Ben Shillington is the mastermind of what he calls skid trips—short, dirtbag adventures that he does at least once a year between real expeditions. Skid trips have rules, Ben tells me over a basket of half-price (of course) wings and a few beers.
“The most limiting or freeing factor is that they must be to a faraway place on the cheapest of budgets—a minimum drive of 65 hours and at a maximum cost of $250.” Ben’s gear must fit in or strap to a 35-liter daypack and skid trip research can only be by word of mouth. Skid trips apparently often involve Greyhound buses, a healthy dose of hitchhiking, sleeping in snow caves on the edge of resort towns and finishing plates of food left on the bar.
The skid tripper is 22 years old and is living his dreams one crazy expedition at a time. I watched him teach mountain bike maintenance to a group of weekend warriors at a recent trade show. His shaggy hair and hooped earring hung below his wool beanie toque. On one wrist he wore a chunky Suunto mountaineer’s wrist computer and on the other a hemp bracelet he bought from a street vendor in Nepal when he was climbing Mount Everest for a Discovery Channel documentary.
He was on fire when he got to his chat on low cost tire repairs, “Try tying your tube in a knot and putting it back on your rim. It will be a bumpy ride, but you’ll get into town.” Ben knows. When he finished his outdoor adventure diploma at college he hopped on his bike and crossed Canada in 31 days, the hard way, east to west, into the wind and uphill.
I sat and listened to Ben’s plans, smiling, remembering when the passion for dirtbag adventure ran freely (free being the root word) through my own veins.
I told Ben about leaving the university bar one night 10 years ago, packing our aid climbing gear and heading, by headlamp, to the base of a nearby rock wall. The plan was to make the first pitch in the dark, sleep the night and complete the last two pitches at first light so we’d be back on campus for a philosophy exam by noon. No one could afford a proper portaledge to sleep on, so we made do with a borrowed hammock and a bathroom door we hauled up the rock face. Ben thought the door idea was brilliant. I told him he could use it anytime; it was still hanging there.
His next real expedition will come this summer when he climbs Mount McKinley, North America’s tallest peak. After that he’s back down to sea level where he’s making plans to be the first to circumnavigate by sea kayak the world’s largest islands—Borneo, Papua New Guinea, and Greenland.
I like the idea of paddling around Borneo, but I know I won’t bother trying it, not for a while anyway. If it were my highest priority, I’d find a way to do it. But, for Ben, paddling the world and eating Mr. Noodle for a week is his highest priority.
Live life large Ben Shillington, you’re on a path traveled by so many adventurers before you, some by foot, bike, canoe, horseback, thumb; others by hot air balloon, ski, camel and kayak. And Ben, don’t worry about growing out of your skid trips; true dirtbags don’t burn out or fade away, we just start to carry credit cards with membership benefits.
Recirc is a column celebrating our favorite stories from 20 years of Adventure Kayak, Rapid and Canoeroots. This article first appeared in the Early Summer 2005 issue of Adventure Kayak Magazine. Since this story was first published, Ben Shillington has fat biked to the South Pole and skied across Greenland.