By: Lauren Matison
Ways to Wander is a new Q&A series from Kuju Coffee, featuring some of our favorite adventurers, leaders, explorers and wanderers of the world. Ways to Wander is a series that explores what it means to wander and how we can make an impact on the world.
In the summer of 2014, Gale Straub quit her accounting job and set off on a yearlong trip across North America in a Dodge Sprinter van, which she built with her partner Jon. While on the road, Straub launched She Explores, an empowering community for women to connect with fellow outdoor enthusiasts both online and on the trail. She also hosts a popular weekly podcast, featuring an eclectic range of female narratives, and is embarking on a book tour for She Explores: Stories of Life-Changing Adventures on the Road and in the Wild.
Kuju caught up with the roving raconteur to chat about where she draws inspiration, her favorite national parks, #1 adventure planning tip and what to consider before monetizing your hobby.
Five years in, what keeps you motivated at She Explores?
My work is driven by the wonderful women my team and I come across, as well as trends in the outdoors and travel. The conversation is an ever-evolving relationship with women and the wilderness, which has made the last five years since I started She Explores as a blog so satisfying. One of our mottos is “curiosity as a constant” and that’s kept us asking questions and seeking out more people to feature. The She Explores podcast, especially, has helped me have conversations with people outside the lens of social media or blogging. It’s a medium that allows for deeper (and sometimes harder) subject matter. We’re just as likely to cover depression or sexual harassment and assault as entrepreneurship as thru-hiking.
What is your best adventure planning tip?
I think the best adventure planning tip is to not over-plan. I’ve heard from many that half the fun is pouring over an open atlas and doing research to create the best route. And while I commend them, that just isn’t me. I get a lot of joy out of the unknown: the unexpected lookouts, the surprise of a great ice cream cone. For both plane and road travel, I often plan the basics: where I’ll sleep and what gear I’ll need, maybe a rough itinerary. Say, last summer my partner and I drove up the eastern coast from New Hampshire to meet my family in Prince Edward Island. On the way, we knew we wanted to see Fundy National Park, so we reserved a campsite. We arrived as it was getting dark and picked up a park map at the ranger station. In the morning, we opted for a few short hikes along the coast and were blown away by the coniferous trees along the rocky coast. I find the most adventure in the unexpected. I’m sure that will change over time, but I’ll take it while it lasts.
What do you find is the most enjoyable way to explore your favorite national park?
I like exploring national parks on foot. While I appreciate that most popular parks are accessible by vehicle, there’s just something about slowing down and appreciating the place on a hike. I can’t say I have a favorite national park—often it’s the one I just visited! I live in New Hampshire so I have great access to state parks and national forests, but the closest national park, Acadia, is a four hour drive. Not bad, but White Mountain National Forest holds all of my favorite day hikes. On my travels, I enjoyed visiting Joshua Tree, Olympic, Glacier, Grand Teton, Yellowstone, and Yosemite. I left each of them wishing I’d had more time to hike and explore. Next time I go to Olympic, I want to do a backpacking trip in the Hoh rainforest.
What is the last thing you read or heard that had a profound impact?
Emily McDowell, an illustrator and writer, posted on her personal instagram, “Monetize your joy with caution.” Today’s hustle culture leaves many feeling inadequate. If you’re not monetizing your hobby, it can feel invalid. And if you do choose to, the pressure to earn can overwhelm the joy and transform it into something else. On top of all that, our joys have turned more performative with the double-edged sword of social media. So it’s complicated. It was reassuring to see an illustrator I admire share the vulnerability of making that choice with her followers, as well as open up the conversation about doing what you love in your spare time for the sake of it, rather than for validation or compensation.
What is one eco-friendly thing you do every day, and what inspires you to protect the planet?
I always keep an insulated water bottle with me, especially when I travel (when it is most tempting to purchase a plastic bottle!). I drink a lot of water and I can only imagine how those little plastic water bottles would add up over time. I’m also pretty darn conservative when it comes to how often I wash certain clothes and towels. As someone who enjoys a good workout, that can be challenging, but Iiving in a van for a year helped me no longer take things like a washing machine for granted! I walk as much as possible, rather than always taking a car to run errands. I live in a fairly small town, but fortunately it has a walkable downtown. A clearer head from the walk is a welcome bonus! These are all small things, but they feel very doable.
The accelerating scale of human impact on the planet can be terrifying and paralyzing. While it’s easy to say I want to protect it because I love spending time in nature, it’s bigger than that. The focus we put on the natural world and protecting public lands is both incredibly important in its own right and also symbolic of how we as a culture want to treat the earth. I care about protecting the planet for the health and longevity of future generations of people and animals.
Want to be featured in our new Ways to Wander Q&A series? Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and your story may be selected.
Lauren Matison is a Brooklyn-based travel journalist, sustainability specialist, and adventure seeker. She is a regular contributor at National Geographic, Shape, and Bicycling and is thrilled to be writing for The Kuju Journal. When Lauren isn't bike racing or chasing after her two-wheeling toddler, you can find her camping (or glamping) in the woods in upstate NY. Follow Lauren's travels at @laurenmati.