Tuesday, December 26, 2017

A Conversation with Rafting Guide and Entrepreneur, Lauren Mindermann

Lauren, I met you at a rafting outfitters, Cascade Outdoors, last month.  We had been white water rafting the weekend before, loved it so much we wanted to go back with more fun-lovin' adventurers.  We had a perfectly amazing time with you--jumping off boulders, seeing a tiny waterfall from underneath if you can force your head underwater, saw endangered flowers, took a hike to a waterfall, completed a successful rescue mission, surfed the rapids, did some bull-riding down the rapids and even did headstands at your encouragement in the raft.  You are certainly my kinda girl! 

Have you had any trouble getting everyone to listen to you being a female leader of an adventurous activity?

Yes, kids and older men seem to come to mind when answering this question. Kids commonly have a hard time listening, especially to a young female. Often times older men seemed glazed over during my speeches and then when we hit the water they do exactly what I have told them not to do. I quickly have to address the problem before we continue the trip. Older men want to be in control but I have to constantly reiterate that I have been on this river for 5 years and know it a lot better than they do. I address the dangers over and over and explain that people have died on this river. After a few stories and addressing the problems, they begin to listen. They may refer to me as “sassy” but when I have other people’s lives in my hands, I’d rather be referred to as “sassy” and get the job done in a safe manor than be unobservant and have a bad accident occur. I have learned that if you do not address certain flaws of paddlers in the beginning of the trip it could result in a very bad and dangerous outcome. It’s better to get the kinks out in the beginning than to suffer through it the entire trip and risk a big disaster. By the end of the trip, no one regrets getting me as a guide.

In guiding a raft do you need much strength or is it more learning the rapids and being
knowledgeable about how the water runs?

Yes, strength is a huge part of rafting. My strength has grown a lot throughout my time as a guide resulting in me getting a lot better. Knowing the lines is extremely important on the Ocoee River. It is a technical river with TONS of rocks so the chances of getting stuck is very, very likely. But even when you know your lines and everything seems fine and dandy, when you have a group of 6-7 people who all weigh over 150-200 pounds, it can be a very challenging trip to make every turn. Once you learn the lines and develop specific strengths, things begin to get easier.

How did you get in to white water rafting and guiding?

I went rafting with my family a couple summers as a kid and I knew one of my older brother’s friends who was once a raft guide. In college, the Ocoee River was less than an hour away so I applied, trained, got the job, and had one hell of a first summer.
As a kid, I had a near-death experience when I went out into the big Nashville flood in 2009. I got swept away in a fast moving flood current, lost my friends and pool float, wound up on a fallen tree away from everything, scraped up and alone and ended up getting saved by a random stranger. For years I could not get into moving currents without being very scared. I knew that at some point I would have to face my fears, just like I started rock climbing to get over my fear of heights.
My first summer was a high water year that was very exciting. It was scary, unpredictable, and all new to me. Each time I wound up in the water I would panic. I wouldn’t say I am the MOST comfortable person swimming white water now but I have gotten a WHOLE lot better. I find it a lot more fun than I used to having an “out of rafter” experience. After my first summer, I knew I was hooked. The adrenaline, the amazing rafting community, having a job that let me have fun outdoors!

What thoughts were you having before you led your first rafting voyage with a crew you didn't know?

My nervous thoughts consisted of “Do I tell them this is my first trip?” I ended up telling them at the very end of the trip. They were surprised and said I did a great job. Thankfully my first trip went better than the next handful of trips. Like I said, your first year is definitely not easy but you begin to learn all the little tricks. With many jobs that I have had I have learned that you almost never feel ready when it’s time to start, you pretty much have to jump right in and act like you know what your doing or else you will never start.

Have you ever had an embarrassing experience while leading a trip?

ABSOLUTELY! On my second trip ever (after the fairly solid first one), I hit a rock in the very first rapid! Everyone at the put-in was watching me as I looked back for help. I had NO idea what to do. I was so embarrassed and thought that this was NOT the job for me “someone call the helicopters and get me out of this situation” I thought. I ended up rescuing most of my people along with another entire raft that got stuck with us. The people in the other raft ended up tipping me because I helped them all get back to their raft safely. HAH!
I have fallen out of the boat on several occasions, I have gotten stuck for long periods of time, I have pulled in a fully grown man out of the water who had completely lost his pants. You begin to laugh it off and explain that no rafting trip is ever the same and that we are ALL in-between swims. Annnnnything can happen out there.

Have you ever been injured while rafting?

My ego has been injured a time or two. I have been extremely sore from rafting. I have swam and hit some rocks in the river. I’ve had some bad blisters, Some sore facial features from having a paddle whack me in the face. But no, I have never had any bad injuries from rafting.

Where is your favorite place to raft?

I recently did a 4 day rafting trip on the “Hell’s Canyon” section of the Snake River up in Idaho/Oregon. It was absolutely incredible. This section is the deepest canyon in North America so we were amongst huge walls. So far this is my favorite place I have ever rafted but the Ocoee is home to me. I know it better than any other river so I guess it may be my favorite. Some other amazing rivers I have gotten to do include the Gauley River (Class V in West Virginia) which is absolutely incredible and I highly recommend everyone reading this to do. You can reserve commercial trips but I would recommend this not be anyone’s first ever rafting trip. The Tallulah Gorge (Class V in Georgia) is absolutely amazing but only releases a couple times a year and is not commercially guided. I have done several other amazing rivers but I eventually hope to do a 15-21 day trip on the Grand Canyon.

Do you do any other interesting sports or hobbies?

I love yoga, mountain biking, rock climbing, trail running, cooking, and various forms of art.

What's one thing you've never tried, but would like to?

Sky diving! Some people have told me it’s not even as scary as rafting.

Now, while we were on our trip, you told us you're going to college to become a nutritionist and that you've started your own line of energy bars! How does one get started in that?

Test out some bars, see what people like, design a logo, order packaging, start selling!

Do you make them and package them yourself? How do you come up with the packaging and art?

Yes, I make and package them myself. Sometimes I’ll have a friend help me package, in exchange for food or brews (thank god for great friends and cheap labor). I honestly built my logo on a free logo website online. One of the other guides that works at my company does product marketing so she took my logo and turned it into a label. I was extremely grateful to have her help along the way. She helped me design labels for every different flavor that I wanted to come out with. She used the same template for every bar but changed the colors for each flavor. She kept telling me that consistency is important.

How do you handle marketing and distribution?

Facebook is my only online form of marketing. Working on the river provides a huge market place. It’s a small community where the word spreads fast. Once one person likes something, it begins to catch on. Before I knew it, other outposts were contacting me asking, “Are you the girl who makes the granola bars? We would love to order some!”  It began to take off like wild fire. For the first summer, I took orders, sold to friends, and sold the bars at the outpost that I worked, Cascade Outdoors. I was able to talk to my guests who went rafting with me about my bars and when they were finished with their trip, of course they were hungry and wanted to try them!

You also came up with cute names for the variety of flavors. Can you tell us about them and what makes your energy bars special?

The names for my bars come from rafting terms including specific whitewater jargon, river/rapid names, funny lingo. Making up the punny names with people is probably the funnest part about the bars. My friends and I are constantly making up new Lolo bar names. My energy bars are special because they are energy dense. I do not use any added sugars or preservatives. I concentrate on using superfoods and making them vegan and gluten free. The base of all of my bars contains walnuts, dates, various dried fruits, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and more. I want to keep the bar simple but also pack it full of nutrients.

Where can our readers purchase them?

Currently the Lolo bar production has been on a bit of a stand still due to my new job and relocation to Nashville for the winter. I encourage readers to check out the facebook.com/lolobarsocoee. At this time I will take orders through the facebook site and ship them. During the summer I hope to sell the bars to more rafting outposts on the Ocoee and in shops around Chattanooga.

I like to ask everyone what is one thing you can tell our readers to do right now to get up and have some adventure in their lives without spending money?

Go hiking or camping at a new spot! Such an easy and fun way to get out for free.
If someone lives in a very urban spot where mountains are not close by, I would advise them to look into fun meet-up groups or try out a new fitness class. Typically gyms, yoga studios, climbing gyms will have a discount or free voucher if it is your first time.

Anything I should have asked you about rafting or making energy bars that I didn't?

I think you asked me in the beginning if people get worrisome about a small female being their guide. And YES, we get that a lot. People will ask my boss if they can request a strong male guide and he will typically jokingly send them my way. I always prove them wrong. It took a long time for me to get strong, gain the confidence, and convince my guests that I actually do it better than most guys but I absolutely love how my hard work and experience has paid off and I absolutely love my job as a raft guide.

Lauren, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me.  I just wanted to let you know that you really impressed me on our trip with your fun loving, adventurous spirit.  I just wanted to say thank you--we need more like you in the world!

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