Michael Neiman has one item on his bucket list, and if everything goes according to plan, he’ll be checking that item off later in the summer. But getting to that point will require a meticulously planned journey of 2,190.9 miles that started March 1 in northern Georgia.
Neiman, a 36-year-old project manager and Minneapolis native now living in Los Angeles, is embarking on hiking the Appalachian Trail, which stretches from Georgia to Maine. He is starting the hike with four friends from Minneapolis and will be joined by other friends and family along the way, but the majority of the journey will be done alone – save for the other hikers he is with along the way.
“I was always raised on hiking and backpacking,” said Neiman. “My father would lead group trips for Minneapolis Community Education. When I was in college at the U, I read the now-famous book by Bill Bryson A Walk in the Woods, which is the most well-known book about someone hiking the Appalachian Trail. But what I found very interesting is that he failed at hiking it. He quit about halfway through. I thought if this guy can’t do and I like backpacking, I certainly can do it. ”
The number of people who attempt the hike each year has been going up but the exact numbers aren’t known – it’s only through voluntary registration that the Appalachian Trail Conservancy knows that 4,744 hikers attempted the hike in 2017 and 890 completed it – only 18 percent. Neiman said that 50 hikers are registered to start on March 1 with him.
“You create a ‘trail family’ with the people hiking at the same speed as you and camping at the same shelters,” he said. “You’re not nearly as alone as it feels like it should be.”
Neiman said that hikers typically fall into two categories – those who just graduated college or those who just retired. He had planned on being in the former category, but he got a job right after graduation at Capital Camps in Maryland. He then moved back to Minneapolis after a year and got into the corporate world, which made the timing difficult. It works now because the Neiman’s are about to move to Maryland at the end of the summer when his wife, Dana, finishes her three-year residency program in veterinary internal medicine. He’ll be taking a leave of absence from his job before restarting in their east coast office after they move.
There is one other conflicting situation besides the impending move. They have a wedding in Philadelphia at the end of July. He has planned for that, too.
“Wherever I am, I have to hop off the trail, join my wife and friends, and hop back on. That’s a bit of a reset point for me,” he said. His plan to is restart after the wedding at the New Hampshire border for the last stretch of the hike, no matter where is up to at that point. If he doesn’t get there, he’ll finish the section he missed at the end of the summer after they’ve moved.
What that all means is meticulous planning; He plans to complete the hike in four and a half months, where most take about six months. Neiman’s plan is to average about 17 miles per day.
“The reason I plan it out is so I know how often I’ll go through a town and resupply food, and so I can stick as close as I can to a timeline,” Neiman said. “I’ve planned out a lot. I already have the car rental set for when I have to go to Philadelphia. If it all goes well it will align to the plan.
“I have to put an asterisk there because everyone who’s ever done this will tell you it doesn’t go according to the plan. But I feel confident. I’ve mitigated the risk as much as possible.”
Although there is plenty that is out of his control – even with all the planning he’s done.
“There’s a lot of anxiety about what the reality will bring,” he said. “I have to be comfortable hiking on the fourth day of a thunderstorm. I can’t take time off for weather or do this as luxuriously as I want.”
Besides Bryson’s book, much of Neiman’s love for camping comes from his years working at Herzl Camp for many years. He was an Ozo in 1998, Papa Ozo in 2005 with many jobs in between. One of them was Rosh Teva, where was responsible for planning the camping trips and overnights for all programs at Herzl.
“That helped me understand what it takes to set up a successful trip and enjoy being backpacking and camping with a community around me,” he said. “Two of my closest friends that I go backpacking with every year are friends from Herzl. We’ve been to Alaska, Yosemite, and they’ll join me for a section in Maine. It’s been a huge part of my preparation and joy for this activity to be able to share with others that went to Herzl with me.”
While this excursion may have a mid-life crisis feel to it, Neiman said he isn’t doing to bring excitement to his life.
“For most of my life, this has been the one and only thing on my bucket list,” he said. “What it came down to is this is one of the things that I want to look back on in life and have accomplished.”