Every year, thousands of trekkers attempt to complete the Appalachian Trail, yet only several hundred will succeed in making their way from Springer Mountain, Ga., to Katahdin, Maine, entirely on foot.
In 1998, writer, teacher and outdoor enthusiast Jeff Alt completed the 2,160 mile trail.
He has since used his adventure to help raise more than $180,000 in honor of his brother Aaron, who was born with cerebral palsy.
For 147 days, Alt placed one foot in front of the other — enduring blizzards, 15 consecutive days of rain, 100 degree heat, blisters and physical exhaustion.
All of it was in support of Sunshine Inc., an assisted living facility — where Aaron currently lives — dedicated to helping those with developmental disabilities.
Since returning home, Alt has wanted to share his experiences and encourage others to enjoy the beauty of the natural
Last year’s release of the third edition of his critically acclaimed book “A Walk for Sunshine,” and the accompanying film “A Walk for Sunshine Appalachian Trail Show” has inspired Alt to embark on a nationwide tour to showcase his work.
In anticipation of the film’s screening on Saturday at the Lyric, the Collegiate Times spoke with Alt to better understand this multifaceted hiker’s story.
Construction on the Appalachian Trail began in the 1920s with Benton McKaye’s vision of providing city dwellers with an escape into the wilderness.
Today, the meandering trail encompasses some of the eastern seaboard’s roughest terrain and stretches along the length of the east coast, passing through 14 states.
Like many hikers, Alt began his journey in the early and chilly days of March in order to time his progress along the trail with the changing seasons and minimize the risks associated with the hike.
On the trail there is no stereotypical trekker or reason for hiking what most would consider an unthinkable distance.
There were retired couples, young people, soldiers on leave from the military and even a Virginia Tech student who was walking back from college to see his girlfriend for spring break, Alt said.
Every hiker treks for a reason, and for Alt the challenge was a personal one.
Each day, Aaron faces innumerable hardships, being unable to feed, bathe or cloth himself, yet he maintains the joy of life so many of us often forget to appreciate.
“Each day presented a new set of challenges. For each of the 147 days, I adapted, solved my dilemmas and kept moving
As he carried his life in a 50-pound backpack for almost five months, Alt knew his task was still easier than living life confined to a wheelchair.
“My strongest memories are waking up each morning with my only worries being food, shelter, more food and meeting fascinating people that have remained friends to this day, having a great view each day and the serenity that comes from a quiet walk in the woods,” Alt said.
Like many trekkers, Alt’s experiences on the Appalachian Trail have transformed his life in more ways than one.
“What has been fun for me is adapting my problem-solving skills from the trail into my daily life,” Alt said. “On the trail, quitting or giving up wasn’t an option. Moving forward and overcoming the obstacle or challenge was the only way to get to Maine. When work, family or life in general presents a problem, my trail prowess kicks in.”
For those considering making the hike, Alt recommended partnering up with an experienced hiker, reading Appalachain Trail memoirs and taking shorter hikes.
“The hikers that complete the journey are the ones that have that burning internal desire to see it through,” Alt said. “You will have more rainy days than sunny days. This is a goal that will require everything you got.”
Alt currently lives in Granville, Ohio, with his wife and two daughters.
He works as a teacher and writer. Together the family ventures into the wilderness as often as its busy schedule allows.