Thanks for all the support, see you on the trail!
Thanks for all the support, see you on the trail!
Had a couple important thoughts come my way this past weekend that felt both timely and relevant. With my start at Springer Mountain just a few days away, all my planning is about to be tested against the reality of the trail. Tired legs, wet gear, new friends, missed intersections, low spirits, hunger cravings, hostel availability … so much can change the itinerary set for the days to come. Continue reading
Eight days to go, and lots of last minute things to check off the Big To-Do list. Of course I have a list for that, I have a system for everything at this point. So much so, that a fellow hiker suggested my trail name should be “Spreadsheet”, in order to adequately and mockingly describe my obnoxious overplanning behavior. It’s a cute idea (and probably well deserved), but nah. I think I’ll stick with what I have for now, and see what the trail provides. Continue reading
I’m happy to say that two soon-to-be-former friends agreed to join me for the first few days of my Appalachian Trail journey. It will be great to kick-off the walk with some friends in tow, and although I’m eager to meet others on the trail for the long haul, some known faces will be a welcome treat at the start. They’ll earn their own trail names once boots hit the ground, but for now, I’ll call them Keg and The Captain. Welcome!
On Friday, I ventured out to the San Gabriels mountains of Southern California to do a shakedown hike of my gear, food, and comfort level with cold weather backpacking. Yes, I know “cold weather” is a stretch in Los Angeles, but with temps around 40 degrees at night, it was a good test without going too extreme.
The prep hike followed a 6-mile trek to the affectionate Bridge to Nowhere, an eerily and fully constructed bridge in the middle of the mountains with no road leading to it or from. I did this hike a few years ago with friends and decided the comfort of knowing what to expect would be nice. With a couple new friends in tow, this overnight adventure was a great chance to once again test out my full pack weight and gear options, and it did not disappoint. I highly recommend this trip for anyone looking for a great day hike, overnight, or multi-night trip. With multiple river crossings, continuous ups and downs, and very rocky terrain … it doesn’t feel too far off from the Appalachian Trail. Hello Neiman!
A couple things I learned about gear during this shakedown hike
Also, just a quick note, but the camera portrait mode on the new iPhones is amazing. This photo looks as good or better than I could pull up with our SLR. Technology .. wow.
This post is brought to by MREDepot.com, distributors of the Future Essentials brand of freeze-dried meats, cheeses, produce, and more. These products are a staple in all my weekly Meal Plans because they taste great and come in small cans, perfectly portioned for 4 days of food. Freeze dried meats only last a couple weeks once opened, but these #2.5 cans provide the exact amount needed and can sit on a shelf for months awaiting pickup. Similarly, the pilot crackers have exactly enough for 4 meals and sit protected from breakage until pickup. I cannot say enough about these great tasting and easy to use products, and MREDepot was kind enough to sponsor my trip with the assortment of #2.5 cans needed to fill all my resupply boxes. Thank you!
Preparing maildrops so far in advance of a thru-hike is not easy. For this reason, most hikers will tell you not to do it, and to just resupply at the numerous trail stops along the way. Yes, this is possible, but as I mention on my Meal Plan page, that may not be ideal for those like me looking to have a more diverse diet. I don’t want to eat pop-tarts and ramen every night, and I don’t want my hiking schedule to be dictated by whatever food is in stock at a hostel before the next trail town.
But, preparing food in advance is kind of a pain, and can be very costly if done wrong. Food could spoil, shipping costs can outweigh financial benefits, and exposed odors could attract mice/bugs while your box waits in storage for you to arrive. With so much of the trip’s cost dedicated to food, the last thing I want is for that food to go bad. Here is what I learned to help make sure my resupply does not go to waste:
1. Check Expiration Date. This is self-explanatory but has to be said. I don’t buy food unless the shelf life is stable. It can be a pain to try to line the expiration date with my pickup date perfectly, so I just used a rule of thumb that every food item in the box must be shelf stable until at least July. For items that don’t list it, there was a great article today from 21st Century Simply Living on shelf-life expectations of typical dried foods, meats, fruits, veggies, etc.
2. Buy Perishable Items in Town. For items in my plan that don’t have an expiration date 6 months out, I won’t force it with vacuum sealing nor DIY freeze-drying. For example, Meal Plan 4 calls for Honeybuns, but they only have a few weeks of shelf life. So, everything else will be boxed up, but those will be purchased in town after I pick up the box. This may cause some altered menus based on what’s available, but these are typically common items (e.g. bagels, cheeses, etc.).
3. Leave Food in Original Packaging. It’s tempting to divide out my trail-mix or home-made dinners in advance, but that will expose odors and moisture. Many of these boxes will sit in some random person or hotel’s storage closet for weeks, so I don’t want there to be any reason to tempt pests or mold. When a meal calls for instant rice, granola, dehydrated veggies, etc., I leave it in the original packaging and include empty ziplocks. When I pick up the box, I’ll divide out the portions to baggies and be ready to hit the trail (hopefully) worry free.
4. Use Flat Rate Boxes. This may cost a bit more at the end ($18.85 each), but the ease of use makes up for it. I am making sure everything for each 4-day resupply box fits into a USPS Large Priority Flat-Rate, and prepare that box ready to ship at home. This way, my wife will be able to easily print the shipping label, schedule the pickup and place it outside for the mailman. No need for a trip to the post-office. It is important to label these correctly, but there is a very helpful online tool that gives you everything you need.
5. Schedule Timely Shipping of Each Box. Versus sending them all in February and hoping for the best when I arrive 5 months later, I’ll coordinate shipping with my wife after each pickup. These flat-rate priority boxes are guaranteed to ship in 3 days or less, so it’s just a matter of sending the next box when I arrive at the previous maildrop location. (e.g. pickup box 3, ship box 4). To be safe, I’ll maybe even do 2 stops in advance.
6. Plan for Cravings. There is no way I am going to eat only what I send. I’m going to get sick of ramen and cereal if I eat it every day. So, like in any good plan, give yourself a contingency buffer. In this case, I am shipping food for half the days, then planning to buy food in town for the other half. For example, my first resupply box will be picked up at the Top of Georgia Hostel, but the next box isn’t picked up until 7 days later at Fontana Dam. So instead of packing and carrying 7 days of food, I’ll pick up 4 days’ worth, then resupply after 4 days at the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) for 2 more days of food.
This is a test blog post from my mobile device.
During my hike of the AT, I plan to blog every evening from camp. The general format and style will mirror what you see here: photo(s) of the day, a stat update, and a summary of anything on my mind that made me laugh, cry, smile, or other. There are not quite as many features with the stock WordPress mobile app, so if anyone has recommendations for one that works better, please let me know. I can’t even change font colors. 😦
Not every day will be exciting and not every post will be interesting. But as they say, the worst day hiking outside is better than the best day working inside, so I’ll capture the good and the bad ones. I know cell service or exhaustion might impede publishing ability at times, but I’ll be trying my best to document every day of this adventure. Both for you to follow along and for me to look back at.
Also, once a week I’ll try doing a video post as well, not sure if it will be a weekly recap, reflection, or what, but I’ll figure something out on the trail. To test out the functionality works, here’s a sample video below of sunny LA in December. Hello Neiman!
Hello Neiman faithful, I wanted to share with you an interesting podcast I’ve been listening to. Although I know this blog is pure literary genius that will someday be archived in the Library of Congress and mandatory on every high school reading list, I recognize not everyone likes to … (gasp) … read. During my preparation for this adventure, I’ve met some other interesting characters also hiking the trail in 2018 … most of which have far more interesting stories than me.
One such example is Returning to Katahdin: An Appalachian Trail Dream. I met Bruce “RTK” Matson over email a few weeks back and he shared this interesting take on a trail journal which is a weekly interview over the radio. Throughout these weeks leading up, RTK’s friend Steve Adams will be interviewing him on different elements of his journey, then following up with him a few times a week live from the trail. From listening, it is clear both Steve and RTK know their stuff and can provide a unique take on the experience for those who wish to listen. Each episode is about 30 minutes, and part of RTK’s goal to raise $200,000 for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.
With so many different ways to share this experience with others, I like what Steve and Bruce are doing, and the cause is certainly worth supporting. RTK will start the trail a couple weeks after me, so I’m not sure we will cross paths, but you can follow him along at the link above from your phone’s Podcast app. Hello Neiman!
I imagine most people following along are friends, but I’ve been slowly marketing this blog out to others in the hiking community as we get closer to a start date – and I imagine most of them are wondering who “HelloNeiman” is and what the heck it means. Although I have already shared a lot about who I am as a person throughout this blog, that phrase has to confuse many of you … is that a real name? A trail name? An arbitrary phrase that nobody really understands? Well, maybe all three…
For some background, HelloNeiman has been my online monicker since the mid-2000s. It started out as an inside joke among friends that I knew everyone in Minneapolis … which then became a good excuse to host an annual social event for young professionals out on the town. I loved hosting parties, so back in our twenties we would rent out a bar, invite everyone we knew, and give them “hello my name is” stickers with Neiman written on it. The joke was that since everyone knew me, all you’d hear is people saying “Hello Neiman” at the bar anyways. The parties were a success, the joke evolved to be an exclamation of excitement, and the name stuck. I started using it as the title for my online blog (see Archives), and when relaunching this site decided to keep it – even if the name does not have any roots in the thru-hiking community.
BUT. Nicknames, or “trail names”, are big on the Appalachian Trail. Everyone goes by a trail name, which is used to help remember people and represent them in this life changing experience. For example, AWOL took his trail name as a representation that he quit his job and escaped to a hike, but Grandma Gatewood because that’s just what she was known as. Some people like to create their own name in advance (for example, to match the title of their online journals), others like to let the trail decide it for them … often letting a funny experience or unique situation define it. Some hikers in the community think it taboo to name yourself before the hike, but to each their own.
For me, I am torn. HelloNeiman has always been my nickname and one I’d like to use for this blog on the trail … but it does not represent the trail at all. And may even confuse people to the point of making it harder to recognize/remember me. After thinking about it, a name that would suit me on the trail much better is Orange Blaze. Most of my gear is orange, it’s my favorite color, and if I can buy a product in that hue, you better believe I do. Therefore, the name fits perfectly – when you follow the Appalachian Trail you follow a white blaze, but when you follow me (by foot or by blog), you follow an orange one.
So, for now, the blog remains HelloNeiman.com. And the trail name feels right as Orange Blaze. But who knows, maybe something fun will happen on Day 1 and throw it all out the window. And isn’t that what this is about anyways, a planned journey with unplanned adventures? I think so! So, say it with me now … Hello Neiman!
I started looking for flights today. Only $75 one-way from LAX to ATL. Very reasonable price. Probably should buy before prices go up. Nothing to worry about besides getting to the trail. But yet… it’s not that easy… there is a lot of anxiety tied to this purchase! Buying this ticket locks me into a firm start date, with nonrefundable costs associated with the Pre-Hike logistics. So like a good Hello Neiman!, let’s plan it out, and figure out where to begin for this “Day Zero” plan:
Flying to Atlanta is easy, but damnit if airlines don’t scare you with their nonrefundable policies. So when should I book a flight to arrive? Lets’ review the logistic details we know:
Ok, that’s not so scary. If I want to start off right, I need to leave LA no later than 10am on February 28. Plenty of flights to choose from that will get me into Atlanta in time. But wait, then what? How am I getting to the trailhead? I don’t have a car, uh oh. Fortunately, the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club provides me with that helpful information. A train ride to Gainesville and/or an expensive shuttle ride is the answer. From Atlanta, $50-75 should get me there. Last but not least, I have a reservation waiting for me at The Lodge for a warm bed at night and warm breakfast in the morning.
Unless of course, I have any friends in Atlanta that want to put me up for the night and drive me to the trail in the early morning. Anyone? Bueller? Bueller? … Eh, who needs that, this is an adventure so why not start off with a logistical one. Hello Neiman!