Appalachian Trail Memoir "A Walk for Sunshine" is a Cheerful Read for Hiking Enthusiasts
Jeff Alt's memoir describes his thru-hike adventures and fundraising for Sunshine Communities
Required disclosure: I received the book A Walk for Sunshine for free to read and review on the blog. I was not paid for this post and the opinions in this post are strictly my own.
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I've got to admit something to you all: as much as I love hiking and books I've actually read very few trail memoirs. Sure, I've read the basics like Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods* and Cheryl Strayed's Wild*, but that's about it (correction: that is it!), and even then those are hiking novels written by writers rather than memoirs written by hikers. So when Beaufort Books reached out to me to see if I'd be interested in reading Jeff Alt's A Walk for Sunshine* I was eager to give it a chance.
In 1998 Jeff Alt was fresh out of graduate school and actively training for and promoting his dream: to thru-hike the 2,160-mile Appalachian Trail and raise $10,000 for Sunshine Communities where his brother Aaron lives. Aaron, as Alt explains, "was born...with cerebral palsy and an intellectual disability" and moved into Sunshine assisted care where he "receives outstanding health care, social interaction, and even employment." Alt's love for his brother and enthusiasm for Sunshine is obvious throughout the book: it is a great source of motivation for why Alt undertakes the hike and is a source of encouragement along the trail that so few manage to complete.
Alt's great skill is as a marketer and speaker and he flexes his marketing and motivational muscles early in the story by providing brief details on his background, the cause for which he is fundraising, and how he went about securing sponsorships, raising awareness, and soliciting $7,000 of his $10,000 goal before even starting his hike in March. By chapter three Alt and the reader start on the thru-hike experience together, and by chapter four the hike is off to the wrong foot - literally speaking, as Alt recounts how he receives his trail name "Wrongfoot."
The remaining 250 pages are dedicated to sharing the journey on the trail with Alt's readers and reflecting on his experience away from the rush of the summer of 1998, modern comforts, and warm meals. What Alt does have though is a powerful community of friends, family, and supporters who promote Sunshine and encourage Alt along his thru-hike. Throughout the book Alt introduces his readers to those supporters: parents, friends, siblings, and even his love interest and future wife Beth. The details of the trail are absorbing, and Alt's experiences are frequently humorous and cheerful.
Each chapter opens with a graphic marking Alt's progress, his parents in Florida where his resupply boxes originate, and Sunshine Incorporated in Ohio where his brother Aaron lives. Those who are familiar with the trail will enjoy revisiting iconic landmarks as Alt slowly makes his way north over six months from Springer Mountain and Blood Mountain in Georgia, to the Great Smoky Mountains and Max Patch in North Carolina, to Damascus and Mount Rogers and Shenandoah in Virginia, all the way to the final celebratory summit of Mount Katahdin in Maine surrounded by family. Those who are not familiar with the trail will appreciate Alt's pacing through the book, savoring the details and anecdotes along the hike, the characters he meets, explanations of trail history and terminology, and the daily experience of living on the trail.
While the writing itself lacks finesse and the story arc only gets the reader from point A to point B without any great character development, the memoir is overall enjoyable for those who have hiked the Appalachian Trail or who have an interest in the Appalachian Trail. It is neither a novel or a helpful guide to conquering the trail, but it is still an interesting read and I found myself absorbed by the book in the evenings in front of the fire in the cabin at Bullhead Mountain.
Jeff Alt far surpassed his fundraiser of $10,000 on his 1998 thru-hike and his adventure has inspired an annual event raising more than $500,000 for Sunshine and the people it serves. To learn more about the event Walk, Run, and Roll see http://walk.sunshine.org. Jeff Alt continues to speak at events and fundraise, and more information can be found at http://jeffalt.com/.
You can pick up a copy of the book online via Amazon* or you can find purchase options through the publisher Beaufort Books https://www.beaufortbooks.com/a-walk-for-sunshine/. A percentage of book sales is donated to Sunshine Communities.