“A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail” is by one of my all time favorite authors and native Iowan, Bill Bryson. Upon returning to the United States after living in England for twenty years, Bryson and his family settled in New Hampshire, where one day he came upon a path in the woods. But this was not just any path, this was the 2,184 mile long Appalachian Trail, known to hikers as simply, “The AT”. Bryson, who dabbled with the role of amateur hiker in England, decides one day that he is going to hike the trail in its entirety, partially in an attempt to “get me fit after years of waddlesome sloth”. He (unsuccessfully) tries to recruit friends, colleagues, and family members to join him on his journey walking from Georgia to Maine. Finally, only a few days before he’s set to depart, a long lost friend (whom some readers may remember from another Bryson book, “Neither Here Nor There”), Stephen Katz calls and wants to walk along. What ensues is an inspiring, humbling, occasionally depressing, but mostly hilarious memoir of Katz and Bryson’s “Walk in the Woods”.
Readers familiar with Bryson’s work will recognize the leisurely pace, self-deprecating humor, and personal anecdotes that the author is known for. While his intent is mainly to entertain, Bryson also intersperses educational factoids about everything from the history of the AT and its founders to the National Parks Service’s many flaws, the idiosyncrasies of purchasing (and using) camping gear, and the many exotic and endangered flora and fauna that inhabit the mountain trails. He meets many interesting characters along the way, but none so much as his partner in crime, Katz, from whom many of the most comical episodes occur. Bryson has a way of describing the AT in such detail and emotion that the reader is transported to the mountains of Virginia, the parks of Georgia, the trails of Maine, and the many places in between. While it is certainly no “how-to” guide for hiking the Appalachian Trail, “A Walk in the Woods” made me want to do many things: appreciate the beauty of nature, reconnect with an old friend, find humor and humility in life, reflect, walk.
I would highly recommend this book to fans of Bill Bryson’s work, lovers of nature and recreational hiking*, seekers of (mis)adventure memoirs, and history buffs who enjoy a good story with affable characters.
*There is some (gasp!) naughty language in the book, and hardcore, purist hikers might not appreciate Bryson and Katz’s lackadaisical approach to such an arduous task as trekking almost 2,200 miles on foot. For this reason I would steer clear of recommending this book to those who might take offense to these.