A Walk in the Woods

"We trudged through a cold, silent world of bare trees, beneath pewter skies, on ground like iron."

The events in this book took place in 1996 when Bill Bryson was living in New Hampshire and noticed a disappearing trail going through the region. He wondered where it led. It was the Appalachian Trail which in its entirety was more than 2,100 miles in length, snaking along the eastern seaboard, crossing 14 states, from Georgia to Maine. Bryson thought it might be a good idea to walk the trail. Wha

"We trudged through a cold, silent world of bare trees, beneath pewter skies, on ground like iron."The events in this book took place in 1996 when Bill Bryson was living in New Hampshire and noticed a disappearing trail going through the region. He wondered where it led. It was the Appalachian Trail which in its entirety was more than 2,100 miles in length, snaking along the eastern seaboard, crossing 14 states, from Georgia to Maine. Bryson thought it might be a good idea to walk the trail. What better way to get fit while reacquainting himself with his native land after living 20 years abroad. He also thought it would be good to learn to fend for himself, and because of the effects of global warming, with many of the trees sadly dying off, it was best to experience the trail sooner rather than later. After announcing his plans to anyone who would listen, Bryson then read up on the trail and learned of all the dangers, the stories of disease, hunger, predators, and the people murdered when hiking it, to say nothing of the mental toll. "The American woods have been unnerving people for 300 years. The inestimably priggish and tiresome Henry David Thoreau thought nature was splendid, splendid indeed, so long as 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. This wasn’t the tame world of overgrown orchards and sun-dappled paths that passed for wilderness in suburban Concord, Massachusetts, but a forbidding, oppressive, primeval country that was 'grim and wild … savage and dreary,' fit only for 'men nearer of kin to the rocks and wild animals than we.' The experience left him, in the words of one biographer, 'near hysterical.' Same goes for Daniel Boone: 'When Daniel Boone is uneasy, you know it’s time to watch your step.'"Bryson thought it best to look for someone to accompany him, and eventually, he teamed up with an old school buddy he hadn't seen more than a handful of times during the past 25 years. What ensued as they set foot on the trail was a test of endurance, both physical and mental. It also tested their

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patience and their sense of humor as they suffered more than a handful of mishaps and miscalculations. This was my first time reading a book by Bill Bryson and I'm sure it won't be the last, despite the average rating I gave this book. I enjoyed his easy manner when telling a story. But the story wasn't what I was expecting. True, it was better in some ways than I thought it would be, but not as good as I had hoped in other ways. I'll start with the good. This book was more than a journey along the Appalachian Trail. It was a step by step history lesson, a lesson in ecology and environmental devastation, a psychological study, a log of personal growth, and in a way, it was the story of a friendship, one that had lapsed but continued on after a resting phase. It was fun tagging along with Bryson and his friend as they toiled on the trail, and without me having to do any of the trudging myself and without me even breaking a sweat. I stayed dry, well-fed, and comfy, which is more than I can say for the two hikers. So this book was great for an armchair traveler such as myself.

But unfortunately, too often, the book dragged for me. It was bogged down by too many details I could have done without, which slowed the pace like an overstuffed pack can slow hikers. I also wished for less repetition concerning their daily routine and more dramatic moments. And while I enjoyed the humor, I didn't enjoy the parts that targeted overweight people and people living in the south. I assumed Bryson changed people's names, if not the locations, but I still doubt if he would be welcome in certain places should he return to them. But most of all, I was disappointed in something I really didn't expect. (view spoiler) [Bryson only hiked a relatively small portion of the trail, skipping many states, and he sometimes took cabs or rides into town to stay at inns and eat at restaurants. I thought he'd be roughing it more and completing the entire trail. (hide spoiler)]

But overall, this was a good solid book from which I learned much about the history of that region, the environment, botany, geography, geology, and more, and all of it in an easy to read style that was even surprisingly poetic, at times. "So I would put myself in darkness and lie there listening to the peculiarly clear, articulated noises of the forest at night, the sighs and fidgets of wind and leaves, the weary groan of boughs, the endless murmurings and stirrings, like the noises of a convalescent ward after lights out, until at last I fell heavily asleep." ...more


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