Elise Schultheis | The Wageneers

Elise Schultheis and her partner, Jeremy, are overlanding to the end of the earth: San Francisco, California to Tierra Del Fuego, Argentina. They’re traveling in a 1991 Geländewagen (German for “off-road car”) they call Glenda. Since hitting the road Elise and Jeremy have begun documenting their journey as The Wageneers.

We talked to Elise about how her past influenced her decision to hit the road (her mother was one of the first female Asian-American Park Rangers) and we learned a little about her work with South American start-ups and life on the road so far. Interview below!


Meet Elise

How did your journey to the end of the earth come to be?

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Elise loading up the Geländewagen, Glenda.

It started with a giant map on our wall and sticky notes marking the places we’ve been dreaming about. My partner, Jeremy, and I knew that our big adventure would mean quitting our jobs and leaving behind our lives in the US. We were both itching to spend an extended period of time outdoors. My vision was to spend our time climbing and trekking in Patagonia, and he wanted to travel from Alaska to Argentina in six months.

Our compromise was to start in the American West, then ship our car to Colombia and continue our journey south to Tierra del Fuego. We chose to travel overland for the flexibility to explore at our own pace and go to more remote places. After months of planning and saving, we set off in late October and have been working our way south.

You chose a ’91 G Wagen over a van or camper style vehicle. What do you like about it so far? Dislike?

We had one rule when choosing our vehicle: no sinks. We wanted our trip to feel more like camping and less like RVing. Our setup is simple, with just the essentials and a defined nook for everything. I love the simplicity of it. Otto’s 549,000 mile 26-year journey was also a big inspiration for our vehicle choice. Dislikes? As an older car, Glenda, the name of our Geländewagen, can be a bit temperamental. She doesn’t like being too hot, too cold, or too heavy. Maybe we should have named her Goldilocks.

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With national park rangers for parents, you spent much of your childhood in the outdoors. How did that upbringing prepare you for life on the road?

When I was a child, I didn’t always enjoy the outdoors. My parents have many stories of my tantrums on the trail. A couple instances that come to mind: the time my dad had to carry me across a snowfield on Mount Lassen because I was cold (I had insisted on wearing a dress!). And the many times they used jelly beans to coax me to keep hiking. However, I also have fond memories of many firsts: learning to ride a bicycle in the Eastern Sierras and learning to ski as a three-year old in Yosemite. As I have grown older, I have become much more appreciative of these trips and experiences. It laid the foundation for me to discover the outdoors in my way and be more willing to push my limits in the wild.

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Your mother seems like an important character in your story. What impact did her role as one of the first female Asian rangers in the National Park Service have on your life? 

My mother has shown me that it is possible to have a career in the outdoors and in a field commonly dominated by Caucasian men. She became a National Park ranger (in April 1979) over a year before my father did! As I am navigating my career path, I have been able to focus more on my passions and less on what role I should fit into based on gender, race, etc.  Both of my parents have been incredibly supportive, and I wouldn’t be who I am without them.

Can you tell us a little about your career?

The common threads that connect my career are people, planet, and design. Growing up with park ranger parents instilled in me an environmental ethic and the moral responsibility to do my part to protect our planet and people. After graduating from UC Berkeley with degrees in conservation and French, I led outdoor trips for youth and adults, and worked in design and marketing for an environmental nonprofit and an adventure travel company. Most recently, I have been working for a design software company in digital marketing with a focus on sustainability. What excites me most in my career is being able to work on projects with positive social and environmental impact.

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How do you combine work obligations with adventure on this journey? 

Framework. I have two gigs that I am juggling during our trip. The first is writing for an adventure travel company and the second is working as a researcher with a sustainable design foundation where I’ll be visiting sites all over South America. We’ve scheduled “work weeks” into our overall trip plan so my work doesn’t creep into the rest of our time on the road. I am so excited I can weave together my career passions and an adventure of a lifetime.

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Do you have any tips for women taking a career on the road? 

Honestly, this is still new to me! My approach was to figure out what my ideal role looked like, understand what the organization needed, and work with them to create a win-win for both sides. Once I drafted a proposal, the next step was to ask and define the role.

Is there anything that has become a luxury in your overland life that wasn’t in your San Francisco life? 

Hot showers and bug-free evenings!

Take a photo of your five must-have items for overland travel. 

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    • Diva Cup (when space is a premium!)
    • Paper maps (in case our phone doesn’t work or gets lost)
    • iPhone (for GPS, taking photos, connecting with folks back home, music, and translation)
    • Journal (for remembering all the moments)
    • Bug spray (I am a magnet for mosquitoes!)

What’s been the best place you’ve woken up thus far? 

We spent a few days in a little cabana that was built into the cliffs and perched above a beautiful valley in Los Santos, Colombia. I didn’t want to leave!

 

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Where are you now and where will you be in one month?

We are working our way through the Colombian highlands and will hopefully be trekking in Ecuador next month. Life on the road is hard to predict, so we are taking it day by day.

 

Photos courtesy of Elise Schultheis and The Wageneers.

See more of Elise’s work at elise-creative.com, and find more from the Wageneers on Instagram, and their website.

Editor’s note: This interview contains Amazon affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase through the link, She Explores receives a small commission at no charge to you. We appreciate your support.

Do you dream of taking your life on the road?