When Sunday Smiled is a 70,000-word inspirational account of a father’s journey on the Appalachian Trail as he seeks to heal his wounded heart. This unique memoir is not just another adventure tale. It is a transparent view into someone who has experienced deep loss as he tries to make sense of his world. As Andy travels the AT he is confronted with how to live with others, how to relate to God, and how to live with himself.
The book begins with a sobering look the moment Andy and Lori find out about their son's death. With a minimal amount of backpacking experience, Andy begins his journey on a greyhound bus. As he hikes up and down the early mountains of Georgia and Tennessee he is faced with the issue of forgiveness.
The author gets off the trail to testify at the sentencing hearing for the woman who killed his son. After returning, the trail takes Andy through his hometown in Pennsylvania. His joy is overwhelming as he climbs Cove Mountain and walks down the streets of his small town where he is reunited with family members and memories. Andy finds that life still has meaning and can still be a joyful experience.
On the one-year anniversary of his son’s death the author encounters a mountaintop miracle and is faced with the reality that God still cares for him and his son. It is here that he experiences the presence of God.
When Sunday Smiled is culminated by a final mountain top experience, the summit of Mount Katahdin. The author climbs the terminus of the Appalachian Trail on his son’s birthday, a little more than a year since his death. It is there that Andy spreads Aaron's ashes and releases his grief to God to continue his thru hike thru life.
The first chapter begins with the moment he learns of his son’s death, then takes the reader through the funeral and Andy’s decision to hike the trail.
A humorous account of the author’s last night before the trail, and his first day on the trail, captures the bewilderment of other hikers and his own fears.
This chapter takes the reader through the early days on the trail in Georgia. It includes a severe thunderstorm, and how the author goes from misery to masterful. He begins to learn how to deal with setbacks, and how to get along with his fellow hikers.
The Smoky Mountains contain a unique physical and emotional challenge for the author as he contends with dropping temperatures and freezing rain. All the while he is preparing to get off the trail to confront the person that took his son’s life.
A trip off the trail to Denver to the sentencing hearing to confront the woman who took his son’s life is described in chapter four. Words of forgiveness spoken at the trial lead to the beginning of a real healing on the trail.
After getting back on the trail, the author has a renewed life view. He takes on a new trail name, and develops trail friends as he continues to experience the magic of the trail.
At trail days, the author is enveloped into the trail community. This hilarious account describes the people on the trail, and those that help support the community.
Chapter eight describes the Author’s lowest point on the trail, when he experiences Norovirus in Virginia. He takes several days to recuperate before heading north to the half way point on the trail.
Walking back into his hometown of Duncannon, the author realizes that everyday can be the best day of his life. As he describes the difficult trail in PA, he focuses on having a positive perspective on life.
As the author continues north, he partners with other hikers to form a close alliance. He describes how his personality becomes more open and trusting, despite carrying a heavy burden of grief.
The author is on a ski mountain one year to the day that his son, a ski lift mechanic, was killed. He has a mountain top experience that is simply miraculous. These “coincidences” make him realize that God still cares.
The White Mountains in New Hampshire are epic, and the author describes his tragedy and triumph as he realizes he is not forgotten, and his son is still with him.
Maine’s 100-mile wilderness has its own set of challenges that the author must overcome. He describes the beauty of the wilderness, and his new-found contentment in life.
Mount Katahdin is the terminus of the Appalachian Trail, and the climax of the book. The author summits the mountain on his son’s birthday, where he releases his grief and his son’s ashes to the wind.
This last chapter looks back on the experiences and lessons learned throughout the author’s journey as he begins to thru-hike-thru-life.