A Book Review: A Walk for Sunshine
Spending 16 years in the Washington, DC area has allowed me to indulge in hiking in Shenandoah National Park and other major trails in Maryland and Virginia. One trail that is prominent in the area is the Appalachian Trail. Coming from Seattle, I had no idea why many east coast based hikers were enthralled with this particular long distance trail. Admittedly, no matter how many times I've hiked the AT on day hikes and overnight trips, I never once extended my experience on it beyond a 4 day trip. That's more reason for me to read books on the subject of hiking thru the AT to understand the value and culture of the hiking life on the AT.
A few months ago, I was fortunate enough to come across Jeff Alt's book, A Walk for Sunshine. It is a memoir of his life on the AT, written 20 years ago. In fact, the current published version of the book is the 20 year anniversary edition. While trekking in Mount Baker Wilderness in Washington state this past summer, I was lucky to keep myself company by reading Jeff's book for the very first time. I must say reading the book about the AT hike thru experience while on the Mount Baker wilderness trail was a bit strange but after a few pages of reading through Jeff's book, I came to realize rather quickly how hiking can be such a universal experience for everyone no matter what trail you're blazing.
Jeff's book is unique because it not only documents his personal journey on the AT but also captures the real challenges and joy of trekking for a cause. It ain't sunshine all the time to push through boundaries to accomplish a goal your heart truly is set to achieve. In this edition, I appreciated Jeff's outline in the end of concrete steps to take in order to make one's social cause a success for those of us who wish to make hiking a tool to make a difference. His take on the challenges and the work needed is honest and no matter how brutal the process maybe, he inspires anyone to forge ahead anyway, which was very much akin to the life he had on the AT.
What is fascinating about the book? Reading Jeff's account of his struggles as a hiker on the AT are highly universal in their themes and relatability albeit his experiences all happened 20 years ago. Hiking at its finest doesn't change much through time. There are the natural elements to contend with and the variety of terrain and people to challenge ourselves over. Jeff reminds hikers, especially the solo kind, of the significance of self-care, faith and kindness on the trail - but equally so, that such things should also exist off trails.
As if that's not fascinating enough, when he talks about the importance of pursuing an endeavor with the help and support of others, this very notion also remains a universal truth to this day. To succeed in any endeavor, one must learn to include others in the process. Jeff teaches us that success at a philantrophic mission requires a network of movers and shakers. Jeff did exactly that; hence, his fundraising project for Sunshine, an organization that focuses on supporting and providing long term care to individuals with disabilities was a success, to no surprise.
Jeff himself is inspiring as he inspired himself alone on the trail, day in and day out. As a solo hiker and traveler globally, I can understand the importance of being our own source of strength, inspiration and positive thinking. Thanks Jeff for writing a timeless piece for us, hikers. In such a technology driven world that can easily dissuade us from the concept of relatability, it's an opportune time for us to reconnect back to the universal truths on humanity. A Walk for Sunshine does exactly that.
After I finished indulging in reading A Walk for Sunshine, I had the occasion to ask Jeff questions about his book, life philosophies, his fundraising campaign and more. Read on and enjoy!
Many hikers spent time in the outdoors to be in the company of others. Solo hiking is not something that many are comfortable doing. I personally trekked alone in Asia and Europe over 21 countries. Although the endeavor is a physical one, the mental preparation for it is highly important as well. Can you describe the process you took to prepare you mentally for your trek knowing you were doing this for months alone?
You are seldom “alone” on the Appalachian Trail. It’s the busiest footpath in the world. You quickly meet others along the way that started when you did and / or keep a similar pace. You form a trail family and look after each other. I’m a very social person, but I don’t mind being alone and I actually looked forward to it; to see what I would learn about myself. So, that aspect never really bothered me.
What did you learn about solo trekking in your journey that surprised you?
How much food I could eat!
What did you like about hiking solo that you would not have been able to enjoy or experienced if you were with someone or a group?
The freedom to make my own decisions, set my own pace and march to my own drum.
What did you dislike about hiking solo on the AT?
Nothing! Totally loved the experience
Before hitting the trail, what preparations did you make for the anticipated safety risks on this hike?
I cover this in chapters one and two: Stepping Out and Aaron. I was also a seasoned hiker and military veteran with a unique skill set of backcountry experience.
What universal advise would you give to any hiker who wish to do months of trekking?
Try a week of backpacking with a seasoned hiker before investing in all the gear and quitting your job. Make sure you really want to do this!
Since the time you completed your journey, do you still feel a sense of connection to the experience? How so?
Yes! I continually present an Appalachian Trail program in and around the trail which keeps me connected to the trail community.
On the other hand, in what ways do you feel disconnected with the experience 20 years later?
I miss the free flow mental freedom a long distance hike allows for months on end. The ability to walk and problem solve day in, day out for 5 months.
What tips and advise would you give your younger self then 20 years after you hiked the AT?
Pack lighter: Gear has lightened up significantly over the last 20 years. My pack is much lighter these days which allows for a more enjoyable adventure. I would avoid the extreme weather next time around.
Tell us where you are now, what are you doing, any long distance treks you have done recently or plan to do in the future, or any other projects you may have coming up.
Cincinnati, Ohio. I'm writing a National Park book series for children 8-12 years of age and exploring the world with my wife and kids every chance we get.
A younger generation of hikers now can read your book 20 years since its release. What would you say to them as the message of your book?
Go after your Dreams!
With the technology we have now, how do you think that impacts the logistics and planning of similar trek and fundraising projects?
Lots of strategies that can be applied using modern technology (podcasts, video feeds, blogs, etc.) that I didn't have in 98. You could face time a big sponsor and have a fireside chat from your camp. So many engaging ideas with modern technology.
You had extensive support system with your fundraising project which is amazing since these days most people are limited in time. Do you think there are ways to have a successful fundraiser without that same level of assistance from people (given many of us these days lack time)? If so, how does one successfully run a fundraising event without help from others?
I write about how to conduct a fundraiser as part of your adventure in my post script “Walking the Extra Mile (page 262).” A charity takes work just like the adventure itself. You could try using some of the modern web tools, like “go fund me” but without tons of exposure to your cause, your charity may not be a success. The more people involved, and time spent getting the word out, the more likely the success.
Jeff Alt is a speaker, award-winning author, outdoor recreation expert, and accomplished adventurer. Alt’s books and keynotes inspire staffs and individuals to increase productivity, enhance creativity, achieve life balance, and go distances beyond what they ever thought possible. Jeff walked the entire Appalachian Trail which inspired an annual charity, that has raised over $500,000 for people with disabilities. He backpacked the 218-mile John Muir Trail with his wife, carried his 22-month old daughter on a family hike through Ireland, and took his son on to the Appalachian Trail at 6 weeks of age. Alt is a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America (OWAA). He is the author of five award-winning books, A Walk for Sunshine, Four Boots One Journey, Get Your Kids Hiking, and two books in his youth national park series, The Adventures of Bubba Jones. Previous editions of Alt’s bestselling book, A Walk for Sunshine have received 6 book awards. Alt lives with his wife and two children in Cincinnati, Ohio.
A Walk for Sunshine
The 20th anniversary edition of A Walk for Sunshine: a 2,160-mile Expedition for Charity on the Appalachian Trail includes a foreword by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, practical advice to plan your own hiking adventure, and an afterword by Sunshine Communities. The book includes Alt’s Life Lessons from the trail epilogue. A percentage of book sales will be donated to Sunshine Communities. For more information, visit www.jeffalt.com
In A Walk for Sunshine, Jeff Alt details his journey along the 2,160-mile Appalachian Trail in honor of his brother, Aaron, who has cerebral palsy. As Alt walked more than 5 million steps through freezing temperatures, driving rain, and sunny skies, he was constantly buoyed by the knowledge that his walk was dedicated to his brother. As you walk along with Jeff, you experience perseverance, surviving with only the bare essentials, the success of goal setting, and overcoming obstacles. His story sheds light on the pursuit of a simpler life. Filled with humorous, frightening, and inspirational stories including bears, bugs, blisters, captivating characters, skunk bed mates, and hilarious food cravings, outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy this adventure for a noble cause.
Grab a copy of Jeff's book via Amazon.