A famous song by the Doors is called “Love me two times” where Jim Morrison then lets us know he is going away. After reading and enjoying A Walk for Sunshine by adventure author Jeff Alt for a second time, I too want to go away. I want to follow in his footsteps and hike the Appalachian Trail (AT).
Why I read two times
Way back in 2010, I had the pleasure of seeing and meeting Jeff Alt when he presented his Appalachian Trail hike at the local Chicago REI. I read the book as well and did a review of the book and his speaking engagement. It appeared on my adventure column that I wrote for the Chicago Examiner. Examiner is now defunct and all of those pieces have been stripped from the web. Somehow though, I still have the mediocre pictures I took at the event.
20 year anniversary
In honor of the twenty year anniversary, Beaufort Books released a special anniversary issue of the book. I decided to take another look at the adventure and the book, so I read it a second time. I enjoyed it just as much the second time as the first, which is a true testament to how well the book reads. Since my first effort was stripped from the web, I felt the quality of the book and the adventure required a second posting.
An adventure and an inspiration
What sets this adventure book apart from the rest of the Appalachian Trail hike reflections is it is both an interesting account of his journey, and a feel good human story. Besides just hiking the Appalachian Trail, Jeff was fundraising for the Sunshine Foundation. Sunshine Communities in Maumee, Ohio provides for the needs of over 500 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities across the state of Ohio. Jeff’s brother Aaron is one of those individuals.
Jeff’s adventure spawned an annual event called the Sunshine 5K walk, run, and roll. It just celebrated its 20th annual event, and has raised over $500,000 in charitable contributions. The books focus is on the experience hiking the trail, but Jeff’s mind is never far from the cause and his brother as he pushes towards Mount Katahdin and Maine.
Why read Jeff Alt’s a Walk for Sunshine
Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods is the seminal book about the Appalachian Trail. This is as far as many people want to read on the subject. Bryson’s book is entertaining and I highly recommend; however, Bryson did not finish his hike. He also did not like the Smoky Mountains and ended up skipping half of one of the greatest national parks in the country.
Furthermore, Bryson and his cohort hike about a mile of Maine’s 100 mile wilderness and quit. As much as I enjoyed Bryson’s account, I took umbrage in the fact he did not enjoy the wilderness aspects of the hike and disliked two of the most beautiful parts of the trail. As a matter of fact, the only two places along the trail I have hiked have been in the Smoky Mountains and in Maine. I found these two adventures incredible, and I find it hard to believe that Bryson did not have the same reaction.
If you crave adventure and were dismayed at certain parts of Bryson’s book like I was, then Jeff Alt’s book is for you. He completed the whole trail and thoroughly enjoyed the experience being in the woods for 147 days.
What it is like to hike the trail
Reading Jeff Alt’s book A Walk for Sunshine really gives you an idea of what it is like to hike the trail. It does not sugarcoat the bad either. Jeff also explains how he prepped for the trip. He spent a week in Florida shopping for granola bars and stuffing boxes to ship to himself along the trail. Jeff also frequented gyms using a treadmill with a backpack weighted down with sand. He jacked up the settings to simulate the rugged Appalachian Mountains.
This is why reading Jeff’s book is not only interesting to read, but it is educational as well if you plan to hike the trail yourself. If the Appalachian Trail is one of those things you have always wanted to do, then read this book. You will either be committed to doing it after reading the book, or you might change your mind. Either way, you now will have a realistic view of what it is like to hike the trail.
Most people who travel a lot will tell you that although the destination is a key part of the experience, the people who you meet during the adventure are just as important. Jeff does a great job of describing the other colorful hikers and other people he met along the trail. A majority of them were good. On the other hand, the Vegetarians provided an exciting chapter as they terrorized the trail community with aggressive behavior. Jeff confronted them during a tense exchange featuring a pit bull and bear spray.
The Vegetarians were the exception though as most people who are attracted to outdoor sports are generally good people. This fact is well portrayed in the book. Some of the cast of interesting characters that Jeff runs into includes people with trail names like Piasa, Packrat, and Magaroni. Most hikers on the AT go by a trail name. Alt’s trail name was “Wrongfoot.” His name was so designated due to putting in the arch supports backwards into his hiking boots leading to extreme blisters.
Trail magic and trail angels
“Trail magic” is the term for people who help out Appalachian Trail thru hikers. The people who offer the magic are referred to as “trail angels.” Jeff experienced this warm hospitality numerous times. Once he was hiking in the cold at night and a hostel owner agreed to pick him up and ferry him back to the hostel. A group of college students picked up Jeff and his group in the Great Smoky Mountains. They drove them to Gatlinburg and then offered them beer from their cooler. Another time, Jeff was cold and wet and eating at a restaurant. A man offered him a place to stay in his feed barn. The next morning he served him coffee and breakfast.
Positive energy but realistic adventure
Although Jeff’s writing abounds with positive energy about the trail magic and the beauty of the mountains, forests, and streams, he does not cut any corners when talking about some of the bad times. This is why reading this book is useful to those that want to pursue an AT hike. There is a saying on the trail that says: “no pain, no rain, no Maine.” If you are going to walk 2,160 miles, then you are going to have some bad times. Jeff does not avoid the difficulties. He details in sometimes painful prose the cold, the wet, the tired, and the hungry.
Highly recommend reading Jeff Alt’s A Walk for Sunshine
There are many reasons to read this book. If you want to hike the trail, it gives an accurate account. Those that enjoy a good adventure story will find it fits the bill. If you like a feel good human story, Jeff’s fundraising for his brother and instances of trail magic along the journey will warm the heart. I read it and enjoyed it twice, so order your 20th anniversary copy today.
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