Daniel Zaas / Lantern photographer
Being charged by a bear, stared down by a bull and sleeping next to a skunk were just a few of the things that Jeff Alt faced during his journey in 1998.
Nearly 5 million steps, 147 days and three pairs of boots later, he had hiked the entire Appalachian Trail.
“This is a phenomenal feat,” said Natalie Sayre, a fourth-year in biology and earth sciences and president of the OSU Mountaineers Club. “It’s a huge accomplishment. People train their whole lives to do it.”
Clintonville Outfitters and the Mountaineers Club sponsored the presentation that drew a crowd of more than 150 people in the Cartoon Room of the Union last night. Audience members ranged from elementary school children to elderly adults.
“The event even touches base with people who don’t hike,” Sayre said. “It’s the type of event that ties in the outdoor enthusiast with the average person.”
Alt shared his experience hiking 2,179 miles from Georgia to Maine through a slideshow of pictures, music and storytelling.
“I trained on a treadmill with 50 lbs on my back on the highest elevation,” Alt said.
He laughed as he told the story of the end of his first day. Alt found his feet covered in dozens of blisters, only to realize that he had put his arch supports in the opposite shoes.
“I slept all night day two with a skunk,” Alt said, telling about the creature that had crawled into his sleeping bag.
The audience laughed as he also told of other animal encounters with a moose, bears, mice and heifers.
“I believe our creator has a sense of humor,” Alt said.
To keep his spirits high, Alt said he found something to celebrate every day, even the simplest things such as a hot cup of coffee or a Snickers bar.
Alt said the only time he thought he wasn’t going to make it to he end was when he sprained his ankle early in the trip.
“No pain, no rain, no Maine” was a motto on the trail, Alt said.
On what he called the “Appalachian Diet Plan,” he lost 33 pounds by the trip’s end.
Complete strangers gave him food, washed his clothes and let him shower at their homes. Friends and family met him on the trail to hike with him for short periods of time to keep his momentum.
He even walked with a friend from graduate school who later became his wife. They now have two children and have hiked with them on the Appalachian Trail and in Ireland.
“I couldn’t have done it without a team to support me,” Alt said. “They rallied behind me, kept me going.”
Alt said finishing the trail was a profound experience.
“Everything felt like it was in slow motion,” he said. “This was a journey, not a race, just like life itself.”
During his hike, he sent journal entries and letters home and to his brother who suffers from Cerebral Palsy.
Alt said he visited his brother once he had finished the trail. Even though his brother is unable to speak, Alt said he could tell that his brother understood his correspondence.
In many respects, the trail isn’t difficult on a day-to-day basis, said David Barker, an associate professor in the department of horticulture and crop science and adviser for Mountaineers Club. Hiking all the way through is a different story.
“The difficulty is in the logistics, getting all of the supplies, the ongoing relentless nature of moving and extreme weather conditions,” Barker said.
Barker said he has been mountaineering for 30 years and has hiked some sections of the trail.
While about 2,500 hikers attempt to walk the trail in one season, only about 200 to 400 people actually complete it.
“A lot of people hike the trail for themselves to get recognized,” Sayre said. “Jeff hikes for a good cause.”
Alt’s journey has inspired the annual 5K Walk for Sunshine near Toledo that raises money for the disabled home where his brother lives.
Alt’s journey has been featured on ESPN, the Hallmark Channel and various magazines and newspapers throughout the country.