Katherine Donnelly | 05.25.2018

As part of Outdoor Project's Women In the Wild series this summer, I have had the honor of working with outdoor women from all over the industry to dig a bit deeper into who they are, how they got to where they are now, how they approach the outdoors, and more. These women are all rad in their own right, regardless of where they come from, what they look like, or how "badass" they might be. Whether they're mothers, daughters, sisters, professional athletes, beginners, weekend warriors, "instafamous," or anywhere in-between, their unique stories, journeys, opinions, and perspectives are incredibly valuable and insightful as Outdoor Project - and the industry as a whole - progresses and evolves to become more inclusive to every type of outdoors person. 

Through in-depth and often thought-provoking interviews, I hope to highlight these women's stories, their work, their adventures, and so much more with an eye toward giving them their well-deserved share of the spotlight while inspiring and empowering even more women to get outside!

In this feature we talk to Ashley Risacher. 

If you're ever in need of moral support, motivation, or just a good time in the outdoors, look no further than this Woman In The Wild. Get the full scoop below.

Photo from Ashley Risacher.

OP: Give us the skinny on who Ashley Risacher is.

Ashley Risacher: I’m a woman who wants others to have the experience of an adventure! I’m a reading specialist, yoga instructor, SUP yoga instructor and guide, adventure coach, backpacker, and trail runner. Supporting people is my jam, whether it’s helping students learn to read, giving hands on assists in yoga, or helping women find their next adventure in life.

OP: When did you first know that you were going to spend your life in the outdoors?

Ashley Risacher: I grew up playing in Mother Nature’s playground camping, fishing, boating with my dad. However, I fell in love with mountains, trails, and the badass feeling of reaching a summit back in 2013 when my cousin invited me on my first backpacking trip to Mount Mansfield in Vermont. It was life-changing, and I want everyone to have that experience!

OP: What does it mean to you to be a woman in the outdoor industry?

Ashley Risacher: Being a woman in the outdoor industry is extremely empowering. I feel like not too long ago, many women, especially younger women, saw the outdoors as something for the guys, but that’s shifting. In the last few years, I’ve seen so many women ranging in age get themselves outside, whether they brought a friend along or found a local group, more and more women are getting curious about tossing on a pack and hitting the trails. Being a part of that and supporting others as they do so is the tops!

OP: What has the outdoors done for you, and how do you pay it back?

Ashley Risacher: The outdoors has given me the opportunity to take some time for myself and heal whatever needed to be healed in the lowest moments of my life. It has put me up against elements I never thought I could get through and showed me that I had more power inside of myself to either physically or mentally get through the barriers that came up. I am an adventure seeker with anxiety. On a biological level, my brain is wired to worry about things that may or may not happen in the future. However, I willingly put myself in the outdoors where so many things can and do go wrong, but I need it.  

The trees and trail teach me how to manage it. They help me heal that part of me and keep it in check so I never let fear keep me from all of the good things. To pay it back, I’ve been inviting several people to day hike and go on backpacking trips with me, teaching them to Leave No Trace, and giving them the opportunity to fall in love with wild spaces. I have donated money and time to programs and national parks and have most recently applied to be a Wild Keeper, which will have me cleaning up trash on my local trails each month.

OP: Conservation and protection of our public lands are central themes in today’s outdoor recreation narrative. As someone who spends a significant amount of time outdoors and on public lands, what role do you think outdoor enthusiasts should play in this evolving conversation and landscape?

Ashley Risacher: I’m going to come at this question from a teacher standpoint in a country where public education has lost a significant amount of value. I believe that outdoor enthusiasts should have a much larger role in the conversation and action plans around conservation and landscape just like I believe teachers and educators should be the ones leading the front on educating our children. Not politicians. Not dollar signs. The ones who are out there in the field, the literal field, should have a voice in these topics because they are living it.

OP: Who has inspired you along the way?

Ashley Risacher: My cousin, Kim, who invited me on my first backpacking trip, is a huge inspiration. We’re so alike, and if it wasn’t for her invitation, I don’t know if I’d be where I am today with the adventures I’ve had since that first trip logged in my experience.

OP: What does adventure mean to you?

Ashley Risacher: Adventure to me means willingly choosing to step into an opportunity without having any control over what could happen, but still enjoying and taking in the experience along the way.  

OP: What mantra or set of words do you live by?

Ashley Risacher: “Adventure inspires adventure!”

OP: What is one thing that you never leave home without?

Ashley Risacher: I never leave home without my Hydro Flask water bottle!

OP: Let’s talk gear: What are your thoughts on women-specific gear? Love it, hate it? Are there any companies out there doing it right? And how so? When does it matter to you most to have gear specific to women versus unisex products?

Ashley Risacher: Women-specific gear is totally cool in my book as long as it’s in the design. I hate when the same style of shoe or shell comes in awesome colors for men and gender-specific colors for women.

Companies doing it right in terms of aesthetics are Cotopaxi, Arc’teryx, Keen, and Solomon. The only time gender specific gear plays a big roll for me is in the fit. The company I absolutely love for this is Osprey. My multi-day pack and hydro vest both are made specifically for women, both are not “girl” colors, and both fit perfectly for my body type. No matter how you swing it, women are built differently from men. When a company knows how to create a product that has gender specific products but are universally five stars, it’s a winner!

OP: What is the greatest piece of advice or direction that you’ve ever received, and what’s the story behind it?

Ashley Risacher: The best advice I ever received was from my late dad. I can’t give you one specific quote for this because it was how he raised me as a whole. My dad always taught me to march to the beat of my own drum. To always try something out and see it through before deciding whether or not to keep it in your life. My childhood was not just one staple. My childhood was camping, fishing, soccer, throwing a baseball on the street, playing street hockey, sledding on a school night at 10 p.m., playing NHL 93 and Sonic the Hedgehog, riding horses, camp, amusement parks, museums, and so much more. He was the best example of a supportive parent, and his love and support led me to where I am today.

OP: If you could give one piece of advice to yourself when you were just starting out as an outdoor adventurer, what would it be?

Ashley Risacher: My advice to myself would be: In all of the moments you feel lost or broken, get yourself in the woods because the trees and the trails will heal you.

OP: In a world seemingly run by online personas, how do you approach social media, and how does it play into your lifestyle - both work and play?

Ashley Risacher: I was so torn on this for a minute. Do I stay focused on just my business and share related to that? Do I separate my accounts so one is personal and one is a business page and one is a fitness page? Do I continue posting big, long posts trying to engage people with lofty wording or super deep questions?  After a lot of “do I’s…” I came to the conclusion that my business is me so there is no separation. When something big is happening in my personal life, I share it. When something big is happening in my business, I share it. I think that it supports being authentic and calling in those that align with my “why” in comparison to being Insta-famous or having huge amounts of likes without any engagement.

OP: What’s next for you in the coming months and years?

Ashley Risacher: I’m getting ready to be on summer break so I can put all of my focus on coaching others in their adventures while having my own. My husband and I were going to do Mount Washington in July but decided to do the entire Presidential Traverse instead! In the coming years, I’m hoping we start a family and continue the adventures with our kids. I want them to grow with the experiences it took me 23 years to find and fall in love with. In time I’m aiming to be a thru-hiker. The AT, PCT, and PNT are the big guys on my watch.

OP: The title of your autobiography would be:

Ashley Risacher: “Do We Have Any Trail Mix?!”

OP: In your next life, you will come back as...

Ashley Risacher: A bear! 100%!

OP: Tell us one thing about yourself that no one knows.

Ashley Risacher: Last summer, my husband and I started trying to have a baby. Thinking it would happen right away, I started to think about what I was willing to give up for a baby and what would change in our lives. I was ready to put my dreams of thru-hiking on the bucket list of things I just had to let go of. Then we went to lunch at our favorite local spot. We were sitting at the bar and ended up talking to the group of people next to us. I learned that one of the guys we met had a mom who had finished the PCT a few years back, and at that moment she was on the AT. She was doing it. She was a mom who was making her dreams real, and even though her children were getting married, she still managed to plan her trip so she could step off of the trail, attend the wedding, celebrate, and get back on. It was so inspiring, and it immediately threw my dream of being a thru-hiker back on my list with no plans if it ever coming off. I never told anyone I was willing to give up that dream. I also never told anyone that a women I’ve never met inspired me to hold onto it.

OP: If our readers were to take one thing from this interview, what would you like it to be?

Ashley Risacher: I’d want them to know that adventure inspires adventure. Find a person or a group of people who are doing amazing things, connect with them, join them if possible, and go out and have your own adventure to inspire someone else!

Learn more about Ashley and her work by checking out her Facebook Group, and follow along on her adventures through Facebook or Instagram.


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