A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail
Bill Bryson, an Iowa native, had lived in the UK for nearly two decades before returning to the US back in the ’90s. Upon discovering that his new home in New England was mere steps from a little walking path known as the Appalachian Trail (over 2,100 miles in length), he became fixated on the idea of hiking the entirety of the Trail, from Georgia to Maine.
The only problem? He was not a hiker.
Upon researching the many dangers he could expect to face on the AT (including bears, inclement weather, and yes, crazies), he decided to call on a buddy from his days bumming around Europe. A good idea, except that in the two decades since they last saw each other, the buddy had become addicted to both drugs and Little Debbie treats.
Why It’s a Great Travel Book
A Walk in the Woods is a great travel book as much for its depiction of through-hiking the Appalachian Trail as it is for Bryson’s singularly expressive writing. If you’ve ever backpacked long distance, you’ll immediately vibe with his recounting of the walk. If you never have but want to, you’ll get a very clear idea of what to expect.
Bryson is also the author of science books, specifically A Short History of Nearly Everything, which breaks down complicated scientific facts into very easily understood chapters. I see that same knack for synthesis in A Walk in the Woods. He gives a lot of backstory about the creation of the AT and how it actually changes…depending on who’s mapping it.
It’s not just a fun piece of escapist literature; it’s also highly informative.
From the interesting people they meet on the trail, to getting stuck in a heavy snowfall on a narrow ledge above an 80-foot drop, to the hilarious bickering the middle-aged hikers get into, there’s a lot to love about A Walk in the Woods.
I can’t let this review go without reiterating how funny a writer Bryson is. He can’t NOT write humorously. He literally makes a book about hiking into one of the most amusing and entertaining (and, oftentimes, enlightening) things I’ve ever read. His experiences also prove that as cool as it to say “I’ve hiked the Appalachian Trail and shit in the woods,” the true adventures lay in the people you meet along the way.