Monday, April 16, 2007

A Walk in the Woods

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

This is a memoir of sorts of Bryson's journey on the Appalachian trail in the late 1990s. He and a long lost somewhat crazy buddy from high school hook up and make plans to tackle this 2100 mile behemoth going from North Georgia to Katahdin Mountain in Maine. Though quite out of shape, they embark upon the hike and have good times enjoying nature, including encounters with a moose and some unknown creatures that may or may not have been bears.

Throughout the book Bryson provides humorous tellings of their adventures in his characteristic droll style. One such example was when they had to hike their way through a swamp jumping from log to log and not very successfully staying vertical. After a struggle of 30 minutes to cross a small space, feeling somewhat triumphant, tired, wet, and dirty, a couple hippie looking guys came along hoisted the backpacks over their heads and adroitly crossed the same piece of swamp in a couple of minutes while staying clean much to Bryson and Katz's dismay. Another such incident was on their first day back on the trail after a hiatus when Katz fell behind. When he finally caught back up to Bryson, huffing and puffing and feeling fairly out of sorts, his pack was considerably lighter due to his throwing things off the side of the trail such as food, a water bottle, and sundry other equipment/materials. Bryson says "Stephen I really wish you wouldn't do such things." I'm perhaps not portraying it as funny as it was but in the book it was fairly hilarious.

At various points in the book, Bryson takes an aside to go into detail on the history of the Appalachian Trail both past and present, notable characters along the trail, as well as detailed descriptions of nature and the terrain. One interesting part is when he visits the ghost town of Centralia in Pennsylvania. It was abandoned about 23 years ago due to a coal mine burning in the ground underneath the town. He said that everywhere you could see smoke coming up out of the ground and realized he was standing right above a roaring fire so felt the urgent need to move on.

I've personally done a bit of hiking (a decent amount in the Smoky Mountains part of the AT) and found Bryson's account to be both accurate and enjoyable. Each multi day backpacking trip I've taken has brought memories, beautiful scenery, pictures, and war stories to tell. Even one who is not in the best shape can get out in nature, get some good exercise, and enjoy themself through hiking whether on day trips or overnight backpacking trips. I recommend the book for anyone who wants to get an idea what it's like to hike the Appalachian Trail or just wants some nice, fun reading material.

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