Book Review: "A Walk in the Woods" by Bill Bryson

Filed in Uncategorized by on July 14, 2007 0 Comments

Bill Bryson wrote this book almost a decade ago to document his walk along the Appalachian Trail with his friend Stephen Katz in 1996. Before reading this book I knew the Appalachian Trail was long, but I didn’t fully appreciate just how long it is (approximately 2174 miles from Georgia to Maine) or that thousands of hikers attempt to hike the entire trail each year, which can take anywhere from five to seven months, and only 25% or fewer of the hikers who start out each year are successful in hiking the entire distance. 

I’m not a hiker by any stretch of the imagination, but I still found the book very enjoyable to read. The book takes a humorous look at the situations they found themselves in and hikers they met along the way. I’m sure some of those hikers wouldn’t like the way they were portrayed, however. But Bill wasn’t a serious, die-hard hiker, so it was easy to see how he found humor in the hikers who either took it way too seriously with all the latest electronic gadgets or not seriously enough.  

The accounts of their hiking were interspersed with information on the history of the Appalachian Trail, the animals, the trees, and the park service. Some if it was depressing to read since he detailed the decline of various trees, mishandling by the park service, and encroachment upon the trail by urban sprawl.  

Neither Bill or his friend Stephen were prepared for what hiking the trail would really entail. When they finally reached Gatlinburg, Tennessee they thought they had hiked a large distance, but they saw a map of the entire trail and realized they had only gone the equivalent of a few inches on the map. They realized that they weren’t up to the entire distance, so they skipped a large section of the trail and ultimately only hiked about 500 miles. He may have “only” hiked a portion of the trail, but it still accounted for almost a quarter of the distance and is a lot further than many people, including myself, could ever dream of hiking.  

This book allowed me to learn about the experience of hiking the Appalachian Trail without actually doing any hiking myself. I found myself doing internet searches on the internet and found some good Appalachian Trail sites that let me learn even more about the areas that he was hiking through. One site I found interesting is www.trailjournals.com, which has daily journals of hikers who have hiked various trails in the past or are currently hiking. I’ve read through some of the journals and it’s interesting to read about hikers who are out in the woods at this very moment while I’m at home out of the elements and with food and a stove within easy reach.  

In 2005 Robert Redford announced that he was interested in adapting Bryson’s book into a film, and playing Bryson himself. He also hopes that his friend Paul Newman would play the role of Katz. I hope he does make the film, because I’m sure I’d enjoy it as much as I enjoyed the book.  

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