May 21, 2014

A Walk in the Woods

by Bill Bryson

He walked the Appalachian Trail. Georgia to Maine. Or at least, some of it. Enough to feel proud. Started out rather ineptly, with some experience under his belt but honestly not well-prepared. Took along a friend who was alarmingly out-of-shape, to say the least. Both of them cracked me up. The book is a wandering, laugh-out-loud funny account of their trek on the trail and the people they meet plus a smattering of history about the AT and its environs. I didn't find the history parts dull at all. The exploits of Bryson and his friend kept me chuckling. He has a way of describing things that is witty and acute. And in case you're wondering- he was constantly worried about meeting bears- quotes a lot of statistics and stories about other people meeting them- but pretty much the worst incident is his friend getting lost. They hiked 500 miles (almost a third) of the trail before realizing they weren't going to make it all the way and decided to sample portions of the rest; driving in and doing day hikes, other segments for a week or so at a time.

I really enjoyed reading about their experiences, plus all the lore about how the trail was made, how it has changed over the decades, management of the parks and so on. Meeting up with other hikers- some quite interesting characters!- struggling with the distance, planning, weather, occasionally running into wildlife, visits into small towns, etc. I have a sister hiking the Pacific Crest Trail right now, so I liked to think I was learning a wee bit of what her experience is like. Also appreciated that at one point Bryson explored parts of the trail that go through abandoned towns in the coal country of Pennsylvania, precise locations I have visited myself. (I wasn't expecting this at all, and the few pages describing what he saw, relating history of the area as well, satisfied me more than a certain book I finished recently). Lovely passages on the beauty of the wilderness, with many mishaps and amusements along the way. Fun read. Now I want to read more of Bryson's books- turns out there's quite a few. (Add to the list!)

Note: his friend is fond of women, working on overcoming a drinking problem and often uses the f-word. Usually this word makes me cringe, but here I just found myself chuckling. It fit the situation. But if that makes you uncomfortable, you might want to pass on this one.

Rating: 4/5     284 pages, 1998

More opinions:
Compulsive Overreader
Books n Tea
Pages of Julia's Blog
the Fire in our Heads
the Broke and the Bookish


Susan Bybee said...

This is my very favorite of Bryson's books.

Jeane said...

I'm looking forward to reading more! Wish I'd found this author sooner.

Trish said...

For some reason I was really surprised at how un-PC some of the sections in this book seemed to be! It definitely made for a good book club discussion. I felt much the same way you did but some of the others in my group didn't think too kindly.