August 28, 2008

Jonny Copp on the Dirtbag Life: Climbing, Trekking, Vagabond Adventure

Into the belly of the beast. West Face of Bhagirathi III, Indian Himalayas. Photo by Jonathan Copp.

“DIRTBAGNATION” via Jonathan Copp, from the Spring 2006 issue.

Magazines tout it. The Olympics feature it. Catalogs (try to) sell it. But adventure, in our Must-See-TV-Fast Food Nation, has become all the rarer for its ubiquity. No corner of the earth is left untouched by boot or satellite.�

But that’s how adventure is meant it be—rare, difficult, outside the mainstream, stretching the envelope. And so it is that there is a ‘class’ of Americans today who flash passports more often that AMEX gold cards—Americans who climb mountains, live out of backpacks, eat more energy bars than square meals and leave no trace while they’re at it.

Jonathan Copp, a 31-year old Coloradoan, not only lives The Life but was, two years ago, inspired to create a forum to bring together all such modern adventurersto share the hair-raising good times not only with ‘the community’ but with those, such as myself, whose idea of adventure is climbing with kids at the rock gym. That’s where I met Jonathan. And he’ll take it from here. —ed.

Adventure is at the heart of the contemplative life. Be it a journey into those parts of our minds that petrify us or out onto a windy, snow-swept ridge where no one has gone before, the practice of confronting the unknown is integral to mental growth.

It’s true. I’ve lived the “Dirt Bag” life, and still (mostly) do: headquarters in the basement of a friend’s house, calendar revolving around the next trip-of-a-lifetime, picture of an unclimbed mountain taped to my wall, insurance and phone and rent suspended during long trips. I’ve stayed out of debt somehow—I’ve worked as a climbing guide, built earthships and timber frame houses, shot adventure photography and video, written gear reviews and travel magazine articles—but I sure haven’t built material wealth. It seems I end up putting everything back into that unquantifiable treasure chest: friends and memories. I recently spent time with some Mexican friends who I’d met in the mountains of Pakistan. Mexico City is so polluted that my eyes were stinging and red within hours of being there. I thought about how small our world was, how we are all one big family—and that, as a family, we have to tend to our home planet so it can continue to tend to us.

I’m no gypsy. But I’ve been at home on the road since I was two, inhaling road dust from India to Afghanistan to Turkey as my folks drove their camper from Madras back to the States. They taught me how to walk on the steps of the Tibetan Library in Dharamsala, before there was infrastructure up there to support the people in exile. I’ve since been back to those steps and spent time with those people. I’ve been lucky enough to receive grants to climb in their mountains, and on peaks and walls in other parts of the world. Each time, when I’ve returned home after being in places where cultural roots run deep and there is an overwhelming sense of place, I’ve felt a responsibility to share that sense through articles, movies and presentations.
But last year I found a way to magnify that inspiration: by bringing together many people with the vision to make positive change in our world, in the form of a three-day outdoor fair and film festival. Adventure, in the broad sense, is a catalyst for transformation. Change sometimes comes viscerally and is more body-based; other times it comes from someone’s research or dream and is more cognitive. But the bottom line is that we all have a lot to learn from each other. And that’s a bottom line that the Must-See-TV-Fast-Food-Nation doesn’t have listed in their annual report.

Jonathan Copp is our idol. For more on Dirt Days & the Boulder Adventure Film Festival.

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