A Walk in the Woods

A Walk in the Woods

Subtitle: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail. The Appalachian Trail stretches from Georgia to Maine and covers some of the most breathtaking terrain in America–majestic mountains, silent forests, sparking lakes. If you’re going to take a hike, it’s probably the place to go. And Bill Bryson is surely the most entertaining guide you’ll find. He introduces us to t...

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Title:A Walk in the Woods
Author:Bill Bryson
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Edition Language:English

A Walk in the Woods Reviews

  • Diane

    Bill Bryson calls the Appalachian Trail "the grandaddy of long hikes," but for me, this book is the granddaddy of hiking memoirs. I first read it sometime around 1999, and I enjoyed it so much that not only have I reread this multiple times, but it also inspired me to read at least a dozen other hiking adventures. None have matched Bryson's wit.

    Before he started writing long books on various aspects of history, Bryson was known for his entertaining travelogues.

    was his humor

    Bill Bryson calls the Appalachian Trail "the grandaddy of long hikes," but for me, this book is the granddaddy of hiking memoirs. I first read it sometime around 1999, and I enjoyed it so much that not only have I reread this multiple times, but it also inspired me to read at least a dozen other hiking adventures. None have matched Bryson's wit.

    Before he started writing long books on various aspects of history, Bryson was known for his entertaining travelogues.

    was his humorous take on attempting a long-distance hike of the Appalachian Trail, which spans more than 2,100 miles from Georgia to Maine. Here were his reasons for trying:

    And so Bryson plans his trip, gets indignant over the high cost of outdoor equipment, and recruits an old friend, Stephen Katz, to walk the trail with him. Katz, an overweight, out-of-shape, recovering alcoholic, adds much hilarity to the adventure. The first day on the trail, Katz falls behind and has a fit, throwing away a lot of supplies in an effort to lighten the load of his pack. Later he gets lost during a stretch when they were dangerously low on water. But he's so pathetic and funny that you forgive him.

    Meanwhile, Bryson was having his own problems that first day:

    After a few days on the trail, they met another hiker named Mary Ellen, who leeched onto them.

    I'm not going to retype entire pages, but trust me that the conversations with Mary Ellen are one of the highlights of this book.

    Bryson and Katz spend several weeks on the trail, hiking 500 miles in their first section. Then the two take a break and return home for a few weeks, and Bryson resumes with some shorter hikes in New England. Katz and Bryson reunite in Maine to hike a particularly daunting section of the trail called the Hundred Mile Wilderness:

    "The Appalachian Trail is the hardest thing I have ever done, and the Maine portion was the hardest part of the Appalachian Trail, and by a factor I couldn't begin to compute."

    Exhausted, filthy and hungry, the two abandon their trek in Maine and hitchhike to a small town, where they're able to make their way home again.

    One of the things I especially like about this book is the history that Bryson includes along the way. He shares interesting stories about the areas he's passing through and about how the trail was built. He also looks at America's unique relationship with nature, which includes some backwards policies of the U.S. Forest Service and the Parks Service. It's really a delight to read.

    This memoir has been criticized because Bryson doesn't hike the entire trail, but regardless of the distance, it's still a damn fine travelogue. This was his experience on the AT, which he shares with much humor and insight. I don't care that he hiked only 870 miles out of 2,100 -- the point was that he attempted it.

  • Anne

    I kind of surprised I liked this book

    , because:

    I read pathetically little non-fiction

    I've

    read a travelogue

    I'm only a fan of the Great

    as long as I'm safely

    .

    So, color me shocked that I not only

    this, but giggled my way through quite a bit of it! Bryson really is a pretty funny writer, and the way he captured his experience on the Appalachian Trail had me in tears a few times. His fears about getting mauled by a bear (among other things) befor

    I kind of surprised I liked this book

    , because:

    I read pathetically little non-fiction

    I've

    read a travelogue

    I'm only a fan of the Great

    as long as I'm safely

    .

    So, color me shocked that I not only

    this, but giggled my way through quite a bit of it! Bryson really is a pretty funny writer, and the way he captured his experience on the Appalachian Trail had me in tears a few times. His fears about getting mauled by a bear (among other things) before he started off were especially hysterical, and maybe that's because I could see a lot of

    in his initial terror of spending so much time surrounded by...

    !

    Now, there was a decent-sized chunk towards the middle of the book that I just had to grit my teeth and push on through. Bryson's friend Katz wasn't with him during this portion, and the difference in the tone of the writing is really noticeable. Lots and lots

    of mind-numbing details about the Trail, and very little of

    experiences.

    And while

    of that sort of info is relevant to the book, it's also the main reason that I don't actively seek out

    .

    Eventually, Katz comes back to finish out the hike, and the story vastly improves, but it never managed to recapture the humor or spirit that it had in the beginning.

    And I really

    enjoy the

    of the book a lot. Especially the moments between Katz & Bryson there towards the end.

    Overall, I'd say this was a winner. And even if the whole thing wasn't to my liking, the first half was an easy 5 star read for me.

    In fact, it made me want to call up my BFF to see if she wanted to take the kids camping this summer so we could poop near a waterfall!

    You know, instead of meeting at a hotel on the beach and drinking ourselves silly while the kids play in the surf.

    No. Just...no.

    See you in Florida, Jill! I'll bring the blender!

  • Julie

    I'm no city mouse. I'm a country mouse who lives in jeans and who often has a thick layer of soil under her nails from gardening. But, when compared to my brother, I seem like Zsa Zsa Gabor or Beyoncé.

    My brother is like. . . Inman, from

    . A man who walks and walks and walks, all over Appalachia.

    He knows how to forage for food and how to identify what is good and what is bad, out in nature. I can point to anything within the plant kingdom, and he knows its name. He composts all of hi

    I'm no city mouse. I'm a country mouse who lives in jeans and who often has a thick layer of soil under her nails from gardening. But, when compared to my brother, I seem like Zsa Zsa Gabor or Beyoncé.

    My brother is like. . . Inman, from

    . A man who walks and walks and walks, all over Appalachia.

    He knows how to forage for food and how to identify what is good and what is bad, out in nature. I can point to anything within the plant kingdom, and he knows its name. He composts all of his own waste and leaves a very fleeting footprint on our planet.

    He's also. . . you know, a little

    , when it comes to the whole walking thing.

    My brother has thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail once, in its entirety, and has section-hiked more than 900+ miles of favorite parts of it, at other times. He walks or hikes 5-25 miles a day, and he's currently on the Pacific Crest Trail, somewhere in Northern California, at the time of this writing.

    He's a walking fool, and even though I ALSO walk and hike, my habits apparently look like small potatoes to him. When he was here in May, at our house, preparing to head out to hike the PCT, he was nudging me, emphatically, to hike the Appalachian Trail soon.

    He was doing this nudging as all three of my kids were in the kitchen with me, and one of them was literally hanging on to my leg. Both dogs were starving, staring at me as we talked, our cats were walking in and out of the house, yowling for food, and my husband was outside, pulling weeds, in our full-time-type-of-a-yard.

    I must have looked at him like he was an idiot. I sputtered out something in annoyance, like, “I have

    . Maybe someday, like, when we're

    ??” (And, maybe not then, either?)

    The compromise we reached was that, instead of starting the AT on that day, I would commit to reading Bill Bryson's

    while he was out on the PCT. Fair enough. I finished it today.

    And, here's what I have to say:

    I love Bill Bryson when he's funny, like when he's making social observations, or, in the case of this story, out hiking with his friend, Stephen Katz, and the hilarious commentary that ensues.

    I don't love Bill Bryson when he bores me to bits, breaking off from the funny story to describe geological phenomenons or maps or the National Park system in the United States. Be humorous OR be didactic, Bill, but please don't be both.

    Anyone who hikes a long trail (that involves multiple overnights in the shelters) like the AT or the PCT alone is a fool. An adventurous fool, but still a fool.

    Personally, I would never hike one of these trails without an entourage, pepper spray, bear spray, a billy club and/or a baseball bat and an INCREDIBLE SENSE OF HUMOR.

    After reading Bryson's book, I would like to hike at least part of the Appalachian Trail someday, if only to write about it. I believe that my desire to pepper spray any strange looking man on the trail, without a moment's hesitation, may make for some interesting writing. Plus, I'd be sure to scream at every snake, and I'd probably be stupid enough to play with a bear cub. They're so cute!

    Personally, I wanted to know a LOT more about these freaks in the shelter at night, and way more details on where and how they all went to the bathroom (shudder), and I felt completely let-down that Bryson and his companion hiked so little of the actual trail.

    Honestly, the book was so boring in the middle (when they gave up on the trail the first time), that I could barely summon the interest to read it again.

    I think I need to stop thinking of Bryson as a humorist, like Dave Barry. He does make me laugh, but he does drone on, too, about things that interest me not. I've reached a weird point with him, where I'm not sure I want to continue reading more.

    Four stars for some memorable descriptions of a few of the hikers and several hearty laughs. . .

    And fingers crossed for the safe return home of my brother!

  • Ken-ichi

    Undoubtedly an amusing, breezy read, full of the kind of fun and hilarity all the blurbs lead you to expect. For instance, "Hunters will tell you that a moose is a wily and ferocious forest creature. Nonsense. A moose is a cow drawn by a three-year-old." That had me laughing on the train.

    I can't say I liked this book quite as much as some of my friends seem to. On the one hand, I've had at least 1 semi-grueling backpacking experience with a companion who was wholly unprepared for a rigorous day

    Undoubtedly an amusing, breezy read, full of the kind of fun and hilarity all the blurbs lead you to expect. For instance, "Hunters will tell you that a moose is a wily and ferocious forest creature. Nonsense. A moose is a cow drawn by a three-year-old." That had me laughing on the train.

    I can't say I liked this book quite as much as some of my friends seem to. On the one hand, I've had at least 1 semi-grueling backpacking experience with a companion who was wholly unprepared for a rigorous day hike, let alone several of them on consecutive days, weighed down by tents, bags, and water, except my experience was less hilarious and more infuriating (even in retrospect, though there was certainly some hilarity). I also found Bryson fairly amusing, his fears and hijinks recognizable and diverting. On the other hand, he's kind of an ass. Seemed like every person he met was a subject for mockery. He also went off on these long jeremiads over the ecological devastation we've wrought on the Eastern forests, without citing any sources whatsoever, or recommending solutions. Obviously I agreed with the substance of those rants, but the dripping sarcasm in his indignation was just so annoying. Good researchers cite sources, and good crusaders at least try to find answers to the world's problems. Bryson seemed like more of a gadfly: buzzing, bothersome, but impotent.

    In the end, what I really wanted was just more depth. More analysis of what the trail means to Americans, what it symbolizes, a more informed (and documented) record of the Park Service's transgressions, more comparisons to similar trails in other parts of the world.

  • Jason

    I am what some might call a

    . I do genuinely enjoy a leisurely stroll in the “mountains” of Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire. I like the pretty views. I always bring my conveniently-sized L.L. Bean backpack ($39.95 from the

    ) so I have a place for my camera and cell phone. But by early afternoon, I would like to be done, please. I would like to be done and sitting at a booth in a pub with my burger and beer. Camping is certainly worthy of consideration, but here

    I am what some might call a

    . I do genuinely enjoy a leisurely stroll in the “mountains” of Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire. I like the pretty views. I always bring my conveniently-sized L.L. Bean backpack ($39.95 from the

    ) so I have a place for my camera and cell phone. But by early afternoon, I would like to be done, please. I would like to be done and sitting at a booth in a pub with my burger and beer. Camping is certainly worthy of consideration, but here’s the deal: I don’t do rain. In light of the fact that weather reports are unreliable beyond a 48-hour window (and even that is pushing it in New England), it is unlikely I would ever camp for more than a two-night stay. Oh, and if I were to camp, I would like it to be at a site that has free Wi-Fi.

    What this amounts to is that the Appalachian Trail, endearingly referred to by those hiking it as “the AT,” will never be anything more to me than a lovely little map.

    BUT. I am glad for gung-ho people like Bryson and his chubby checker friend Katz who

    walk “the AT” and are kind enough to let me know what I am missing. As it turns out, I am not missing much. This is not to downplay the extraordinarity of a 2,200-mile trail of wilderness running from Georgia to Maine, a trail that takes the average thru-hiker six months to complete, but in terms of day-to-day variation, it is basically a shitload of trees followed by another shitload of trees.

    For me, this book makes a better argument for the day hike. There are many parts of the trail I would enjoy, including the

    , the

    , and the

    . Like Bryson, though, I am a people person, and I enjoy my simple human comforts. I would like to see these areas without having to make an extended departure from civilization. Why can’t I have both—my nature

    my nurture? Fortunately for me, almost a full third of the Appalachian Trail is in New England, so maybe I

    have it all—because I think if there is one thing I’ve learned from Bryson’s experience, it is that I don’t

    to suffer through long days of cold rain and hungry nights to enjoy what the Appalachian Trail has to offer.

  • J.L.   Sutton

    I wanted to like Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail. Not sure what I was expecting from this—perhaps more about hiking on the actual AT and the reasons Bryson made this trek—but I was mostly disappointed. It read like a series of travel brochures: here’s the history of the region on this section of the trail, and now another…There was much more attention devoted to towns along the route than hiking the actual trail. It was also disappointing that Br

    I wanted to like Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail. Not sure what I was expecting from this—perhaps more about hiking on the actual AT and the reasons Bryson made this trek—but I was mostly disappointed. It read like a series of travel brochures: here’s the history of the region on this section of the trail, and now another…There was much more attention devoted to towns along the route than hiking the actual trail. It was also disappointing that Bryson noted the historical stereotypes of Appalachian people and casually confirmed their stupidity without any real interaction (not once but many times). The smugness of his remarks was irritating. I still would like to hike the AT, but Bryson did little to illuminate what it’s really like to hike the trail except to offer that it’s not what most people expect.

  • erin

    It's been a busy couple of weeks, so I thought I'd spent the last of my holiday indulging in a witty travelogue to set my feet itching. Unfortunately, I picked the wrong book. Years of declining the advice of the Bryson-worshipers, it seems, was not in vain.

    I'm halfway through, and - like the author on the daunting trail - am unsure as to whether or not I can finish my task. Bryson sounds, to put it mildly, a real jerk. He's smug and superior, and spends most of the book complaining about his co

    It's been a busy couple of weeks, so I thought I'd spent the last of my holiday indulging in a witty travelogue to set my feet itching. Unfortunately, I picked the wrong book. Years of declining the advice of the Bryson-worshipers, it seems, was not in vain.

    I'm halfway through, and - like the author on the daunting trail - am unsure as to whether or not I can finish my task. Bryson sounds, to put it mildly, a real jerk. He's smug and superior, and spends most of the book complaining about his companions on the trail. A common motif is how everyone one is but a weekend hiker, that he is a true back-to-nature type in comparison. True, some of his encounters sound less than thrilling, but even the obnoxious woman he encounters should get credit for tackling the trail by herself. Instead, she's unceremoniously ditched (in real life as well as print) by the man who couldn't stomach the thought of going alone. He enlists the companionship of a long-lost friend with whom he'd proven incompatible on a previous travel experience. Said "friend" is then derided throughout the book for his sloth, roughness in manner, and lowbrow tastes. Meanwhile, Bryson paints himself as Guardian of the Trail, criticising the Parks Service along with all who venture through her woods.

    I'm still waiting for even a glimpse of the much-vaunted Bryson wit and charm to show itself. At the moment, he's nothing more than the stereotypical Blue Stater - putting himself on a pedestal while looking down his nose at everyone else. It's not attractive, and it makes for a very frustrating read. I wish he'd stayed home.

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