Katherine Donnelly | 07.12.2018

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 Danielle Wolter Nolan and Kate Nolan.

This outdoor power couple has dedicated their lives to getting more people outside and immersed with nature through a wide range of adventures including mountain biking, hiking, rock climbing, and yoga retreats. Each of these Women In the Wild share their stories here; get the full scoop below.

OP: Give us the skinny on who Danielle Wolter Nolan and Kate Nolan are.

Danielle: I refer to myself as an adventurista. I love getting dirty and playing in the woods, but I also have a respect for “glamping” and eco-friendly cabins nestled in the jungle or wilderness. I grew up in the outdoors in southern Indiana, and I was a competitive athlete. I played golf in college and then went on to coach at the Division 1 level. In addition to being a wilderness guide and professional mountain bike instructor, I am certified in yoga, Thai massage, and I am a Reiki master. I love getting to incorporate nature into all aspects of healing and the mind body connection. I led our first international DNK Presents retreat this year in Guatemala, and it was absolutely magical. It was filled with yoga and adventure in one of most beautiful places on the planet.

Kate: I love playing outside. I grew up in the Detroit area and escaped to the the woods as often as possible. When I couldn’t get away, I was riding and racing BMX. My parents raised us going to national parks. I took my first backpacking trip in the Smoky Mountains with my older siblings at age 12. I love being a guide, professional mountain bike instructor, climber, and Trek Bicycle Women’s Advocate. My passion is empowering others through adventure and seeing the joy and confidence that brings.

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

Danielle: I’m not sure if I ever completely knew when I would be spending my career outdoors, but after graduating from college, even getting my first retail job, I remember thinking that my life was completely different from the days I spent hours outside. I transitioned into a more corporate job and found myself wanting more of a scheduled outdoor regimen. I got into running and biking, and then I met Kate, and she got me onto the racing scene. I was never a big runner, although I still enjoy it. I really fell in love with mountain biking. It wasn’t long before we started taking our own adventures of mountain biking, backpacking, rock climbing, whitewater rafting, and more. We really began to make our own lives a big adventure, and we noticed that our friends and others started noticing and wanting to know more about our adventures, but they felt they lacked knowledge, gear, or people to go with. This sparked an idea in our heads, and eventually we formed DNK Presents to provide a safe, fun environment for people to get outside, try something new, and gain confidence through the great outdoors.

Kate: I have made time for nature my entire life. The woods have always called to me. My dream has always been to be a guide, and I truly enjoy it. I’m super grateful for all of the amazing opportunities I have had with our company, and I'm grateful for the chance to work to get more women on bikes as a Trek Advocate and a guide for Trek Bicycle. I'm grateful for Roam Events, Outdoor Project, and I'm grateful to be coaching for Moab Mountain Bike Instruction and Poison Spider Bikes. I don’t know where I’d be without my connection to the outdoors. It’s helped me excel in my career and overcome many obstacles in my life, including the loss of my mother to cancer when I was 19.

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

Danielle: I am so proud to be a woman guide and leader in the outdoor industry. I didn’t notice until Kate and I started getting our certifications, but we were definitely outnumbered being women and in the LGBTQ+ family. Fortunately that number is increasing for people of color in the outdoors as well. As we’ve grown our company since 2014, we have focused on women’s empowerment and getting more women outdoors. We do this by offering women-only or women-specific events. In 2016 we started a Womens’s Adventure Giveaway, where four very deserving women win an exclusive four-day wilderness adventure guided by myself and Kate. We secure sponsors, and the women also get over $1,500 in free gear from organizations such as Trek Bicycle, KEEN, Shredly, ENO, Alps Mountaineering, and several local spots like Rusted Moon Outfitters and Big Woods Brewery. The women must be nominated to win this unique experience, and many times they are completely surprised to hear about the giveaway and that they were nominated.

We started this event because we saw many women that didn’t believe they could do these activities, would never take the time for themselves, or simply just needed an adventure in their life. We are so excited to expand the giveaway to the Chattanooga area in 2019; if you are in that area, make sure to nominate a woman you know who could use an adventure in her life beginning January 1! You can see the past winners from our giveaway on our website. In 2016 we produced and directed an award-winning documentary film, “Live Adventurously,” that follows the women who won the inaugural Women’s Adventure Giveaway. You can see the trailer and learn more about the event on the website here.

Kate: It’s badass and amazing to be a woman in the outdoors. We are outnumbered by men, we do get recognized as participants sometimes before we are introduced, it’s great. Emily Bremer at Trek once told me, “Empowered women empower other women!” I think I do that, and I believe that Danielle and I are also empowering others in the LGBTQ community by living out, proud, and by being leaders in our professions. The women’s adventure giveaway is hands-down our favorite offering every year, and we are excited to bring it to the Chattanooga area. Perhaps one day we can bring it across the nation and impact women everywhere.

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

Danielle: The outdoors has given me so much. Kate and I talk a lot about how rewarding it is to guide women, show them their capabilities, and watch them increase their confidence on and off the trail. Don’t get me wrong; it takes a lot of hours of planning and hard work leading up to trips. There are permits, logistics, and countless other tasks to take care of. But the reward, giving the gift of adventure to others, is really invaluable to us. That was one reason we really started the Women’s Adventure Giveaway. We wanted to give back to those women who would never do something like this for themselves, who feel like they couldn’t, or who had been through a life changing experience and needed a weekend with inspiring women in the outdoors. We have seen so many women go on to summit peaks, get excited and buy gear, plan their next big adventure, teach their kids, and take their family on a trip.

Kate: The outdoors has made me stronger, happier, more resourceful, and patient. It has strengthened my relationship with my wife and cultivated some amazing friendships. It’s done more for me than I could ever put in to words. I try to pay it forward by offering free weekly rides. We also offer free monthly hikes to get more women outside, the DNK Presents Women’s Adventure Giveaway, and every January we co-host a women’s ride and free mountain bike clinic underground at the Louisville Mega Cavern. This year we had 108 women attend from six states.

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?

Danielle: Kate and I received our Leave No Trace trainer affiliation a couple years ago, and I think it really opened our eyes to what more we could do as guides leading sustainable trips and teaching our participants the same. We also have trainer sessions for kids so they can learn to keep parks and outdoor places beautiful for generations to come.

Kate: Conservation is so important. We all need places for solitude and to recreate in the outdoors. We need to make sure these lands are protected us and for future generations.

OP: Who has inspired you along the way?

Danielle: So many people inspire me. I would say my wife inspires me first! She works so hard at our many jobs, and she still kills it on the bike – I got to where I am today because I’ve been chasing her for a while now! I’m inspired by the men and women who have taught us to be better leaders, guides, or simply better mountain bikers. Kate and I still take mountain bike clinics – there is always something to improve on. Specific women that come to mind are Candace Shadley, founder of The Trek Dirt Series; Leigh Donovon, famous downhill racer and founder of I Choose Bikes; Kristian Jackson, my first teacher and coach for the PMBIA. What’s amazing is that all of these people are badasses and have pushed me to become a better rider and coach myself – can’t thank them enough! I think I am most inspired by the women who come on our trips, though, especially the ones who are nominated and have won our Women’s Adventure Giveaway. Many of them have overcome so many other obstacles, and to see what they do with us is something I think about when I am struggling or feeling defeated. I love them all so much!

Kate: Now, this is fun! My dad; He exposed me to so much as I was growing up, and he always encouraged me to believe in myself and pursue my passions. My wife; she’s taught me balance through yoga and meditation, and she’s always up to try new adventure sports like hang gliding. Erin Wells of Muddy Pedals; she’s ER Pediatric Nurse, mother of three, wife, Trek Advocate, and one hell of an awesome mountain biker and instructor. Kristian Jackson; he is an amazing rider, coach, mentor, and Professional Mountain Bike Instructor Course Provider. Ash Bocast of Roam Events; she invested her retirement to offer Roam Events and Roam Retreats to women across the U.S. She’s a joy to be around...more fun than an 80s dance party and sparklers.

OP: What does adventure mean to you?

Danielle: Adventure is going into the unknown, pushing beyond your comfort zone, overcoming the unexpected, and being at peace with how it all unfolds.

Kate: Adventure means living, challenging yourself, embracing the moment, and believing in yourself.

OP: What does the term "badass" mean to you?

Danielle: Badass means giving it your all, pushing yourself more than you have before, crying, bleeding, hurting, falling down and getting back up. Being a badass is failing A LOT and then showing everyone else how it’s done because you’ve done it wrong so many times that now you’ve got this!

Kate: Setting the standard, pushing yourself, being passionate, getting back up when you fail, learning from your mistakes, and overcoming obstacles. It also means sharing that knowledge, that ability to strengthen those around you. So, you have to be super cool to be a badass and a total riot to be around.

OP: How have you managed to align your career with your passion for the outdoors? And do you have any advice for someone who is looking to do the same?

Danielle: I made a decision when I was at my former full-time job. I was so passionate for DNK Presents and getting people to live adventurously that I took that leap, and I knew in my heart I needed to do it. It was scary, and it still is; it’s a lot of grind, a lot of jobs, and when you’re a new business, you’re the CEO and every other employee. It's all worth it because we get to guide and meet people, and I know one day soon it will all come together. We hired 10 part-time guides last year, so we are on our way. If you are wanting to move to the outdoor industry or change careers so you can live a more adventurous life, I would start by thinking about what you envision the big picture would look like, then work backward from there. Then make steps to get to that big picture; keep moving back until you get to that first step, and start from there. It’s the trail less traveled, but those are the best ones, anyway!

Kate: I love the outdoors, and people see that passion in my smile, laugh, my photos, and my energy. I had the passion and the drive and share that with my wife, so together we supported each other to answer our calls to the wild. If you love the outdoors, follow your heart, your passion, and take the steps to get the proper experience, education and certifications. We offer internships at DNK Presents. I have volunteered to coach when I was starting out as a mountain bike instructor for the Dirst Series, the Bluegrass Women’s Mountain Bike Clinic, and other organizations and events to gain experience and build my reputation. Just believe in yourself and you’ll find a way.

OP: We are seeing a shift in what the term woman or female might bring to mind (size, shape, sexuality, gender identification, etc.), both in the outdoor community and throughout the world. What does being a woman mean to you? Femininity?

Danielle: I identify myself as a queer female and outdoor industry business owner, and I am so proud of that! I was lucky to grow up with outdoors as part of my life. It didn’t make you any less or more of a woman to play in the dirt or wear different clothes, and it didn't matter who you loved. I love sleeping outdoors, wearing the same socks for days, and bathing in lakes, but I also definitely love wearing dresses and doing my hair and makeup for a night out with my wife. Being a woman today is all of this to me, and so much more.

Kate: I believe everyone has a place in the outdoors. It’s amazing to see more diversity, and we all deserve to be there without judgment. I’m fortunate to guide lots of women’s empowerment trips through DNK Presents. So, we see women of all shapes and sizes. This spring, Danielle and I were super fortunate to guide for The Venture Out Project and train with their guides from across the country. The LGBTQ community needs more of this. It was amazing to see how much fun we all had together building a strong outdoor community where we could all learn in a fun and safe environment. It was my first time guiding a queer trip; we used pronouns with introductions, and it was enlightening.

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

Danielle: Om Mani Padme Hum, which to me means seeing and loving yourself as you are. “Adapt and overcome," from my friend and badass mountain biker friend, Michelle Thiry.

Kate: You are loved, inspired, strong and fun, so share it with the world. Ha! I’m going to second Michelle Thiry’s quote, “Adapt and overcome.” Michelle is a friend, Trek Women’s Advocate, retired Phoenix Police Detective, and you guessed it, badass.

OP: In a perfect world, what does the outdoors (the people, the places, the community as a whole, etc.) look like to you? And what can outdoor brands and media companies, such as Outdoor Project, do better to help get us there?

Danielle: In a perfect world the outdoors is accessible to all, regardless of location and funds. It is filled with people of color, queer folks, men, women, young, old, and people of different ethnicities and cultures. The people are loving, kind, and find ways to intermingle and learn about each other through outdoor adventures – the best way to meet people! Community is built, friendships are formed, and memories are made under starlit skies and over a crackling campfire.

Organizations can make more opportunities to get a broader diversity of people outside by researching and finding who is already out there and then writing, posting, sharing photos about who they are and what the outdoors means to them. Many people literally can't see people like themselves outside, which makes it hard to imagine what it would be like for them go outdoors, especially if they are already trying something for the first time. But if they see others like them, they already feel more comfortable, and hopefully they will continue to live life outdoors. You can do things like what Outdoor Project is doing with the Women in the Wild campaign, interviewing a diverse group of women to talk about their experiences as outdoor women.

Kate: It looks like a place for everyone, and it is accessible to all. It would be great to see more programming in education to get more people outside. We learn empathy, build character, confidence and lasting friendships outside. We need to get more people off of the couch, out of the bars, and into the woods. There’s a need inside all of us to explore, to challenge ourselves, and to feel that accomplishment of completing a hike, a ride, summiting a peak, or traveling through a wild cave. It’s good for the soul. It would be great to see more organizations getting involved in community events for the minorities, underserved communities, and of course the LGBTQ community. Getting outside is healing; it boosts our moods, and makes us all better people in general. If we could all find a way to come together and make that happen, that would be amazing.

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

Danielle: I have to say my Diva Cup! There is a learning curve, but I am SO glad I now have it figured out. Waste control, natural flow, safe, comfortable, and so many more reasons why I love it!

Kate: This is tough. On the bike, I have to have my Five Tens. I love riding flat pedals. In the backcountry, it would have to be my hydration bladder. Three liters, baby!

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?

Danielle: About half of my gear is unisex or male, the other half female. I’ve found with my body type and oddly shaped feet, I usually get men’s or unisex if they have it. Although I do love my women-specific items, I think industries need to realize that women and men come in all sizes and shapes, and we like earthy tones and bright colors. I love my female-specific clothes from Athleta’s trekkie line, KEEN shoes are so comfortable for me since I have wide feet, and Shredly makes my favorite fun adventure clothing for everything I love to do outside, including yoga!

Kate: I’m not a girly girl by any means. I have short hair, wear men's and women’s clothing. I do have long arms, long legs, and a short torso, so I like the women-specific backpacks. My Osprey fits me perfectly. As for bikes, I have a women’s specific Trek Remedy 9.8, which came in an awesome purple lotus, and I’m proud to say it has the same sick components as the men’s version but with women-specific saddle and grips. I do wear men’s Five Tens when I bike; the colors are way more rad. My helmet is unisex. I drank the Kool-Aid.

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

Danielle: Since I was young and an athlete, my dad instilled in my sister and me John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success. Many times I go back to the Pyramid to find inspiration.

Kate: Growing up and doing things like BMX, my dad always said not to ever let anyone tell me that I could not do something because I was a girl. He also told me not to do it half-assed because everyone would be watching me since I am girl.

OP: If you could give one piece of advice to yourself when you were just starting out with DNK Presents, what would it be?

Danielle: Don’t listen too much to what other people are telling you to do. Make sure each decision aligns with your overall end goal.

Kate: Everyone will have an opinion on what you should do. Listen to them because what doesn’t bend breaks. But always stay true to your vision.

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?

Danielle: Social media is something we definitely utilize in our business to increase our business growth. At the same time, we encourage people to disconnect from technology and reconnect with themselves through nature on our adventure trips. It is so important to make time for us to unplug from the constant feed of social media. I do believe we give out so much positivity on our social media accounts. It makes me happy to share photos, videos, or stories of DNK Presents or people on our trips who tried something new or had an awesome weekend with us, and we see those posts inspire others to get outside and try something new - that’s what it’s all about.

Kate: I enjoy social media and sharing photos on Facebook and Instagram. It doesn’t feel like work to me, sharing the stoke and fun. Our social media presence is very real, what you get is what you see, no smoke and mirrors.

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

Danielle: Personally, Kate and I are building a new home closer to one of the parks where we host events and recreate a lot, so we are super excited to be out in the country and closer to the wilderness. DNK Presents is growing; we just guided for another amazing company this year, The Venture Out Project, which guides trips for people in the LGBTQ community. It was awesome, and we are looking forward to doing more with them. We have trained some new women guides this year and are offering more trips in and outside of Indiana, and we are expanding the Women’s Adventure Giveaway. If you have a desire to bring this event to your community, please reach out to us!

Kate: We have Campside Sessions mountain bike camps coming up in Toledo, Ohio, Brown County, Indiana, and Stokesville, Virginia. We also have two backpacking trips coming up in Shades State Park and along the Tecumseh Trail in Morgan Monroe State Forest. We are in post-production for a second film that was filmed, directed and produced by women for women. We are working on a Queer Adventure Weekend in Moab with TVOP. We’d love to bring the giveaway to more women across the country and eventually beyond.

OP: The title of your autobiography would be...

Danielle: Switchbacks, Stories of a Trail Guide.

Kate: Send It.

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

Danielle: A body of water – someplace exotic.

Kate: A redwood tree.

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

Danielle: I still sometimes care too much about what others think of me!

Kate: I got my black belt in Tae Kwon Do when I was 12.

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

Danielle: I hope it inspired others to try something for the first time.

Kate: Your life should be greatest adventure. Now, go chase those dreams.

Follow along on Danielle and Kate's adventures on Instagram (Danielle + Kate), Facebook (Danielle + Kate), and Twitter (Danielle + Kate) - plus, learn more about DNK Presents and the Live Adventurously film. 


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