A perk to running your own blog entails receiving the occasional complimentary item to review. Recently I received such an item from Beaufort Books. In exchange for an honest review the company sent me a 20th anniversary edition of A Walk for Sunshine: A 2,160 Mile Expedition for Charity on the Appalachian Trail by Jeff Alt.
Rather than the CP memoirs I usually review, A Walk for Sunshine recounts Alt’s Appalachian Trail thru-hike. The connection to cerebral palsy arises within Alt’s motives. He dedicated his 2,160-mile expedition to his brother Aaron. As Alt explains in Chapter 2 “Aaron,” “Often, I think of what my brother Aaron might have done with his life had he been dealt the physical and mental opportunities that I take for granted. Born with cerebral palsy and a cognitive disability, Aaron has been dependent on others for all of his daily needs, including eating, bathing, and using the bathroom.”
The 20th anniversary edition commemorates 20 years since Alt completed his Appalachian Trail thru-hike. The version features a special foreword written by Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s Brian B. King and an afterword Sunshine Communities Chief Donor Relations Officer Douglas L. Siebenaler penned. Plus, advice to help you plan a hiking venture yourself. Insights anyone yearning to experience the trails will find useful. Yet the aforementioned only offers one potential attraction for readers.
A Different Perspective
Throughout reading A Walk for Sunshine I encountered multiple instances where I thought “Just like living with cerebral palsy!” Or similarly “Try living with CP!” To give an example, Chapter 22 titled “Woof, Woof!” Alt discusses walking daily wearing a 50-pound pack. Thru-hikers walk days and even weeks without stopping at towns, necessitating them to carry many supplies. 500 miles into his Appalachian Trail thru-hike Alt recounts the following.
“Carrying 50 pounds for 500 miles gave me an appreciation for every ounce in my pack. The load I was carrying was a few pounds lighter, so each step I took seemed to hit the trail a little easier than before. I had become fine-tuned to notice subtle differences, such as losing a few pounds in the pack.”
Cerebral palsy also enhances ability to notice subtle differences. Personally, I am extra sensitive to walking surfaces. I am keen to notice hidden dips lurking beneath grassy areas. Additionally softer textures become harder to navigate because they supply less support. A major reason I dislike volleyball courts.
Next page a “Try living with CP!” instance emerges. Alt describes the extra effort required hiking once the sun went down. “At night, my feet shuffled and tripped over roots. I had to focus to keep my balance.” My thoughts responded “CP forces you to always focus on balance!” A reaction you may attach a bitter tone to. Allow me to reassure you otherwise.
Oppose to expressing a negative attitude, my remarks remained playful. I like to think Jeff Alt would appreciate my different perspective. Knowing his thru-hike left him facing challenges the cerebral palsy community commonly faces, hopefully enables him to value the 2,160-mile expedition better. I certainly discovered greater appreciation amidst my personal accomplishments thanks to Alt.
Guide to Gratitude
Completing an Appalachian Trail thru-hike proves a monumental feat. A point statistics demonstrate. Inside chapter one “Stepping Out” Alt notes “Each year, between 2,000 and 3,000 hikers attempt to hike the entire Appalachian Trail. Only an estimated 25 percent actually complete the journey.” Reading A Walk for Sunshine the reason Alt landed amongst the triumphant stood out clearly. He contained a powerful motive and furthermore, a strong support system.
Alt recalls a moment when encouragement fueled him forward. Certain individuals found Alt’s hike so inspiring, they volunteered to organize a corresponding 5k. He describes his reaction to the news in chapter 25 “Let’s Walk Together,” “Knowing I had inspired a local walk back home was keeping my spirits up.”
Although minuscule compared to a five-month and 2,160-mile thru-hike, I possess a cherished physical accomplishment myself. Despite CP, I am a marathoner. The achievement took me 11 hours, 40 minutes, and 31 seconds to complete. A long and trying day representing the climax to long and trying months training!
Similar to Alt, positive response to my training kept my spirits up. Others living with CP informed me my efforts inspired them to increase their activity levels. A past marathoner who works in special education told me “I would’ve never thought a person with cerebral palsy could have done a marathon!”
Spurring people to rethink what remains possible empowered me to keep going past the exhaustion and discomfort. Nonetheless after reading A Walk for Sunshine I experienced additional stirring, aspiration to fasten increased significance to my future marathons. See, Alt used his Appalachian Trail thru-hike to fundraise and benefit Sunshine Communities. The fundraising aspect provided another facet to Alt dedicating the trek to his brother. Sunshine Communities cares and supports individuals with developmental disabilities, including Aaron.
Regarding Aaron, I desired to read more about him. I highly enjoyed whenever Alt mentioned Aaron. Chapter 27 “A Rocky Birthday” provides a perfect demonstration. Alt writes “Since I had dedicated my hike to my brother Aaron, I tried to involve him with my journey as much as possible. At every town stop, I had made a point of dropping him a postcard.”
He continues “His rehabilitation aides had assembled a bulletin board to follow my hike using a trail map. They were attaching each postcard to the bulletin board and talking to Aaron about my journey. Aaron can’t speak or read and does not have a way of formally communicating. No one really knows if he understands but in my heart I felt that he knew what was going on.”
Understandably, the inability to formally communicate creates a challenge towards discussing his brother. Nevertheless I feel an enhanced presence remained possible. Detail the thoughtfulness behind the postcards bought. Did you choose particular ones you figured best entertained Aaron’s interests?
Just because Aaron lacked a formal communication method, he can still express himself. A statement Alt’s “Epilogue” made evident. He shares, “Aaron loves the outdoors. The Sunshine has a wheelchair-accessible boardwalk that rambles into the forest behind the facility. Aaron beams from ear to ear during strolls in the forest.” Aaron’s smile expresses enjoyment and awareness to his surroundings.
A Walk for Sunshine Final Verdict:
Even without more about Aaron, A Walk for Sunshine by Jeff Alt proved an enjoyable and engaging read. Throughout I spotted commonalities between Alt’s Appalachian Trail thru-hike and my daily life living with CP. Those similarities caused a neat and unique reading experience. Plus the read enabled me to find greater appreciation for my own milestones while also fueling ambitions to make a greater impact with my future milestones. Overall, I recommend A Walk for Sunshine by Jeff Alt.
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