Meet the Centre County Women’s Adventure Club
Lisa Wandel is your typical Penn State employee. As the Director of Residential Dining here at Penn State, you may see her walking around campus in business casual attire and a pleasant smile. She comes from a Penn State family, graduated from the university herself, and has two children, one an alumna and the other a current student. Nothing out of the ordinary here — but what you wouldn’t know at first glance is that she’s a total badass and the president of the Centre County Women’s Adventure Club.
About four years ago, Wandel and a friend were asked to put together a workshop for Appalachian Outdoors. “We asked, ‘Why don’t you do something specifically for women?’ and they said, ‘Why don’t you?’ So, we started doing research on hiking for women.”
During her research, she came across the site Meetup.com and discovered San Diego’s Women’s Hiking Club.
“I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, we need one of these in Centre County.’ I think that it was within two or three days that we had our first member and then it just continued to grow and we have 850 members right now,” Wandel said. “They’re not all active obviously — and it’s probably a good thing they’re not — but for those who are active, it’s really cool because we’re there to support each other, whether it’s hiking, kayaking, biking, backpacking, mountain biking — any of that kind of stuff.”
On Meetup, the Centre County Women’s Adventure Club description states: “Our group is for women, whether they are in shape, want to get in shape, or just want to try something new or different. We enjoy outdoor recreation including hiking, biking (road and mountain), canoeing, kayaking, snow shoeing and skiing! Our mission is to build friendships among women with a foundation of fun, support, camaraderie, and adventure. We love the outdoors and want to share our zest for life with other women. Women of all ages are welcome.”
And according to Wandel, it really is welcome to women of all ages.
“You know, when your kids go off to college, you’re kind of empty-nesting. But at the same time, this is a group of women my age — but we have students, we have college students, we have retirees, we have the whole gambit of ages,” Wandel said.
Growing up with a mother who was a gym teacher, Wandel was used to always finding a reason to be outside, and she continued to share that with her own children.
“There are so many things to take your children to and we did a lot of that,” she said. “And then, as they grow up and they have their own friends, you become almost an empty-nester and you realize, ‘Wow, I still like doing that.'”
Wandel not only rediscovered her love for outdoor activities, but felt empowered to share those experiences with other women her age.
“It’s easy for me to go hiking and take my two dogs with me, and I feel very safe in the woods,” Wandel said. “But a lot of women don’t feel safe going out and doing that on their own, or maybe they need someone to sort of nudge them. Or maybe they just want that companionship, someone to encourage them and say, ‘Come on, let’s go out and do that kind of stuff.’ And I guess I fall into that role very easily because part of my job is coordinating food services at Penn State. And it takes coordination and organization, and it just kind of fell into this extracurricular of mine.”
Aside from just hiking, backpacking, and kayaking, the Women’s Adventure Club takes part in many other activities. Every year, they participate in the Polar Bear Plunge with the Centre County United Way. Also, if the roads are clear, after a hike or bike ride they do a plunge on New Year’s Day to ring in the new year.
Wandel said her favorite part is watching the women grow.
“There was a woman who wasn’t really a cyclist at all and she joined us on one of the rail trail rides a couple years ago and asked, ‘How far are we gonna go?’ And for me, I’m like, ‘Only 22 miles,’ and she says, ‘What? 22 miles! Are you crazy?’ I’m thinking it’s only 22 miles and it’s flat, but she hung in there and we made it 11 miles out, turned around, and we came back. It was the slowest pace you could imagine and I didn’t know how I was going to sit up right because I thought I was going to fall over, but when they were finished, they were so proud of themselves.”
“A year later, we were on a rail trail somewhere and she came along and she asked again, ‘How far are we going to go,” and I said, ‘About 22 miles there and back.’ She said, ‘What? Only 22 miles?’ Since then, she’s done a metric century, which is between 63 and 64 miles. She’s done a couple of them actually — I mean, what a change. What a complete change in somebody who never thought she’d have the ability to do that. So the women get stronger when they have other women encouraging them.”
So why just women, you may ask? According to Wandel, guys do ask to join, but they’re intent on keeping it no boys allowed.
“When you throw men into the mix, sometimes women act differently,” Wandel said. “Maybe they’re not as confident to try something. Maybe they’re now embarrassed by something. We’re not going to muck it up with that kind of stuff. We’re going to try to let them reach their full potential and not get the guys involved in there. Some women change when guys are around and we don’t want that. So when we come out, you don’t need makeup, you don’t need the newest shoes, you don’t need to look good. You don’t need anything — you’re just out to have fun. You’re out playing in the mud, you’re playing in the rain, there could be lightning — who knows what — and you’re just having a wonderful time.”
The women also work with many local vendors, such as The Bicycle Shop, Tussey Mountain Outfitters, and Allegheny Outdoor Institute for their supplies and gear, as well as for workshops and educational opportunities.
“If you want to do it and you’re serious about it, then you need the right tools. I think that’s the other thing about the demographic of the club — at our ages, 40, 50, and 60, you can afford that stuff now. Any debt you had with college is paid off and the kids are in college or out of college, or on their own. And it’s like, ‘You know what, for 30 years I’ve done everything for the children. I’m going to buy myself a bike!’ And that’s just the start and it just kind of snowballs after that.”
Wandel even got her daughter to join the club, something she was very excited about.
“I know it’s good for her development, social skills, and networking, because when she’s out there hiking or biking, she’s going to talk to someone who works at the university who was an architect or whatever. And that’s how you build networks and you build the social circles around you. I think today’s college students, young women, need good role models. Here you have a club of 857 that you can come out and get to talk to and get to know, and get life lessons and tips and advice, and free cookies and brownies sometimes too.”
Free cookies and brownies?! I don’t know about you, but that’s incentive enough for me. Beyond that, this group of women provides such an amazing support system and a refreshing dynamic.
“This age group, you see television shows where women are out fighting each other and they’re deviant and they’re not supportive. And it’s like, no, that’s not how it has to be. Here you have women that work with each other. I don’t care if you’re 18, 48, or 68 — we work together, we help each other, we support each other, and I think it’s important for students to see that,” Wandel said.
The women are currently planning a cycling trip in Italy, as well as a hike through the parts of the Appalachian Trails that they have yet to explore. A personal goal of Wandel’s is to do a century ride in as many states as she can. A century ride is a one-day 100-mile bike ride and Wandel has already completed several. She also makes an effort to go camping once a month, no matter how cold.
Wandel wasn’t kidding when she said that there really isn’t an age limit on the Women’s Adventure Club’s outings. Her 85-year-old mother will be going on an upcoming ride, and the women are all looking forward to supporting her in the ride.
Centre County Women’s Adventure Club was even mentioned in the book Flash Boys by author Michael Lewis — of “Moneyball” and “The Blind Side” fame. They helped him in researching a local fiberoptic line and, in return, got a shout-out in the epilogue as a “bunch of lunatic women who meet up and do dangerous shit.”
Whether you’re looking for a scenic hike or a way to let out your inner daredevil, these women will probably show you up, but also motivate you to do basically whatever the you set your mind to. They are an extremely friendly and lively group of women. and they are just down to have a good time and experience the outdoors. Anyone and everyone (that’s a girl) is invited to join.