I’ve been looking forward to writing about Fitz Cahall, because I have been reading and watching and listening to his adventure stories for months. They’re fantastic. In fact, in the world of adventure journalism, Fitz stands pretty tall.
If you don’t already know them, Fitz Cahall and his wife Becca Cahall run a Seattle based production company called Duct Tape Then Beer. Among their impressive output is a bi-weekly podcast called, The Dirtbag Diaries. (Dirtbag being a term of affection here, as in: avid, passionate climbers, unswayed by such niceties as warm beds, hot showers, steady salaries, or any other distractions that might spoil the purity of a life devoted to rock and the great outdoors).
The podcast roams far beyond rock climbing stories, daring to plumb the meaning of obsession, serendipity, even life itself on more than one occasion.
I am not a rock climber, but I am a journalist. I’m also a professional filmmaker and storyteller, so it’s refreshing when I find someone else who is so committed to their work that it fills my tank too.
What I love about Fitz Cahall can be summed up in one word: authenticity. His stories don’t try to be anything they’re not. He doesn’t strain to be anyone he’s not. It’s more like he’s given over the microphone to his friends and climbing buddies, each to fumble about and share some pretty hard won insights. And a lot of laughs. Listening in, we feel we could as easily be at the campfire with them. Perhaps it’s the magic of radio, transposed to the web, but these tales feel so intimate. It’s really quite something to pull off on any regular basis. But I get the sense that Fitz brings out the ‘real’ in people. That he won’t stand for much puff.
To his credit, a great majority of these podcasts are stories he teases out of fellow adventurers. In the tradition of the great Studs Terkel – he seems to find other people endlessly fascinating and make it his job to bring their stories out. I’m happy to report, it seems to be working, because the Dirtbag Community is robust and growing.
Any man who can build an audience of thousands from a recording booth in his closet is my kind of storyteller.
The other major component of “Duct Tape Then Beer” are the short films and web series they produce. “The Season” is a soulful, multipart web series created with partner Bryan Smith, and follows several athletes through a season of their sport, each on something of a personal odyssey. The series wrapped after two runs, but you can find it here.
Then there are the short films that Fitz and company occasionally produce, which pop up from time to time at festivals and on the web. “35” is a recent favorite that found some much deserved acclaim. From what I know, it pretty much sums up what Fitz and his posse are about. They’re about “the moments that define each of us” and not letting them slip by unnoticed. Or unappreciated.
I once spent a weekend with a Bhutanese monk with much the same objective. For him, it seemed hardly a single moment slid by without appreciation. For the rest of us, who are still learning, there are storytellers like Fitz, who bring us back to what’s real. What matters. And what the only real jewels are in life – each other.
Please take a minute to check out some of what Duct Tape Then Beer is up to. If you’re like me, you’ll probably find yourself recharged enough to go DO something. Which I bet is what Fitz would tell you if he were here: “Now let’s do this thing!”