A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson


In Cajun, we call it an ahnvee. In French, it’s envie. In redneck, it’s a hankering, and plain old normal people might refer to it as a compulsion, urge, or craving. Well last weekend, right out of the clear blue sky (thanks Forrest); I got the biggest ahnvee to read Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods. The urge was so strong and specific that I ran all around town until I nailed down a copy of said book. Now why, you might ask, did I just HAVE TO HAVE this particular book? I dunno. Seriously, I mean I’ve never read Bryson, although I’ve always meant to get around to it, and I’ve heard good things about A Walk in the Woods. But really I just knew that at that precise moment, I wanted to read that exact thing. And I did. And it was good.

A Walk in the Woods is Bill Bryson’s true account of his attempt to thru hike the Appalachian Trail. The trail is the longest footpath in America; it starts in Georgia and ends in Maine covering 2,178 miles. It goes through 8 National forests and touches 14 states. Crazy people actually hike this thing the whole way through. Bill Bryson tired to, but he failed. Sort of. He made it from Georgia to Tennessee, and then he stopped and went home for a break, and then attempted to drive to some parts of the trail and hike a little and then stop and repeat the process the next day. His last real attempt was in Maine, where he made it about halfway on torturous terrain and then quit and hauled ass home. So he didn’t succeed at thru hiking the trail, but what he does succeed at is hiking enough of the trail (around 870 miles of it), that we get a really accurate portrayal of what it’s like to hike the Appalachian Trail, or the “A.T.,” as the cool kids call it.

We learn about the gear, we learn about the bears, we learn how it feels to walk 15 miles a day mostly uphill, with a 40 pound pack on your back whilst being attacked by bugs. We learn that after you spend your day doing this, you are treated to ramen noodles, a drafty tent, and a shitty night’s sleep on the hard earth in the company of mice and snakes. The truth is, it all sounds horrible but also really really great. It certainly appeals to the escapist in me. Checking out of corporate America for 3 to 5 months to do nothing but walk in the woods. Sure, I get it. Freedom man, freedom.

Of course, I would never do it. Ever. Mice? Bugs? Snakes? RAMEN NOODLES??? No thanks, I’ll just stay in the cabin and read about it, thank ya very much, and I would suggest that you do the same.


8 Responses to “A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson”

  1. “A Walk in the Woods” is one of my favourite Bryson books, even though I’m not likely to hike the Appalachian trail any time soon either. To the extent that I ever envision myself on a walking holiday, it would be British excursion, walking from village to village, stopping in a different pub/B & B each night. Mind you, I think the latter is actually more Bryson’s style as well which is partly why “A Walk in the Woods” is so entertaining.

  2. Hahahaha, great post. Despite everything, this book definitely inspired my (pipe) dream of someday hiking the AT (yep, I’m a cool kid). Notes from a Small Island is his book about walking around England, akin to Kate’s description and is really good as well. The only book of his I didn’t like was Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid – I couldn’t even finish it.

  3. Kate – NOW your hike sounds like FUN! I’m in!

    Lesley – It does seem like a really cool thing to do. I actually got a little OCD about the A.T. after I read this, and spent a large part of one day looking a you tube videos from people on the trail. I do want to read more Bryson but Life and Times doesn’t even temp me. The Aussie book looks cool and Small Island is on my TBR.

  4. I have owned this book forever. I really should read it! The only thing I have read by him is his biography of Shakespeare!

  5. I love A Walk in the Woods and remember laughing through quite a bit of it!

  6. Immensely enjoyable book. Has there ever been a retraction or explanation for the fact that the cover features the image of a brown bear, when one of the first things covered in the book is the fact that there are opnly black bears in the areas around the trail?

  7. Oh how I loved this book! It definitely made me laugh out loud, especially when he would talk about his walking companion Katz. I have another book of his, The Lost Continent, but haven’t gotten around to reading it yet.

  8. I am surprised at how enchanted everyone is about this book. All the responders, however, may have shared a common thread: none of them have ever ventured on a longer hike. Otherwise you wouldn’t have been able to say you liked this book. I believe A Walk in the Woods creates a false and unrealistic idea of what this journey should really be about; definitely not about spending hundreds of dollars on your equipment or packing up too much food without thinking what is it you really need when you are in the wilderness, not should it be about taking a cab to make a shortcut… I am afraid that some of the readers have certainly taken this hike as a “walk”, a cool thing to do, which it isn’t. They should talk to the people who actually did the whole hike and spent as much time away from our consumerist society as possible.

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