Saturday, March 7, 2009

A Walk In The Woods - Bill Bryson


1998; 274 pages. Genre : Anecdotal. Overall Rating : B.
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Bill Bryson's witty recounting of his attempt to hike the entire Appalachian Trail, despite being 44, not in shape, and not knowing anything about hiking. He's joined by his boyhood friend, Stephen Katz, who is even more out-of-shape and unknowledgeable than Bryson.
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What's To Like...
As usual, Bryson self-deprecating humor had me chuckling out loud. There's the savings-draining trip to the sports store, trying to pack without breaking one's back, the foibles of a pair of urbanites camping in the wilderness, and a guffaw-inducing meeting with a moose. Fortunately, the bears, ticks, and poisonous snakes stayed away.
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You also get to share his joy as he beholds sunrises and mountain ridges essentially untouched by the human hand. And Bryson shares his research into the history of the trail, the US National Park Service, the fauna and flora, and the very mountains themselves.
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Unfortunately, the chuckles-per-page diminish in the second half of the book. Maybe Bryson had difficulty finding something funny about almost dying from hypothermia. So the first half of the book (Georgia thru Virginia) rates an "A"; while the last half (Pennsylvania thru Maine) rates a "C".
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You dare to call yourself a hiker?!
The Appalachian Trail is 2200 miles long. Almost all of it is up-and-down mountains on barely discernible paths. I once did a 10-mile hike in Boy Scouts, over mostly level eastern-Pennsylvanian terrain, in perfect weather, and at a leisurely pace. It took most of the day.
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Bryson ended up walking 890 of those 2200 miles. That he'd write a book about this feat seems to have ticked off a bunch of self-styled "serious hikers". Personally, I'm quite impressed. I didn't enjoy AWITW quite as much as I did The Life And Times Of The Thunderbolt Kid, but it's still an entertaining book, and a recommended read.

10 comments:

Amanda said...

Jason and the boys all want to hike the trail, as well as Jason's sister. The boys have decided they will all do this together once all of them have graduated from high school.

Of course, Ambrose, who wasnt' paying much attention to the pact they were making, put in his unrelated two cents: "I like hamsters."

hamilcar barca said...

part of the trail, or all of it? and "straight on thru" or "a section here, a section there"?

2200 miles is a heckuva long way. San Antonio to Phoenix is probably less than 2200 miles. and not as many mountains.

Amanda said...

Yep, the whole way. Notice I don't include myself in that intended journey.

hamilcar barca said...

well, i tip my hat to all of them. their goals are more ambitious than any of mine. but i very much recommend they read this book before they run out to buy their backpacks. and do the math on 2200 miles.

as an alernative, i'd suggest a summer of backpacking around Europe and staying in youth hostels.

Amanda said...

Jason figures by the time they're all out of high school, they won't care anymore.

On the other hand, his sister is really serious about doing the trail, but she's extremely athletic and outdoorsy, and does things like this all the time. She's particularly into extreme sports like mountain climbing. I doubt Chelsea would have trouble at all hiking the whole trail.

Christina said...

2200 miles? No thanks, I like our little rough 2-3 miles walk in the park when allergies aren't acting up.

Trixie said...

I read this book and loved it. Read another more serious historical sort of book about the Trail at the same time. Talked about a lot of the people who have traversed it over the years and was pretty interesting. Reading those made me want to hike the whole thing too. Of course, this was all during the time I was in residency training and spending one in four nights working in the hospital.
Now I tend to agree with Hamilcar - I'd rather hike with a backpack around Europe. Food's probably better for one thing and fewer animals to deal with. Though bugs in your bed might still be an issue.

Amanda said...

I am so not interested in doing anything that involves sleeping out in nature. Shudder.

Amber said...

If you liked this, I think you might like "The Memory of Running," though I can't remember the author's name.

Jason Gignac said...

I would love to do it. Probably won't (I'm not sufficiently good at finishing up on goals to do anything really impressive). But if I was a better man, it sounds wonderful.