Book Review – A Walk in the Woods

A Walk in the Woods Book Cover A Walk in the Woods
Bill Bryson
Nonfiction, Travel, Humor, Nature, Memoir, Adventure
Broadway Books
July 28th 2015 (First Published 1997)

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.

My Thoughts on A Walk in the Woods:

I will admit when I started A Walk in the Woods, I had barely an inkling of exactly the grandeur of the Appalachian trail was, and after reading it, I feel I both know too much, and very little still at the same time.

The book starts out witty and strong, Bill Bryson, decides foolishly, with barely any experience to tackle the 2,190 Mile long, multi-state crossing Appalachian Trail. I found it humorous about his misunderstandings of preparing for the hike, the shock at equipment prices, and his smugness on outlasting his fellow hikers on the trail.

It was full of a lot of funny moments of Bill, and his overweight recovering alcoholic trail companion Katz getting into all kinds of trouble only greenhorns could get into on the trail.Quote A Walk in the WoodsNow full disclosure, I say this like I am some sort of pro hiker myself, which I am very much not. I just happen to know for a fact that I have neither the knowledge, or the physical capacity to accomplish such a feat. But I at lest do know enough to pack more than noodles and Snickers bars as my source of subsistence for a multi-month hike.

A Walk in the Woods is broken up into two parts. Part one focuses on Bill & Katz’s getting ready for the trip and the start of their adventure from Springer Mountain, Georgia to¬†Gatlinburg Tennessee, where they realize this huge undertaking is more than they can muster, and proceed to skip a large portion of the trail beginning again in Roanoke, Virginia. Shortly after in the book Bill & Katz part ways to return to their “civilized life” with a promise to reunite to hike again soon. Bill at this point did a lot of day hikes on his own, including to Centralia, Pennsylvania, which I got very excited about as it is a topic I have always been interested in.

Unfortunately shortly after Katz exits the story things start to go downhill for my experience of the book. Without Katz as a folio to Bill to help break up his inflections, his humor starts to run bland.

Spending a large portion of the beginning of the book with disdain for day hikers, and park service mismanagement, he becomes a self-hypocrite when he spends the middle of the book doing just that, and taking full liberties in using the park services amenities.

Part two of A Walk in the Woods started to become much like how Bryson described the Appalachian Trail, a long, cumbersome slog. At what first started as an easy to read, quickly became a large amount of effort to finish. In that way I guess it is like the AT.

I got excited when Katz re-entered the picture to accomplish the hundred-mile wilderness, but that did not go on very long, and with that the book was drawing to a close.

Despite my negativity towards Bill Bryson’s book I have to give him his dues. There were a decent amount of funny moments, and I did learn a lot of history about parts of the trail, and it put the trail on my radar. I am actually quite interested in the history of the Civilian Conservation corps, and they had a part in the creation of the trail. It did make me want to learn more about the trail, and I am currently researching other books about the topic, and have even met some people on Twitter who have attempted, or are going to attempt to do the trail themselves.

Overall A Walk in the Woods is truly like a long hike with a heavy load. It started off easy, and then progressively got harder until you were trudging along and saw the end, and was happy to be done with a sense of accomplishment.