausted instead of entertained.

I pick up my smartphone and viral videos start automatically playing one after the other. I watch, even though I don’t want to. The latest viral video is from a shopping mall where a homeless man is about to get in a fight with a security guard in front of a large cheering crowd. “DO IT! DO IT! DO IT!” they chant. It’s a sad slice of Americana: some poor homeless guy, probably suffering from PTSD, fights a mall cop who risks his life while making $14 an hour. After circling around for a while and throwing punches, a bunch of other security guards arrive on the scene and the homeless guy is tackled to the ground while the crowd cheers. In tiny letters below the video it says, “8.5M Views.”

In my hometown of Santa Cruz, signs of the breakdown are everywhere. Traffic gets worse every year. Many people spend half of their monthly paycheck just on rent. The homeless population is growing steadily and no one has figured out how to deal with the situation effectively.

Clearly we are having a national breakdown. None of this is sustainable, so here is what I am going to do about it: mountain bike. For the rest of my life I am going to mountain bike as much as possible. In addition, I will also surf and climb and snowboard and hike. Every day will be about getting on my bike and going on long rides or engaging is some sort of adventurous activity. The breakthrough starts with me. That’s the epiphany I had while watching the movie about Fred Beckey Effect. One hundred years from now people will say, “2018 was the year America had a breakthrough. All of a sudden we just got completely disgusted with sitting in traffic, and money, and viral videos and devoted our lives to mountain biking and other adventures. The tipping point was a movie called Dirtbag. That movie caused a breakthrough, and we became happier and more environmentally responsible after that.”

Will you drop out of the rat race and devote your life to adventure? Send me an email, I’d love to hear from you:

—Matt Niswonger


Read other backpacking & hiking posts here.