A Walk in the Woods:
Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail
by Bill Bryson
When it comes to spending time in the great outdoors, I am all for going on a robust hike - provided at the end of the day, I've got a hot shower, tasty meal, and warm bed to go home to. Basically, this is me:
However, reading this book almost made me want to devote the next several months of my life to hiking (and camping) the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail. Almost.
Bryson's description of his own attempt to hike the AT is informative, sobering, inspiring, and downright hilarious. I found myself laughing-out-loud all throughout the book. For instance, in Chapter 4, Bryson discusses the possibility of encountering bears on the trail. He has just described how even nature-loving Henry David Thoreau was unnerved by the wild savageness of the Katahdin wilderness in 1846, and follows it with this gem:
But even men far tougher and more attuned to the wilderness than Thoreau were sobered by its strange and palpable menace. Daniel Boone, who not only wrestled bears but tried to date their sisters, described corners of the southern Appalachians as "so wild and horrid that it is impossible to behold them without terror." When Daniel Boone is uneasy, you know it's time to watch your step.
The entire book is filled with hilariously dry commentary such as this. I also enjoyed hearing what he thought of Gatlinburg, TN, which is near my own stomping grounds. Good stuff.
Following Bryson along the trail is quite an educational experience. He shares the history of the Trail's formation, along with ecological information, tips for safety and survival, and fascinating trivia about many points of interest along the way. Reading along allows you to experience the AT from the comfort of your armchair.
My only reservation in recommending this book, however, is this: Bryson writes from a secular worldview, and his writing includes everything that comes with that. In his discussion of the formation of the mountains, he refers to the theory of evolution as if it's fact. In addition, this book included several incidents of foul language and some crass "guy talk," which easily could have been left out. Bryson's hiking companion was a rather rough (but likable) character, and most of the crassness and language comes from him. So, consider yourself warned about that aspect of the book.
Overall, it was a great read, and I'd recommend it to anyone who's interested in the outdoors, hiking, or the Appalachian Trail. Who knows, it may even inspire you to attempt hiking the AT and become a "mountain man" yourself!
What are you reading?