My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Appalachian Trail is the longest, continuous footpath in the world. It stretches along the east coast of the United States from Georgia to Maine.
At 44, Bill Bryson and his friend, Stephen Katz decide to set off on this hike. What lies ahead is almost 2200 miles of mountain wilderness, filled with bears, bobcats and occasionally, other trekkers.
In A Walk in the Woods, Bryson invites the reader to accompany him and Katz into a breath-taking adventure. I took him up on his offer from the comfort of my sofa. And it was quite a journey!
“When I awoke it was daylight. The inside of my tent was coated in a curious, flaky rime, which I realized after a moment, was all my night-time snores, condensed and frozen and pasted to the fabric, as if into a scrapbook of respiratory memories”.
I chose to read this for two reasons, firstly, I recently watched the movie starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte and I liked it so much, I watched it twice. And secondly, I’m a trekker too, and I knew I’d enjoy the story. Ok, I say I’m a trekker, but compared to this, I’m just a walker or rambler, covering, at best, 10 miles on an occasional Sunday. My partner and I often pack up a rucksack with a picnic, flask and binoculars and go off for some fresh air in forests or along the coast. Clearly, the Appalachian Trail is not for beginners like me!
Bills writing style is chatty, very English and incredibly funny. He portrays his relationship with Katz in such a way that you really get a feel of the humour, the understandable tension and the touching comradery between them. I lost count how many times this book gave me hearty belly-laughs.
I loved the characters that Bill and Katz bumped into on their travels. Other (more experienced) trekkers, who couldn’t wait to question them about their poor choice of packs and their inadequate tents. Not to mention how obviously unfit and unprepared they actually were.
I read this with a continuous smile, an occasional sympathetic aww, and with a brain being fed with mind-blowing facts and figures about this stunning part of the world.
After reading this, it actually dawned on me just how ignorant about America I was. I used to instantly visualise the USA as a jam-packed, concrete jungle, squeezed to the max with people and traffic and stress. And obviously, in some places this is very true. But vast areas of the United States are beautiful, and the Appalachian Trail is just one of them.
What I found difficult was trying to see the real Bryson and Katz in my minds eye. I googled pictures of both of them just to try to remove Redford and Nolte from my vision. But I struggled to see beyond the movie. I’m not complaining, because had I of not watched the film, I would never of read the book, so its a small gripe. The movie covered about 65% of the book, the rest being various chapters on American history and how the Appalachian Trail came about. Rarely does it happen, but I liked the movie just slightly more than the book.
As a lover of woodland walks, this book has taught me one very valuable lesson. Always keep to the main path. No matter how tempting a shortcut may seem, it can be dangerous out there, and these places truly belong to the animals.
Bill Bryson is passionate about conservation, and conveys a very clear message; start loving this planet more and stop destroying it. It’s very unsettling to think that perhaps my great-grand children, or even just my grand-children may not see the things that I see now on my weekly treks.
“I had come to realize that I didn’t have any feelings towards the AT that weren’t thoroughly contradictory. I was weary of the trail, but captivated by it; found the endless slog increasingly exhausting but ever invigorating; grew tired of the bound-less woods but admired their boundlessness; enjoyed the escape from civilization and ached for its comforts.”
I give A Walk in the Woods 4 stars out of 5. And I’ve added lots of other Bill Bryson books to my TBR because he’s a nature lover like myself. He’s also a really funny and likeable guy, who writes with an honesty and passion that I can connect with.