A Walk for Sunshine – excerpt

A Walk for Sunshine – excerpt

If you are like me consuming hiking books is like eating after you have been on the trail for a month … you read everything you can get your hands on. Today we provide you with an excerpt from A Walk for Sunshine, Jeff Alt’s memoir of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail to honor his brother who has cerebral palsy. Buy it on Amazon.

Jeff Alt A Walk for SunshineChapter 5
Strange Bedfellows
Blood Mountain, Georgia. March 2, 1998. 28 miles from Springer Mountain, Georgia.

AT SUNRISE THE NEXT MORNING, everyone immediately started moving about, and I could finally see the faces of the folks I had intruded on the night before. No one looked like an ax murderer, but then, what does an ax murderer look like? The group consisted of a retired minister and his wife (the Spoons), a retired gentlemen (Bevo), a college student between career/academic paths (Magaroni), and a man of about 50 (Packrat). It turned out that he was attempting a thru-hike for the fourth time and was not retired and hadn’t taken a sabbatical from work. He had just plain quit his job in order to hike.

Everyone had assembled their gear into packs before I finished making coffee. I was moving slowly, and every step I took resulted in jolting pain from my blisters. Everyone said goodbye and good luck and was on the trail by 8 a.m.

My feet were pathetic. I sat there on my sleeping bag staring down at the most important asset for a hiker. My dogs were covered in square bits of flesh-colored moleskin and strips of duct tape. It looked like I had walked through a pile of confetti with glue on my feet. I squeezed painfully into my boots. My backpack was leaning against the side shelter wall, so I sat down on the shelter platform, leaned back, and slipped my arms through the pack straps. I stood up and immediately thought, It’s going to be a long day. I trudged on. The temperature remained low, never breaking 40 degrees. I moved along all day, winding through the Chattahoochee National Forest, going up and down Georgia’s finest mountains. By mid-afternoon, I arrived at a gap in the mountains called Miller Gap. Looking at the map unfolded on my lap, the profile showed a continuous five-mile climb straight up Blood Mountain, the highest peak of the AT in Georgia. This mountain was named after an Indian battle between the Cherokee and the Creek Indians. Supposedly, the battle was so fierce that blood dripped down the mountain.

I began my ascent after energizing myself with a candy bar. Every step challenged my balance. I felt like a roller-coaster car slowly approaching the top of the biggest hill, catching each chain link as I progressed closer to the top. As I approached the summit, it began to snow. The temperature had dropped significantly. Just the day before, it had been 60 degrees and sunny. The thermometer attached to my pack read 20 degrees, and when I stopped to take a drink, I noticed slush forming in my water. I was concerned. The profile map gave a poor indication of how much farther I had to go in order to reach the shelter. I could stop and pitch my tent if the weather became severe, but there would be no water supply.

Eventually, I summited Blood Mountain, which is a respectable 4,460 feet above sea level. The trail led smack into a four-walled gray stone shelter on the summit. Given the declining weather and a tough 12-mile day with raw feet, I decided to stop there for the night.

I stepped into the shelter and found one of the men that stayed with me the night before. His trail name was Bevo, and he was a Texan. Bevo is the name of the mascot of the University of Texas. The shelter had window cutouts but no panes of glass or shutters. The wind had picked up and was blowing snow into the shelter, which had begun to drift onto the sleeping platform. Bevo and I took the plastic ground cloths from our tents and some duct tape and secured it to the southern window, but the tape kept coming off. We collected some rocks from outside the shelter and used them as weights to hold the plastic.

We then cut some slits in the plastic so that it wouldn’t tear in the strong wind. I laid out my sleeping bag, put on all of my winter gear, and began cooking dinner. Since I was no longer walking and carrying a pack, my body got cold quickly. After dinner, I walked outside to answer nature’s call and noticed that I could see the lights of Atlanta. It was too cold to appreciate the view, so I ran back into the shelter. As soon as I could, I climbed into my sleeping bag, pulled out my headlamp and some paper, and began writing in my journal: March 2: 12 miles today, feet are hamburger. The temperature is around 20 degrees. The year of “El Nino” is not giving me the warm weather everyone predicted. Hopefully better weather tomorrow. Heading into Neels Gap for my first resupply.

I turned off my headlamp and burrowed deep into my sleeping bag to keep warm. In spite of the cold, I managed to doze off sometime later, only to be awakened by a heavy object moving across my feet and lower legs. I could hear my heart beating over the sound of an unknown creature moving around on top of my legs. Not knowing what to expect, I cautiously reached out, grabbed my flashlight, and turned it on. A skunk was lying on my sleeping bag! I cautiously nudged it with my foot, and it jumped off the platform, raising its tail. Great. The last thing I needed was a putrid scent on my gear and body, but the skunk didn’t spray me. Instead, it ducked out of sight under the bunk platform, which was about eight inches off the ground.

I took out my candle and lit it. I figured the little critter would leave me alone, being afraid of flames. I was wrong. Twenty minutes later, I felt the weight drop on my feet and legs again, I sat up, and there he was, sprawled out on my sleeping bag again. The candle had given him enough light to precisely place his body between my legs on my bag. I decided that he just wanted to keep warm and that he was going to stay there, so I lay back down. Believe it or not, I actually fell asleep with a skunk on my feet.

The next morning, the skunk was gone. He must have gotten up at first light and scurried back under the platform. I poured some water into my pan and fired up the stove. The temperature had remained below 20 degrees all night. I made some coffee with the hot water and ate a granola bar.

I only had a two-mile descent to Neels Gap, my first resupply point. I packed up my gear more quickly than I had done on the previous day. My feet still hurt, but the cold weather kept me moving fast in order to keep warm. I figured that the quicker that I moved down the trail, the quicker I would warm up.

Author Jeff AltBiography (from Amazon)
Jeff Alt’s adventures, books, and advice have been featured on ESPN, Discovery Channel.com, Hallmark Channel, in Backpacker Magazine, the AP, Fitness RX for Men, LA Times, Women’s Health, Shape, Scholastic Parent & Child, and more. Alt is a celebrated author and a talented speaker. Alt’s book, A Walk for Sunshine, won the Gold in the 2009 “Book of the Year” awards sponsored by Fore Word Reviews, it took first place winner in the 2009 National Best Books Awards Sponsored by USA Book News and won a Bronze in the 2010 Living Now Book Awards. Alt’s book, Get Your Kids Hiking, won the bronze in both the 2014 Living Now Book Awards and the 2013 IndieFab Award in Family and Relationships. Alt has now created an award-winning children’s National Park series, The Adventures of Bubba Jones. The third book in the series will release in June, 2018. He is a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America (OWAA). Alt has walked the Appalachian Trail, the John Muir Trail with his wife, and he carried his 21-month old daughter across a path of Ireland.

5 Brilliant Gear Solutions for Long-Distant Hikers

5 Brilliant Gear Solutions for Long-Distant Hikers

Gear, gear, gear. It’s easy to get bogged down in the minutia of gear stats when outfitting a long-distance hike. Weight, size, material, multi-use’ness, cost, it seems an unending process to choose what is best. Today’s list is 5 items that can be easily left out, but provide gear solutions to common backpacking problems. Most of these serve multiple purposes and they all are lightweight compared to their utility. (more…)

Five Free Resources For The AT Thru-Hiker

Five Free Resources For The AT Thru-Hiker

Some of the resources that a thru-hiker needs or wants are available for free in various formats. Here are my 5 favorites.

1) GPS and in-phone maps:

The Hiker Bot app is a free tool that can take the place of Guthooks. Sadly, it is not yet available for Apple iWhatever products. But, if you are an Android user, check it out, it might save you $70. (more…)

5 Photogenic Spots on the Appalachian Trail (that aren’t McAfee Knob)

5 Photogenic Spots on the Appalachian Trail (that aren’t McAfee Knob)

There are hundreds of photo opportunities along the 2200 miles of the Appalachian Trail. I wanted to showcase my five favorites. Since these are shots from our journey there are not any from early on in the trip … it was always raining. Rain and fog shut us down at many well known locations—Max Patch, Charlie’s Bunion, and Clingman’s Dome for example.

While McAfee Knob is kick ass and we actually had a nice clear day and have the resulting cool shot I wanted to showcase some lesser-known locations. All photos were taken with my iPhone 7 Plus. And yes, I am partial to lake views. (more…)

5 Signs You May Be a Recent Thru Hiker

5 Signs You May Be a Recent Thru Hiker

Six months, 2189.8 miles, 5 million steps, tramping through 14 states. No matter what stat you use to define it, there is no denying that an Appalachian Trail thru-hike is an impressive feat. It can be life changing … and habit forming.

Some of these habits don’t fit too well in the real world, making the recent thru-hiker stick out like a person climbing a mountain wearing a suit and tie. Here are some identifying traits: (more…)

5 Backpacking Luxury Items That Can Save Your Sanity

5 Backpacking Luxury Items That Can Save Your Sanity

We all know about the Big 3 and everyone is aware of the necessary clothes to take on a thru-hike. But no one really talks about the small items that can make or break a person’s will. Sometimes identified as backpacking luxury items, those that rely on them know how much of a necessity they are. (more…)

Sunsets’ Post Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike Gear List

Sunsets’ Post Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike Gear List

Chica recently posted her finalized and post-hike gear list. As per usual, I am a couple of weeks behind. Hey, you’re lucky I got off my butt and posted anything. I can be quite lazy. Below you will find my Appalachian Trail thru-hike gear list.

The list includes everything I started with, items I sent home and got back, as well as gear I sent home never to return. I also provide mini reviews and commentary where I have something to say. At a minimum I will let you know what gear I Loved, Liked, found Meh, or Hated.  (more…)

Appalachian Trail Thru-hike Week One

Day One, March 22nd. 

Song in my head: We’ve Only Just Begun by the Carpenters. The obvious reason for this song is not why it’s rattling around up there. Before we left for the trail I had watched the movie 1408. If you have seen the film you know I get to keep my man-card. 

Our hike was from the Approach Trail to Springer Mt Shelter. We gained about 3500 feet over 9.0 miles. We started at 8:45 and ended at 3:30 pm, for a total of 6 hours and 45 minutes. Last mile to Springer was very tough. We are tired but fine. Springer shelter has 2 privies, multiple campsites, shelter, water source and bear cables for hanging our food bags. 
The wind howled all night. At first I thought it was the sound of semis driving down a highway. The problem was the freeway seemed to be getting closer and closer as the night progressed until the freeway was just outside our tent. 
Day two, March 23
7.1 miles Springer mountain Shelter to Hawk Mountain Campsite. Site is huge and spread out with 30 tent areas spaced very nicely. Bear boxes, privy and water source too. Hike start and stop – 9:05 – 1:45. 
Day three, March 24
Weary legs wobbly, but they don’t fall down; no they just keep walking.
8.4 miles from Hawk Mountain tent site to Gooch Mountain shelter. Left at 9am arrived at 3. Sassafras should be renamed Sassy Ass. A very tough climb for me. 
Day four, March 25
Song in my head: Oh, oh it’s Magic
Strolled 8.6 miles from Gooch Mountain Shelter to Lance Creek restoration area. Bear cables tent sites and great water source. Felt strong all day for the first time.
Two instances of trail magic today, breakfast and lunch. We knew breakfast was coming as the angel came through camp the night before letting everyone know. Lunch was unexpected and awesome. Burgers dogs chips and all the fixings. 
Rained for hours in the early morning, but woke to and walked in fog but dry. 
Day 5, March 26
7.2 lance creek to Neels Gap. 7:50-1:50. 6 hours. 
Took down a wet tent and hiked in drizzle all day. Blood mountain was a tough one. Both going up and coming down. Great end though at blood mountain cabins. Hot water, a small shop with pizza and wings and sundry items. Free laundry they do for you. Yippee. 
Song in my head: Vampires by Meat Puppets. It’s just a spooky looking day. 
Day 6, March 27
Neel (or Neels. I, like apparently everyone else, use the two interchangeably) Gap to Whitley Shelter. 9:30 – 2:30 6.7 miles (7.9 total). Easy day. 
Song in my head today: College by Matt the Electrition. Particularly the lyric, “he’s got a Gatorade bottle where he goes pee and your behind him with your college degree.” I’ll let you make your own inference. 
My shelter log entry today: I spent $100 just browsing at Mountain crossings. 
Supposed to rain tonight, bring it on. (It did not rain)
Day 7, March 28

Whitley Gap to Poplar Stamp Gap. 6.2 7.4. They should change the name of Poplar Stamp to Popular Stamp. This unofficial campsite has room for three tents and a campfire. 
We are 10 tents and 2 hammocks strong tonight. Chica and I arrived early and set up our tent. About an hour later a posse of testosterone permeates the space; I dub them the Bro Bros. We are treated to hours of talk of miles, gear and grams. 
On a positive note tomorrow is just an 8 mile hike and a shuttle will pick us up to take us into town for 2 nights and a full day of rest. No rain forecast for tonight. 
My shelter entry when we stopped for lunch: AT Mantra, “Just one more mountain.”
Great first week. 

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