A Walk in the Woods:
Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail
by Bill Bryson
Published by Anchor Books
First published in 1998
Genre: Adult, Nonfiction
Length: 397 pages
Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | BookDepository
The Appalachian Trail stretches from Georgia to Maine and covers some of the most breathtaking terrain in America--majestic mountain, silent forests, sparkling lakes. If you're going to take a hike, it's probably the place to go. And Bill Bryson is surely the most entertaining guide you'll find. He introduces us to the history and ecology of the trail and to some of the other hard (or just foolhardy) folks he meets along the way--and a couple of bears.
Whenever I ask for recommendations for books with settings in or about the Great Smoky Mountains or the Appalachian Mountains, 'A Walk in the Woods' is almost always mentioned. Throw in that I'm a regular outdoorsy hiker type and it's described to me as a 'must read'.
I read Wild by Cheryl Strayed a few years ago and really enjoyed it but it is set on the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail, on the West Coast) and I'm on the East Coast and the AT has been sitting in the shadowy depths of my bucketlist for years so I definitely wanted to cross this one off of my TBR.
I'm going to be a bit negative and POSSIBLY SPOILERY from here on out because, unfortunately, I didn't get much out of this and couldn't help but compare it to Wild, which was written by a female whom hiked a much longer distance, alone, on hardly any funds, and seemed to have more purpose to what she was doing.
Bryson starts the book with the gruesome statistics and details of others' hiking trips gone wrong; bear attacks, maulings, murders, and moonshine-addled hillfolk. Then he ropes an old friend along for the ride, paying most of his way just so he doesn't have to go alone, and makes fun of just about every other hiker he comes across (especially if they're female). They skip big portions of the trail once they realize their first week or so was only a tiny portion of the trail on the full map, and they take a cab and hang out in hotels every chance they can get. And then they go home, but the book isn't over with! Bryson rambles on about different day trips and hikes he partakes in on his own, usually to places of historical interest, sometimes droning on about the place instead of anything to do with hiking. I basically skimmed the last third of the book because I was bored.
Overall, it seemed less about hiking (and even less about him hiking) and more about the history of the trail and gruesome events that have happened on or near it. I would definitely recommend it if you're serious about hiking the AT or like nonfiction.