A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

In an attempt to broaden my horizons, I picked up Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, a book about Bryson’s attempt at walking the Appalachian Trail.

The book generally entails Bryson’s decision to walk the Trail, his preparations for walking it, and his adventures while on the Trail. Let me tell you, his adventures are certainly interesting. His adventures begin even before he hits the Trail – by asking a number of people if they want to join him. Nobody agrees except for one person at the last minute – Stephen Katz, a friend from years back.

The people in the book make the book. The different personalities that Bryson comes across are very unique. Katz is a reformed substance abuser who is extremely out of shape and ill-prepared for the Trail. For example, Bryson has read all he can about all types of situations that can occur on the Trail – one being bears. Bryson has read that bears are very attracted to Snickers candy bars and that is the one thing that Katz is fully supplied with.

Bryson and Katz come across all types of characters – from unprepared Boy Scouts to oversupplied yuppies. Two of the funniest characters are a woman Mary Ellen and Chicken John. Mary Ellen is also a neophyte to the Trail who is overweight and obnoxious and who constantly criticizes Bryson and Katz on everything from their food selection to their camping abilities. Then there is Chicken John – an elderly man who is always getting lost and generally clueless.

Although Bryson and Katz set off to walk the whole 2,100 miles of the Trail, they fall short because they are sick of the hills and the walking. In the middle of the Trail, Bryson and Katz agree to go home for a break. During the break, Bryson decides to do some day hiking on the Trail. These hikes lead to some interesting adventures, such as a trip to Centralia, Pennsylvania – an abandoned town on top of a burning coal seam.

The book is a wonderful look at the eastern United States along the Appalachian Trail and the American spirit.


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