In A Walk for Sunshine – A 2,160 mile Expedition for Charity on the Appalachian Trail, we hike from Georgia to Maine along with Jeff Alt, as he seeks to raise money for the residential home that cares for his brother Aaron, who is severely afflicted with cerebral palsy. Hiking the Appalachian Trail (“AT”) is an epic accomplishment characterized by extreme weather, stunning scenery, the kindness of strangers and strength of body, not to mention the force of will it takes to put one foot in front of the other for over 2,000 miles. Thousands of people start the AT every year but only a small percentage finish: in 1998, Jeff Alt (trail name: “Wrongfoot”) and my own father (“Lowtide”) were two of the few who made it, giving them entrance into the elite club of “thru-hikers.”
Alt planned his AT adventure well, training with his backpack filled with 50 pounds of sand and preparing six months’ worth of meals in packages to be mailed to him at strategic locations along the AT to facilitate his re-supply. With a background in marketing and sales, his fundraising presentations went smoothly and he ended up raising $7,000 of his $10,000 goal for Sunshine before even setting foot on the trail. His family dropped him at Springer Mountain in Georgia, the southernmost terminus of the AT, and he started walking north on March 1, 1998. Finally, 147 days later Alt reached the top of Maine’s Mount Katahdin, thirty pounds lighter, bearded, stinky and jubilant.
A Walk for Sunshine is the chronological narrative of Alt’s journey. The first half of the book reads almost like a journal, each chapter covering 1-3 days on the Trail. Alt includes some great anecdotes (the skunk that curled up on his sleeping bag for warmth one night, for instance) and does a good job of conveying the physical toll the AT demands. AT hikers walk all day, nearly every day, with 40-50 (or more) pound backpacks over brutal terrain and in all weathers. Early March is still winter, even in Georgia, and Alt found himself in rain, sleet and hip-deep snow for most of his first month on the Trail.
His trail name came from a rookie mistake: he inadvertently switched the arch supports in his hiking boots and ended up blistering both feet into hamburger by the end of the first day. Luckily, Alt was young and strong and pushed through the pain. He clocked impressively high mileage for his entire AT tenure, consistently walking around 10-15 miles each day, but often doing twenty miles and at least once getting thirty miles under his belt before day’s end.