Eric_W's Reviews > A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
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Mar 19, 09

Read in January, 2005

This is a wonderful book to listen to while traveling with a group of people. It will keep you interested and laughing heartily all the way to your destination.

Bryson decided one day that it would be a neat thing to hike the Appalachian Trail – all 2,160 miles of it (although the actual length varies depending on the page you might be on in the official guides or what year it is, because the trail is constantly being changed and moved).

Deciding to do a little research, he soon discovered that there are certain dangers to walking the trail, including bears, assorted diseases, and “loony hillbillies destabilized by gross quantities
of impure corn liquor and generations of profoundly unbiblical sex.”

Henry Thoreau, that great 18-month adventurer into the wilds a short
walk from his town, helped create a great nostalgia for the woods, even though, as Bryson notes, he could “stroll to town for cakes and barley wine, but when he experienced real wilderness, on a visit to Katahdin in 1846, he was unnerved to the core.”

Bryson decided to take Stephen Katz along for the trip. Katz is a character who shows up in several of Bryson’s other books. He’s fat and
lazy --he throws away their water supply to make his pack lighter-- and soon Bryson discovers that this may not be the little walk in the
woods he had expected. After several weeks on the trail, in rather miserable weather, they arrive in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. There, he finds a map of the entire trail, about six inches wide and four feet long, and discovers to his horror that he and Katz have only traveled two inches on the map. “My hair had grown more than that,” he reports.

Even though it’s a very funny book, Bryson makes several serious observations, discussing the mismanagement of the U.S. Forest Service, an agency that builds more roads than any construction company; it supervises and has built more than 378,000 miles of roads, more than eight times the total mileage of the interstate highway system. Most of
these are to service the needs of logging companies that need to get in to chop down more trees. Bryson also discusses the American ambivalence toward nature. We revere it, but are afraid of it as well. The woods are beautiful, but they “choke off views and leave you
muddled and without bearings. They make you feel small and confused and vulnerable, like a small child lost in a crowd of strange legs.”

A lot of wilderness still exists in the United States, as he discovers on a section of totally uninhabited wilderness the trail traverses in Maine (he decided to do short sections of the trail after his epiphany in Gatlinburg).

This week-long march leaves the hikers completely on their own and is nowhere near any kind of help should one get into trouble (the AT kills several people yearly). There’s still a lot of nature out there; only 2 percent of the United States is classified as built up and 15,600,000 square miles are completely wooded, without a single resident, and remain impressive despite our mismanagement of the ecology and massive logging.

Bryson ended up walking a total of 870 miles of the trail – not an inconsequential feat. Of the two thousand or so who make the attempt
every year, only about two hundred finish.
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message 1: by Jen (last edited Jul 10, 2009 07:59AM) (new)

Jen You meet all kinds on the AT. I remember one guy we met who constantly traveled it, sleeping in the public shelter sites and carrying a homemade drum, stopping in places long enough to get an odd job and make more money to go farther on the trail.

There was another guy on the trail that was in the WPP. Good place to go when you want to be forgotten.


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