Review Of A Walk For Sunshine, by Jeff Alt
© by Jessica Schneider, 7/15/09
2,160 miles in 147 days. Could you hike such a distance? In Jeff Alt’s A
Walk For Sunshine he describes his adventure hiking the Appalachian Trail
from March 1, 1998 to July 25th.
Beginning in Georgia and finishing in Maine, Alt traverses the entire
distance—and all 14 states in between—with just his backpack full of
supplies. The walk was actually planned for months beforehand (one would need
to) and he did it all for charity—for his brother actually, who has cerebral
palsy. The title is actually referring to his sponsor, Sunshine Inc., located in
Northwestern Ohio—the place where Alt’s brother lives and receives care.
A Walk For Sunshine is a fairly fast read—I read it in just a
couple of sittings, and for anyone who enjoys the outdoors or hiking, this would
be the book for you. Told in a very straightforward, matter of fact style, Alt
discloses the ups and downs (literally) he faces on the trail, which make for an
entertaining read. For example, he earns the trail name of “Wrongfoot”
because on his first day of hiking, he was not even 5 miles into the trail when
he could feel his feet beginning to blister. (He later describes his flesh
looking like bubble wrap). What he then discovers is that he put his insoles
into the wrong shoes.
he encounters both the extreme cold as well as fly-filled heat for weather, (in
addition to rain, sleet, and snow) as well as having a skunk fall asleep on his
sleeping bag. (Turned out the poor thing just wanted to get warm–so Alt let
him sleep there).
course, one cannot forget the appetite that such an excursion will bring on. In
addition to describing the mounds of food he’d consume while in the towns in
order to maintain his energy, it turns out that despite his huge appetite, Alt
managed to lose 30 pounds by the end of the journey.
Readers will also become acquainted with the colorful characters along
the way, i.e. the obnoxious hiker “Vegetarians” who have nothing nice to say
to anyone, a creepy man who Alt believed might have been responsible for the
murder of 2 women that took place 2 years before, as well as Packrat, a hiker
who has for numerous times attempted the trail without ever being able to
Alt also does something that readers will appreciate—despite his love
for nature and the outdoors, he does not sneer down on people who don’t share
the same goals as he. As much as I enjoy reading many outdoor adventure books,
every so often I stumble across that pompous attitude (many of them who happen
to obsess over Chris McCandless—the young hiker who tramped abroad for 2 years
and then ended up starving to death in Alaska at the age of 24) as if to imply
the rest of the world couldn’t possibly “understand” their love for
nature, since the rest of the world is not engaging in similar activity.
Another good aspect of the book is that Alt doesn’t preach too much in
regards to religion. He mentions some of his opinions briefly here and there,
but the read is not meant to coax anyone into his belief system or condescend,
but just have them question their lives.
There are also a handful of black and white photos, one taken of Alt’s
bare feet after 2000 miles. And despite looking tired, they still look like
feet. The end of the book also has some notes regarding how one can go about
finding a charity to help sponsor a walk, as well as some of his “life
lessons” learned from the trip.
A Walk For Sunshine is a refreshing read, one that I enjoyed more
than I thought. And while the narrative is not larded with poetic turns of
phrasing like Loren Eiseley, the writing is better than some other outdoor
adventure books I’ve read, many whose names and titles escape me at the
moment. (I honestly can’t remember their names or the book titles, so that
Many a time when people do read these sorts of books, they are expecting
some great tragedy to occur, and then wish to read about how the person managed
to pull out of it. Joe Simpson’s Touching The Void would be a perfect
example (yet an excellent read). In A Walk For Sunshine, there is no
moment where Alt falls into a crevasse and has to get himself out as in the case
with Simpson. He also isn’t foolish like Chris McCandless—the subject of Jon
Krakauer’s book Into The Wild that tells the tale of how McCandless
went to Alaska unprepared as he did. No, unfortunately, Alt was smart and
prepared and it is because of this why A Walk For Sunshine lacks some of
the “sensationalism” as the other books mentioned. What Alt describes is
more of a “realistic” version of what would happen to a prepared, healthy
person if trying to hike the entire Appalachian Trail. But that isn’t
necessarily a bad thing, is it?
If you are looking for a nature-loving book to read, A Walk For Sunshine is funny, cheerful, and deserves your readership.
[An expurgated version of this article originally appeared on The Moderate Voice website.]
Return to Bylines