You are here

Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.
Georgina Miranda | 07.01.2019

We’ve been a fan of Shawnté Salabert’s work since we first saw her tweets about the outdoors in the early 2010s. Since then, she’s published a book about the Pacific Crest Trail in California, she’s published article after article about inspiring women in the outdoors (including Woman in the Wild Kris Machnick), and her packing lists have helped no fewer than one Outdoor Project editor achieve whiskey-enabled epiphanies on the trails of Oregon. Shawnté Salabert is the kind of writer you love, simultaneously a siphon of truth and a font of wisdom.

At Outdoor Project, we've made it part of our mission to celebrate and amplify the voices of women in the outdoors, and Shawnté Salabert has made a career out of using her voice to tell their stories. In our third year of Women in the Wild, we are proud to share our platform again with courageous and inspiring female figures who are making a difference in the outdoor industry and the world at-large. It’s been an honor to be a guest editor this year for Women in the Wild, and I am grateful and inspired by all of the remarkable women that I got to connect with and interview. They are shaping a new narrative daily, and they show us anything is possible with tenacity, creativity, and purpose. 

 

I never went to journalism school. All I had was my social work background, my love of the written word, and my undying curiosity.

—Shawnté Salabert

 

In this interview, we talk to Shawnté Salabert about work-life balance, the freelancer’s struggle for solvency, and the underappreciated power of naps. This interview has been edited for clarity.

 


Photo courtesy of Shawnté Salabert.

Georgina Miranda: Give us the skinny on Shawnté Salabert. How would you describe your connection to the outdoors?

Shawnté Salabert: First and foremost, I am connected to the outdoors because I am part of the outdoors—we all are, and it’s only through the very recent history of industrialization that people have become disconnected to their role in the natural world. 

In the less esoteric sense, I work and play in the outdoors. I’m a freelance writer, and most of my work investigates the way people connect with land (and water and air). Personally, my favorite outdoor activity is backpacking, but I’m pretty damn happy with any opportunity to day hike, trail run, snowshoe, climb—and as of late, paint terrible watercolors of beautiful landscapes.

GM: What initiatives/projects/goals are you focused on?

SS: I’m a full-time freelance writer, so my projects are all over the place! I write most frequently for Adventure Journal, but have also written for Outside, Alpinist, SIERRA Magazine, Los Angeles Magazine, California Sunday Magazine, the REI Co-op Journal, Modern Hiker, and others. I was very lucky for the opportunity to write a book a few years back (Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail: Southern California)—the experience was pretty life-changing.

Right now, my biggest professional goal is to carve out time to work on another book; this one would straddle the line between memoir and a bit of social science—we’ll see! On the more personal front, I also recently started trail running as a way to push my limits and see what I’m capable of; the hope is to do a big—very big, for me, at least—trail run at the end of the summer.

GM: You are a storyteller. What stories are you most passionate to tell?

SS: I like to use my writing to lift voices, promote a wider view of what it means to connect to the natural world, and redefine what we talk about when we talk about the “outdoors.” Basically, a lot of what I write about reflects the kind of stories I wish I could have read when I was younger—ones that explore the wide range of human experience in the natural world.

GM: Were you always drawn to a life of the outdoors and storytelling? How did your journey get you to where you are today?

SS: Yes! Even though I grew up in an inner city neighborhood, my childhood was spent largely outdoors—maybe just not in the way most people would interpret that word. I walked to school and to nearby parks and playgrounds, sat on the front stoop and conjured up all sorts of games with my friends well into the evening, and loved snapping the purple buds of the hosta plants that lined the walkway to our basement flat. Attending summer camp (Camp Whitcomb/Mason, via the Boys’ and Girls’ Club) was a revelation—it was quiet, smelled good, and I felt absolutely comfortable in my skin from the jump.

I was also interested in storytelling from a very young age—I learned to read when I was a preschooler, and started writing my own fiction stories early on in grade school. My aunt had an old Apple computer, the kind with the blinky green cursor, and I would sit there and hammer out all kinds of stories, usually loosely based on my favorite Nancy Drew books.

I never really considered a career in storytelling, but I did dream of being a park ranger or an environmental educator. In college, I accidentally enrolled in a natural resource management program. I changed majors a few times and ended up earning my Master’s degree in social work. I was a school social worker in Charleston, South Carolina, for several years. When I burned out on the corrupt and grossly underfunded school system, I left and took odd jobs, including a freelance writing gig with an alt-weekly.

I ended up writing for a few other publications here and there, moved to NYC and helped a friend launch an arts non-profit, then headed to L.A. When that failed, I kind of fell into the music industry, where I stayed put for a long time. I kept a personal blog and started writing for Modern Hiker. Everything since then has been a combination of luck, magic, and sometimes excruciatingly hard work.

GM: Where do you draw your inspiration/motivation from? Has that changed over your career?

SS: I’ve been writing about the intersections of people and the natural world for several years now and my inspiration remains the same—find and share stories that inspire, that serve as cause for critical thinking, that contribute to greater conversations, and hell, that make me smile. I’m inspired by people on a daily basis.

GM: What have been some of the biggest challenges you have had to overcome related to your outdoor pursuits or your career? What helped you overcome those challenges?

SS: I never went to journalism school, I received no formal training or education on the subject—all I had was my social work background (where you learn to ask a lot of thoughtful, open-ended questions and look at the whole picture beyond the person themselves), my love of the written word, and my undying curiosity. When I decided to leave my (well-paying, health-insurance-covering) job and make a go at the freelance life, I invested in a short online course that covered the basics of pitching stories to editors. Two months later, I secured my first national magazine piece—and while it did get published, I kinda botched the shit out of it in some regards. I’ve learned a LOT since then!

Another big challenge is making enough money to pay my bills—and chasing down payments to ensure I actually see those checks! This is a concern every single month. I do take on non-journalism/non-literature writing projects, and even work with a few clients from my music industry days to help keep the lights on.

GM: What do you see as the most important issue or set of issues affecting women in the outdoor/adventure space? Where do you see yourself having the biggest impact on these issues?

SS: I think inequity is still a major issue in the industry—I’d like to see more women in the C-suite, on boards, as product designers, directing films, writing books, and taking roles as paid professional athletes. By “women,” I mean all women, not just white, cis, hetero, able-bodied, slim white women. While I’m not sure equity can truly exist within capitalism, since it’s a patriarchal, sexist, white supremacist system to begin with, I think we can experience strides if we start to see humanity as a whole better represented across the spectrum of the outdoor industry.

I’ve covered issues of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (hat tip to the Avarna Group for including “justice” as a component of what is typically called “DEI” work!) often in my writing. I will continue to do so—but hopefully not at the expense of other voices. I am conscious of how I take up space with my writing, and have definitely turned down pieces and recommended other writers. Sometimes, not writing about something, is as much about lifting other voices as writing about it can be.

GM: What can the greater outdoor community and companies like OP do to better amplify and celebrate the voices of ALL women in our community?

SS: This is a wonderful question—and a proper answer involves a lot more thoughts than just mine! But I think anyone asking this has to first do some reflection—Why do you want to better amplify and celebrate the voices of ALL women? What does “ALL women” mean to you? And then I think once you have those answers, it’s about pursuing conscious paths that might feel disruptive to the status quo. For example, not just including women in photographs or advertising, but hiring women to take the photographs and serve as editors. Not just promoting “women’s” gear, but actually hiring women to design your gear. Recognizing that the experience of “womanhood” is multi-dimensional, intersectional, and not singular—and ensuring that your staff and partners reflect this multitude.

GM: How did you get it all to a point where this is a feasible lifestyle for you? How do you support your adventures/passions? Has this changed over time?

SS: Truth? It’s not feasible! I am very fortunate that freelancing offers me flexibility in the stories I cover and in how I choose to spend my time, but I typically work 7 days a week, often in the neighborhood of 14 hours a day with a few breaks sprinkled in. Example? I recently posted a photo on my Instagram from a trail running session in Zion National Park—and I spent the entire day before that holed up in the cheapest motel room I could find to work, and literally only got to spend an hour on trail. I stay in the game by remembering why I’m doing this work, and I’ve cultivated a daily practice of active gratitude for the opportunities it presents.

GM: What’s been the most useful advice given to you along your journey? What advice do you wish you were given when you were younger?

SS: I think some of the most useful and impactful advice I heard recently—which is the kind of advice I had when I was younger—was via Kit Whistler, who explained her “Idle Theory” to a group of us during a Project 16x summit. I saw so much of myself reflected in her discussion of our near-obsession with work (and “work hard, play hard”). I realized that I’ve forgotten the crucial importance of what she calls “idleness.” I’m trying to practice that more… I even took a nap last weekend! Balance is good; it’s hard to come by.

GM: Any other tips for women looking to embark on a similar career or path?

SS: It all goes back to the “Why”—Why do you want to write? And then, what do you want to write about? Then circle back to the Why. You’ll need to have these answers embedded pretty deep within your soul to keep yourself motivated as a freelancer.

GM: At Outdoor Project, we put a strong emphasis on the phrase “adventure like you give a damn,” which refers to putting effort into responsible recreation. This can come through volunteering with a local conservation group that stewards an area you care about or helping getting an underserved community into the outdoors; educating others on Leave No Trace practices; packing out some extra trash; or even doing things at home that help protect the environment and nature like reducing use of plastics.  How do you “adventure like you give a damn” in your own way?

SS: I’m a big believer in giving back—to the natural world and to people. I am an ambassador with the American Hiking Society, I served as a Granite Gear Groundskeepers a few summers ago, picking up litter along the Colorado Trail, and I volunteer with the Sierra Club, leading backpacking trips, teaching for the Wilderness Travel Course (a 10-week outdoor skills class), and serving on a few national leadership teams. We’re all connected, and we’re all connected to the natural world—adventuring like you give a damn means nurturing those connections not just for ourselves, but for others too.

GM: What’s been your favorite outdoor adventure to date and why? What’s on your adventure bucket list and/or coming up for you?

SS: Hands down, section hiking a thousand-mile chunk of the Pacific Crest Trail over and over and over for my book. I was still at my music industry job when I got the book deal, and I took a 2-month sabbatical one summer, hiking the Transverse Ranges north of Los Angeles in the Sierras to Tuolumne Meadows during that time.

Besides the pure joy (okay, there were plenty of crap days, too!) of being outside for that long, unfettered by things and stuff and blinking lights back home in the city, I had two important realizations out there. One, I was going to quit my job when I got back and see if this writing thing could possibly work out. Clear as day, sitting on a patch of dirt next to my dirt-crusted, rain-soaked tent, I knew it was the right decision. Second, since I was out there solo for most of that summer, I recognized that I was infinitely stronger than I had ever given myself credit for. I ran into bears, ridgeline lighting storms, creepy strangers, and snow in July, and got through all of it just fine. Now, whenever I’m facing something difficult in life, I just remember one of those moments.

GM: What is the message you would like to share with the world, the outdoor community, and other women in general?

SS: Never stop being curious—about the world around you, about the people around you, and about yourself. Curiosity is one of the things that allows us to learn and grow; indulge it as much as you can.

Want to hear more from Shawnté Salabert? Find more of her clips on her website, and follow her on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. For more inspiring interviews and articles, head on over to Women in the Wild 2019.

Comments

Have updates, photos, alerts, or just want to leave a comment?
Sign In and share them.

Brought to you by:

Women in the Wild 2019

Women in the Wild is a movement that recognizes the amazing women who enrich the outdoor community with their passions, inspirations, and accomplishments. Outdoor Project is proud to grow this campaign in 2019 with the help of guest editor and 2018 #womaninthewild Georgina Miranda, adventurer, entrepreneur, mountaineer, and founder and CEO of She Ventures. We're proud to open our platform once again for the incredible stories and photography of women throughout our community. From in-depth interviews with outdoor advocates, influencers, and athletes to female-focused content from the community, Women in the Wild 2019 aims to amplify the voice of women in celebration of female fortitude, strength, and camaraderie in the outdoors.

More content from Women in the Wild 2019

Outdoor advocate, writer, speaker, influencer, #womeninthewild
Climber, cancer survivor, amputee, founder of Adaptive Climbing Group, #womeninthewild
Sponsored by:Women in the Wild 2019