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She Explores: How the Power of Stories Can Bring People Together

Posted by Jessi Loerch at May 10, 2019 12:23 PM |
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Gale Straub shares her story of what She Explores has meant to her. Her new books shares the stories of many enthusiastic explorers.

By Gale Straub

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I launched in 2014 because I craved community. It was lacking while I was living in Boston and working at a venture capital firm. In my spare time, I walked the city with my camera, seeking out lush leaves against streetlights and the night sky. I sought out the shore and escaped to the mountains and lakes of Maine and New Hampshire. I’ve always had a handful of friends I hold dear, but She Explores opened up my world to the outdoor experiences of others in a more intimate way than I’d previously thought possible.

She Explores and Gale Straub
Gale Straub is the creator of "She Explores" podcast and website and has recently published a book sharing stories from women who love to get outside. Photo by Jon Gaffney. 

I traveled to Seattle for the first time in 2012, when I was still working at that Boston firm. I went with my sister and a friend and we planned a road trip that started in San Francisco and wound its way up the “Left Coast.” It was November and so cloudy that we couldn’t see Mount Rainier but I loved it anyway. We didn’t know anyone who lived there so we were our own tour guides.

When I returned 2 years later, I’d recently started She Explores. My partner and I spotted two people gardening in Ballard and I did a double-take: I’d featured the woman on the blog. We pulled back around and they showed us around the parks and food of their town, which took on a new dimension and glowed a little brighter. This small story is just one example of the layers of connection that She Explores added to my life.

She Explores started as a blog, but graduated to a podcast in the summer of 2016. I love podcasting because it is a means to better understand people. When you hear a person’s story through their own words and in their own voice, it invokes empathy. There have been more than 300 voices on the show in 3 years. While I feel personally connected to these people by speaking with them and editing their stories, the process of uploading a MP3 file to an RSS feed is a solitary one. What happens next — the listening — whether on the way to the trailhead or while folding laundry, has the potential to start a chain reaction.

The young woman listening to the adventurous stories on an episode titled “50 Plus” sees possibility in growing older. The person who was hesitant to solo hike plans a trip to the mountains (and knows what precautions to take) when she hears 20 voices sharing their experiences of going it alone on the trail. A story of a stranger can change what you see for yourself. And by listening to a conversation built on questions, one might be more likely to ask their neighbor, friend or parent more questions, too.

I’m thrilled to share She Explores in book form for many reasons, but a big reason is because it’s a physical object a reader can pass around. My hope is that the profiles of 40 creative, curious, adventurous women — each with a totally unique story — will motivate readers to take chances in their own lives. At a minimum, I hope it inspires a step out your front door. And when you’re done, you might hand the book to a friend to give her that extra push to do the same.

An excerpt from "She Explores"

A Long View

My fondest memories are with the people that I met on trail.

Karen Wang is one of many explorers who shared stories for the "She Explores" book. Photo by Karen Wang. 

I spent all of my twenties not really sure what I was passionate about. When I finally figured out what it was, I had to go for it and make it a long-term goal. I wanted to do something that would challenge me physically and mentally for a long period of time. I wanted to build resilience in my lowest moments and tell myself that any discomfort was only temporary. Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) was perfect for me in that season of life. I discovered that I truly love walking all day. As an early riser, there is nothing I enjoyed more than getting up each morning in the dark and watching the sun rise as I walked along a ridgeline. My fondest memories are with the people that I met on trail. They were complete strangers in the beginning who became like family in just a few days.

I do not want to thru-hike every year, because I want to spend my time directly helping the trail itself. I was living a very self-centered life preparing for, during, and after my hike. I felt I got what I “needed” from the PCT, but now, I want to volunteer trail maintenance, spread awareness to protect the trail, and educate youth about the outdoors. In the long run, I just want to be living a meaningful life that improves the lives of others.

Karen K. Wang

Reprinted from "She Explores" by Gale Straub with permission by Chronicle Books, 2019.

This article originally appeared in the May 2019 issue of Washington Trails Magazine. Support trails as a member of WTA to get your one-year subscription to the magazine.