Originally published: 1997 (This edition 2015)
Author: Bill Bryson
Published by: Black Swan
Genre: Travel memoir
Length: 336 pages
Reading dates: 21-25 July 2022
The Shoreham by Sea book club are following the Chichester Libraries Reading Challenge this year and the choice for July was a book that celebrates the outdoors. We always make suggestions and then vote (I always try and choose something off my TBR) and my choice A Walk in the Woods was the winner!
In the company of his friend Stephen Katz (last seen in the bestselling Neither Here nor There), Bill Bryson set off to hike the Appalachian Trail, the longest continuous footpath in the world.
Ahead lay almost 2,200 miles of remote mountain wilderness filled with bears, moose, bobcats, rattlesnakes, poisonous plants, disease-bearing tics, the occasional chuckling murderer and – perhaps most alarming of all – people whose favourite pastime is discussing the relative merits of the external-frame backpack.
Facing savage weather, merciless insects, unreliable maps and a fickle companion whose profoundest wish was to go to a motel and watch The X-Files, Bryson gamely struggled through the wilderness to achieve a lifetime’s ambition – not to die outdoors.
Discovering one day that he lives quite close to a section of the Appalachian Trail, and always looking for his next adventure, Bill Bryson decides he wants to have a go at hiking it. After sending a plea out for a hiking mate, Stephen Katz (an old college friend and who appeared in Bryson’s earlier book, Neither Here nor There) agrees to hike it with him, And so starts the amusing adventures of two middle aged and woefully unprepared men!
The Appalachian Trail is a hiking trail in the Eastern United States, extending almost 2200 miles (3540 km) between Springer Mountain in Georgia and Mount Katahdin in Maine, and passing through 14 states. The preparation Bryson goes through including getting all the equipment (he can’t quite believe what he will need) and doing lots of reading (mostly about his chances of being attacked by bears) is very funny. And once they set off, they discover really quickly is that it is harder than they could of ever believed. Their packs are heavy (Katz regularly discards items) and the landscape is unforgiving.
As well as talking about the hike itself, Bryson is very good at supplying fascinating facts about the trail itself and the wildlife which are written in an accessible way. The people they meet along the way are a varied bunch, some are what are known as thru-hikers who hope to complete the trail in a single season, other aim to complete different sections over the course of years.
A huge Bill Bryson fan, I can’t believe this is the first time one of his books has featured on my blog. I enjoyed A Walk in the Woods – it often had me sniggering to myself as Bryson is a clever and entertaining writer. It is an honest portrayal of what it is like to hike the Appalachian Trail and I’m impressed with what they managed. It isn’t my favourite Bill Bryson book but I’m really glad to have read it and it has made me want to go back and read some of his other work.
About the author:
Bill Bryson was born in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1951. His bestselling books include The Road to Little Dribbling, Notes from a Small Island, A Walk in the Woods, One Summer and The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid. In a national poll, Notes from a Small Island was voted the book that best represents Britain. His acclaimed work of popular science, A Short History of Nearly Everything, won the Aventis Prize and the Descartes Prize, and was the biggest selling non-fiction book of its decade in the UK. His new book The Body: A Guide for Occupants was shortlisted for the Royal Society Science Book Prize and is an international bestseller.
Bill Bryson was Chancellor of Durham University 2005-2011. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society. He lives in England.