How does it feel to cross more than 2,000 miles of trail by foot over fourteen states? What would it take to live in the wilderness and carry all of your necessities on your back? Why undergo such an expedition? What would you find about yourself?
These are the questions that Bill Bryson asks himself at the outset of A Walk in the Woods, an autobiographical account of Bryson’s trek across the Appalachian Trail. In the beginning of the book, Bryson is a naïve and, by many standards, amateur hiker who decides that he is going to hike the 2,000+ mile Appalachian Trail by himself. With guidance, he sets out to procure the gear and expertise that he needs to make it to Mt. Katahdin in Maine. Bryson quickly becomes overwhelmed by the prospect of hiking, sleeping, camping, cooking, and travelling entirely alone and is relieved when an old acquaintance, Stephen Katz, calls up to ask if he can join the excursion. Though as Bryson’s wife reminds him, he and the alcoholic Katz do not get along very well, Bryson is nonetheless willing and eager to have anybody join him on his long and trying adventure.
The two men, not in the best shape, and with minimal backpacking experience, head out into the wild of Georgia with an aim to make their way to Maine. Encountering all types of characters that you would think could only exist in fiction; Bryson and Katz spend their days trekking along the famed trail. The reader grasps snippets of their often vulgar (especially on Katz’s end) conversations, as well as Bryson’s musings about life, nature, commercialism, and the hardships of the trail. Intermixed among the action of their travels is history of the areas through which they are passing, as well as facts of ecology, zoology and other interesting topics.
More than just a book about hiking, A Walk in the Woods shows the often ambiguous and contradictory nature of people and life in general. Often vacillating between joy and despair, Katz and Bryson experience a range of emotions and desires as they encounter trials and tribulations far beyond any they could have imagined. At times Bryson talks of the eerie and demonic nature of the forest, while at other points he laments the overpowering hold of commercialism in the modern day.
At its utmost core, A Walk in the Woods is about living life, taking chances, and knowing your limits; it is about finding successes even in the face of seemingly certain failure and about accepting an unexpected outcome as something more than defeat. Not at all what the reader anticipates in the beginning, A Walk in the Woods ends with a twist that reflects the uncertainty and ambiguity of human nature itself.
Now a major motion picture starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte, released on September 2, 2015, A Walk in the Woods was also re-released by Broadway Books in 2015.
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FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.