Research & Education

Everything You Wanted to Know About the Subaru/Leave No Trace Teams

Susy Alkaitis - January 24, 2020
Leave No Trace car tent campers desert california

As we travel the country teaching Leave No Trace skills, we’re often asked similar questions by folks we meet along the way. Here are some of our favorites.

1. Do you have, like, one of those big vans?

#SUVlife, baby! We’re grateful to Subaru of America for sponsoring the Traveling Trainer program for over 20 years now. Everything we need to live, teach, cook, eat, etc., lives in our Subaru and EVERYTHING, down to chapstick and pens, has a very specific place in the car.

Leave No Trace subaru ascent arizona
Teams near Arizona’s Four Peaks wilderness, traditional territory of the Yavapai.

2. What kind of educational programs do you do?

Wow, awesome question. Is “every kind” an acceptable answer?  The five traveling teams deliver over 500 free educational programs a year and every single one is a little different. We teach Leave No Trace skills to preschoolers, high school students and everyone in between. We go to college campuses and deliver guest lectures, and conduct workshops for their outdoor clubs and trip leaders. We work with camps and other youth programs to help them make learning outdoor ethics fun. Large outdoor events like trail races and other outdoor festivals invite us to help teach their participants. And we do a LOT of work with professional land managers, like backcountry rangers and campground managers, as well as volunteers, refreshing their Leave No Trace knowledge, and sharing even more effective ways of sharing Leave No Trace info with their visitors. Our Zero Landfill team works with national parks staff, park visitors and other stakeholders on Subaru’s Zero Landfill Initiative. These efforts help visitors to #DontFeedTheLandfills in our national parks and beyond.

outside leave no trace youth education
A team teach kids about Leave No Trace.

3. Do you sleep in your car?

We’d be cuddling with our teaching supplies and camp stove! Once we’re packed up, the car is full. If there’s a place for a tent and the weather isn’t too extreme, we tent camp pretty much everywhere we go. Sometimes we’re in developed campgrounds with bathrooms and running water, but other times we’re “boondocking” in dispersed camping areas on various public lands – that means no water, picnic tables or bathrooms. (That’s where those Leave No Trace skills really come in handy!) If we’re in a city, or it’s just too cold or windy to camp safely, we may stay at a hotel or in a rental house, and teams inevitably spend some time couch surfing with friends (new and old). Trainer teams camp between 150 and 200 nights each year.

4. Where is your coolest place you’ve been?

Ohhh, we knew that one was coming. Our country is incredible and we’ve been unbelievably lucky to see so much of it.  But we know you want a real answer, so here are a few places we’ll definitely go back to: coastal Maine, Washington’s Central Cascades, western Wyoming (Yellowstone!), southern Appalachian mountains (yes, the entire amazing region), Yosemite and the eastern Sierra, Deschutes National Forest, Arizona (yup, we like the entire state!), and the springs and natural coasts of Florida. It’s painful for us, but we’re stopping there.

There are 26 current tribes that have connections to the lands and resources now found within Yellowstone National Park.

5. Did you know each other before you started this?

Yup. And we know each other even better now. (Funny how always being about 36 inches away from one another will do that.) Leave No Trace hires teams, and whether it’s a couple, or a couple of friends, it’s important to have a good partner for the job. Whatever is going on with your relationship before the job, it’s only going to get more intense when you are #alwaystogether.

maine baxter state park
Camping in Maine.

6. But seriously, where do you live?

Seriously, we live on the road. Some teams will hold onto an apartment (or in the case of our friends Monika and David, a sailboat), but none of us are regional enough for a home base to make sense. We sold our little house and both our cars before setting out on the road, and we’ve never regretted it! During the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, when we don’t have programs, we do the “friends and family tour,” visiting with the folks we miss while we’re traveling the country.

camp stove cooking Leave no trace
Team cooking dinner in the Sonoran desert.

7. How did you get this job?

We applied. Okay, there’s more to it than that, but it’s worth noting that there’s not one particular resume that would prepare anyone to be a Traveling Trainer. The job is great for independent, creative, and outgoing folks with skills in experiential education, content creation, and a passion for adventure – road life is always an adventure of one sort or another.

9. What did you do before this?

After three years on the road, it’s hard to remember what we did yesterday, let alone several years ago! We think we remember that Jessie was a children’s librarian and worked with Girls on the Run, a positive youth development program. Matt managed a high ropes course and taught college classes in philosophy. We also published our first book together just before hitting the road.

10. I could never work with my partner. How do you do it?

Deep breathing and ear plugs. Just kidding! (Mostly.) Check out our top tips on happy #roadlife coupledom!

Leave No Trace’s Jessie Johnson and Matt Schneider are part of the 2020 Subaru/Leave No Trace Traveling Trainer Program that provides free, mobile education to communities across the country. Proud partners of this program include Subaru of AmericaREIEagles Nest OutfittersDeuterThuleFjällräven and Klean Kanteen.

Let’s protect and enjoy our natural world together

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