Jeff Alt, author of “A Walk for Sunshine”, had hiked parts of the Appalachian Trail a few times before he decided he wanted to walk the whole trail, all 2,160 miles of the trail. According to Alt, in 1948, Earl Shaffer, a WWII veteran became the first “thru walker” as those attempting the feat are called. Fifty years later, Alt set out to join the ranks of the many and varied individuals who choose to tackle the same challenge.
In “A Walk for Sunshine”, Alt shares the details of his four-and-a-half month journey. You’ll find funny stories such as how he got the trail name “Wrongfoot”. And, he’ll tell you about his decision to use his walk to raise money for the Sunshine Home, which cares for over 850 mentally retarded and developmentally disabled people in northwest Ohio. One of those residents is Alt’s brother Aaron. Jeff’s endeavor raised $16,000 that year, and now, there is a yearly 5K fundraising walk that continues to raise money for the residents of Sunshine.
The book contains 35 relatively short and easy-to-read chapters of both the internal and external barriers and challenges Alt faced on the trail. The logistics involved are quite daunting and require quite a bit of planning and forethought. Just imagine planning food, clothes, sleeping, water, and all the other necessities you would need to walk for four-and-a-half months through the mountains.
Alt meets many fellow thru-walkers and all are introduced by their trail names, such as (to name just a few) Packrat, Crash, Comfortably Numb, Happy Jo, and Rob. They share stories and meals and sleeping quarters (primitive though they are) along the trail. Some walk in pairs or small groups, but most walk alone. Some walk all the way through, some have to quit early. Some keep trying.
I enjoyed this book much more than I anticipated. I found it motivating and inspiring and entertaining. Alt is not a “travel writer” or an “adventure writer”; but he tells a great story anyway. It is a very personal story and it is easy to imagine being there on the trail.
However, there were many occasions when I know I would have called a cab. I have much admiration for anyone choosing to tackle such a challenge. I have visited and even hiked a teeny, tiny bit in the Smoky Mountains, so I knew this was no Sunday walk in the park. Plus, I love personal achievement stories and I find walking to be a great life practice. And, while I am pretty sure I am (deep down) resilient enough to cope with almost anything, I also know my choice is to shower daily and sleep without a skunk trying to cuddle up to me. But as Alt says, the unofficial trail motto is “Hike your own hike”, so I’m fine with that.
At the end of the book, Alt gives tips on how you can raise money for charity while you follow your own dreams. He also shares several "life lessons" he learned that have stuck with him in the 10 years since he hiked the trail. Alt definitely hikes his own hike, and has helped improve the quality of life for many people like his brother, Aaron. His story is an inspiration for the rest of us on many levels.
To read and enjoy Jeff’s story yourself or to gift it to someone else, you can buy the book at Amazon.com: