Like a lot of people, I set some hearty goals for 2020 for the She Explores podcast. I didn’t write them down, but they danced in the periphery, reminders gently tugging me forward. At the start of the year, I thought them important, even necessary. Most notably, I thought them achievable. They weren’t related to boosting download numbers or technical in nature, as they might have been in past years. 2020 was the fifth year I’d be creating She Explores since I launched the show in 2016, and as I reflect I see that above all else, I was looking for connection: to the guests, to the ‘why’ behind She Explores, to you all.
And while none of these podcast goals came out the way I thought they might when I looked out at the crooked horizon that was 2020, somehow the outcome of each still makes sense. This year brought pain, grief, regret, isolation, loneliness, trauma, and loss. It also brought a whole lot of new people to the outdoors — which speaks to its power and its preciousness in equal measure.
#1: Whenever possible, record interviews and stories in person, in the outdoors.
I don’t think I need to explain how this goal got sidetracked. Podcasters all over the world embraced the home closet studio this year, the exact situation I was trying to break out of. I went from canceling a hike with Ashleigh Thompson in Tuscon, AZ when a trip dissolved due to COVID, to spending an hour and a half on Zencastr, the remote recording platform we use for interviews. I could almost see the Saguaros if I closed my eyes.
In a year that I entered into craving closeness after years of working from home, it turned out I would have to find said closeness in other places. I found it in the ease of certain conversations: I could listen to Amanda Jameson talk about walking for hours. I found it in responding to the needs of the listeners in a turbulent year. I used to strive for “evergreen,” timeless subjects, but in April we covered Lindsay Falkenburg canceling her CDT thru-hike due to COVID. In May I talked to experts about safely spending time outdoors during a global pandemic. In June I had the opportunity to talk to not one, but two, leaders of Black Birders Week, a movement created in response to the racist incident with Amy Cooper and Christian Cooper in Central Park. In November, Amy Won shared a soothing post-election activity: wonder walking.
And as timely as those conversations, as much as they helped me (and I hope you) move through those months, I know there is much to be found in them that will ring true in 2021 and beyond.
#2: Say “yes!” to public speaking/recording opportunities.
My cheeks burn just thinking about tapping a mic in front of an audience, stammering, “Is this thing on?” So I loaded up my calendar in March and April with public speaking gigs as exposure therapy. I only made it to one stage – No Man’s Land Film Festival was the last hurrah in early March that I’ll always be grateful for. I sat up there and interviewed Beth Bradley on owning her body on the trail, an incredible speaker in her own right. It felt right to be there, in front of a warm and welcoming audience, talking to Beth like I might from my bedroom closet for an interview.
As lovely as the experience at No Man’s Land was, I felt mostly relief when the other events I’d committed to were canceled in March and April. Which led me to reflect on the “why” behind the goal: why did I want to get better at public speaking? Was it to connect better with listeners? Was it to elevate me and my ideas? Was it to bring me closer to some idea I have of a successful woman? The older I get, the more I’m able to identify and lean into where I shine.
This brings us to goal number three…
#3: Pass the mic, pass the mic, pass the mic.
If you’ve read any of the recaps of years past, I’ve gotten the most joy through this podcast when collaborating with others. And my hope is that you, dear listeners, benefit from hearing from a diverse range of voices as well. When the pandemic and the recession hit, I worried that passing the mic wouldn’t be possible in the way that I dreamed. But as we’ve learned over and over, this life has its own plans.
Thanks to the collaboration of two nonprofits, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the Cairn Project, we were able to produce two miniseries through She Explores: Where We Walk and See Us Outside, respectfully. Getting to work with Gabaccia Moreno on See Us Outside, a four-part miniseries exploring the unique relationships girls and women of color have with the outdoors taught me so much about listening and storytelling. Working on a team exponentially improves the end product, and I’m so proud of both the small teams I had the privilege of working with for these two projects. I look forward to passing the mic more in the new year.
Working on a small team at Ravel, this year pushed us to follow through on some long-term goals we’ve been talking about for a long time. While we employed a lot of ethical storytelling tenets in creating our shows, including She Explores, I’m so thankful that we spent time on training and putting pen-to-paper to create consent forms unique to each show. Unstated, lived values can only go so far.
Ultimately, in a year that narrowed our physical circles to our neighborhoods and our closest friends, I felt more keenly the power of the connections that can be created through media like podcasts, writing, and even social media platforms. I’m grateful that the outdoors was a constant that pulled us together throughout the year, be it the memory of time spent in it, dreaming of what’s to come, or a friendly nod on the trail. And I’m especially grateful for this show in keeping me attached to the world (and its potential) and you all in a time when it’s all too easy to feel unmoored.
My hope is that the stories we share on this show continue to expand your feeling of connectedness, too.
– Gale Straub, Host of She Explores
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