A Hike for Mike

This is the story of Jeff and Beth Alt, a young couple who hiked the John Muir trail (JMT) in California to increase depression awareness after Beth’s brother committed suicide. They did it back in 2003 and you could follow along via the website, but it looks like they’ve since taken it down and replaced it with marketing content. Jeff, the narrator, takes you through every step of the 211 mile journey with a good mix of seriousness and humor.

This book has been on my list of books to read for a long time but I don’t have any idea how it got there. Beth is from Chicago and the local Chicago papers gave it some pub, so I may have heard about it that way. They both live in Cincinnati and Jeff has family in Toledo, so I may have seen or heard about when I was home visiting (my hometown is Findlay, Ohio). Or I could have stumbled upon it in the the book reviews of Outside Magazine, which I grab occasionally when wandering through airports.

I harbor a near-secret desire to hike the Appalachian Trail someday, so I was drawn to this book (Jeff did the AT prior to this book and wrote about it). I’ve been on a few backpacking trips and have the pictures to prove it, but backpacking never took hold with Gail. I eventually sold all of my backpacking gear.

The John Muir trail is a big undertaking because of the altitude. You regularly hike above the tree line (around 10,000 feet) and instances of altitude sickness are common even among the very fit. There are plenty of tree-less mountain passes that are especially rigorous and dangerous. By comparison, I think the Appalachian trail maxes out at maybe 6,000 feet above sea level. But with the difficulty of the JMT comes the reward of some of the most remote and beautiful wilderness in the US. I’ve never been there, but my dad has preached of Yosemite’s beauty and Jeff the narrator certainly describes it with awe.

This is a cool book. It’s self-published (I think) so there are typos (at least in my version). It’s a very folksy look at a serious adventure for a good cause. It was a lot of fun for me. At some point I will do an extended backpacking trip, mark my words.