Next month, Mike Cleaver will go hiking on the Appalachian Trail. No, not the part of the trail that you might have briefly visited during the fifth grade outing at Fairview Lake. Cleaver is headed to the trail’s far northern end, deep in the woods of Maine, to hike for 100 miles. Oh, and he’s doing it all for a good cause: Cleaver is seeking to raise $2,000 for the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, which supports people living with paralysis caused by spinal cord injuries.
Cleaver loves to hike. He did 200 miles of hiking last year in day trips across New Jersey and New York. But hiking isn’t usually an avenue for charity fundraising, which tends to focus on 5k and 10k races. And Cleaver, by his own admission, hates running.
For some time, Cleaver has wanted to hike the 100-Mile Wilderness, the stretch of the Appalachian trail that runs from Monson, Maine, to Baxter State Park near the foot of Mount Katahdin. He plans on doing 10 miles a day on a section of trail that is much more mountainous than what we know in New Jersey, shouldering a backpack loaded with camping gear and all his food.
“When you hike the trail in New Jersey, it goes near towns, so you can step off and go to a deli,” he says. “In the 100-Mile Wilderness, you are on your own.” That includes cell-phone service. “There are a couple of spots where, if you’re on top of a mountain, you might get a bar,” he says. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy estimates that 3 million visitors hike a portion of the trail every year and 20,000 people have hiked its full length–2,000 miles–since 1936.
But Cleaver is adamant that this story should not be about him and any challenges he might face, but on the people who can’t now hike the 100-Mile Wilderness, the people being helped by the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.
The foundation came to be known for former “Superman” actor Christopher Reeve after he was paralyzed in 1995 by a horse-riding accident. It focuses on what it calls “today’s care” and “tomorrow’s cure.” Its Paralysis Resource Center provides informational support for people living with paralysis, including veterans, as well as financial support for nonprofits that mirror the Reeve Foundation’s mission. The foundation also supports scientific research into spinal cord injuries, giving more than $138 million since its inception.
Those dual goals are important to Scott Chesney, who was left paralyzed by a spinal strike while he was still an athlete at Verona High School. “By focusing on today’s care and tomorrow’s cure,” Chesney says, “the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation reminds people that a rewarding quality of life can be achieved while living life with paralysis and to know that the finish line is a world where people will rise again and walk away from their wheelchairs.” The World Health Organization says that between 250,000 and 500,000 people worldwide suffer a spinal cord injury every year.
Cleaver learned about the Reeve Foundation’s work through Chesney, and was inspired to make a hike that he has long wanted to do into something more.
“For me, the 100-Mile Wilderness will be a challenge, but it’s not extraordinary,” Cleaver says. “But it is a fun adventure that will, I hope, raise awareness of an organization that is doing great work.”
Cleaver’s Reeve Foundation fundraising page is here. If you’d like to donate but would rather not do it through the page, you can also send him a check or use Paypal (paypal.me/michaelcleaver2457).