Adventure trips and retreats can be life-altering experiences, whether you’re an experienced outdoorsperson or new to the world of outdoor adventure. DNK Presents, an outdoor adventure company based in Indiana, organizes and guides adventure retreats for individuals, groups, and businesses. DNK Presents focuses on “getting people to step outside their comfort zones, try something for the first time, and gain confidence through experiential learning and adventures.” Trips include backpacking, mountain bike clinics/camps, yoga retreats, and rock climbing programs, ranging from guided hikes around Indianapolis, local paddling trips on Eagle Creek, to week-long backpacking and yoga retreats in the Grand Canyon, mountain bike rides and clinics in Sedona, Utah, North Carolina. Upcoming spring trips so far include a Yoga and Healing Retreat on Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, a Sedona Women’s Mountain Bike Camp in Arizona, and a Wild Women’s Backpacking Overnight in Indiana.

Participants find these experiences to be educational, empowering, and deeply moving. Michele Anderson relates: “The adventure weekend came a year after I lost my infant son Hudson. I thought I was doing a good job of recovering from that loss, but over the weekend we spent disconnected from our regular lives I realized that I had spent a year existing instead of living. So, for me that weekend in the woods brought me back to life, and I’ve tried my best to keep living ever since.”

We caught up with Danielle Wolter Nolan, who founded DNK Presents with Kate Nolan, to learn more about their experience running an outdoor adventure company, their Live Adventurously Women’s Adventure Contest (in which people can nominate a woman in their life to win a customized backcountry adventure weekend), and the documentary film they produced about the women who won the contest.

What led you to create DNK Presents?

One of the main reasons Kate and I decided to start DNK Presents is that we have a true love of the outdoors and adventure, and knew that our quality of life and wellness was attributed to the time we gave ourselves to get outside and try something new. We were seeing that people were following our lives on social media and wanted in on the fun. Long story short, we started our company so we could provide the same empowering outdoor adventure experiences for others to increase their confidence levels and health and wellness.

How did the idea for the women’s adventure contest come about?

We had been guiding adventures with DNK Presents for about a year and realized that there was a special experience happening on our women’s only trips. Many times these women had never done the activities we were doing; it had been before kids or when they were in college, etc. It was those women who were having breakthrough moments, and overcoming more than just a weekend away from their “life” but reconnecting with themselves through nature, through experience, and finding themselves again. Guiding these trips and hearing the stories of these women inspired us to do something more, the Live Adventurously Women’s Adventure Contest was born. We decided to host this special event that was just for women to give them a chance to win a free customized adventure experience. We asked our followers to nominate a woman and tell us her story and why she deserved to win an adventure. Each year four women win an exclusive 4-day exclusive backcountry adventure in Indiana, they also win over $1,500.00 in free gear so they can continue adventuring after the weekend.

What were some striking stories or common threads from the applications/nominations?

When we asked for nominations we didn’t give any perquisites other than, tell us a woman who could use an adventure in her life. When the nominations started rolling in we were completely overwhelmed with the stories of these women in our communities who had gone through so much. We received stories of women who had overcame severe health challenges, suffered loss of family members, and others that were giving so much to others, and would never take the time for themselves to take an adventure on their own. 

Once we were receiving these incredible stories we soon formed a committee of mentors and trusted friends to read the nominations and provide us feedback of their selections and why. Without them there’s no way we could not have chosen only four women to win!

What was the process of writing and directing the film like?

When directing and producing a documentary there’s not a whole lot of writing since the film stories occur through the women in our case and their experience throughout the long weekend. We definitely had specific questions we asked at certain times before and during the weekend but with a documentary and especially an adventure documentary you don’t know exactly how the film will unfold. We had underlying themes we wanted to show in the film but again we didn’t know how the women would respond to the activities and how their experience would be so it was sort of thrown up in the air, which was really scary! Luckily since Kate and I had been guiding groups we had a good idea that they would undergo a transformational experience, and that is exactly what happened.

I remember in the beginning we thought of a few titles, but when the film was completed those original titles didn’t work. We thought of so many, and nothing was right. Finally we had put in the title “Live Adventurously” at the beginning and watched it and it was so perfect. The title was actually written down in several meetings and notes throughout the process, it’s funny how worried I was about that and then it was sitting in front of me the whole time! 

What surprised you most about the film?

Oh my goodness so many surprises! When you go on an adventure in the first place you really don’t know what will happen, we had never done a contest or filmed a documentary before so Kate and I were going through our own surprises along the way. One of the biggest surprises was how this group connected with each other, we all bonded together so well like we had been friends for years, and are all still really good friends today. I’m surprised that after that the millionth time of watching the film I still laugh and cry and still feel like I am living that weekend with the women. With this adventure and I feel like with a DNK Presents adventure you experience a bond and an emotional connection with people that is unlike any other. It’s hard to explain but I think part of it is unplugging, or disconnecting from technology, and doing something that you are scared to do or something you think you can’t do and then when you do it, it builds your confidence more than ever.

I remember during a pre run practice of the last day of the trip a few weeks before we were setting up and rigging the rappel, it was Kate and I with our good friend Jerry Lyons. He set up the traverse or zip line, and Kate and I rigged the 50 footer and a 150 foot rappel. I remember going down the 150 foot rappel thinking, “I’m not sure if everyone is going to do this” – I’m not too scared of heights and I’m thinking this. By the final day of the adventure weekend these women were absolutely fearless, I think we could’ve asked them to jump off a bridge or out of an airplane and they would’ve done it, we built them up so much and they all were building each other up throughout the weekend by the end they were unstoppable. Most of our camera crew that day were guys and they were actually more scared than the women. I knew there would be a transformation they would all undergo but I didn’t realize it would happen so quickly, it was amazing to see.

Who or what encourages you in the women’s outdoor media landscape?

Before I answer this question I have to back up and say that when we first began developing the women’s adventure contest we thought, wouldn’t it be great if not only we did this contest but that we documented the women who won and their experience. I found that many women had been inspired to take one of our trips because they had seen the videos of trips we had guided that summarized our adventures. Women would say, “I never thought I could do a trip with you but then I saw the women in your videos and I thought, if they can do it, I can do it” – sometimes seeing is believing. We then began researching women and adventure films, and from independent film festivals to Hollywood we found a staggeringly low number of films, we honestly practically found none, which inspired us even more to make our documentary film, “Live Adventurously.”

One of the Hollywood films that had just came out was “Wild” based on the book by Cheryl Strayed, the main character from the book, Strayed, was played by Reese Witherspoon. In the media space I would say Witherspoon is an inspiration since she started a production company, Hello Sunshine (subsidiary Pacific Standard) that focuses on strong female characters and content for women in TV and film, some include “Gone Girl”, “Wild”, and “Big Little Lies”.

Sarah Moshman, a woman I got to speak with earlier this year about her work directed a powerful documentary film this year called “Losing Sight of Shore”. The film follows the women who rowed across the Pacific Ocean from California to Australia, nine months at sea and 8,000 miles to cross. The film, and the way Sarah captured their stories is so impactful, it’s available now on Netflix, check it out!

And of course in the digital and magazine media landscape Misadventures is our favorite!

What do you want women adventurers to know about outdoor experiences in the Heartland, specifically?

Indiana isn’t just made up of cornfields and basketball, even though I love corn and basketball! Not only in Indiana but in the Midwest we have some amazing landscape here. Brown County State park is consistently ranked in the top ten for some of the best single-track mountain biking in the U.S. Indiana has 2 backcountry trails, the Knob Stone and the Tecumseh trail, and currently the Hoosier Hikers Council – a volunteer group that builds and maintains the trails are connecting the two trails, so soon Indiana will have over a 100 mile backcountry trail throughout the state. The Indiana Dunes are amazing, Turkey Run has some of our favorite hikes, Hoosier National Forest is serene and beautiful, there are so many ways to adventure here I think you would be surprised.

What’s next for DNK Presents?

We are so grateful and fortunate that this year we have hired 10 part time guides in the backpacking, mountain biking and rock climbing areas to expand and be able to offer more adventures. Our biggest plan currently is developing scheduling out our 2018 calendar with our guides and working on how we can provide the best outdoor experience for our guests.

We are gearing up for another women’s adventure contest as well. We accept nominations Jan. 1 – Feb. 26th, if you are not in Indiana and want to nominate a woman who needs adventure or you’re a guide and want to bring a contest to your area please let us know. We are currently in the process of starting a non-profit that will host women’s adventure experiences in different areas across the country.

We are also scheduling screenings for the film, “Live Adventurously”, in and outside of Indiana. Kate and I are really excited to inspire women and young girls to get outside, try something for the first time and build confidence and empowerment through outdoor adventures. We are so grateful to be able to share the film with audiences across the country so we can continue the conversation of living adventurously.

For more about DNK Presents, check out their website, the Live Adventurously Women’s Adventure Contest, and their acclaimed Live Adventurously documentary film.