About A Walk for Sunshine by Jeff Alt
Each year, thousands of people start a thru-hike of the entire 2,000+ mile Appalachian Trail (AT) that runs between Georgia and Maine. The trek is a feat of endurance and determination that takes on average nearly 6 months to complete. Only a couple hundred people finish each year. Several of the 2,000-milers who finished have written books about their AT experiences to motivate and guide others.
As you can imagine, many of the stories are similar due to the shared nature of a thru-hike on the same trail. However, each story changes based on the individual’s challenges and the people they met on the trail. A stand out in the bunch is A Walk for Sunshine by Jeff Alt.
In his book, author Jeff Alt discussed how he turned his desire to hike the AT into fundraising opportunity for Sunshine Communities. Sunshine Communities is an Ohio-based community for those with disabilities. With Sunshine’s support, Jeff raised funds to help purchase new equipment for residents like Jeff’s brother Aaron who is a long-time resident of Sunshine. Jeff’s connection to Sunshine is shown throughout his trek through phone calls, letters, and packages sent to Jeff along the trail.
Recently released, the 20th anniversary edition of the book includes a new foreword by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and an afterword by Sunshine Communities. The new edition celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Sunshine Walk, Run, and Roll, which was first held in conjunction with Jeff’s hike on the AT in 1998. To date, Jeff’s hike and the Sunshine Walk, Run, and Roll have raised over $500,000 in donations for Sunshine Communities.
Disclosure: I received a free review copy of A Walk for Sunshine from the publisher Beaufort Books.
Brief Summary of A Walk for Sunshine
While Jeff’s journey is rooted in charity, the majority of the book focuses on his hike along the AT. He starts with a few pages on why he is thru-hiking the AT, how he got his gear, and his game plan for the hike. Once on the trail, Jeff weaves in details about what he packed, the food he ate, how he gets his resupply boxes, how he communicates with people off-trail, and most prominently details about the trail itself.
Jeff’s trail details cover everything from trail terrain to shelters to the weather he experienced. He also does not shy away from writing about trail dangers. He talks about his personal experiences of slipping on rocks, near-hypothermia, hiking at night, encountering wildlife, and nearly destroying his feet (how he acquired his trail name of Wrongfoot). He also shares about community-wide issues like seeing most-wanted signs for a high-profile fugitive, reporting a creepy hiker to rangers, and confronting a group of hikers who left a trail of uncomfortable and disheartened hikers behind them. By sharing these experiences, Jeff is able to convey the importance of self-awareness and sticking together as a community to benefit the greater good.
For me, the heart of Jeff’s story lies more in the people he meets, than trail specifics. Throughout his hike, Jeff describes the hikers he encounters and their reasons for being on the trail. Most of the time, these connections greatly enhance his story. My favorite stories were about the trail magic Jeff received from trail angels he encountered and fellow hikers. I could read a whole book on trail angel and magic experiences of thru-hikers.
There were several themes throughout the book that really connected with on a personal level. The first is Jeff’s connection to his disabled brother. His brother Aaron has similar health issues (cerebral palsy and other cognitive deficits) to one of my aunts. While Aaron is unable to traditionally communication, Jeff describes his brother as “always laughing and smiling as if he were up to something”. My aunt is similar and always greets us with a giant smile and her signature laugh. I really connection with Jeff’s thoughts about what his brother’s life would be like if he had the “physical and mental opportunities” that we all take for granted.
Another connection point is about pushing through difficult times. At one point in the book Jeff sustains an injury and must push through the pain. As someone in the middle of a long recovery after an extensive ankle surgery, his perseverance really resonated with me. I think we can all follow his lead by remembering to let our bodies heal even when we want to keep moving.
The third personal connection point I wanted to share is about hiking your own hike. Jeff notes that for him “hiking helps me regroup and separate my priorities from the responsibilities that I’ve shouldered. It’s amazing how much more refreshed and successful I am after I realign my focus and goals”. Similar to Jeff, I always tell people that being in nature recharges my battery and allows me to get through my 9-to-5. As such, hiking is a personal experience for me and as Jeff eludes, there is no single pace or route that is better than another. Just the one that is right for each individual person.
- “Living your dream is one thing, but sharing it lets everyone live it with you”. – Honestly, I started sharing adventure/trip summaries with my family via a weekly newsletter while studying abroad. My family and friends loved them emails and eventually I started blogging to continue to share my adventures.
- “… research a product before criticizing it”. – In this time of “tweet-first, think later” I think this is more important than ever, especially when it comes to gear. What works for one person isn’t always going to work for another. Do you research, try things on, and use it multiple times before making a decision.
- “Anyone who tries a thru-hike should be considered a hero for being bold enough and determined to give it a try”. – I couldn’t agree more!
- “Yet the forests and mountains are the same in national parks as in national forests, despite the different designations”. – I loved seeing this included in the book! I’m a life-long national park nerd and in the past few years I have really started to embrace and champion all of our public lands. Regardless of designation, they deserve our love and maintenance.
Would I recommend it?
Yes. This book is a solid read about a personal Appalachian Trail experience. I like that the book chronicles Jeff’s personal thru-hike experience instead of acting as a “hiking guide”. I think readers are able to relate their personal experiences to Jeff’s. Specifically, his stories of the people he meets, the struggles he overcomes, and the wildlife he encounters. Jeff does share his gear list and recommendations for those who want a little more “trail guide” with their hiking story.
Pick up your copy of A Walk for Sunshine
A Walk for Sunshine can be purchased in major bookstores and online. If shopping on Amazon, I encourage you to use my Amazon affiliate links at no extra charge to you.