Author: Bill Bryson

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

April 21, 2016 Bonnie Adult, Book Reviews, Read in 2016 7 Comments

I received this book free from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review – A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill BrysonA Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson
Published by Broadway Books on November 1st 1997
Pages: 304
Genres: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Format: Paperback
Source: Blogging for Books
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four-stars

Back in America after twenty years in Britain, Bill Bryson decided to reacquaint himself with his native country by walking the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail, which stretches from Georgia to Maine. The AT offers an astonishing landscape of silent forests and sparkling lakes--and to a writer with the comic genius of Bill Bryson, it also provides endless opportunities to witness the majestic silliness of his fellow human beings.

For a start there's the gloriously out-of-shape Stephen Katz, a buddy from Iowa along for the walk. Despite Katz's overwhelming desire to find cozy restaurants, he and Bryson eventually settle into their stride, and while on the trail they meet a bizarre assortment of hilarious characters. But A Walk in the Woods is more than just a laugh-out-loud hike. Bryson's acute eye is a wise witness to this beautiful but fragile trail, and as he tells its fascinating history, he makes a moving plea for the conservation of America's last great wilderness. An adventure, a comedy, and a celebration,A Walk in the Woods has become a modern classic of travel literature.

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Photo Credit: http://appalachiantrials.com/

“Distance changes utterly when you take the world on foot. A mile becomes a long way, two miles literally considerable, ten miles whopping, fifty miles at the very limits of conception. The world, you realize, is enormous in a way that only you and a small community of fellow hikers know. Planetary scale is your little secret.”

A Walk in the Woods is somewhat of a travelogue of the Appalachian Trail, a 2,200 mile trail that passes through 14 states. A part of me mulls over that statistic and thinks, “Wow, that’d be amazing” and the other, predominant part of me thinks:

I am so not a nature person. I’d like to think I am, would like to get excited about the idea of camping, but once I get out in it it’s a whole different story. I once told this guy I was dating that “Sure! I love hiking!” and next thing I knew I was being drug on a one-way 6-mile trip to visit some lake.

Liberty Lake – Ruby Mountains, NV Photo Credit: http://www.rubymountains.net/

Yeah, yeah, the lake is admittedly extremely gorgeous but did I mention it’s like 6 miles up a mountain? And that you at some point have to go down 6 miles to get back to your car? Suffice it to say, I learned my lesson and am far more honest about my aversion to nature. So that small part of me that likes to think I’m gung-ho about nature can be satisfied by reading about others adventures like this because I’m simply not cut out for that shit.

A Walk in the Woods not only details Bryson’s adventures on the trail with his friend Katz, but goes into the particulars of the history of the Appalachian trail, the towns it runs through, the plant and animal life, and the people who made history by tackling the trail in its entirety. The history bits were incredibly informative considering I knew next to nothing about the AT (Appalachian Trail) but they took up far more of the book than I had expected. While interesting, I was invariably anxious to get back to the bits about Bryson and Katz’s actual adventures. They were quite hilarious at times. Bryson and Katz are both middle-aged men at the time of this story and Katz especially is no where close to being fit enough to carry a full pack and walk at the same time. On their very first day starting out, during moments of great displeasure, Katz started throwing stuff off his pack he deemed non-essential. Like food. Hilarious to read about but that had to be pretty exasperating to his hiking partner.

Speaking of his hiking partner, Bryson, well… this is his story after all. He wrote it. But honestly? Bryson was a bit of a snooty prick. He didn’t start hiking the AT as some professional hiker that knows anything and everything about long distance hiking (which is what I loved most about him first). Nope, he went to REI like us other newbie hikers would end up doing and bought out the store. Regardless of his inexperience, he was constantly criticizing people for their equipment choices or the people they encountered that wanted to have “gear chats”. Admittedly, I would probably have also made fun of the guy with the Enviro Meter and felt the need to ask if it also bakes cookies too. While these exchanges were certainly humorous, he still came off as quite a prig.

Another thing about undertaking the AT, us normal folk with day jobs couldn’t even consider doing something like this. And don’t even get me started on the amount of equipment he bought, the plane tickets to get to the start of the trail, and all the motels and restaurants visited along the way. Before long, this story starts to seem like a fantasy, albeit a fascinating one. (And that’s another thing, even though I’ve already admitted that I am not a nature girl, occasionally stopping off in various towns to stay the night in a motel seems a bit like cheating. I can understand stopping off to stock up on provisions but then you get your ass back out and pitch your tent. But maybe that’s just me.) Even if taking months off work was in your realm of possibility, could you truly imagine doing it? “Yeah I hiked around the woods for 5 solid months.” Sure, people figure out how to make it happen all the time and not just on the AT. The Pacific Crest Trail that extends through California, Oregon and Washington for 2,663 miles. The Continental Divide Trail that extends through New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana for 3,100 miles. There’s also the John Muir Trail that goes through California at a mere 210 miles. I can appreciate the withdrawal from society and getting back to the basics but damn. Hats off to you people that make it happen.

What I loved most about this is its simplicity. It wasn’t written as a self-help, motivating guide to losing weight and getting healthy or rediscovering yourself in nature or anything of the sort. A Walk in the Woods is simply about getting back to basics and rediscovering nature as it was intended. Bryson’s story won’t necessarily drive you to start planning your own excursion to the AT, but instead brings to life the tragic story of nature being overtaken in the United States and the importance of preserving it. Even a non-outdoorsy type like myself can appreciate that.

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