We recently had the pleasure of hosting Ashley Manning in our Asheville office. The first thing you notice about Ashley is her outpouring of positivity – Ashley’s smile is infectious; she’s open and honest in her stories and also when it comes to talking about working in the outdoor industry.
This month, she was kind enough to join us for Coffee Talk with Darby. Ashley opens up to share a bit about her life as a guide, an outdoor industry influencer, and a teacher as well as why, after all of her travels, she chose to settle back down in the South.
Ashley, you are quite the outdoor adventurer. When did you first discover your love for the rivers and trails?
When I was younger my father would take me hiking and walking in the woods. I lived out in the mountains of North Georgia and grew up exploring the woods that surrounded me with my friends. Although, I didn’t find the peace and love I feel now for mountains and rivers until I got into college. Around 2013, my friend Karter took me rafting for the first time. It was over! I had a goal to become a guide because I thought it was cool. What I didn’t know was that it was going to turn into a passion for me.
We know you’re a very gifted raft guide and you’ve paddled all over the country. Is there a particular river that has amazed you with its surprisingly decent whitewater or unassuming beauty?
Thank you! That’s so sweet. While I have a soft spot in my heart for the Chattooga River because it’s where I started falling in love with rivers, I think I am constantly in awe of the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. It’s probably why I keep trying to make my way back there each year!
We love following your feed @ashleysadventure. We’re curious, did you hope to become an outdoor industry influencer at the onset of your social journey, or did it just happen organically?
No, I didn’t hope or ever think I would ever gain a following like I have! It began in 2018 while I was hiking on the Appalachian Trail. I’ve tried very hard to stay as authentic as possible because it was never really my intention or style to grab followers. I like making funny videos and I like posting about the knowledge I have gained from this lifestyle. Mainly in hopes that someone like my younger self sees it and feels inspired.
You are such a trailblazer on social media, and we admire your authenticity and transparency in all that you do. Is there an outdoor industry trailblazer that you admire?
That’s so nice! I think a few of my favorite trailblazers are Drew Hulsey (@drewclimbswalls), Jenny Bruso (@unlikelyhikers), Tommy Corey (@allhumansoutside), Zach Darden (@thefirst_blackbandit), Jolie Varela (@jolievarela and @indigenouswomenhike), and Tasheon Chillous (@chilltash)!
For others that are interested in becoming an influencer in the outdoor space, what is one piece of advice you would pass along?
Honestly? Just be yourself. To be honest, I didn’t know what I was doing so I couldn’t do anything but be me. Eventually, I did learn that the algorithm is weird and biased, but if you post consistently and post about things you’re passionate about, you’ll be happy and thrive.
We understand you recently took a teaching position with a school that supports youth with ADHD and autism. What has been the most rewarding aspect of this new role?
I’m here at the school as I type this! HA! I love being with them and opening their eyes to the boxes that they’ve been put in and that they believe others have been put in. I’ve got the Fat Girls Hiking book out and about within the school. It’s great to have conversations with all of them individually about different aspects of life. These kids are intelligent! Might as well help push them in the right direction with love for the environment, self-love, and unlearning a lot of difficult topics that society has taught them.
Congrats are being included in Women and Water by Gale Straub, Noel Russell, Hailey Hirst! Can you share something with us from your conversation with these prolific writers?
I was incredibly honored to be featured in this book and included in this project. A lot of the conversation is based around being a whitewater professional and body positivity. I appreciate that they reached out.
Also, exciting news…we understand you are writing a book! Any chance you could provide us with a sneak peek of what readers will discover?
Yes! I’m in the beginning phases of it, but I’m so excited about it! Essentially, it’s stories shared by outdoor professionals with a sneak peek into the people behind the curtains. There’s a lot more to your rafting trip than what you see!
After meeting you in person, we can tell you are a genuinely happy person, which validates why you are always smiling in your posts. What’s your secret to staying so positive?
I guess I really just don’t like being bummed or sad, to be honest. I’m just like everyone else in the fact that I do get depressed, and sometimes I am slow at processing sad or hard situations. However, I try my best to see the positive in most circumstances, but I don’t deny myself the feeling of sadness since it’s probably there for a reason. When I am down, I go find myself in the wild and soak in the smell of moss and the blue sky. Feeling small makes me feel that my issues aren’t as bad as I think.
Now for some fun questions!
Tacos or pizza?
Pizza! I once hiked an entire pizza out of town when I was on the Appalachian Trail!
What was your top song on your Spotify Wrapped in 2022?
Trampoline by Yani Mo. Yani Mo is a black, queer artist that’s helping redefine country and Appalachian music.
The South or out West?
As much as I love exploring and adventuring in the West, I love love love the South. In my opinion, I feel that the outdoor culture here in the south is beautiful and authentic in so many ways. I love Appalachia and I especially love the New South ideals. Often, I’ve felt that there are a lot of places out West that have been “loved to death.” In the south, the landscapes are older and more worn down. There’s so much history to learn about. These mountains out here talk to you.
What book did you read in the past year that you’d recommend?
I re-read The Hobbit every year! It’s my favorite “get into the mood for adventure” book!
Beer or coffee?
Don’t make me pick! Probably a yummy coffee though.
Final question, where will Ashley adventure in 2023?
I will spend the first part of 2023 at the academy but then head to Utah for a backpacking trip in the spring. West Virginia again for a season of whitewater come summer! Then I have a feeling there might be another big adventure when the Gauley Season ends out in West Virgina… Y’all will have to stay tuned and see!
Find Ashley online at: