A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson
I’ve read a lot of Bill Bryson over the years. I think if you’re an American who lives for any amount of time in the UK, it’s sort of required. I’ve loved some of his books (The Mother Tongue, I’m a Stranger Here Myself), found some of his books enjoyable but incredibly dense (At Home), and have found some of his other books to be a bit meh (The Lost Continent). A Walk in the Woods ranks somewhere in between great and meh.
Bryson and his friend Katz take off on a journey to hike the Appalachian Trail. The AT is over 2200 miles and stretches from Georgia to Maine. It’s a huge challenge for anyone, but especially for two rather out of shape guys. It’s not a spoiler to tell you that this is not a book about intense physical prowess, seeing as they very quickly spend a lot of time in motels and in small towns. Instead of focusing on the athletics of long distance hiking, Bryson muses about the state of American parks, hiking, driving culture, and history. For the most part, Bryson is able to make these topics interesting and fun, though he can get a bit ranty every so often.
Also, for anyone who has read Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild, which is about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, this is a very different book. Strayed’s memoir focuses on the inner battle versus the outer struggle, making it a much more personal book. I enjoyed her book more than A Walk in the Woods, but I can see why others would prefer Bryson’s. I think it just depends on what you like to read.
I would say that this book is like spending a lot of time with a sometimes grumpy friend. While it can be a whole lot of fun, the rants and, alas, sometimes condescension can get a bit wearing. Worth the trip though.