Monday, September 22, 2003

'Hike for Mike' uplifting experience



By John Johnston
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A 218-mile hike through rugged mountain wilderness is no walk in the park.

Just ask Jeff and Beth Alt, who in July and August trekked the John Muir Trail through California's Sierra Nevada Mountains. They encountered two bears within the first 10 miles, then endured rain, sleet, lightning, altitude sickness (they reached elevations above 14,000 feet), mosquitoes that stuck to their skin "like flies on tape," ferocious black flies and foot blisters (after which Beth learned to always keep her socks pulled up).

"In spite of all that," Jeff says, "it was a great hike."

Agreed, says Beth, who'd not only do it again, "I'd go right now" to revisit amazing mountain vistas and the bluest sky she's ever seen.

You might recall the Alts from a July Tempo story that told of their upcoming trek, which they dubbed the Hike for Mike. Beth believes her brother, Mike Richards, suffered from undiagnosed depression that led to his suicide last year. The hike was the Alts' way of raising awareness of the treatable disease.

Every day on the trail they wore shirts with "Hike for Mike" emblazoned on them. Which naturally led people to ask, "Who's Mike?" The Alts told their story, then directed people to their Web site, hikeformike.com, which includes links leading to more information about depression.

"We were not only dedicating the hike to my brother but also trying to help others before it's too late," Beth says.

The Web site has registered more than 4,500 hits. The Alts also have received hundreds of e-mails, many from people thanking them for their efforts.

As for the hike, "It was more difficult than I ever imagined," says Beth, a marathon runner. "But it was amazing. Every day we would have a new challenge. And we succeeded every day."

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E-mail jjohnston@enquirer.com




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