A Hike for Mike: An Uplifting Adventure Across the Sierra Nevada for Depression Awareness by Jeff Alt; Dreams Shared Publications; Price: $14.95; 198 pp.
For footloose and fancy free outdoor enthusiasts trekking/hiking through inaccessible wilderness is the ultimate way to explore the world's hidden wonders in its most pristine form. Walking through tangles of green forest, traversing hill and dales, fording every stream in hidden valleys provides rushes of adrenalin, which packaged five-star holidays can never match. Hardcore hiking enthusiasts swear that hiking through lonely woods rejuvenate mind, body and soul beyond compare. Although long cross-country treks sound thrilling and adventurous it's useful to bear in mind that they require great reserves of energy, stamina, and the ability to lead a life bereft of the modern urban comforts which one is so used to.
These psychological and emotionally rejuvenative aspects of hiking has been endorsed and well highlighted by Jeff Alt, a motivational speaker, seasoned hiker, speech pathologist, teacher in his latest book A Hike for Mike. Alt, the author of award winning hiking travelogue A Walk for Sunshine, records his journey through the famous 218-mile John Muir Trail in California. The hike and this is dedicated to the memory of his brother-in-law, Mike, who committed suicide due to depression. Throughout the book which is a daily dairy recording of his and his wife's experiences during the 21-day hike, Alt educates the people he meets about the seriousness of depression.
The book starts off with a foreword by Dr. Jerry Reed, executive director of Suicide Prevention Action Network, USA. "This is a story about the courage of Beth and Jeff Alt, who became survivors after losing Beth's brother Mike to suicide. They were determined, like many of the 180,000 who lose a loved one to suicide each other, to do what they could to help other families learn about depression and the terrible toll of suicide," writes Reed in praise of the couple's efforts in helping prevent suicide due to depression. Dr. Reed further states that 31,000 Americans commit suicide every year, while another 650,000 individuals make attempt on their lives.
The couple decides to undertake this hike to combat their own grief following the tragic death of Beth’s brother, Mike Richards. They decide to dedicate the trek to Mike and raise awareness about the deadly illness that depression is. Mike suffered from untreated depression and committed suicide.
"Research shows that walking and hiking are actually beneficial to people, not just for the obvious reasons, but for fighting depression. It actually increases the antidepressant chemicals in the brain, and so does being out in the sunshine and fresh air," writes Alt explaining the rationale behind their choice to hike one of the most challenging trails in the US.
The John Muir Trail begins in the Yosemite Valley and goes up Mt. Whitney, at 14,494 feet, the highest mountain in the lower 48 states of the US and Alt's travelogue flows smoothly into 24 chapters, the last of which titled 'Depression: Get the facts' is wholly dedicated to educate readers about the facts, information and resources to combat depression. During the course of the book the author gives a graphic and detailed description of the rugged John Muir Trail (JMT), which passes through California's Sierra Nevada mountain range. The JMT starts off at the Happy Isles at a modest elevation of 4,035 ft. and ends at Lone Pine beside Mt. Whitney, (14,496 ft), the entire trail experiences sudden and extreme temperature swings, lightening and thunder storms, flash floods, bear and mountain lion attacks.
Through his lucid and chatty style of writing Alt makes the reader experience the adventure, pains, fears, wonderment, and appreciation for nature's beauty as the couple travel through the wilderness of Sierra Nevada. A vast amount of detail is subtly integrated with the story and dialogue and one can easily know what to expect on the JMT after reading this book. "The John Muir Trail is speckled with glacial lakes and wilderness that are untouched by roads and most other civilized amenities. The trail wanders through deep canyons, around cold blue lakes and under sunny skies. It is most rugged and arguably some of the prettiest terrains," writes Alt describing the JMT in the first chapter of the book.
The importance of right preparation in order to make cross-country hiking enjoyable and mishap-free, trekkers need to be well-equipped. A Hike for Mike clearly illustrates the amount of planning that goes on to make a successful hike through the wilderness. The author's list of must-haves includes sturdy and comfortable backpacks, special hiking clothing including underwear, warm sleeping bags, portable water filter, alpine tent, cutlery, food, toiletries, etc. Comfortable hiking boots and a first-aid kit are also a sine qua non. This book was released on September 10, 2005, which is also marked as the World Suicide Prevention Day.
Though Alt has extensively hiked along the numerous mountains within the US, his obvious lack of experience and exposure to the global scenario is revealed in the book. He talks about the mere 14,496 ft tall Mt. Whitney as a great challenge and speaks about altitude sickness at 9,000 ft altitude. Cut to the Indian scenario we have a full fledged city with a commercial airport operating at 11,500 ft elevation and there are villages where huge thousands of people live permanently, farming during summer and herding livestock during winters. If someone unaware of the heights of the Himalayan towns and villages and roads, they would be taken by the authors writings and will be misled to think that life would become nearly impossible to lead at high altitudes which are not actually high.
While the book is well written and has an absorbing narration, it could have done with better editing and proof reading. There are numerous irritating typographical errors which makes one wonder about the quality of publishing.