A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail

A Walk in the Woods: 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 the history and ecology of the trail and to some of the oth...

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Title:A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail
Author:Bill Bryson
Rating:
ISBN:0307279464
Edition Language:English
Format Type:Mass Market Paperback
Number of Pages:397 pages

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail Reviews

  • erin
    Jan 31, 2007

    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.

  • Jack
    May 17, 2007

    Imagine a grueling, four-month wilderness trek along the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. Your guide: an intellectual, who lived half his life in England, well versed in geology, zoology, ecology and pretty much all of the other ‘ologies.’ Yet, this far from ordinary guide summons the sparkle of Twain, and of Billy Crystal. Picture all of this for a sense of what can be found inside the covers of Bill Bryson’s "A Walk in the Woods." Bryson, a self-deprecating intellectual of the first or

    Imagine a grueling, four-month wilderness trek along the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. Your guide: an intellectual, who lived half his life in England, well versed in geology, zoology, ecology and pretty much all of the other ‘ologies.’ Yet, this far from ordinary guide summons the sparkle of Twain, and of Billy Crystal. Picture all of this for a sense of what can be found inside the covers of Bill Bryson’s "A Walk in the Woods." Bryson, a self-deprecating intellectual of the first order, provides massive helpings of horse-laughing humor that are pleasantly painful to read. The compulsion to read aloud "Walk’s" funnier passages to friends and family overwhelms, as does the desire to pass the book on to others after the warmth of the last page flickers.

    Bryson grew up in Iowa. While in his twenties, he moved to England where he spent 20 years writing for British and American publications. In 1996 he and his family returned to the United States, settling in New Hampshire. One day, he “happened on a path that vanished into the wood on the edge of town.” That path was a tiny segment of the Appalachian Trail: a continuous 2,100-mile, mostly-wilderness trail along the spine of the Appalachian Mountains. Intrigued, Bryson thought, what better way to reacquaint himself with his native land, and at the same time: “It would get me fit after years of waddlesome sloth." After thorough research, Bryson determines his undertaking would be difficult, requiring a companion. Exhausting all of his best choices, Bryson settles on Steve Katz, an old high school buddy. Katz, an overweight and out of shape, X - Files addicted, Snicker munching, surprisingly fetching sidekick becomes the focal point of much of Walk’s hilarity and pathos.

    A number of unforgettable characters pop up along the trail. Most memorable is the gratingly obnoxious Mary Ellen, who after she had tagged along for several days, Bryson and Katz ditch using an elaborate deception. “She was, as Katz forever termed her in a special tone of awe, a piece of work." They encounter Bob, the world’s foremost authority on everything. Bryson and Katz spend several days with the delightful John Connolly, a New York schoolteacher who had been hiking the trail a bit at a time for 19 years. One night the three camp with seventeen Boy Scouts and three adult supervisors, “all charmingly incompetent.” After watching a night of the scout’s ineptness: “Even Katz agreed that this was better than TV."

    Along the way, Bryson painlessly inserts lessons of history, geology, entomology, and more. We learn about the changes acid rain has brought to the wild, and he recounts the stories of the southern pine beetle, the smoky madtom and wooly adelgids, and about Daniel Boone, Henry David Thoreau and Stonewall Jackson. Bryson delivers an extended geology lesson on the tectonic formation of the 470 million year-old Appalachian Mountains that palatably educates. While praising some of their employees, Bryson effectively and mercilessly bashes the U.S. Forest Service (road builders for the logging industry – “eight times the total mileage of America’s interstate highway system," the National Park Service (“actually has something of a tradition of making things extinct"), and the Army Corps of Engineers (“they don’t build things very well").

    Bryson makes his environmental bent abundantly clear. But, his lessons rarely become preachy. They reflect the all too human predisposition to seek the easy way, the momentary thrill, and always at a cost. Without accusation, Bryson reminds us of those often easy to ignore environmental costs.

    Bill Bryson’s "A Walk in the Woods" lovingly opens a window to “an America that millions of people scarcely know exists.” There are problems to solve along this great, mountain forest trail. Yet, the air intoxicates. The sights are unforgetable. And the smile remains

  • Diane
    Aug 14, 2007

    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.

  • Ken-ichi
    Apr 27, 2009

    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
    Jul 24, 2011

    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
    Oct 18, 2012

    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.

  • Jason Koivu
    Apr 25, 2013

    pressed all my favorite buttons: Humor. Adventure. Danger. Storytelling. Nature. Local/personal interest. Et cetera.

    I even liked that the author Bill Bryson is a American-Brit ex-pat/transplant and thus an outsider giving his opinion as a stranger in a strange land. Bryson's humorous, well-researched, yet relaxed writing is what I always hope for when embarking upon a book like this.

    A trek upon the Appalachian Trail is supposed

    pressed all my favorite buttons: Humor. Adventure. Danger. Storytelling. Nature. Local/personal interest. Et cetera.

    I even liked that the author Bill Bryson is a American-Brit ex-pat/transplant and thus an outsider giving his opinion as a stranger in a strange land. Bryson's humorous, well-researched, yet relaxed writing is what I always hope for when embarking upon a book like this.

    A trek upon the Appalachian Trail is supposed to be relaxing, if strenuous, and if a bit of history and humor get mixed in then all the better. For those like myself who grew up in New England, the lure and legend of the trail was spoon-fed us from an early age, right along with Johnny Appleseed and the ride of Paul Revere. Those of us too lazy to make the actual hike can sit back and read Bryson's book while thinking about how swell a jaunt would be.

                   

    While I enjoyed hearing about the local spots I'm familiar with like Mt. Washington in New Hampshire (a hiker from Pepperell, MA the tiny town my mom is from is even mentioned, woohoo!), it's Bryson's relationship with his friend Katz, a larger-than-life character who joined him periodically on the trail, that really ties this whole book together. The hijinks are raised when Katz enters the scene, making a normal hike in the woods into an adventure, perhaps more than it needed to be, but I'm grateful either way!

    Bryson's writing and the personality that comes through made more palatable his occasional soapbox tangents. The guy loves nature preservation and he's not happy when man fucks with it, so every once in a while the reader must wade through a lecture on why the trail is essentially lucky to be alive. For all that, I loved this book just about in its entirety and look forward to reading more by Bill Bryson, a writer who I've taken an immediate shine to, a reader-writer bond strengthened by my own private pleasure at discovering we share December 8th as a birthday.

  • Anne
    May 20, 2014

    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
    Mar 21, 2016

    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.

  • Kelly (and the Book Boar)
    Oct 03, 2016

    Find all of my reviews at:

    After reading

    last week, I was afraid nothing would compare and I’d be stuck in book hangover mode unless I picked something totally different from what I normally read. I decided to go to the library website incognito in order to

    get the typical porny recommendations made “just for me” and get the generally recommended ones instead.

    Obviously

    was a book that appeared on the list and I remember

    Find all of my reviews at:

    After reading

    last week, I was afraid nothing would compare and I’d be stuck in book hangover mode unless I picked something totally different from what I normally read. I decided to go to the library website incognito in order to

    get the typical porny recommendations made “just for me” and get the generally recommended ones instead.

    Obviously

    was a book that appeared on the list and I remembered way back when I was thinking about reading

    a certain Georgia peach said I should read this instead because at least if I hated it she was almost certain I’d at least get a couple of laughs. And she was correct. Right from the start Bryson declares . . .

    I pretty much decided right at that point the author was probably my people. To begin with he described his state of living as

    which is a lifestyle I support 110%. He followed that up with a shopping trip to buy necessities such as

    And then he sealed the deal by taking his old friend Katz along for the hike . . . .

    In case the above didn’t clue you in, Katz isn’t exactly what you’d call politically correct. You’ve been warned so don’t come crying to me about what a disgusting manbearpig he was. Here’s another tidbit at what

    Katz brings to the table . . . .

    These two were a hoot. A regular Odd Couple taking the reader on a potential life-threatening comedy of errors. From freak snowstorms to uninvited tag-alongs on their journey.

    (

    Apparently the role of the uber annoying Mary Ellen is played by none other than the lady who voices this delightful little lady in the movie version . . . .

    While Ms. Schaal makes for quite the entertaining cartoon voice I have a feeling I’d want to stab the non-animated version should we ever meet.

    )

    To a possible bear attack that had me casting John Candy in the role of Bill Bryson due to this fond memory . . . .

    The only reason this gets 4 Stars instead of 5 is due to the fact that . . .

    While it’s obvious that Bryson fell in love with The Appalachian Trail on his journey, there is

    of info dumping that occurs because of this love. The history of national parks/the Army Corps of Engineers/the forestry industry as well a detailed inventory of flora and fauna and random tidbits and “fun” (in a macabre sense of the term) facts regarding different locations along the trail sometimes left my mind wandering.

    That being said,

    is an adventure I won’t soon forget. I didn't know until this weekend that there’s a film version. I hope to check it out soon because . . . .

    Nick Nolte was more than a bit too old for the role, but still might end up being the

    choice for Katz!