A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

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...

Title:A Walk in the Woods
Author:
Rating:
ISBN:0307279464
Edition Language:English
Number of Pages:397 pages

A Walk in the Woods Reviews

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Jeff

    Going into this book, I really had no idea of what to expect from Bill Bryson. Even though I picked this book up based on Diane’s terrific review (

    ), I had never read the author before and let’s face it - blurbs on the cover only tell you so much. You have to read and live with an author’s prose to get a feel for it. As far as travelogues go, I don’t read many: Paul Theroux, Mark Twain and Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley are the only ones that come to min

    Going into this book, I really had no idea of what to expect from Bill Bryson. Even though I picked this book up based on Diane’s terrific review (

    ), I had never read the author before and let’s face it - blurbs on the cover only tell you so much. You have to read and live with an author’s prose to get a feel for it. As far as travelogues go, I don’t read many: Paul Theroux, Mark Twain and Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley are the only ones that come to mind. So I plunged in and I’m happy I did.

    Finding a rich source of humor (Monty Python, Archer, S.J. Pearlman, Deadpool) is always like Christmas Day. For me, humor has always been the fuel to motor through tough times and Mr. Bryson delivers it by the tank full. This book has a score of laugh out loud moments all weaved into Bryson’s cultural and historical insights.

    Bryson lived abroad for years and upon returning to the United States decided to hike the Appalachian Trail. The trail is over 2000 miles long and extends from Georgia into Maine. Along the way, Bryson discourses on subjects that range from the history of the Appalachian Trail, the neglect and incompetence of the Forestry and Park services, pre-Colonial botanists, the potential flame ball that is Centralia, PA, the temperature extremes of Mount Washington (NH), trees, the constant threat of getting eaten by bears or hogtied by hillbillies and, of course, the hike itself. The long, long hike.

    My experience with hiking and outdoorsy stuff begins and ends with the Boy Scouts. For me, it was about smoking cigarettes in the woods, being able to indiscriminately pee on the local flora, fauna and the occasional fellow scout (the latter, accidently, of course) wearing the same clothes and not bathing for three days. “You packed extra underwear and socks, Ma? I hadn’t noticed.” “The tooth brush is green because I dropped it in the creek. Don’t worry, I used it anyway.”

    If I were to go hiking today, I don’t think I would have picked the guy Bryson ended up with. Stephen Katz was overweight, needy, impetuous but funny. Kind of like hiking with my brother-in-law, minus the funny. The two are an unrivaled comic pair and their hiking adventures are a highly recommended read.

  • 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!

  • 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.


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