The Best of BACKPACKER - Reader Heroes

7 subscribers who inspire, lead, volunteer, and more

[the galvanizer]

Jim Kern

The Florida Trail (1,400 miles). The American Hiking Society (nearly 2,000 National Trails Day events). Big City Mountaineers (more than 600 youth introduced to the wilderness annually). You’d be rightfully proud to have started any of these, but Kern founded all three. This longtime friend of the magazine (BACKPACKER’s founding editor, William Kemsley, Jr., collaborated with Kern to get the AHS off the ground) has done more to help the hiking world than most of us could do in 10 lifetimes. And of course he’s not done. Kern, 76, is currently at work on Trail Reflections, a coffee-table book about his 50 years of hiking and the organizations he established along the way.

Read on to meet Kristin Hostetter's biggest fan.

[the fan]
Tyler Bounds

First, he started a Facebook page praising Gear Editor Kristin Hostetter—and lobbying for a hike with her. Stalker? No, just a reader with unmatched enthusiasm, which we’re putting to good use. He’s now a member of our official Reader Test Team (watch for his and others’ reviews in the January 2011 issue). And he will, in fact, get to go hiking with Kristin.

Read on to meet 4WheelBob, our inspiration.

[the inspiration]

Bob Coomber

We’ve seen readers overcome adversity in myriad ways, but none compares with Coomber, aka 4WheelBob on the forums. Fifteen years after Coomber lost the use of his legs due to severe osteoporosis, we caught up with him during his attempt to summit California’s 14,246-foot White Mountain Peak in his wheelchair (“Hell On Wheels,” 5/06). He summitted on a subsequent trip in 2007 and has since aspired to ever loftier ambitions. Current project: Roll to the top of 19,340-foot Mt. Kilimanjaro—and donate 200 wheelchairs to disabled Tanzanians while he’s there.

Read on to meet first-time life lister Tammy Vanden Heuvel.

[the proof]

Tammy Vanden Heuvel

This one just crossed our desks, and it’s exactly what we love about new BACKPACKER readers. With her 40th birthday approaching, this Wisconsin resident read about Chile’s Torres del Paine (1/08) and decided on the spot to put down the magazine and pick up a passport for her first life-list trek. We haven’t known Tammy long, but we love what she represents: namely, that you don’t need to be a superhero to stop dreaming and start doing.

Read on to meet our executive editor's mom.

[the mom]

Elaine Lewon

Lewon has been a faithful reader for nearly three decades—long before her son, Dennis, joined the staff in 2001. Indeed, she climbed Mt. Shasta before he did, and then joined him for a return trip. Attention, mothers: Take your kids backpacking. It could be a good career move.

Read on to meet Don Lake - historian & reviver of the Arctic Lake Brotherhood.

[the historian]

Don Lake

In 2005, this Florida resident and two buddies resurrected the Arctic Brotherhood, a fraternal organization founded in Alaska in 1899—and for a short period intensely popular with gold-rush stampeders. The friends started the modern version after under-training for the Chilkoot Trail (but completing it), and visiting an original Arctic Brotherhood lodge in Skagway. Since then, their adventures (and training) have evolved, and they’ve established a 21st-century code that emphasizes wild explorations on a shoestring budget—but with strong coffee, fine cigars, and aged Scotch whiskey. New members are welcome:

Read on to meet Leon Nelson, a BACKPACKER subscriber since day one.

[the enthusiast]

Leon Nelson

Nelson has been a subscriber since our inaugural issue, in 1973, and he’s clearly made the most of his hiking time. He’s a constant source of route ideas and skills tips, and in 2007, after responding to a BACKPACKER call for volunteers to help map the entire CDT (, Nelson led one of the teams. See his suggestion for a weekend route in the Trinity Alps at

Return to the beginning to meet Jim Kern creator of The Florida Trail, The American Hiking Society, and Big City Mountaineers.