On the Wild Side: Introducing Wendy Lauritzen
Wendy Lauritzen’s story is one of insatiable curiosity, steadfast commitment and an early dedication to conservation. Her childhood dream of being a vet led her to becoming a bold Boy Scout, a park ranger and impressively, National Park Service superintendent. After a nearly four decade-long career in conservation wearing all sorts of hats (not just a Tilley!), Wendy has been involved in First Nations consultations, coordinated an emergency town evacuation and has served as a US delegate at Ranger Congresses in Nepal, Tanzania, Scotland and Poland.
She has been on EIGHT Wild Women trips from the Great Bear Rainforest to the Polar Bear Safari–now that deserves a genuine GOLDEN GLOBE award! As proof as her determination, she sent in her profile the day before boarding a WWE small ship expedition in Antarctica!
So, pull up a bean bag chair, sip on some lavender lemonade and lean into a story that involves dreams about chasing Monarchs in Mexico, a future Kenyan safari, pashmina shawls, jumping frogs and a unique lunar eclipse delivery from the Galapagos.
On Becoming a Boy Scout…
My dream of adventures began in middle school when I read the experiences of Joy Adamson and her life with Elsa and her lion cubs as well as Joy’s beloved cheetah in her books Born Free, Living Free, Forever Free and Pippa the Cheetah and Her Cubs. As an eighth grader, I was focused to become a veterinarian. After reading Joy’s books, I gravitated on becoming a vet that worked with wildlife in Africa, with the emphasis of working in a career dedicated to the conservation and care of wildlife. That passion stayed with me throughout my life but the path of what that entailed morphed over time. In high school I became a “boy scout” when I joined the Explorer veterinarian club (which was an extension of the Boy Scouts). This was where I learned that even after successfully completing six years of college, that only the top 4% of graduates would be issued their vet license (or at least that was the case at the time). I could not afford that sort of gamble, so I switched to wildlife management as my career of choice. That later morphed to a degree in Range Management that served me well through my experiences working for the National Park Service (NPS), Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management. My dean and advisors were a bit perplexed yet willing to work with me in my elective selections of Constitutional Law and Environmental Law courses while at Utah State University as those weren’t typical electives. The professors all cooperated with me when I had to start classes six weeks late because I was attending a NPS seasonal law enforcement training academy in Santa Rosa, CA. It was the fourth class ever held throughout the nation for seasonal law enforcement rangers.
I started working for the NPS through the Student Conservation Association right out of high school in 1975 as part of a trail crew. By 1977, I was employed by the NPS as a seasonal Ranger and by 1978, I was enrolled in the law enforcement academy. I worked seven years as a seasonal before I became a permanent employee with the National Park Service.
I retired as a superintendent following a 39-year career that spanned working in 16 locations for three land management agencies within the Department of Interior – National Park Service (NPS), Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), as well as having worked for and closely with US Forest Service. I have been employed in natural, cultural, historical, city, urban, and wilderness areas. Protected areas ranged in size from 33 acres to over 10 million. I have built two visitor centers in two new park units. I’ve worked in most disciplines including interpretation, law enforcement, as a range conservationist (as the second such hire in NPS), as a resources manager and park management/administrator. I’ve also worked closely with five First Nations tribes and in consultation with thirteen tribes with a wide range of traditional practices and tribal sovereignty.
The Great Kotzebue Bird Feather Dye Evacuation
Over 20 years ago, following the task of getting a routine parkwide NPS property inventory completed, I immediately had to evacuate half the town of Kotzebue, AK and its only airport when a 10-year+ chemical dye to mark bird feathers for bird census counts was discovered to have become corroded and explosive. The DOD bomb team arrived to remove and detonate the quart jar of liquid. That was an experience you don’t forget. The material does not harm birds when used, but once the chemicals deteriorate over time, evidently it can become explosive. Our park biologist stumbled across the jar with crystallization around the lid. He had experience in college where a lab in Fairbanks blew up from the same chemical. It was that experience that made us aware of the danger we had on hand. Thank goodness no one opened the jar.
I am a multi-life member of Association of National Park Rangers (ANPR), a non-profit organization. I joined when I was a seasonal and feel it has guided my entire career. It also opened doors. As an ANPR member, I also became part of the International Ranger Federation (IRF) that holds a World Ranger Congress (WRC) every three to four years. ANPR was a key organization creating the IRF. I have been a US delegate to four of the ten congresses, with work demands or an necessary but ill-timed root canal prevented me attending the others. I attended congresses and conferences in Tanzania, Scotland and Poland. In 2019, over 550 delegates from 70 countries attended the 10th IRF World Ranger Congress in Sahura, Nepal.
Tell us, where have you travelled with Wild Women?
First trip: Galapagos Islands Yacht Adventure (Ecuador), 2018
Second trip: Great Bear Rainforest (British Columbia, Canada), 2019
Third trip: Land of the Long White Cloud (New Zealand), January 2020. I got home 2 days before they closed borders due to Covid-19.
Fourth trip: Atoyakan Living Skills (Alberta, Canada), July 2022
Fifth trip: North Vancouver Island Sailing & Kayaking (British Columbia), August 2022
Sixth trip: San Juan Island Multisport (Washington state, USA), August/September 2022
7th trip: Polar Bear Safari (Churchill, Manitoba, Canada), November 2022
8th trip: Antarctica, South Georgia and Falkland Islands, January – February 2023
Why did you choose us?
I had been following WWE on Facebook for a couple of years because I had dreams of adventures but no one to travel with. I’ve also worked in a male-dominated world my entire career and just wanted a relaxing trip without feeling in competition or in an condescending atmosphere while trying to learn new skills and testing myself. So I kept following WWE. What led me to finally pull the trigger on that first trip to Galapagos Islands was that I had a $1000 USD voucher from an airline that was going to expire in two weeks. Logically, I looked for the farthest destination I could go with the airline voucher and Galapagos Islands fit the bill. Two weeks later, I was in Ecuador and on the yacht to explore the region that inspired Darwin. To be honest, I was also trying to make someone a little jealous. That didn’t work out but the experience expanded my horizons tremendously.
I had never snorkeled before. I had never swam in the ocean with currents and tides. I had canoed but never kayaked and I fell in love with kayaking. I have a bit of fear of water, but I keep selecting water adventures. I had only dreamed of going to the Galapagos one day. And bam, two weeks later I was there.
What’s the one story you keep telling everyone about your trips?
How supportive Wild Women are in supporting you in learning new skills and trying new things. Yet, if for any reason you need to step back, every adventure I’ve had has been able to accommodate that to some degree.
Don’t put off your plans. I had a friend who had retired about 15 years before I did. She had saved her dollars all those years to take her dream vacation with her family to Ireland. She told me that she should have just started right after she retired. While she got to see many of the sites as planned, she ended up canceling out on other plans because she didn’t have the energy or strength she had 15 years earlier. She advised me to start traveling right away. I’ve heeded that advice. It is good advice.
I have a saying. “I’d rather die living than live just to die.” You never know what tomorrow will bring.
What have you accomplished on a Wild Women trip that you never thought possible?
The Great Bear Rainforest was a wilderness experience that challenged me the most but also taught me the most. We paddled nearly 80 nautical miles in 10 days. I learned a level of my own resilience that I did not know I had. I have fallen in love with kayaking but I know it is not something I can confidently do on my own yet.
The snorkeling in Galapagos was phenomenal and swimming with seals and sharks below was amazing. It was great to have guides who knew when an area was above my capabilities. Yet on such a day, where the planned expedition was too rough of water for my skill level, the guide that was taking me to a quieter beach day snorkel opportunity turned into a monumental experience. While I was having a great time on my own, evidently, I was not going very far or anywhere fast. So, using the life ring that I needed to hold onto to keep me from flipping over, the guide ended up towing me around to all the inlets and we saw marvelous sights of penguins and fish and iguanas. How she had the strength to tow me around, I do not know. I was tired just from kicking without enough umph to get me from anywhere other than where I already was.
Do you still keep in touch with anyone from your Wild Women trip?
I’ve not only kept in touch with some, I’ve met up with them when I’ve traveled through their area. Some allowed me to stay a night while I was waiting to catch a flight elsewhere or met up with me and showed me around their towns. In one case, I served as an intermediary to obtain a collectable item that did not ship out of the United States from on-line orders. So she ordered the item, had it sent to me and then I shipped it to her. It was nothing illegal mind you, the company simply didn’t ship items out of USA due to shipping costs.
Name three things you MUST travel with—and we’re not talking about necessities per se, but what’s necessary (but kind of frivolous and luxury) to you?
Number one is my pashmina scarf. When I was in Nepal on a WRC trip, I bought a wool Pashmina long neck scarf/ shawl. It’s lightweight for packing but comes in so handy in carry-on luggage. I can wear it onto the plane as a scarf, use it on my legs or shoulders as a blanket when the plane is in cold higher altitudes or as an extra layer in bed. The pashmina substitutes as a jacket when you deal with warm days but it cools off quickly at night.
Number two is spare eyeglasses and sunglasses along with a travel size bottle of lens cleaner. I’ve never been a shoe hoarder, but I do have several different pairs of eyeglasses and Rx sunglasses. My style can change by my mood or attire. But, being in and around water, I’ve seen people lose sunglasses into their watery grave. I can’t read (or do any fine skills) without my Rx lenses so having a spare set in case of damage or loss is essential to me. Plus, I always have a quick pair to grab if lenses get dirty and I don’t have my handy liquid lens cleaner with me at the moment.
Oh, and Thermacare heat pads! They help keep joints lumber in the morning. If its cold, they also help keep you warm. They remain warm for about 9 – 12 hours.
If flying, my Bose noise-cancelling ear phones are a must. I just bought a new pair, which is also great from watching movies on long flights.
What socks or trail runners or gear do you swear by?
I have a pair of bison Smartwool socks that I like a lot. My socks vary with my activity.
I have a collapsible pair of Leki trekking poles that pack small but are very sturdy.
What destination did you dream of as a child? Have you been there yet?
Kenya. I wanted to be a wildlife vet working in Kenya. I’ve been to Tanzania but not yet made it to Kenya.
Where do you dream of now?
Iceland, Greenland, Norway. Cold climates that are changing so much more rapidly than other parts of the world. The glaciers are disappearing and permafrost is melting. In the 25 years since I lived north of the Arctic Circle, the amount of noticeable changes in the environment makes me worry that I will miss seeing historic and iconic sites.
What travel memoir do you insist that EVERYONE reads? Why?
I don’t think I’ve read a travel memoir. I have read much of Mark Twain’s writings and the Jumping Frogs of Calaveras County tickled my funny bone at an early age. I experienced such an event in Golconda, Nevada. It very much followed the happenings in Mark Twain’s story.
Do you still send postcards?
I’ve never been one to send postcards or letters but I did leave a postcard for myself at Post Office Bay during the Galapagos trip. That postcard was hand-delivered in April 2022, four years after my trip to Galapagos. The guy who had picked up my card along with four others had read my address wrong and tucked it in a drawer thinking he would deliver it someday. Then, by chance of bad weather and his wanting to find a clear spot for watching the lunar eclipse, the closest place for him to go to was the town I actually live in. As he was packing, he remembered the postcard and looked up my phone number and gave me a call. He spent the night camped in my yard, watching the lunar eclipse. It was fun.
Do you collect anything commemorative on your trips as souvenirs?
I don’t collect any one type of thing but I do buy something for memories. It could be a patch, a book, a hat, magnet, whatever. But I try not to collect stuff as a rule. I’ve seem people obsessed with collecting the NPS “passport” stamps. People run into a visitor center, stamp their book showing the date they were there and then leave without even seeing, looking, or experiencing the park.
If you could travel with another woman, who would it be? Where would you go?
I would love to travel with the unsinkable Molly Brown. She was full of adventure and an interest of discovery. She did not let bad experiences deter her from more adventure.
Is there a destination or activity that you’d like to see offered by Wild Women?
Yes–to see the Monarch butterfly wintering grounds in Mexico. You can ride horses up the mountain to the site, so it wouldn’t have to be all hiking the whole way. I’ve actually made contact with a business to do that possibly next year. The prime months for the Monarchs are November to February.
What’s the best part about travelling with Wild Women Expeditions?
No male condescension or competition in learning new skills. I’ve worked with some great guys but I haven’t traveled with any who want to teach you new things. They expect you to know it already, thus the condescension begins that they don’t even see themselves doing it.
I had a friend whose mother just went on a trip last summer. She had been wanting to do this whitewater rafting trip for years. Instead of it being a great trip, the way the men treated her with their disdainful remarks made her think about not traveling again. I told her daughter to check out Wild Women Expeditions.