A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson. Recommended.
Bill Bryson is known for his wry humour, and this is my first experience of it. Bryson gets it into his head to walk the famous Appalachian Trail. He is joined in this venture by Stephen Katz, an alcoholic, troubled, overweight friend who’s an unlikely candidate as a hiker/mountain man but who, with his many foibles, adds a much-needed personal touch.
Bryson covers a lot of territory — literally and figuratively. He talks briefly about the birth and history of the trail, hazards that range from bears and lethal viruses to unforgiving weather and deranged murderers, the decline of forest species, acid rain, the maps developed of the trail, its disputed length, the shelters along the way, the Forest Service’s love affair with road building, the National Park Service’s love affair with inefficiency and mismanagement, the people they meet on the trail and off the trail in small towns and tourist trap cities, pack weight, food, and how what you do is walk. We also learn a great deal about Katz that make him both likeable and not at all likeable. I suspect he is someone who is interesting and funny to read about, but who is infuriating in real life. His nonchalance when Bryson is convinced there are bears nearby is a high point.
Bryson is charming, witty, aggravating, and snobbish. If you can see the humorous side of bureaucracy, small-town and rural America, and what was once known as Yuppiedom, you will appreciate his running commentary on The downside of the book is that it hits an anticlimax shy of 2/3 through and never recovers. Perhaps this is symbolic of how walking the trail is.
This is not an Appalachian Trail “how-to” book, nor is it for the serious hiker or nature lover who expects to find out vicariously what it’s like to hike the trail. It’s a dryly funny commentary on humanity that happens to be a walk in the woods.
16 March 2002
Copyright © Diane Schirf