A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson is a funny guy. That being said, there’s some things that just aren’t humorous to me. And some of those things are in this book. While the majority of the book is a great retelling of his trip on the Appalachia Trail, there are some things that Bryson wrote that put a damper on it.

He decides one day that he is going to hike the Appalachia Trail. This trail is over two thousand miles long and spans from Georgia to Vermont. Its quite the task. Eager to get started, he proceeds to go out and buy all the “very needed very essential” expensive equipment. In his yearly Christmas card, he extends an invitation for anyone to join him and is surprised when his friend Katz responds in affirmative. Not knowing what they’re getting themselves into, they take off for the beginning of the trail in Georgia. The first day is pretty overwhelming for them, but as they go on they start to get used to the trail and its inhabitants and other hikers. However, Bryson never gets over his fear of a bear attack.

They cover a good bit of the first part of the trail before calling it quits for a few months. Then Bryson does little steps of the trail on his own as day hikes and he and Katz finally reunite to try the 100 mile wilderness towards the end of the trail. Once again they find themselves unprepared and have a hard time of it. Bryson goes into quite a bit of detail about the different campsites and provisions they suffer through along the way.

While a lot of this book was interesting and informative, there were definitely parts I didn’t like. First, the mention of Katz littering the trail happens several times. It wouldn’t be so bad if it was disposable stuff, but food wrapped in plastic, camping gear, and shoes are part of the things that get thrown out. While Bryson doesn’t do this himself, I find him guilty by association. Also, while hiking they meet a few people and while I can see poking fun at a few of them, he insults some of the people he meets for no good reason (like saying all hamburger managers are genetically derived from Goofy). Its just uncalled for. When he is on the trail by himself he doesn’t do these things and I liken it to when you have a group of kids together; they do things together in a mob mentality they would never do by themselves.

I did enjoy the second half of this book more than the first. Bryson is largely alone and gives better detail on its inhabitants and the surrounding areas. Especially interesting (although it had nothing to do with the trail) is his visit to Centralia, PA. I had never heard of the place but his description made me go put quite a few books about the place on my reading list. After all, who doesn’t want to hear about a city who is sitting on a large “furnace” that will burn for at least another 250 years. He also gives better a better description of his hiking and why he enjoys the trip so much as opposed to the never ending whining when he was traveling with Katz.

Bryson is a humorous writer and it shows in this book. He describes people and places extremely well, even if he is making fun of them at the time. I’d probably read more books by him; I’ll just try to avoid the ones where he pairs up with Katz.

A Walk In The Woods
Copyright 1998
274 pages