AT Hike Plan: Introduction and Strategy

On the Hike Plan page of this blog, you can find a detailed breakdown of my preliminary strategy to hike 2189.2 miles in under 5 months. As explained in the introduction, I know pre-planning can seem taboo, as things will certainly change once on the trail. But, I feel one of the best ways to prepare oneself for this trip – mentally, strategically, financially, logistically, not to mention for the sanity of friends and family – is to have a detailed plan in advance that I can best hold my myself accountable to.

Over the next few months, I will walk through each “section” of this hike, as broken out by the by Map Man and labeled in Column A of the Hike Plan spreadsheet. The purpose of each of these preliminary posts will be to provide 3 valuable assets to me and my followers before hitting the trail:

  1. Expectations.  By doing a descriptive walkthrough of the trail section, I can try to understand (and share) what to anticipate during that section: Difficulty of terrain, towns to pass through, sights to see, festivals to participate in, trail milestones to look forward to, budget to account for, etc.
  2. Timing.  This baseline will act as the barometer for all logistics planning to my support network: When to send mail drops, when to expect me off-trail (for pre-planned events such as a wedding in June), and when to join (if interested) for section hiking alongside me. Many friends and family have shown interest and (if they can keep up) would be a great addition to the adventure.
  3. Safety.  If for some reason I am unable to post daily updates from the trail, you will know where to expect me next. If (god forbid) I don’t show up, you’ll know where to go look for me. This is unlikely to happen – but better safe than sorry.

Future AT Hike Plan posts will break down each section of the Hike Plan (1-11).

How to Follow My Journey

Since (re)launching the blog, I’ve had a few requests to explain how one can easily keep up with my adventure. Although current blog posts are focused on basic info and planning, it will eventually evolve into my daily journal update to follow me real-time on the trail. My daily posts will follow a similar format as done by Jax Dad (who is finishing up the beautiful White Mountains as I write this). If you want to follow my journey closely, there are 3 ways you can subscribe to instant notifications:

Get an Instant Email
At the bottom of the blog, click the gray Follow button, fill in your email address and other basic info and submit.  Whenever I post a new entry you’ll get the full text as an email.

Subscribe via RSS Feed
For those of you using Feedly, DiggReader, NewsBlur, etc.  Or if you prefer to get RSS feeds on Microsoft Outlook at work like I do.  At the bottom of the blog, click the RSS-Posts link, then copy and paste the URL in your RSS feeder.  Whenever I post a new entry, it will go to your RSS feed.

Follow me on Facebook or Twitter
I setup my blog to auto-post to social media with any new entry.  Although my Facebook posts are private to friends and family, my Twitter account is public for all. Follow me on either, setup notifications as you prefer, and see my new entries as they are posted.

Follow with WordPress Reader
For those using WordPress themselves, there appears to be a new Reader feature that allows you to create an activity stream of blogs you follow.  I don’t know if anyone uses it, but here’s a link for more info.

The Best Prep is Reading Someone Else’s Journey

In my 15 years of preparation to hike this trail, I have consumed dozens of books, YouTube channels, and blogs sharing the personal journey to be found on the AT.  Some were great, some not so much (hint, avoid Morris the Cat’s trilogy).  But for anyone interested in this adventure (whether to hike or understand why others like me do), I would recommend the below 3 books as early must-reads.

  1. Take a Thru-Hike by Jessica “Dixie” Mills.  Dixie’s book is the best I’ve come across to prepare a novice hiker for the AT, though it is also nice for those more experienced as well.  She keeps it short and sweet to walk through every preparation stage before getting on the trail – what to bring, why to bring it, how to prepare physically/emotionally/financially, what worked for her and didn’t, etc. The eBook also includes links to her YouTube channel with videos supporting each chapter for additional visual support as well.  It’s a short read (and cheap), and should be the first book any hiker reads when they sit down to begin prep.
  2. AWOL on the Appalachian Trail by David “AWOL” Miller.  Not to be confused with his AT Guide, which is now the most popular guide for on-the-trail navigation, this book was AWOL’s first publication chronicling his trip.  I recommend it because it is a no-nonsense, no-drama, detailed daily account of all 2,190 miles.  AWOL does a great job of walking you through each section of the trail, culture, people, and towns that will give you the best understanding of what to expect along the way.  It does not focus much preparation (though does do some), nor his personal emotional state throughout (but again, some) – and instead provides realistic expectations for a hiker to anticipate as they progress North each day. 
  3. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson.  Everyone is probably familiar with Bryson’s book, but it’s an important read for a few reasons.  First, it’s the opposite of AWOL’s book … highly emotional, dramatic, and focused on telling an entertaining story.  Since this hike is about so many things, it’s great to also read a fun and popular version (which may also represent the only reference your family and friends know).  It is relatable, comical, and a page-turner to the end.  Second … spoiler alert… Bryson doesn’t finish.  All the build up, anticipation, and excitement fizzles out just like it will for 75% of thru-hikers each year. It’s important to know why even the best-prepared hikers leave the trail early, and this is a good reminder.  The Robert Redford movie was also decent.

There are hundreds of other stories out there and no way to read them all, but the goal of this blog is simply to synthesize my years of prep into short and succinct bits of knowledge to help explain how I got here – so those are my 3 recommendations.

Now, I also subscribe to many venues for new information and am always asking for more recommendations – personally, I could read a thousand more stories and still be intrigued by each one because of the unique personal journey each hiker goes through. And I have a few youtube channels and blogs I like in my Links page worth checking out as well, but the most important advice I can share is to encourage you to find biographies of people similar to you in personality/experience/emotional state/etc. which will share a story you can most closely relate to.  A longer list of recommended reads with detailed descriptions can be found here from The Trek – and below may be a few reasons to read what they suggest:

Lastly, I’m always open to other people’s recommendations, so feel free to leave any additional suggestions in the comments below.  Hello Neiman!

Understanding Trail Jargon

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Quick PSA – Just like any community, the Appalachian Trail has its own unique culture and language. Over the years of reading up and preparing for this trip, terms like Nero, Nobo, NOC, and NPS have become 2nd nature to me, but I know that not all my family, friends, and readers are as familiar with these terms.  And for even the most avid enthusiasts like me, there may be some new terms you weren’t aware of.  For example, while recently reading Morris the Cat’s The World We Left Behind series, I used it to figure out what Pink Blazing is.  Note to future hikers, don’t Pink Blaze a stranger, that’s creepy.

Luckily, there is a great resource available to help you!  Included in the Links page of this blog is a collaborative resource from trail enthusiasts called Trail Slang.  If you get hung up on any of the acronyms or nicknames you see on this site, shoot over there for a quick alphabetical list.  It appears to be updated regularly as the world evolves.

Note: WhiteBlaze.net is a go-to source for anything AT related, searching that forum can be a huge help while learning about the trail … just don’t get sucked down the rabbit hole.  I’ve collected what I believe to be the most important pages from the site into my Links section.

Answering the Big Questions: When

So when are you planning to be on a 5-month hiking journey?!  That’s probably the single biggest question I am asked when I talk about my dream to hike the AT.  The short answer is either this Spring or the year after.  The longer answer is … hopefully starting in March 2018, assuming we can solve a few more logistical and financial requirements in time, otherwise for sure in March 2019.

March is the most common month to start a Northbound (NOBO) thru-hike of the AT in order to avoid the cold temps at the start and finish (and ensure you reach Katahdin before the trail shuts down in October).  Some hikers appreciate the solitude and challenge of winter camping, but that is not one of my motivations. To me March remains ideal for a few reasons:

  1. No desire to carry weight for extra warm clothes and gear
  2. No mental strain of getting out of bed in freezing temperatures
  3. More sunlight on the trail for maximized hiking time
  4. Proximity to trail festivals along the way (e.g. Damascus Trail Days)

However, since this is the most popular time, it can make for a congested trail and very crowded shelters/hostels.  The above graph shows that of the 1700 hikers who registered with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy in 2017, more than half started in March.  The ATC collects this data voluntarily, so may not be 100% accurate, but it certainly supports the theory.  The good news is that I do not anticipate this being a problem for 3 reasons:

  1. I am extremely extroverted and look forward to sharing adventures with new friends on the trail
  2. I am primarily hammock camping, so will rarely sleep in a shelter
  3. I have a Hike Plan to anticipate and reserve town rooms in advance

I will explain why 2017-18 specifically represents the best time in my life to hike a long-distance trail for 4-6 months in a future blog post.  Stay tuned for more Hello Neiman!

 

HelloNeiman! and the Appalachian Trail

Image result for appalachian trail

 

Welcome back!  At long last, I am proud to present a relaunch of the infamous HelloNeiman blog.  This time, however, the writing is laser focused (as is my attention) on my biggest passion project ever – a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. During the past year, I really ramped up preparing and planning for this epic journey. Now, most friends and family know I have been obsessively planning this trip since first picking up Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods back in 2003, but this past year brought on a new level of dedication as a start date is possibly on the horizon (more to come).  For those unfamiliar, the AT is a 2,189 mile journey from Georgia to Maine, passing through a total of 14 states along the way.

But I’m not leaving tomorrow, so why start the blog today?  Well, as a career Management Consultant, I truly appreciate the art of planning and project management – putting a strategy in place, preparing goals, establishing important milestones, defining requirements, aligning stakeholders, preparing a budget, etc.  So, although many AT thru-hikers prefer to just get out there and wing it, I believe the planning is just as fun and will lead to an even greater experience out on the trail.

Whether you have an interest in this adventure or not, I invite you to subscribe, follow, or read along as I update the world on my planning progress.  And if/when the exciting day comes when I take my first step on the white blazed trail, this blog will become the daily journal of my travels.  Hello Neiman!

Note:  For nostalgic purposes, the original HelloNeiman blog entries are archived here.