I thoroughly enjoyed Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, but with
Christmas and New Year just a few days away this is just a brief post to record a few of my thoughts before they fade from my mind.
This is the Blurb:
In the company of his friend Stephen Katz (last seen in the bestselling Neither Here nor There), Bill Bryson set off to hike the Appalachian Trail, the longest continuous footpath in the world. Ahead lay almost 2,200 miles of remote mountain wilderness filled with bears, moose, bobcats, rattlesnakes, poisonous plants, disease-bearing tics, the occasional chuckling murderer and – perhaps most alarming of all – people whose favourite pastime is discussing the relative merits of the external-frame backpack.
Facing savage weather, merciless insects, unreliable maps and a fickle companion whose profoundest wish was to go to a motel and watch The X-Files, Bryson gamely struggled through the wilderness to achieve a lifetime’s ambition – not to die outdoors.
And here’s what I thought:
I was fascinated by it all from the details of the Appalachian Trail itself stretching from Georgia to Maine, to Bryson’s observations about the people he met, the difficulties of walking with a huge backpack, and his relationship with Katz, who struggled to keep up with him. I know what that feels like, hiking with people fitter than you and seeing them march off in front of you, waiting for you to catch up and then setting off again – I felt sorry for Katz.
I can’t say that it made me want to go out and walk for days along a long distance trail, but I did enjoy reading about his experiences and his descriptions of the trail and of the places he visited off the trail. Some of the route sounds very dangerous, such as this for example as Bryson and Katz walked through a snow storm:
… we came to a narrow ledge of path along a wall of rock called Big Butt Mountain.
Even in ideal circumstances the path around Big Butt would have required delicacy and care. It was like a window ledge of path on a skyscraper, no more than fourteen or sixteen inches wide, and crumbling in places, a sharp drop on one side of perhaps 80 feet and long, looming stretches of vertical granite on the other. Once or twice I nudged foot-sized rocks over the side and watched with faint horror as they crashed and tumbled to improbably remote resting places. (pages 100-101)
What? He watched with ‘faint horror’? It terrifies me just to think of being on a path like that! He goes on to say that all the way along this ledge they were half blinded by snow and jostled with wind. It wasn’t a blizzard, it was a tempest and at one point Katz lost his footing and ended up hugging a tree, his ‘feet skating, his expression bug-eyed and fearful’. Oh, no that is definitely not for me.
I liked all the facts about the flora and fauna, and the history of the Trail and indeed about the history connected to the landscape. Bryson’s descriptions set the scene so vividly I could easily imagine myself there – too easily in the hard places, but also in the beautiful locations, such as this in the Shenandoah Valley:
… a spacious, sun-dappled dell, tucked into a bowl of small hills, which gave it an enchanted secretive feel. Everything you might ask of a woodland scene was there – musical brook, carpet of lush ferns, elegant well-spaced trees … (page 204)
I wished it had an index and that the map of the Trail was more detailed, oh and some photos would have been good. I shall have to wait until I see the film to really see what the Trail is like.
I set out to write just a brief post! But there is so much more that I could have written that really it is just a brief post.
6 thoughts on “A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson”
I really enjoyed this one and fancy a reread at some stage. Although we haven’t walked any of the trail we have been to the Great Smokies and the Blue Ridge mtns and it’s stunning. I’m more of a casual stroller when it comes to walking, nothing too strenuous so this walk would be completely beyond me. I do enjoy reading about other people doing these things though.
We used to do quite a lot of walking, never anything as strenuous or as long as this. These days it’s just a gentle walk – and not very often.
I have tried and tried to like Bryson but I am never quite certain who he’s laughing at and what the motivation behind that laughter is. Perhaps we just don’t share the same sense of humour.
Alex, this is described as ‘wildly funny’ on the back cover but I didn’t find much humour in it, so I suppose I don’t share his sense of humour either.
I love this book–I’ve listened to it 2-3 times and while it does inspire me to walk a long distance, I actually haven’t done it yet. I’m so glad you appreciated the beautiful nature writing as well as the madcap adventure stuff. I think it’s got a great balance to it.
I’ve always liked Bill Bryson’s work, Margaret. He has an eye for place, culture and so on, and I enjoy his style. I’m glad you thought this was a solid read.
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