Summary: In the mid 1990s, Bill Bryson and a friend spent parts of the spring and summer hiking the Appalachian Trail. Somewhere in there, Bryson also found time to research bears (quite extensively), the history of the Trail and many of the places it passes through, and the geology and geography of the Appalachian Mountains. All of this memoir, travelogue, and journalism is mashed together with Bill Bryson’s trademark humor to create an impressive adventure story.
Thoughts: When A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson first came out in 1998, I still entertained a fantasy of maybe walking the Appalachian Trail someday. I read a review in an outdoor magazine of some sort, probably Backpacker or Outside, and learned that Bryson and his friend started this adventure woefully unprepared and didn’t finish. At the time, I didn’t feel that I needed to read a book about a failed attempt to walk the Appalachian Trail.
Many things have changed since 1998, not the least of which is that I’m thirteen years older and hiking the Appalachian Trail is no longer a fantasy. Hiking still has an appeal to me, but sleeping on the ground does not, nor does taking a break of several months from the rest of my life in order to hike every day. Sometime in the intervening years, I read a Bill Bryson book, gave several more as gifts, and always meant to read another. So, when Erin of Erin Reads blog was looking for reading buddies for A Walk in the Woods, I decided that the time was right.
It still bugged me that Bryson and his friend weren’t better prepared for the trip, when it’s so obvious to me how to be as prepared as possible. But, then, that may be why Bryson takes adventures worth writing books about and I don’t. I do things like take a week to write up a three-year plan for hiking the Appalachian Trail (work up to walking an hour a day, start hiking in nearby parks, then do some backpacking in Missouri). Routinely, that plan fails within a month because walking an hour a day is a huge commitment for something that isn’t going to net rewards for several years. I quit and get no closer to Springer Mountain in Georgia, the southern end of the Trail. Maybe there is a happy medium between my three year plan and Bryson’s “yeah, let’s do it!” method that I never found, or maybe there are two types of people — those who plan and those who do.
I share with Erin that the most fascinating moment was Bryson’s visit to Centralia, Pennsylvania, a small town that has been sitting on a burning coal seam for decades. If Bryson weren’t a journalist, I would have thought he was making this stuff up. Erin’s post contains a video from the Discovery Channel about this place.
Appeal: This would, of course, be appealing to anyone planning to hike the Appalachian Trail or anyone interested in backpacking. I wish, now, that I had read it when it first came out. I suspect it would have cured me right then of wanting to do the Appalachian Trail (too long), but I might have done parts of it or investigated alternative trails that I would be more likely to enjoy.
Oddly enough, it has inspired me to do more walking, even though in my current life that means I have the goal of walking Grant’s Trail end-to-end and back again, a total of sixteen miles, completely paved. But I’ve never walked more than ten miles in a day so that would be an achievement for me and something that I can plan and implement this year.
So, read A Walk in the Woods for the humor, the American history and geography, and an inspiration to do something that challenges yourself.
Challenges: This book counts for my Memorable Memoirs Challenge. If I hadn’t counted The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson as a book with travel or movement in the title, I could have counted this book for the What’s in A Name challenge.
Reviews: Erin’s other Reading Buddies are posting links to their reviews on her wrap-up post.
Have you read A Walk in the Woods? What did you think? Have you ever wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail or take a similar adventure? Did you?