She Explores: The Woman Behind the Movement

Who is the woman behind She Explores?

The outdoors has inspired people to create for centuries, whether it be Ansel Adams and his photography, Georgia O’Keeffe and her paintings, or John Muir and his stories. In our ever-expanding urban and suburban locales, it can be hard to connect with both nature and like-minded creative individuals, especially when you consider that much of the outdoor space is a male-dominated environment. She Explores is trying to change that with a website and two podcast series that serve as a growing resource for creative outdoor-oriented women.

We caught up with founder and host of She Explores, Gale Straub to learn more about what inspired her to start the movement.

How did you first get introduced to the outdoors?

My earliest outdoor memories feature my yard–a grassy three-acre rectangle in a small town in New Hampshire. It felt so big. I remember picking vegetables in my dad’s garden. In the summer, before dinner, my mom would give me or one of my siblings a glass measuring cup and we’d pick snap peas or basil or cherry tomatoes from the vine. I remember playing in our barn and feeding our sheep and chickens. I tried to pet the pigs, but they were too smart to want to get close.

I was an indoor kid, as much as I was an outdoor kid.

I was an indoor kid, as much as I was an outdoor kid. I loved playing inside with dolls, but I also loved running around the woods, swimming at nearby lakes, and shoveling off the pond to ice skate. Hiking came later, in the White Mountains, mostly. I didn’t go camping (beyond the backyard) until I was 16, but it’s the childhood memories that I attribute to my love of nature.

Photo: Gale Straub

Have you always worked in a creative field?

I haven’t always worked in a creative field. In college, I took photography classes for fun, but I didn’t really know what I wanted to do for work when I declared a major at age 20. I feel spoiled looking back at it–I took a lot of different classes and settled into a psychology degree. When I graduated, the market crashed and I decided to pursue a practical field of study. I studied for the GMAT and applied to graduate school in accounting and finance. I worked for more than two years at a Big 4 accounting firm as an external auditor and then spent two years working in the finance department of a venture capital firm before starting She Explores. Sometimes people are surprised when I tell them this but I really enjoyed the problem-solving aspect of accounting, and I got to learn the basics of how businesses work. I still enjoy looking at financial statements. They tell a story.

When I worked in those jobs, I used my free time to take photos. I especially liked taking photos at night. I’d look out my apartment window and if it was rainy or foggy or snowing, I’d pull my jacket on and crank up the ISO. It was my way of getting outdoor time while living in Boston.

You lived the van life for a while, what prompted you to hit the road?

When I was 16, my twin sister and I got to go on a three-week road trip across the American west with our uncle in New Orleans, fondly known as “Gator Mike.” Coming from the East Coast, it was an achingly beautiful experience at an impressionable age. For years I dreamed of taking another road trip. After stumbling into accounting, I kept the idea tucked in the back of my mind, but I never acted on it. It wasn’t practical. What a well-worn story.

When I was 16, my twin sister and I got to go on a three-week road trip across the American west.

About a year into dating, Jon–my current partner of six years–asked me whether I’d want to take an extended road trip with him. All of a sudden that idea snapped into the front of my mind. Partially for love and partially for myself, I started saving up. It took almost a year and a half, but we saved what we thought was enough to spend a year on the road. It was incredible to see the United States up close, and it also brought us together in a new way.

Photo: Gale Straub

What was the inspiration behind She Explores?

I started She Explores at the same time I started traveling in the Sprinter Van, back in 2014. I’d been taking and sharing photos of outdoor adventures online, but I wasn’t finding community. The trip gave me the time to pursue what I was interested in, so I took the opportunity to create a site based around the outdoors, road travel, photography, and art. I invited other women to contribute their stories, too. For them, it was a way to connect with other women and publish work, a nonexclusive platform where you didn’t need a large portfolio or a long resumé to be featured.

I started She Explores at the same time I started traveling in the Sprinter Van, back in 2014.

After two years, I decided to extend She Explores as a podcast, mostly because the women I was meeting through She Explores were too dynamic to sum up in a blog post. I really enjoy listening to podcasts, so I taught myself the basics. It wasn’t perfect when it launched (it still isn’t!), but much like the road trip, it felt like it was then or never. Now, two years later (and four years into, I’ve teamed up with Laura Hughes to start a second podcast, “Women on the Road,” as well.

Where do you find the women you interview and work with?

When I first started She Explores, I found all of the women online, and mostly through the social media platforms Instagram and Tumblr. It was incredible to feel connected with other women in this way, some who were 3,000 miles away on the other side of the country. For the most part, I reached out to talented women whose work I was drawn to. I looked for creatives who were interpreting their time outside in a unique way. As time went on, I grew increasingly interested in the stories and the people behind the work. I also started receiving more submissions, which allowed me to hear from people I might never have found otherwise. This led to more emotionally driven essays and artwork.

The She Explores podcast has opened us up to even more women, since the only constraint is a voice (and even that I’d be willing to work around!). In 60+ episodes, I’ve talked to entrepreneurs, creatives, activists, enthusiasts, and “everyday” women, all who are inspired and impacted by the outdoors.

Photo: Gale Straub

What do you hope becomes of the “She Explores” movement?

I see She Explores as part of a larger grassroots outdoorsy women’s movement made up of a group of organizations that have sprung up over the past few years. For this movement as a whole, I hope it will continue to grow to encompass more people with different backgrounds and experiences. I hope that all the hard work from women like Shelma Jun of Flash Foxy, Jainee Dial and Lindsay Elliott from Wylder Goods, Gina Bégin of Outdoor Women’s Alliance, Jaylyn Gough of Native Women’s Wilderness, the women behind Misadventures Mag, Hatie Parmeter of Whoa Mag… (the list goes on!) will see their visions realized. I hope that women everywhere see themselves in outdoor spaces.

I see She Explores as part of a larger grassroots outdoorsy women’s movement.

For She Explores specifically, I want to keep telling people’s stories. Gosh, that sounds simple, but little makes me happier than creating a podcast episode or publishing a feature article that features a woman sharing what drives her.

What does nature mean to you today?

I’m fortunate to experience nature as a respite. I’m a bit of an anxious person and I always need to be doing something “productive.” I’ll feel guilty if I’m not hitting this made up standard. There’s a “never enough” feeling associated with that, but it doesn’t follow me when I’m hiking, especially if I’m backpacking. I love the weight of a pack on my hips and shoulders. I love struggling up a mountain, setting up camp for the night, and relaxing in my tent. The second day in the backcountry especially, when that “never enough” worry falls away, I feel closer to myself. And when I return home again, I’ve gathered more perspective.

I love struggling up a mountain, setting up camp for the night, and relaxing in my tent.

Do you have any advice for women looking to explore their creative side?

Creativity takes so many shapes. We often attribute creativity to people who grew up identifying as artistic and taking an interest in activities we associate with that characteristic: visual arts like painting, photography, film, pottery, theatre. I think a lot of us have a mental block because of that. I didn’t think of myself as particularly creative growing up, in many ways I still don’t. And yet I really believe that we exercise creativity on a daily basis, whether it’s cooking a beautiful meal, solving a problem in the office, or taking up needlepoint. When I’m feeling generous, I think it’s true of myself, too.

To women who are looking to explore their creative side I ask: when you’re able to spend a day moving your body outside, where does your mind wander?

I think if you follow yourself into that space, you’ll start to key into your creative side. Next, I’d recommend both consuming and playing with different mediums. Consuming is a funny word to use, I mean to say: read, listen, watch, peruse, take in. The more you do, the more you’ll want to play.

You can check out Gale Straub’s latest adventure to the Olympic Peninsula, where she reveled in the sights and sounds of the sea: