Our Instructors

Meet Your Instructors

SOLO instructors are active, professional healthcare providers who serve on mountain rescue squads, fire departments, ambulance squads, ski patrols, and more. They are experienced, creative teachers who provide a relaxed, team-oriented, and inspiring learning environment. With wide-ranging life experiences, many are outdoor experts in almost any wilderness setting. All instructors are trained by SOLO for the specific courses that they teach.

Barrett Wood

WEMT, SOLO Manager

Barrett Wood

Barrett grew up hiking and paddling all over the Midwest. He spent 7 years working for a camp in northern Wisconsin, first as a backpacking guide and climbing instructor and later as a director. In college, Barrett led trips in the northern Appalachians. He has worked in restoration ecology and earned a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies. Before joining SOLO, Barrett worked for a wilderness therapy program for several years. Barrett enjoys mountain biking, climbing, snowboarding, and visiting county high-points. He works part time for Macon County EMS.

Katy Blackburn

WEMT, SOLO Assistant Manager

Katy Blackburn

Katy moved to the Nantahala Gorge to join the SOLO team in 2020. She has 6 years of experience as an outdoor guide and educator, leading youth and adults on backpacking and multi-day canoeing trips. She started by leading trips for other college students through UC Santa Barbara’s Adventure Programs and has since guided trips on the Colorado River, in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, the Southern Sierras, and the high desert of Southern Idaho. She gained her WEMT certification and spent some time working as an EMT in Massachusetts. Since then she has discovered a passion for teaching and studying wilderness medicine. She loves to spend her time outdoors hiking, snowboarding, or climbing.

Jono Bryant


Jonathan "Jono" Bryant

Jonathon (Jono) Bryant is a paramedic with 12 years of experience as an expedition leader and jungle specialist. Jono started his SOLO career as a Wilderness EMT student at the NH campus where he rapidly progressed to become a lead instructor. As well as teaching for SOLO Southeast he is also the director of a medical relief charity, teaching first aid, and providing healthcare throughout the world. He has taken teams of SOLO alumni to the jungles of Borneo and remote villages in Central America. Jono is committed to providing exciting, entertaining, and informative lessons that help students make a difference.

Randy Manuel


Randy Manuel

Randy's diverse background includes 10 years in the US Army, 3 years in Public Safety, and a career in Orthopedics, Orthotics, and Prosthetics. Love of the outdoors ultimately brought him to the NOC & SOLO. He works frequently as a river guide and trail guide. Randy is an active volunteer with Valleytown Fire & Rescue near his hometown in Marble, NC. He holds several certifications in Swiftwater Rescue, with Rescue3 International as well as the ACA, where he teaches Swiftwater Rescue. He is occasionally involved in Search & Rescue operations and is a trained Wildland Firefighter. Randy does not employ a "normal" teaching style. He believes that no amount of pretty words or eloquent speeches are going to help students remember the material being presented. "If they are not engaged, having fun, and drawn into an interesting conversation about the topic, they will quickly forget these skills and at that point, what have we accomplished?". After work, Randy can be found hiking, mountain biking, or SUP boarding with his lovely wife Jae Jackson (who also works at NOC), and their Blue Heeler, Jefe.



Anthony Geist

Anthony is a nationally registered Wilderness AEMT and doctoral student in Comparative Experimental Medicine at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He began his medical career as an outdoor guide for rock climbing and kayaking trips in Tennessee, Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. He received his WEMT from SOLO Southeast and has since served as a medical provider and instructor on expeditions to Belize and Panama, in addition to instructing SOLO. Anthony is a member of the National Park Service associated Backcountry Search and Rescue Unit (BUSAR), where he serves as a SAR Tech II, Swiftwater, and High Angle Rescue Technician. When not studying or providing medicine, he can usually be found climbing, kayaking, or biking and planning his next expedition.



Bailey O'Sullivan

Bailey is a WEMT, works at SOLO as an instructor, and operates behind the scenes in the SOLO office as well. She has worked at NOC since 2011, spending her time both in the Outfitter's Store equipping paddlers and thru-hikers on the Appalachian Trail, and as a whitewater kayak instructor in the NOC Paddling School. She started whitewater kayaking as a kid and soon started racing slalom and downriver kayaks, even earning a spot on the US Junior Wildwater National Team and racing in Italy at the Wildwater Junior World Championships. While studying International Affairs and Spanish at Georgia Tech, she guided backpacking trips in Alaska and several multi-sport trips in the Southeast with ORGT, Georgia Tech's awesome outdoor program. She loves traveling and has even worked in Patagonia, Chile, guiding at an eco-resort. Her certifications include ACA Level 4 Whitewater Kayak Instructor and Advanced Swiftwater Rescue. Teaching is her passion, whether in the classroom or on the river.

Ken Philbrick


Ken Philbrick

Ken served as a medic in the US Army for five years and deployed twice to Iraq. After leaving the Army, he earned a BA in History at Columbia University and completed a pre-medical program at Johns Hopkins University. He earned his Wilderness EMT certification at SOLO Southeast and has been a Wilderness Medicine Instructor for three years. An avid backpacker, Ken has hiked the Appalachian Trail and Colorado Trail.

Stephan Hart 3


Stephan Hart

Stephan's favorite place to be is on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. When he's not doing that, he is an instructor of Wilderness Medicine, Swiftwater Rescue, and Wilderness Survival. He is a guide on all the rivers that NOC runs and trains many guides each year in the spring. Stephan has studied plants since he was 8 years old, including studying botany in college, and is certified as a Southern Appalachian Naturalist. He enjoys traveling to see plants and culture, whether it be in the US or abroad.

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Jeffrey Gottlieb

Jeffrey has been a senior instructor of NOC's Wilderness Survival School since October of 2012. He has an MS in Biology and has been a Naturalist, Outdoor Educator, and Primitive Skills Instructor for more than 30 years. Jeff has built over 50 full-size wigwams and longhouses at museums, nature centers, and schools using wild-collected materials such as tree bark slabs, reeds, and saplings. His areas of special interest include fiber arts, flintknapping, basketry, edible and utilitarian plants, and nature awareness. Jeff has even written three books as a self-published author and travels the Eastern US teaching at rendezvous, gatherings, and historic fairs. Jeff goes to the woods not to "rough it", but to "smooth it", believing that many of us have it rough enough in town at our jobs. He seeks communion, education, enjoyment, creative outlet, and peace in nature.

Lindsey Russell


Lindsey Russell

Lindsey is a paramedic from Florida and has been teaching with SOLO since 2019. She originally came to the Nantahala gorge for whitewater kayaking and has spent the past few summers guiding on the Nantahala river. She attended Western Carolina University and studied Emergency Medical Care. She worked for Western's outdoor guiding program, Basecamp Cullowhee, where she took students on backcountry adventures in the area. She has also worked ski patrol at a local resort and has an OEC technician and MTR level 1. Her favorite outdoor activities are rock climbing, kayaking, rafting, and hiking. She plans on getting her diploma in Mountain Medicine and her flight paramedic certifications so that she can work as a flight medic and on a search and rescue team. Her passion is wilderness medicine and she loves teaching students how to be providers of medical care in wilderness or austere environments.

Susan Gaire


Susan Gaire

After a long career as an OB/GYN doctor, Susan retired with her husband and two dogs to the mountains of North Carolina. She completed her WEMT at SOLO Southeast in 2019 and began teaching WFA students along with the OB/GYN portion of the WEMT classes. She and her husband, Erik, have shared many adventures over the years including motorcycling across the USA, sailing their boat along the coast of Maine, hiking, and sea kayaking.

Byron Jones


Byron Jones

Byron’s love for the outdoors was nurtured from an early age. He is a life-long nature lover and friend to the environment. He enjoys hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, and hunting. His teaching skills have been developed through leadership roles in both his professional and personal endeavors. In his professional career leading sales teams, he motivates staff to drive sales and work toward a common goal. As a leader, he works to foster a team-player dynamic which he brings to SOLO courses. His experience teaching yoga and martial arts has given him experience teaching both intimate and large groups of all ages and backgrounds. He brings a positive attitude to all of his interactions, which people find easily approachable. He also has a passion for giving to Make A Wish and he volunteers as a WEMT for the South Carolina Chapters Endurance Sports Division. He is a National Association of EMS Educators level 1 Instructor, WEMT, ASHI CPR & 1st Aid Instructor, SC Bureau of EMS-EMT, NREMT, and trail maintenance volunteer.

Brooks Wolfe


Brooks Wolfe

Brooks Wolfe has over 10 years of experience as an outdoor educator and guide. Brooks started by teaching and leading whitewater kayaking trips for the University of Tennessee Medical School outdoor recreation department and for several local kayaking clubs. He found his passion and quickly worked to become an ACA Level 4 Kayak Instructor. He moved out West and while continuing to teach kayaking, also became a head river guide leading multi-day river trips on the Colorado, Gunnison, Green, White, Deloris, and many other rivers. He has a passion for primitive skills/wilderness survival and has spent time learning and instructing from the Western deserts of Southern Utah to the Appalachian mountains of the Southeast. Brooks is a lead instructor at SOLO and currently holds a North Carolina Advanced EMT certification as well as Wilderness EMT.

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Nurse Practitioner

Lara Christy

Lara is a nurse practitioner specializing in Cardiology. She first became a WEMT in 1996 while finishing her MS in Experiential Education. She worked with at-risk youth in a wilderness program in South Carolina and later pursued a degree in Nursing. Lara worked as a nurse in St. Louis for 10 years in an intensive care unit, and in a level 1 Trauma Emergency Department. She has enjoyed wilderness sports such as backpacking, orienteering, whitewater kayaking, and trail running all of her life. Her love for wild places brought her to Western North Carolina in 2010. Since that time, she has worked as a nurse practitioner, and has honed her whitewater kayaking and Swiftwater Rescue skills. She enjoys combining her love for medicine, wilderness, and education in order to help others build their skills and knowledge so that they may explore and enjoy wild places safely. Lara is currently working to become a Fellow in the Academy of Wilderness Medicine.



Victoria Contreras

Victoria is a graduate from the Georgia Institute of Technology with a double Bachelor's Degree in Biology and Psychology. She is working toward her goal of becoming a Physician Assistant with the dream of one day combining her medical and expedition skills to provide aid to at-risk areas around the world. Victoria is currently an Advanced EMT in downtown Atlanta and takes off whenever she can on new adventures. In her free time, Victoria can be seen climbing in places like Yosemite, taking her dogs on adventures throughout the Southeast, or leading freshmen through the backcountry of Iceland and Alaska. Victoria loves anything wild AND medical, making her a great fit as a SOLO instructor.



JP Bevilaqua

JP Belivaqua has spent the last 15 years as a professional outdoor educator and guide. He has been an instructor with SOLO since 2009. After graduating from the University of Colorado at Boulder, he worked in the Rockies for 10 years as a river guide, EMT, and professional ski patroller in both Colorado and Utah. In 2007 he moved to Asheville, NC which he now calls home. Since that time, he has coordinated wilderness programming for various organizations at both the high school and college level, specializing in risk management practices and a systems-based approach to trip leading in the outdoors. He is an Instructor Trainer with American Canoe Association, has twice qualified for the US National Kayaking team, and has paddled in 7 countries and over 20 US states. When not on the river, he is also an avid mountain biker, skier, and rock climber.



Jeremy Cabe

Jeremy is a father of two wonderful teenage boys and a lifelong resident of Macon County. Jeremy has served as a paramedic since he graduated Southwestern Community College’s Paramedic Program in 2004. He has had the pleasure of enjoying the Appalachia area all these years for recreation, everyday life, and for work. Jeremy and his boys take any opportunity to enjoy the outdoor advantages of the area when their busy schedules allow. Jeremey has experience providing medical care in non-traditional settings in addition to his work as a paramedic. He is both an NAEMT instructor and a SOLO instructor. He particularly enjoys welcoming new students and seeing the success of those completing the program!



Hank Baker

As an Eagle Scout, Hank grew up exploring the outdoors of the Southeast and went on two treks at Philmont Boy Scout Ranch. In early 2017 he changed careers in order to get back into the outdoors full time and came to work for the Nantahala Outdoor Center. He now guides on the Nantahala, French Broad, Pigeon, and Ocoee Rivers, as well as on all of the NOC’s zip line attractions. In February of 2018 he completed an EMT-Basic class at SOLO Southeast and found his niche in the outdoors world. Hank now serves as a Firefighter/Engineer, Wilderness EMT, Advanced EMT, Wildland Firefighter, Child Passenger Safety Technician, Fire & Life Safety Educator, Hazmat Responder, and Certified Rescue Technician in swift water, confined space, high angle, and vehicle rescues for the Bryson City Fire Department in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina. When asked what his favorite outdoor activity is Hank always says “Sharin it, and makin it easy."

Grace G SOLO


Grace Girardeau

Grace joined the SOLO Southeast team in 2020 after earning her EMT-Basic in 2019. She was born and raised in the Midwest, and landed in Asheville, NC to earn her degree in Biochemistry from Warren Wilson College. Today, she works as an Emergency Department Tech where she is constantly growing in her abilities as a caretaker. Grace aims to bring this in-hospital perspective to all her classes in order to teach the continuation of care for the rescued patient and to emphasize the importance of quality pre-hospital treatment. Her love for the outdoors and wilderness medicine sprouted in the Rocky Mountains, where she traveled as a child, eventually becoming a camp counselor and trip guide during her summers in college. Now, you can find Grace riding horses or exploring Asheville's beautiful trails with her trusty pup!

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