Review Of A Walk For Sunshine, by Jeff Alt

Copyright © 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.

Also, 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).

Of 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 finish.

  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 says something).

  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.]


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