Creating Access, Knowledge and Community in the Outdoors: Interview with Mandela from WheelzUp Adventures

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Access, knowledge and community. Three things that are crucial to the outdoor community. The outdoors is a space that brings numerous mental and physical benefits, but it’s also a space that many people are intimidated by. Mandela of Wheelzup Adventures aims to change that.

We believe that adventure is not only essential, but that it has powerful and positive impacts on people’s lives. What inspired you to start Wheelzup Adventures to introduce (or reintroduce) people to the outdoors?

I am fortunate to be able to pinpoint when exactly I fell in love with the outdoors. I was driving out of the little town I was working in to go to the city like I did every weekend. This time however, it was at the beginning of fall, and I can up to this overlook and the view was so commanding, I pulled over in awe and watched it for 15 minutes. That day, I decided to start getting outside, I started hiking, biking, skiing, paddling and many more. 

The outdoors is a place that does not judge you for how you look, sounds, walk, it gives if you are open to receive. We started this shop as a means to live the type of life we want to live while sharing with others the gift of getting outside. 

How do you see outdoor adventures as beneficial to people’s lives, and the community as a whole? 

The things I feel we suffer from is progress. Progress in everything has a societal cost. It cost time, attention, intimacy. With progress, our margins in life, those little buffers of time and space where we are reenergized and healed are lost. Going outdoors helps with that. It gives a bit of quiet too, to smell the roses. It gives us perspective that life is bigger than our tiny corner. 

What are some of the barriers that exist in the outdoor community today? How do you hope to inspire change and give more people access to outdoor activities?

There are barriers from internal to external. On the internal side, I find that a lot of people are great at asking and even acknowledging that there is need for more diversity in the outdoor, alas, they wait for some miraculous fix. I ask those people how many people who don’t look like you have you personally invited, outfitted, empowered to go outside.

Just imagine if 100 people commit to take someone who does not look like or can’t afford to go outdoors a season. The answer is you and me, not something else. 

On the external side: I am not a “tree hugger” or anything like that, but I clearly see our planet changing, winters coming late, summer lasting longer, less wildlife. We need to do more to protect wild spaces. 

Owning and operating a small adventure business can come with so many challenges, especially during a pandemic! But we believe that obstacles can make us stronger! What are some of the setbacks, lessons, and opportunities that you faced during these times? 

Most of our setback “opportunities” have been the things you would expect for any new business – ordering the wrong product, ordering too much or too little, finding staff, getting over the challenge of asking people to choose to buy from you and not Amazon. The lessons however have been great – people are not looking to be sold to, people are looking for community and that is one thing we do well. We have learned that the newbie must feel comfortable when they walk in your shop, same with the seasoned pro. As we say “it’s all about people.” 

At Wheelzup, we do everything via 3 pillars – Access, Knowledge and Community. We have learnt that if what we are trying to do does not satisfy and align with one of these, then it’s always short-leaved or not fun. Inspiring ourselves is what we want. Zig Ziegler says “You have to be before you can do, you have to do before you can have, and you have to have before you can give.”

What are some of your goals for promoting outdoor adventure in a post-pandemic world? 

Our goals are to create a viable movement that can not only enrich the lives of our team and customers, but also be a driving force in revitalizing our community in Western Maryland and all of Appalachia. We will do this by growing outdoor businesses, outdoor participation and building Access, Knowledge and Community.

What would your advice be to someone who is looking to get involved in the outdoor community? 

Do it for you, not for your friends, your children, your work. Do it for you. You are loved and there is healing in the outdoors. Your can’t love others if you don’t love yourself. 

Where are some of your favorite local spots for adventure?

I love my little local state park Rocky Gap state park, where we can hike, mountain bike, paddle and climb. I love skiing in Canaan Valley West Virginia in this cool little slice of heaven called White Grass. I love out west Park City Utah and south east corners of Nigeria. 

Make sure to check out and follow Mandela on social media: @wheelzupadventures and @mandex_22!

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