70 is the New 40…or Whatever You Want to Make of It!

“Old people need superheroes too.” Words of wisdom from one of the most intriguing characters you are ever likely to come across, Dag Aabye. He is the subject of the fascinating book, Outsider: An Old Man, A Mountain and The Search For a Hidden Past by Brett Popplewell. It is so hard to sum up who Dag is, as he has lived a long and extraordinary life but somewhat simply put, he is a man in his 70s who lives in a bus in the mountains near Vernon, BC. There, he runs for hours a day practicing on trails he carved into the forest to train for an ultramarathon. These marathons are brutal competitions that have athletes running for more than 20 hours straight. Unbelievable!

Dag is not an easy person to find; not many know where his bus is located as it is so remote. He does pop into town every couple of weeks and messages can be left for him at his favourite pub—Rosters Sports Bar in Vernon—however, whether or not he will reach out by trusty pay phone is entirely up to him. Popplewell was lucky enough to visit Dag on several occasions and he crafts a masterfully told story moving back and forth between these visits and the telling of Dag’s life story over its many years.  

The highlights of Dag’s life make him seem like an entirely fictional character. He was an extra in over 30 movies in his younger years, including the James Bond classic, Goldfinger. He is credited with being the first extreme skier back in the 1960s, and he later became a championship cross country skier when he was in his 40s. He first completed the ultramarathon, The Canadian Death Race, in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta when he was 62 years old. As Popplewell spends more and more time with this enigma he reveals that there are so many different aspects to Dag, and he ends up taking us on a deeper dive into who this man really is. Like Dag himself, this book is many things…part biography of this remarkably unique being, but also part genealogy mystery as Popplewell attempts to help Dag discover his true beginnings having been orphaned in Norway at the end of the Second World War.  

Some have compared Dag’s story to that of Chris McCandless, whose tale was grippingly told in Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild. Krakauer’s book is the tale of a young, somewhat naive man who decides he wants to live solo and off the grid in Alaska (in a bus as well) where he unfortunately comes to perish. McCandless made it just over 100 days; Dag has been living alone in the woods for over 20 years. One of Dag’s acquaintances describes it like this: “McCandless was a young innocent. Dag is the old guru.”  Despite having experienced many hardships in his life, Dag is constantly touting Yoda like sageness as if he were a Jedi master, one of his mottos being: “My wealth is not in what I have but how I feel.” He says with the acceptance that all his worldly goods live with him on an old, rusted school bus parked on a mountain side.

Popplewell reveals to us that there are many things to admire about Dag. It is remarkable to think of the positivity that he commits to each day and to his desire of keeping his body and brain going strong for as long as he can. Dag’s approach to life, however, has resulted in a broken marriage, and many disillusioned family members and friends along the way. Popplewell’s eyes are open, and he does not gloss over Dag’s flaws; he certainly understands the impact that his difficult and complicated childhood had on Dag throughout his entire life. 

This book will stay with you for a long time after reading it; you may even find yourself doing a deeper dive into Dag on Google as I did. It may also cause you to want to explore your own family lineage or the history of some of the people in your life. After Popplewell had spent so much time looking into Dag’s life, he had these parting words for the author: “Make sure you take the time to make sense of (your life) too.” Good food for thought!

And if you do decide to delve into your own family history, WPL is a great place to start. Visit any of our four locations to access Ancestry.com, an excellent digital resource for genealogy research. 

Kelly I.
Library Assistant, Main Library

Kelly has the great pleasure of spending her time as a Library Assistant at the Main Library. Her favourite things about working at WPL are getting to experience amazing new books all the time, and then write about some of her favourites for the Check It Out blog. When she is away from the library, Kelly loves spending time with her family, who are big into hiking and taking in the great outdoors. Kelly majored in art history at university and so she also loves to immerse herself in all things arts and culture. Her favourite way to spend a Sunday is at an art gallery and then lounging at a café afterwards with a latte in one hand and a great book in the other.