I was born in the State of Washington, the daughter of a United States Forest Service Forester who was passionate about all things outdoors. My dad was my hero. I shadowed him everywhere. He taught me by example to love the outdoors. I grew up but never out grew the outdoor bug. I had children of my own and infected them with the outdoor virus. If my dad were still alive, he would be very pleased to learn that I have now begun passing the family outdoor bug to a third generation…my granddaughter.
Laura Coleman Interview
Laura, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule and joining us today. At what point in your life did you realize your passion for hiking and backpacking the great outdoors?
Thank you, Jim for inviting me to share a little bit about myself.
I don’t have a memory of my early childhood that doesn’t reflect my passion for the outdoors. For most of my life, that included “pickup camping” and taking day hikes in the surrounding woods, beaches, mountains or wherever life found my family that weekend. When my oldest daughter became involved with a Venture Crew, I discovered backpacking.
You author an excellent website on ultra-light backpacking that is a must visit for any backpacking enthusiast. What was it that drove you to undertake such a venture?
Thank you for your endorsement of my website. When I discovered backpacking, I also discovered that an old knee injury didn’t like my 30+ pound pack. I began lightening my load a little at a time to make me more comfortable on the trail without being uncomfortable in camp. To my estimation, ultralight backpacking is a balance between these two factors. I learned that other people were interested in lightening their loads, but didn’t know where to start. I enjoy teaching newbies about backpacking in general. An ultralight website developed out of my own desire to lighten up and to share the experience with others.
There are many people who would love to start backpacking, but they feel they might not be able to cope physically. What suggestions do you have for someone who has the interest, but self doubt keeps them on the sidelines?
This is a wonderful question! Ultralight backpacking is a good option for the not-quite-in-shape hiker. I would suggest that a would-be hiker begin by walking around the block. If you can walk around the block a couple of times, you are ready for a short day hike. The progression from a day hike to an overnighter is simply a 12 pound pack carried a couple of miles two days in a row. Watch out, you’re on your way to backpacking.
I know that you are a huge advocate of “back-country safety”. Could you share a personal experience with us where you were actually worried about your own safety or the safety of your companions?
I have been fortunate enough not to have been involved in any seriously dangerous situations. As a side note, “fortunate” is often equated to being “prepared.” Two of the most commonly encountered dangers of backpacking are hypothermia and injury. I’ll tell you a story about each.
Hypothermia is a condition when the body temperature falls below 95 degrees Fahrenheit: I used to mentor a Boy Scout Venture Crew that took 14 to 18 year old, mostly new hikers into the woods to learn backpacking, rock climbing, rappelling, white water canoeing, etc. On one trip, the Crew was canoeing down the Buffalo River in northern Arkansas. The trip began on a bright, warm, summer day. About half way through the trip, with 6 canoes in the water, an unexpected, severe thunder/lightning storm began. The temperature dropped dramatically and it took nearly an hour to find a spot to exit the river. The Crew was wet and cold. A couple people were experiencing early signs of hypothermia. The group took refuge in an old hunter’s cabin. In it they found a sleeping bag and a couple of space blankets. The hypothermic folks were warmed, the emergency food stash was tapped and one of the sponsor’s walked out to the road and down the the take-out location where the pick-up person was waiting. Even though it was hours before the intended take-out time, the pick-up person knew that the unexpected storm would likely cause a change of plans. The heater in the pick-up vehicle was turned to blasting hot and all turned out well. By the way, a a note was left for the owner of the cabin informing him that the cabin had been used in an emergency situation and offering reimbursement. The owner never contacted the group.
Injury: On one group hike, one of the adult females lost her footing, fell and dislocated her right elbow. Hiking in a group gives you many safety options. In this case, the injured hiker was relieved of her pack. It was split up between the rest of the hikers, but could also have been stashed in the bushes away from the trail for pick up at a later time. A first aid kit was retrieved. The injured hiker was given an anti-inflammatory to help reduce swelling and pain, a bandanna and an extra lightweight jacket was used to immobilize the dislocated limb allowing the hiker, accompanied by her husband, to hike back to the trail head. Once the hiker reached the safety of a vehicle a prescription pain reliever was given for the ride to the emergency room. In many cases, if the injured hiker is not over-medicated immediately after the injury, she will be able to use her own effort to get to safety. Of course, common sense must prevail. There are certainly situation where it is prudent to keep the hiker still and warm while help comes to the hiker.
What are the most common mistakes you see backpackers make when they are first starting out?
Easy–taking everything but the kitchen sink. Instead of planning for the most likely emergencies and improvising with what we have, we tend to plan for every contingency, many of which are quite unlikely to occur.
I know that taking care of “Mother Nature” is high on your list of priorities. What would you tell our readers about backpacking and keeping their personal impact at a minimum?
A commonly quoted adage advises, “Take only photographs, leave only footprints.” If you enjoy what you are experiencing, it is likely that the next hiker will too. Share the experience with someone else by leaving it as you found it.
What would you recommend to the layperson who has the desire to venture into the back-country, but is intimidated by the potential dangers and safety risks?
Seek the advice of others. There are lots of hiking groups out there that would be happy to show you the ropes. Don’t hike alone. Never venture out without the 10 essentials of hiking. Always be sure that someone knows where you are going and when you intend to return and that this person is willing to contact rescuers if you have not returned at a pre-determined time. Talk to the local rangers in the area where you intend to hike. They are very aware of creeks that are impassable after a spring rain storm, wild animals you may find, even whether hikers have been recently encountered human predators. Using the knowledge of others and some solid common sense will take you the majority of the way to a safe hike.
If you could implement one “universal law” that all outdoor enthusiasts would have to follow, what would it be?
If you pack it in, pack it out.
I know that you stay very busy and your time is limited, but, what’s in your personal backpacking bucket list for 2010?
This year I want to introduce my nearly two year old granddaughter to day hiking. It is never too early to develop an appreciation for what God has created.
Before we leave Laura, is there anything special that you would like to share with our readers?
I’ve got some fun ideas that I’d like to develop for a website. I want to make it a bit more interactive and am in the early development stage of something that I think people will enjoy and find useful. I’d like to invite your readers to subscribe to my newsletter to keep up with all the new ideas that I will be sharing.
Thanks again for allowing me to share with your readers. It has been fun to re-live some of my experiences while answering your questions. I wish you continued success with your wonderful site.
Pack Light for the Keys
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