Saturday, January 28, 2006

Couple Hikes The Sierra Nevada For Depression Awareness - By Irene Watson

Today we are pleased to talk to Jeff Alt, author of “A Hike for Mike.” The book is a true-life adventure of a couple who trekked the John Muir Trail as a depression awareness campaign. Hello Jeff.

Irene: What inspired you to write your second book, “A Hike for Mike,” a true life adventure?

Jeff: I knew I had a story that readers would be interested in and I had such a positive experience with my first book, A Walk For Sunshine. I received hundreds of letters from readers complimenting me and asking when my next book was coming out. A Walk For Sunshine received a book award, excellent reviews, and has sold through five printings. I just had to write another. But the real inspiration to write A Hike For Mike came after the tragic suicidal death of my brother-in-law “Mike” due to untreated depression. Thousands of people across the country followed our Hike For Mike depression awareness campaign across the Sierra Nevada and we received hundreds of heartfelt letters from folks all over the country; even Europe. Our journey had struck a chord. A Hike For Mike, the book, seemed to be a natural sequel to A Walk For Sunshine.

Irene: Why do you believe this was an important book for you to write?

Jeff: A Hike For Mike demonstrates how taking a walk in the woods can be such a fun and healing experience. The book allowed me to take the reader from where I left the Appalachian Trail into the journey of marriage and then back to the woods with my wife. The book has allowed us to help others by not only sharing our healing yet entertaining journey but also educating readers of the symptoms and treatment options for depression. On a professional level, A Hike For Mike helped me get beyond the “one book author” funk. My goal is to continue writing and speaking about my adventures and the philanthropic causes they benefit.

Irene: Deep inside, when you decided to make the trek of 218 miles across the Sierra Nevada, what were you wanting to achieve on a personal level?

Jeff: I wanted to help Beth work through the loss of her brother Mike. I also felt it was important to continue to enjoy our lives together in spite of such tragedy, and I knew the trail would help accomplish this. Beth and I walked down the wedding aisle four years prior but we had never taken a long hike together. I walked the entire 2,160 mile Appalachia Trail, chronicled in my first book, A Walk For Sunshine, and I asked myself “What’s next?” “What can top the Appalachian Trail?” Answer: The John Muir Trail accompanied by my wife. Although the distance of the JMT was much shorter than the AT, what we accomplished in our relationship was huge and can’t be measured with a pedometer.

Irene: Your wife, Beth, took the journey with you. How would this experience been different for you if she didn’t go with you?

Jeff: Beth and I bonded nomadically living in the woods together for the better part of a month. Not many couples can say they’ve done that. We shared romantic sunsets. We ate out of the same dish. We became an efficient team as friends, husband and wife, and as hikers. We had no TV, newspaper, or radio; just each other. We learned the power of humor. We learned that each of us have strengths and weaknesses and that we must take turns being the engine and the caboose even in the woods. We worked through an adverse situation together. Beth proved that she was a survivor not a victim. Our hike made our marriage stronger. We would have never discovered this aspect of our relationship if Beth had not hiked with me.

Irene: You just mentioned that Beth proved she was a survivor not a victim. What do you believe changed within her to let go of being a victim?

Jeff: When Beth committed to walking the John Muir Trail to raise awareness for depression she became a survivor. Beth knew that her brother’s death was most likely the result of untreated depression. Even though she couldn’t bring Mike back, she could help prevent someone else suffering from untreated depression to get treatment and avoid a potentially suicidal outcome. Beth saw the hike as a tangible vehicle to help heal from her brothers death and she was inspired by the fact that our hike would help prevent another needless death and help others realize they could live fulfilling lives instead of living under the cloud of untreated depression.

Irene: Were you a victim before the trek? If so, explain what changes occurred in you to also become a survivor.

Jeff: I wasn’t a victim. I had known Mike about four years and usually only saw him a few times a year. But, Mike and Beth had grown up together. They were close. Beth was the maid of honor in Mikes wedding a few years before I came into the picture. I saw myself as more of a survivor coach. I wanted my wife to be happy again. I hated to see her so sad. I pulled from my own near death experience in order to help Beth move forward in survivor mode.

Irene: Why do you believe that accomplishing a goal is an important aspect of healing?

Jeff: When tragedy strikes, it’s important to move forward. Working towards a goal takes courage and helps you focus to the future. And not get stuck in the past. It’s important to realize that life will get better with time.

Irene: When people are in a middle of a tragedy they often cannot see “getting past” the situation. What encouragement would you give them?

Jeff: Tragedy such as losing a loved one is hard. I don’t really have all the answers. Grief counseling may be a good start. Beth and I learned:

• the pain will ease with time.

• It’s ok to laugh.

• Focus on the good memories.

• Treat yourself well.

• Exercise is important

• Spend time with friends and family

Irene: What is the most important message you have in your book, “A Hike for Mike”, that you feel your readers would benefit from?

Jeff: A Hike For Mike demonstrates the healing power of nature and reflects on how one family overcame adversity. A Hike For Mike offers hope to those experiencing depression that with treatment, you will climb the ridge of life once again.

Irene: Thank you Jeff. Is there anything else you would like the readers to know about you, your journey, or your book?

Jeff: A Hike For Mike is an award-winning, inspiring humorous adventure. I enjoyed reliving my adventure as I wrote the book. As a writer, I want the reader to feel as if they are on the trail with me. A Hike For Mike accomplishes this goal. As you walk vicariously alongside Beth and I through three national parks, ending atop the highest mountain in the contiguous United States, you’ll encounter bears, lightening bolts, fascinating people, and beautifully rugged scenery. You’ll also see a ray of light emerge from the dark ashes of tragedy. Our adventure reflects on perseverance, overcoming adversity, and navigating the mountains and valleys of life. All the best in the great outdoors!

Irene Watson is the Managing Editor of Reader Views, a book review service. She is also the author of her memoir, "The Sitting Swing."

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1 comment:

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