Meet Friend of JAM: Gale Straub of She Explores

 
 
Photo courtesy of Jules Davies

Photo courtesy of Jules Davies

 

Over the last five years, Gale Straub has built a robust community through her website and podcast She Explores, galvanizing women by providing them a platform to share their stories and offer each other support.

She Explores is a multimedia platform, and it was the website that Gale first launched, publishing her inaugural post in August of 2014. Two years later she decided to expand her medium, picking up a microphone and recording the first She Explores podcast episode. Just this year, she published her 100th episode. In the course of that time she has profiled hundreds of women, sharing their unique stories and insights into their lives in the outdoors.  

Even if you’re not a regular podcast listener, chances are you might already have come across the She Explores community, be it through the vibrant Instagram feed which offers everything from women living on the road to the creative endeavors of artists inspired by their time in nature, or some of the deep and poetic storytelling that takes place on the She Explores website. You may also have seen the recently released She Explores book, which we celebrated with Gale earlier this month at Snow Peak in Portland, Oregon.

We are capable of so much when we band together, and when you dive into the She Explores community that sentiment rings true, proof that through sharing our stories we learn and grow. All to say, Straub has built an outdoor community in the truest sense of the word, not only engaging with her supporters online but connecting with them in person through events and meetups.

Gale is a stellar interviewer, treating her subjects with respect and encouraging honesty and vulnerability. She is probably the first to admit that she prefers asking questions than having them directed at her, so we are honored that she took the time to do an interview with us.

 

Can you give us a little backstory to She Explores? What inspired it?

Photo courtesy of Jon Gaffney

Photo courtesy of Jon Gaffney

She Explores started as a cubicle dream in 2014. I was working full time in the finance department of a venture capital firm in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was a job I enjoyed—I learned so much about how companies work by helping to arrange the puzzle of their cash flows. At the same time, my boyfriend of a couple of years and I were planning on taking a year long road trip. It was early days for #vanlife, but it was something we were fortunate to be able to choose to do after saving up for a year and a half. We bought a Sprinter van and built it out. 

To be honest, I was terrified. I’d never lived with a romantic partner and I’d been working full time since I left college. I liked working but all of a sudden on this new path I’d have time for creative projects. When I worked at the VC firm, I used to spend hours wandering my neighborhood at night with my DSLR camera. It was a bit compulsive, a bit dangerous, but I craved time for myself and I loved finding shapes and playing with light. It was also a way to spend time outside after a day in the office. I wondered if there were other women out there who were inspired by the natural world, who sought it out in cities and the mountains in equal measure.

So when the time came to leave my job, I decided to start She-Explores.com. While it was partly a way to share my road trip with others, from the beginning I didn’t want it to be about me. I reached out to artists like Brooke Weeber who focused their work on the outdoors. I interviewed women who were traveling on the road (now a podcast series hosted by Laura Hughes). I asked people to submit their own essays and photographs. Over time, the site became less and less about the superficial ways women interact with nature, but about personal stories and all the different identities we bring with us when we step outside.

I started the She Explores podcast in 2016 almost a year after I got “off the road” full time. I was finding the most connection with the women I was featuring when I hopped on the phone with them to learn more. I’d recently gotten hooked on podcasts and fell in love with audio as a medium. It was accessible enough to start my own show, and I’m so glad I did 109 episodes later!

 Do you remember what your expectations were for She Explores when you started it?

I did research before I started She Explores, so I knew there was a need for more feminine platforms in the outdoor space. So while I didn’t necessarily think it would gain traction and grow, that’s what I hoped would happen. I deliberately posted at least one article a week and an instagram post per day. I didn’t know how to monetize it, but I always wanted it to be a resource and an outlet for many.

Initially, I focused mostly on the aesthetic side of our outdoor experiences. I featured artists and photographers, highlighting the ways spending time outside moves them to create. That’s still a central part of She Explores, but the stories we tell have deepened through adding in new mediums like audio.

I’m also super grateful to have grown a team now: Laura Hughes heads up all things “Women on the Road,” which is now a sister podcast and has emerged as its own brand, Hailey Hirst heads up digital blog content, and Noël Russell runs brand partnerships. I’ve never wanted to be a one-woman show and each member is invaluable to the work we do.

Why do you think it's important for women to be able to share their stories?

Gale in Patagonia, courtesy of Jon Gaffney

Gale in Patagonia, courtesy of Jon Gaffney

The more episodes of She Explores I produce, the more I think about a quote that I can’t attribute to anyone in particular (I think I heard it on an entrepreneurial podcast): “If you don’t tell and own your story, someone else will do it for you.” Before I do an interview with a guest for She Explores, I hop on the phone and ask them two simple questions:

1) What do you want to talk about on this episode?

2) What do you not want to talk about?

The second question might seem implied, but I want to make sure I’m on the same page as my guest before we hit record. I want to make sure that they’re getting the opportunity to highlight what they want to highlight. As an editor, I have a lot of power in how the story is shaped so this is very important to me.

So going back to the entrepreneurial quote (the one that’s often attributed to brand stories); it’s important for women to share their stories because if they aren’t doing it, society does it for them. And there are so many layers when it comes to being a woman—society can tell a story about someone’s race, gender identity, body size, abilities… the list goes on. The more specific, personal stories that are out there, the fewer generalities others can offer up. 

What is your favorite part about interviewing people?

I was a shy kid and I’m a shy adult. I wouldn’t say I “suffer” from social anxiety but it’s a constant that’s followed me throughout my life. Podcasting is an opportunity for me to break through the shyness, blow past small talk, and ask questions that lead to more questions. It’s an opportunity to learn about someone else’s life. I love reading fiction and watching stand up comedians and angsty indie Netflix specials because I get to dive into a character and how they move through the world. Interviews are even better because they aren’t characters, they’re real people whose stories I can share with the She Explores listeners.

Photo courtesy of Gale Straub

Photo courtesy of Gale Straub

You recently came out with the She Explores book. How did that project come about?

I’m proud of the She Explores book because it’s a culmination of the last five years of work, and it’s also a way to place a bookmark in time for me and all the women featured. I was reached out to by Chronicle Books in 2016, we settled on a book concept in 2017. The book highlights 40 women, many of whom had previously been featured on She-Explores.com or on the podcast. Their stories take the form of first person narratives and photographs. My goal in compiling the book was to include as many different perspectives as possible to inspire others who read the book to spend time outside and on the move.

You're running a multimedia platform, which takes a lot of time. How do you make space for nature and the outdoors in your everyday?

To be honest, I don’t always make space for nature and the outdoors in my everyday. There are some days that I get out of my pajamas at 1PM and look longingly out the window at the blue sky. But that’s OK, sometimes that’s a real part of doing the work. When I can, I get out for walks around my town. I live in New Hampshire, near the seacoast, and we’re lucky to have a lot of trails accessible - whether they’re state parks or old railroad beds turned into bike paths. I just discovered a new one last weekend! I also try to build in longer hikes, camping trips, or backpacking trips. I love the prescription Florence Williams provided in her book, The Nature Fix: “Go outside, often, sometimes in wild places. Bring friends or not. Breathe.”




Follow She Explores on Instagram here or on She-Explores.com. Listen to the She Explores podcast on She-Explores.com, or wherever you stream podcasts.

Follow Gale Straub on Instagram here.