The Appalachian Trail extends from Georgia to Maine and covers some of America's most spectacular terrain — majestic mountains, silent forests, sparking lakes. If you're going to go hiking, it's probably the place to go. And surely Bill Bryson's the most entertaining guide you'll find. He introduces... us to the trail's history and ecology, and to some of the other hardy (or just foolhardy) folks that he meets along the way—and a few bears. A Walk in the Woods, already a classic, will make you long for the great outdoors (or at least a comfortable chair to sit in and read in).
I was especially riveted by an amateur photograph in Herrero’s book, taken late at night by a camper with a flash at a campground out West. The photograph caught four black bears as they puzzled over a suspended food bag. The bears were clearly startled but not remotely alarmed by the flash. It was not the size or demeanor of the bears that troubled me — they looked almost comically unagressive, like four guys who had gotten a Frisbee caught up a tree — but their numbers. Up to that moment it had not occurred to me that bears might prowl in parties. What on earth would I do if four bears came into my camp? Why, I would die, of course. Literally shit myself lifeless. I would blow my sphincter out my backside like one of those unrolling paper streamers you get at children’s parties — I daresay it would even give a merry toot — and bleed to a messy death in my sleeping bag.
I turned to my own bunk and examined it with a kind of appalled fascination. If the mattress stains were anything to go by, a previous user had not so much suffered from incontinence as rejoiced in it. He had evidently included the pillow in his celebrations.
When I awoke it was daylight. The inside of my tent was coated in a curious flaky rime, which I realized after a moment was all of my nighttime snores, condensed and frozen and pasted to the fabric, as if into a scrapbook of respiratory memories.
So I decided to do it [hike the Appalachian Trail]. More rashly, I announced my intention - told friends and neighbors, confidently informed my publisher, made it common knowledge among those who knew me. Then I bought some books... It required only a little light reading in adventure books and almost no imagination to envision circumstances in which I would find myself caught in a tightening circle of hunger-emboldened wolves, staggering and shredding clothes under an onslaught of pincered fire ants, or dumbly transfixed by the sight of enlivened undergrowth advancing towards me, like a torpedo through water, before being bowled backwards by a sofa-sized boar with cold beady eyes, a piercing squeal, and slaverous, chopping appetite for pink, plump, city-softened flesh.
But I love to drink. I can’t help it. I mean, I love it Bryson-love the taste, love that buzz you get when you’ve had a couple, love the smell and feel of the taverns. I miss dirty jokes and the click of pool balls in the background, and that kind of bluish, under lit glow of a bar at night.
I have long known that it is part of God's plan for me to spend a little time with each of the most stupid people on earth, and Mary Ellen was proof that even in the Appalachian woods I would not be spared. It became evident that she was a rarity.
Reviews of A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail
...for the most part the humor is bright sarcasm, flashing with drollery and intelligence, even when it’s a far yodel from political sensitivity. Then Bryson will take your breath away with a trenchant critique of the irredeemably vulgar vernacular strip that characterizes many American downtowns...
He was often exhausted, his "brain like a balloon tethered with string, accompanying but not actually part of the body below." The reader, by contrast, is rarely anything but exhilarated. And you don't have to take a step.
I am glad that I read the book; it is well written, engaging, and talks about many topics (nature, social, political, human nature, and yes, hiking). It is funny too. But there will probably be parts that offend different people (me: the littering and smoking).
The book is very well written, well paced and witty from page one to the end. If you love good writing, you will love this book. If you love good writing and the great outdoors, you'll love it even more.