We're here to highlight the best and brightest innovators in Asheville, North Carolina!
At the tender age of 19, Clayton Manche has already done way more than your average teenager. His impressive resume, filled with travel experience both at home and abroad, recently got another line. Manche is the founder of the new outfitting and tour company Asheville Adventures, which leads visitors and locals alike on guided hikes with customizable routes, difficulty levels, and experiences. He is also planning more urban tours and itineraries, with individualized recommendations for visitors to the areas.
Manche's love for travel, adventure, and community-building had a hand in sparking the initial idea for his business. "I was volunteering in the Philippines in March, doing some work at area orphanages" he says," and I was cooking a meal with a girl I was traveling with from the Pacific Northwest, and I started telling her about Asheville. I was telling her about different spots and hikes in the areas around here, and I thought, 'Man, I'd love to do that, just take people and show them cool stuff in my home.' And that sparked the idea. Before I even got home I started doing some brainstorming, bouncing ideas off of people, and I thought, 'This could work.'"
Manche, who grew up in Asheville, spent a lot of time exploring the outdoors with his father. An Eagle Scout, he credits his experiences in the Scouts as formative and key for his plans now. "I was in a troop in West Asheville," he says. "I didn't like it at the time, but my dad said, 'You should probably stick with this.' And it taught me so much. I've hiked all over the world, especially in this area and all over the country, and the Scouts really taught me to love the outdoors. Now I want to take that to other people, to show them skills a lot of people don't get to learn normally."
Manche's primary goal with Asheville Adventures is exactly this: to share his love for the beauty of our region with people from all backgrounds and walks of life, and to give them knowledge that they can take off the trail.
Essentially, Asheville Adventures will be set up so anyone can come to me and say, 'I want to experience these mountains, but I don't know how to do that.' And I can show them the different areas where I can take them. We'll have all the gear provided for them, because we're an outfitter. So they don't have to have any of the gear, or have any training or experience. They can just show up with a pair of shoes on. We've got their meals taken care of. We take care of everything and show them what it's like to go hiking for three days, or how to find waterfalls you couldn't find otherwise. When you live here long enough, you just know where to find spots that you might not be able to get to otherwise.
Manche offers a variety of experiences for different levels and interests. "They'll mostly be guided hikes in the Appalachian Mountains and Western North Carolina," he says. "And there are options, from day-hiking to multiple-day camping trips." Hikes range from longer stints on the Appalachian Trail to waterfall hikes. Manche wants to cater to a wide audience as well. "I'm absolutely geared towards the generic tourist coming to Asheville and looking for something to do," he says. "I hear people countless times asking, 'What do we do?' And maybe they drive to Looking Glass Falls and it's really crowded, and it's beautiful, but I want to show them some of these other spots.
"I also want to bring in locals who are interested but who may not know some of these more hidden spots" he continues. "And I want to create community and take people out in groups where they'll say, 'Yeah, I'd love to be a part of that.'"
What about people who prefer to hike on their own? That also works for Manche, who can create custom itineraries and routes for his clients. "It's great if they prefer to go out on their own," he says, "but a lot of people just don't know the best spots. They'll grab a trail but it's not really what they're looking for. I want to help them with that."
That kind of organization and planning is something Manche already has a lot of experience with. He's curated trips for friends and family. Above all else, he says, "I just want to be involved in the community," he says. "Recently I had a group come to me that wanted information. They weren't looking to book a trip, and I helped them out. I'm not trying to keep this stuff a secret just for the people who book tours. And if you just want the gear I can help with that too. Even with questions about things to do in town, about, for example, using Uber versus a rental car--I can help out with those."
That circles back to one of Asheville Adventures' larger missions, which is to create city experiences as well. For now, though, Manche is concentrating on the great outdoors. "The experiences are pretty accessible to everyone, though some are more difficult than others," he says. "And we can customize everything depending on the group. We're focused on a case-by-case approach. I want to know what you're looking for and create the best experience for you."
Tours are open to any age group. "We can even do a driving tour on the Blue Ridge Parkway and show people the views," says Manche. "If I take a group out and someone brings a two-month-old that might change the group dynamic and the itinerary, so we're going to be thinking about that."
Currently there are four routes available to book. More trips, including kayaking and other adventures, are in the works. "It's simple and straightforward," says Manche. "We've categorized the routes by length and duration, which are always flexible, and by what you're seeing, whether it's a vista, a waterfall, or something else." Options for trips include a Half-Day and Full-Day Waterfall Tour. On the half-day trip, clients will see up to five waterfalls with hikes up to 1 and 1/2 miles; the full-day tour is up to 10, with up to five miles of hiking. Asheville Adventures provide transportation, equipment, and food. They also offer a historic fire tower hike, as well as a loop hike in Panther Town Valley of customizable length.
Manche is always keeping his eye out for new routes. "Every time I go out I hunt for more," he says. "I talk to people who have been here for 60 years and I tell them I'm looking for the best spots. I'm always finding and trying new trails to get the best; I'm always searching. So the routes will continue to develop. But again, one thing we're big on is that we're customizable. So someone can say, 'Hey, I want to go to DuPont. But I want to hit this other trail as well, and I want to do a tour at Sierra Nevada Brewing after that,' and we'll make it work for them."
Manche notes that financing the project was relatively easy because of the low start-up cost. "I already had a lot of gear, and I've invested in a lot more. But even then I'm not renting a store or doing a wholesale product, so it's very different from other businesses, which I enjoy. What's been great is having a few investors, people that know me and know I have a passion for the outdoors. They trust me and know that I'm going to pay them back. So if you've got that trust with people, if you've known them a few years and they want to help and be a part of it, they feel good about coming on board."
Notably, Manche will be donating a portion of his profits to Wipe Every Tear (WET), an international charity he worked with during his visit to the Philippines. The organization, which is based in Indonesia, works specifically to help victims of sex trafficking and slavery. "Angela City in the Philippines is the biggest hub for sex tourism," he says. "It's actually closed to locals. It's just for foreigners who are fueling this industry, and there are over 20,000 girls trapped there currently. It's hard to imagine.
"I've never seen anyone as effective as Wipe Every Tear," he continues. Manche worked with WET during his three months in the Philippines. "They've been working there for about six years and they provide everything for the girls--safe housing, a chance to finish high school or get a GED, a full sponsorship to go to college. They help them until they get out in the workforce and have a home."
The trafficking problem in the Philippines is very serious. "It's a financial bond rather than a lock and key situation," Manche explains. "None of the girls want to be there; there is no desire to be in that industry, but the country is currently overpopulated. Everyone in McDonald's has a college degree in food and beverage or hospitality, so if you don't have that you have trouble finding work. People living in the province, out in the country, will get flyers and letters from these bars in town, who will advertise open waiter and waitress positions and include a paid bus ticket. So that's a big break; these girls can't afford college and have big families, so they'll go out there and then the bar will say, 'Oh, sorry, the waiter position is full but we have this dancer position open, you can be one of the girls, and by the way, you owe us for the bus ticket so you have to work for us now.'
"Then they're trapped, and they have to stay there and help send money back to their family, to help their families eat. Asian culture right now is huge on family. You respect and support for your family, you help your family, so if these girls don't stay their family dies. They're trapped, there's no other option. They're hopeless, sad, and stuck. And it was just heartbreaking to go in there. It's like everything you'd imagine, these girls are there on stage like items on the shelf, they don't even pretend to enjoy it. Wipe Every Tear goes in and says, 'We want to give you a chance for freedom, to have a life.'
"They're a non-profit, and just make money off donations. It's expensive to get a girl out and housed, into college, it's something like $330 a month per girl, but they've done so well." WET currently has over 70 girls in five safe houses, but Manche points out that the need for support is continual. "It's a struggle because these girls have trouble trusting any organization," he says, "and it sounds too good to be true, but these volunteers go back and back again, and build relationships and trust. So I wanted to know what I could do to help them. And right now, I can do this, I can give them a set amount--10% of our profits is going to them to help."
Manche considered working for the organization, or even working for another outfitter and tour company in the Western U.S., but felt his heart was in Asheville. "I wanted to come back here," he says. "I had to come back to Asheville. I wanted to own a business and to stay in Asheville, and I want people to experience what Asheville has to offer. Long term, my goal is anything from adventures in the outdoors--kayaking, mountain biking, rock climbing--to adventures in the city--city tours that will also help out other local businesses through visits and recommendations. What I love about Asheville is that there's this community of business owners with the philosophy that things work if we help each other and help our economy, together."
So what's his favorite hike? Manche doesn't miss a beat. "Courthouse Falls is the place that birthed the whole idea when I was talking to my friend," he says. "It's kind of way out there, about two hours from Asheville. It's this little creek that turns into a massive waterfall. It's beautiful."
For more information on Asheville Adventures, or to book your tour, go to www.hikewnc.com, and check out their Facebook page here.