Jason'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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bookshelves: for-kindle, wine-club, 2012, reviewed

I am what some might call a pussy hiker. I do genuinely enjoy a leisurely stroll in the “mountains” of Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire. I like the pretty views. I always bring my conveniently-sized L.L. Bean backpack ($39.95 from the Kittery Outlets) so I have a place for my camera and cell phone. But by early afternoon, I would like to be done, please. I would like to be done and sitting at a booth in a pub with my burger and beer. Camping is certainly worthy of consideration, but here’s the deal: I don’t do rain. In light of the fact that weather reports are unreliable beyond a 48-hour window (and even that is pushing it in New England), it is unlikely I would ever camp for more than a two-night stay. Oh, and if I were to camp, I would like it to be at a site that has free Wi-Fi.

What this amounts to is that the Appalachian Trail, endearingly referred to by those hiking it as “the AT,” will never be anything more to me than a lovely little map.
appalachian trail map
(click to enlarge)
BUT. I am glad for gung-ho people like Bryson and his chubby checker friend Katz who did walk “the AT” and are kind enough to let me know what I am missing. As it turns out, I am not missing much. This is not to downplay the extraordinarity of a 2,200-mile trail of wilderness running from Georgia to Maine, a trail that takes the average thru-hiker six months to complete, but in terms of day-to-day variation, it is basically a shitload of trees followed by another shitload of trees.

at trail

For me, this book makes a better argument for the day hike. There are many parts of the trail I would enjoy, including the Smoky Mountains, the Shenandoah Valley, and the Delaware Water Gap. Like Bryson, though, I am a people person, and I enjoy my simple human comforts. I would like to see these areas without having to make an extended departure from civilization. Why can’t I have both—my nature and my nurture? Fortunately for me, almost a full third of the Appalachian Trail is in New England, so maybe I can have it all—because I think if there is one thing I’ve learned from Bryson’s experience, it is that I don’t have to suffer through long days of cold rain and hungry nights to enjoy what the Appalachian Trail has to offer.
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Reading Progress

July 24, 2011 – Shelved
Started Reading
August 13, 2012 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-50 of 70 (70 new)


message 1: by David (last edited Aug 14, 2012 07:51AM) (new)

David The Great Outdoors is beautiful—

—when you're looking at it through a window pane from the comfortable vantage of a climate controlled dwelling.


Jason Exactly. When I'm ready to climb Mt. Washington, Ima consider the cog rail.


Kristen Mt.Washington in the summer is for Pussies! Jason, you'd LOVE it!


Allisen Lemay ooh ooh, i would take the cog rail, call me when you want to do *that* kind of hiking!

mostly i want to go see the (semi)abandoned smoking town in PA. that seems awesome (in a destructive post apocolyptic kind of way)! but a town that will smolder for the next 1000 years, that is mind boggling to me. road trip anyone?


Janice so, it sounds like you guys will be camping with us next year?


message 7: by Steve (new)

Steve At least you're not a pussy reviewer, Jason. You found yourself clear to another great one.

Ah, but Cloud Atlas will test your mettle. It's worthier of your talents.


Allisen Lemay um, thanks janice, but i will pass. post a pic if you like. :)


message 9: by Jenn(ifer) (new) - added it

Jenn(ifer) Jenn(ifer) wrote: "http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sNethm..."

"god bless the great indoors"


message 10: by David (new)

David Oh. I forgot to say this:

Wait! You hike pussies??

There. Now I feel better.


message 11: by Mark (new)

Mark You want's ta stay way da heck out dem Smoky Mowtins. Dats where dem hillbilleez was foist site'd. Dem heffers, dey don't playz!


Eh?Eh! I blame my parents for my inability to camp now - we always had a rice cooker on our "camping" trips.


message 13: by Michelle (new)

Michelle Camping is certainly worthy of consideration, but here’s the deal: I don’t do rain.

The last time I camped was at Lake Tahoe, and it was cold and rainy...in July. It was miserable. I was in a zero-degree bag, but still froze all night. I'll probably never camp again, nor will any friends invite me camping again. (I can't imagine why -- I was so much fun that weekend.)

I do love to hike, but only day hikes. Fortunately there are lots of trails in the SF Bay area that don't involve overnights.


message 14: by Jason (last edited Aug 14, 2012 10:00AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jason That sounds like my kind of hiking, Michelle.

Janice, what are your plans next year? Are you guys really going camping somewhere?

Allisen, that smoldering Pennsylvania coal mining town sounds so bizarre, doesn't it? Not sure if I'd feel entirely safe standing on ground that could cave in any second, though.


Janice We go camping (in tents) every summer. I think we're going to do Baxter state park - south branch pond next year, but not 100%. Past couple of years, we did acadia, but i think we're ready for a change. it's not real camping. we don't hike in or anything, think of children! we just pull the vanny into our assigned spot and pitch our tent.


Jason Right, and they have a fire pit all ready for you and everything, right? And bathrooms a couple hundred yards away. I don't mind that.

In fact, Acadia is the last place I've camped. That was circa 2003-ish? The wife doesn't camp at all so that puts another hinder on things. Sorry, pumpkin, if you're reading this but it is true.


Janice a few years back, we were @ Mt Blue, and it rained the whole time. you would have loved it!!


Jason Yeah, that would have been a wash.


message 19: by RandomAnthony (new)

RandomAnthony I like Bryson's work but it all sounds the same after a while.

Also, I'd not like to poop in the woods.


message 20: by Meels (new)

Meels I feel you, my friend! I will camp in all weather conditions...in a 30 ft trailer with full hookups and a/c! Can't sleep without the a/c. Luckily when hiking I can give my husband all the junk to carry so all I have is my cell and some water.

The ground is NOT for sleeping. I can pee behind a tree if I have to, but the ground is not for sleeping.


message 21: by Jen (new)

Jen I've hiked only a bit of the Appalachian Trail, near Gatlinburg, and that was years ago when my legs were much more tolerant and packing for a ten day hike was fun. What really gets me is the people who practically live on the AT. There was one guy who carried around almost nothing and some bongos. He slept in the public lean-to's provided on the trail. He was...interesting is not the word I am looking for, but creepy is too harsh.


Jason I know people who live right next to the AT and can't even find their way onto the trail!


Jason David wrote: "Wait! You hike pussies??"

Oh, I missed this gem from Kowalski.

No, David, I do not hike pussies. That is crass. But I do hike pusillanimously, which is not the same thing.


message 24: by Allisen (last edited Aug 14, 2012 04:33PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Allisen Lemay now you're just making crap up jason! and for the record, im with pumpkin. maybe i will call her that from our hotel room this weekend while those other weirdos "tent". (which if you ask me, is way too similar to camping, depsite the port-o-potty)


message 25: by Richard (new)

Richard Derus I camp out in the Marriott. I rough it in the Days Inn. My equivalent of pooping in the woods would be the McDonald's bathroom.

I like driving through the mountains, Finlandia on my car stereo, a thermos full of Bloodys e'er at my side. Very nice review!


message 26: by Jason (last edited Aug 14, 2012 04:57PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jason Allisen wrote: "now you're just making crap up jason! and for the record, im with pumpkin. maybe i will call her that from our hotel room this weekend while those other weirdos "tent". (which if you ask me, so wa..."

despite the port-o-potty and the fact that it is in someone's backyard! it is camping by the most liberal definition. it is camping with a 5-star breakfast prepared by the innkeeper and his wife!

tent city


Allisen Lemay thats true, breakfast and hospitality is second to none at this particular tent city. but camping or tenting, or whatever the freak you want to call it, is just not my thing. period.


message 28: by s.penkevich (new)

s.penkevich Ha good stuff. I always try to do the whole camping thing, always like 'screw you nature, I got this shit cuz i'm a man!' and it turns into utter disaster.


Moira Russell I pretty much love that book for Katz. Also, the first time I read the book Bryson's horror at the possibilities of bears about made me cry with laughter.

Out here we have the Pacific Crest Trail, which I am probably never going to even touch no way.


message 30: by Kris (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kris Great review, Jason! One important takeaway I have from your review is that the AT needs more pubs. :)

I did hike sections of the trail years ago - mainly around WV and PA, although a friend of mine hiked the entire trail one summer. She had all kinds of interesting stories to tell about fellow hikers, reminiscent of Jen's description in #21.

My AT days are behind me, but I still would love to do The Offa's Dyke Walk some day. Walk, pub, sleep, walk, pub, sleep....


Jason The AT definitely needs more pubs. How wonderful would it be to experience the American wilderness and be able to enjoy a burger at the end of each day? Why does it have to be so segregated? People seem to be either completely anti-nature or they are so over-the-top with their love of nature that they don't want anything else "interfering" with it.

I understand there are nice hiking trails in Europe that actually meander through towns & villages intermittently. I think that is the way it should be done: the middle ground of nature. It can co-exist with civilization!


Janice but shouldn't we leave some places truly wild?


message 33: by Jason (last edited Aug 15, 2012 06:49AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jason Janice wrote: "but shouldn't we leave some places truly wild?"

for whom? perhaps for wildlife, but I just think that for a trail for humans, it is nice to incorporate a little bit of human "stuff" into it here and there. there can (and should!) be huge stretches of pure wilderness, but i just don't think it needs to be completely separated. you don't agree, cousin?


Janice it's really not completely separated when there's a trail through it. there are plenty of day(afternoon, hour) hikes where you can easily grab some beers immediately following your outing. these are definitely more up my alley, but there should be places to allow people to be in actual wilderness. in fact, a good portion of the maine economy is based on it!


message 35: by Jason (last edited Aug 15, 2012 06:59AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jason if i remember correctly, there is a section in Maine that is more remote than any other part of the AT. something like a 100-mile stretch with no campground, village shop, phone, etc.
http://www.100milewilderness.info/The...


Janice yes, weird people love that shit.


Janice wow, the description actually states that even that is not a true wilderness, but a wilderness corridor abutting working forest! hardcore, yo.


Jason It is Maine. :)


Janice good point! then again working forest is a large portion of what we have....enjoy the black flies!


Genine Franklin-Clark I like to camp at the Stanford Court in San Francisco, hike around Ghirardelli Square, followed by some campfire food at Tadich's.


message 41: by Miriam (new)

Miriam Sounds like we are on the same page with hiking and camping, Jason. I spent most of my trip to Yosemite in a bar watching the world cup.


message 42: by Jason (last edited Aug 16, 2012 10:29AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jason Ha! Next "camping" trip you take, Miriam, I'm going with you. :D


message 43: by Miriam (new)

Miriam Although I'm still more outdoorsy than most of my friends; at least I brought matches! And whiskey.


Jason I actually enjoy hiking and camping. I think it is fun. But I like to be comfortable, too. The best for me is when you are at a campground that has all the amenities.


message 45: by Miriam (new)

Miriam I like hiking, but I like to shower after (we have a lot of ticks out here) and sleep in a bed. I think my "camping" niche growing up was filled by nighttime beach bonfires.


Jason Oh, that is fun. Sometimes we do backyard fire pits at night and roast marshmallows and that's sort of the same thing but also not really the same thing at all.


Eh?Eh! Miriam wrote: "at least I brought matches!"

I was skimming and thought you wrote "machetes!" at first. I was all, YEAH!


message 48: by Miriam (new)

Miriam Sometimes we do backyard fire pits at night and roast marshmallows and that's sort of the same thing but also not really the same thing at all.

Tamer fun! Because you're not s young as you used to be.
My sister had a fire pit and marshmallows at her wedding, actually. Good for keeping the kiddies busy.

I do have a machete but it is for my parents' yard.


Jason haha, is the machete not as good for keeping the kids busy?


message 50: by Jen (last edited Aug 16, 2012 02:27PM) (new)

Jen In my opinion, the best way to keep the kids busy is to have them make their own machetes.


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