A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson

bookcover.phpMy own real-life experience backpacking on the Appalachian Trail is limited to one very cold overnight trip during my college spring break. The night we spent in the trail shelter was rather unpleasant, owing to a troupe of resident skunks that refused to be evicted, but the next morning was glorious. We hiked along a ridgeline on the NC-Tennessee border, overlooking frost-covered trees on the west side of the ridge and basking in sunshine on the east side. Nothing but trees and mountains stretched away from us, as far as we could see.

Having had this one small experience, I could really appreciate this book. Bryson starts his adventure at the camping store, piling up overpriced gear of dubious necessity. He carries it all home, sets up his new tent in the basement, and sits up late reading books about bear attacks. He enlists his overweight, beer-guzzling friend Stephen Katz to accompany him on the trail (what better way to get in shape than lugging a 40-pound pack 8 hours a day over rugged terrain?). They start out cheerfully in Georgia in early March, intending to hike all the way to Maine by summer’s end. Things don’t quite work out as planned, however.

The Appalachian Trail, which runs for at least 2,100 miles along the eastern seaboard, is the oldest and until recently the longest continuous trail in the country. Bryson tells us quite a lot about its history and ecology, as well as how beautiful, rugged and yet fragile it is. Mostly, though, we get to experience the day-to-day mishaps of these two greenhorns on the trail. They meet all sorts of people, some annoyingly loquacious, some annoyingly fit, and some truly kind strangers who ease their hardships and practically save their lives. Their adventures off the trail are just as funny, as they occasionally hitchhike into a tiny mountain town to refuel, refurbish, and do their laundry. In one small town laundromat, Katz gallantly helps a woman disentangle her lingerie from the washing machine agitator (she wasn’t wearing it at the time, thank goodness). Unfortunately, this chivalrous deed arouses the anger of her rifle-toting husband, and Katz and Bryson are lucky to get out of town alive.

No matter how badly my day was going, a few minutes spent checking in on Bryson and Katz got me chuckling. However, this book also has plenty of the “wow” factor. Even though they never saw a bear or stepped over a rattlesnake, there is plenty of real danger narrowly averted and loads of breathtaking views aptly described. They might not have hiked the whole trail or stared death in the face, but as Bryson says, “I gained a profound respect for wildness and nature and . . . understand now, in a way I never did before, the colossal scale of the world.”

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One Response to “A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson”

  1. hikerfaq Says:

    I have had the good fortune of reading several Bill Bryson books and they always leave me laughing out loud. Enjoy.

    Sean
    appalachiantrailfaq.com

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