dirtbag Darling, Johnie Gall

The Wild Adventures of Dirtbag Darling

Words: Josh Rakic
Photos: Dirtbag Darling, Johnie Gall

She lives in a van, free-rappels down mountains and travels the country on her own terms. Johnie Gall, AKA Dirtbag Darling, on the virtue in being a perpetual beginner and a selfie-free life.

The term “dirtbag” conjures up images of tank-topped rednecks nodding their mulleted heads to AC/DC in a lifted truck. It’s hardly a word you’d associate with a long-legged, sun-kissed, intelligent blonde of the fairer sex. But for triple threat Californian adventurer Johnie Gall, it’s a humbling and endearing term that inspired her to break free from the shackles of corporate life and move into a van. From editor at female surf lifestyle title FOAM Magazine to free-rappelling across the Utah desert and documenting her adventures via her increasingly popular blog and writing for brands, Gall is doing what most only dare to dream of. And she’s carrying a message of realistic aspiration, too.

THE RED BULLETIN: Where did the name Dirtbag Darling come from?

JOHNIE GALL: So, being called a “dirtbag” is, in a way, sort of endearing—at least in the outdoor community. It describes this subset of people who live and breathe rock climbing—watch the film “Valley Uprising” and you’ll catch my drift. In no way do I pretend to be on that level, but I’m also no stranger to spending two weeks in the back of a minivan, eating Spaghetti-Os and showering with baby wipes. I thought it had a nice ring to it. 

dirtbag Darling, Johnie Gall

© Instagram / Dirtbag Darling

What inspired the blog?

I started it simply because I couldn’t find anything else out there—you write what you want to read, right? I started the blog five years ago because there were no blogs that spoke specifically to someone like me—a perpetual beginner who had to borrow her boyfriend’s surfboard; a full-time professional who still prioritizes adventure and travel; someone who could get her hands and hair dirty on the weekend but isn’t necessarily hardcore about it. And it resonated with a lot of women really quickly. It’s been cool to see the idea of the “modern outdoorswoman” evolve and gain steam since then.

“I was a voracious reader. And at some point, I must have confused fictional explorers with myself!”
Johnie Gall

What’s your background?

I was not an adventurous kid, but I was a voracious reader. And at some point, I must have confused fictional explorers with myself! My grandparents were also really influential. My Grandmom was a scuba diver who flew her own plane and Grandpop was a windsurfer who told some really tall tales about getting lost at sea and surfing over a whale’s back. I guess I was heavily influenced by stories of adventure to have my own.

Why do you gravitate towards this life?

I’m naturally introverted and scared of things, to be honest, but I do them anyway. My position is this: You can think about jumping off a cliff. You can measure the distance to the water below, find a bathing suit that won’t fall off when you jump, find out how many others have successfully leaped—or you can just jump. I believe in taking calculated risks as they usually come with a lot of reward. I try to never say no to an adventure. 

© Instagram / Dirtbag Darling

You live in a van but clearly don’t have to. Please explain…

My husband had been wanting a Sprinter for years, and about four or five years ago we found a Dodge 2500 on Craigslist. We gutted it, built it out with laminate floors, a bed, cabinets, the whole nine yards. The first time we moved in together? It was in the van. It was, to put it nicely, a learning experience. But I honestly feel like it made me a better person. It changed my whole outlook on life: now I believe in living really simply, only owning what you need, appreciating little moments and embracing the good with the bad. Cliché, maybe, but you have to transform into a really go-with-the-flow person when you occasionally have to sleep in a Walmart parking lot and never know when you’re next shower is. 

The term “cool” doesn’t sit well with you…

“Cool” is so subjective—and fleeting. I’m a firm believer in curating your own idea of what cool is, and I think that is what has helped the blog thrive. I mean, I was obsessed with Star Wars in high school, and now that’s “cool”. I also wore a hemp necklace … which did not catch on! So I just stick with what I like and maybe some of it will resonate with our readers. There are more important things to strive for than “cool,” I think. 

© Instagram / Dirtbag Darling

There aren’t too many pictures of you on your feed. Is that on purpose?

My goal with social media isn’t to just talk about myself, but I also don’t just want to upload a bunch of pictures of other women to garner “likes”. It can be a tricky space to navigate, so I try to be as real and honest as possible—like I’m talking to a friend. The thinking is that it’ll make the outdoors relatable and accessible; an “if she can do it, I can do it” type of thing. 

“I’m a firm believer in curating your own idea of what cool is.”
Johnie Gall

Is that why your images are more gritty than girlie?

I’ve actually purged myself of accounts that strictly post beautiful photos with dreamy captions—that’s not real life. I’d rather follow something interesting like the TSA’s Instagram—seriously, look that up immediately! I never knew there were so many ways to hide a knife.

There’s also a great image of you free-rappelling in Utah.

We drove to the middle of nowhere, climbed up four pitches, and tied in. The moment I unclipped myself and started lowering myself through this gorgeous 200-foot-high arch in the Utah desert, this huge “whoop!” erupted from my lungs. It was one of those moments that will be burned in my brain forever. 

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04 2016 The Red Bulletin

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