After re-reading the dark and sometimes suspect details of a well known mountaineering tragedy, I decided that I wanted some lighter reading. Some hikers I knew distantly recommended Jeff Alt’s A Walk for Sunshine (originally published in 2000) about Alt’s charity thru hike on the Appalachian Trail (AT, 2,160 mi.) in 1998.
The book’s strength is in its detailed introduction to thru hiking sprinkled throughout the story. He hiked the trail supported by his family, friends and charity, primarily by shipping resupply packages and notes to him to strategic locations along the trail. In fact, one point of interest compared to some of the unsupported climbers on the trail was that Alt was able to carry the maps of the region of the trail he was hiking thanks to his support team, while others either brought the entire volume of guides and maps, which were heavy, or left them behind altogether.
Alt talks about what to put in resuply boxes, where to obtain information about appropriate foods to pack and gear to use. He also recommends the Work Book for Planning Thru Hikes by the Appalachian Trail Conference to help plan for supply stops, distances covered and so forth.
The psychological challenge of hiking a long distance was certainly present in the early chapters. He explained that it was necessary to occupy the mind early in the day when starting to hike. He suggested choosing a problem or issue to examine and work to solve it in your end through the day. More importantly, because of the potentially overwhelming nature of tackling the AT, it was important to recognize and celebrate important milestones, such as crossing a state border or crossing 100 miles, or 500 miles and so forth.
Compared to other long hiking stories, it is more enjoyable than some others, which are quite bland and often read like trail guides about their own life on the trail. Even A Walk for Sunshine was a little dry at moments. However, it was at least cystal clear why he was hiking and needed to make the end of the trail. It was not to find himself or discover some secret to life or complain about how we as society have gotten away from simpler times and ways. Alt was engaging in a sport he loved to draw attention to the Sunshine Home in Toledo, Ohio where his brother lived with cerebral palsy. Alt dedicated the walk and the book to his brother Aaron. I think his reason for hiking had a lot to do with his success on the AT.
The story is not a saga like the hike itself and is a quick read. I enjoyed some portions much more than others and was disappointed he did not talk more about the trail in the northeast, instead spending more time and chapters on the southeast portion. The ending was obvious (which was difficult to avoid) and was not creative. I would recommend it if you’re into long hikes and plan on hiking through. It was especially insightful if you plan to go supported.
Lastly, Alt’s website has some additional information including news on his current projects: www.jeffalt.com