A Walk in the Woods

A Walk in the WoodsIn the mid-1990’s Bill Bryson went on a trip. Therefore, you should read the book that was the result of it. Need more? Fine.

After decades away from America, Bryson returns but finds himself disconnected with his home country. So he decides to take, as he calls it, a walk in the woods. His walk will be just over 2,000 miles from Georgia to Maine on the Appalachian Trail.

It being a Bryson book don’t worry – you’ll laugh out loud. I’m not sure what took me so long to read this one – I read most of his books several years ago, nearly one after the other, in a steady stream. But not this one.

There are two things I adore about Bryson’s books. The first is the facts, details and history of where he is. You’ll get the full history of the Appalachian Trail and the towns he travels through. The second is his writing style – he is truly great storyteller, and writes as if he’s speaking. That history and all those details are shared in a way that not only captivates you and pulls you in, but also entertains. Let’s be honest – there are a lot of things about history that don’t make sense, or seem completely ridiculous in hindsight. He lays it all out as if you to say, yep, our forebears were idiots some of the time.

“Hunters will tell you that a moose is a wily and ferocious forest creature. Nonsense. A moose is a cow drawn by a three-year-old.”

One more reason I love Bryson’s books: history is woven through the present day and his story. He walks through the places he does (actually walks in multiple books) to connect with history, and feel a part of it. Isn’t that part of the fun of traveling? It’s not just about experiencing a different culture and way of life, but to connect with the past. Sometimes a past that is so long ago we can’t comprehend it, and sometimes with a past that feels completely present under your feet, because it has barely changed since it’s beginning.

Shenandoah National Park

Bryson doesn’t go the way of others in the travel memoir, like Eat, Pray, Love or Wild, where he spends time delving into the inner reasoning to hit the trail – whatever personal journey he feels compelled to battle on the trail, we don’t know about it. And you don’t necessarily miss it, or even realize it.

From how the continents formed, to the wildlife along the AT – and what used to be there, from the history of the trail being built, to a litany of the floral and fauna – and again – what used to be and is no more, Bryson covers just about every aspect of the trail. All the random information you didn’t know you wanted to know.

“The continents didn’t just move in and out from each other in some kind of grand slow-motion square dance but spun in lazy circles, changed their orientation, went on cruises to the tropics and poles, made friends with smaller landmasses and brought them home. Florida once belonged to Africa. A corner of Staten Island is, geologically, part of Europe. The seaboard from New England up to Canada appears to have originated in Morocco. Parts of Greenland, Ireland, Scotland, and Scandinavia have the same rocks as the eastern United States – are in effect, ruptured outposts of the Appalachians. There are even suggestions that mountains as far south as the Shackleton Range in Antarctica may be fragments of the Appalachian family.”

Through small towns, national parks, and completely empty wilderness Bryson and his old friend Katz (think Neither Here Nor There) walked. In the 1970s a total of 775 thru-hiked the AT. So far for the 2010s just over 4,000 people have made the journey. Women make up 25 percent of thru-hikers. I honestly can’t decide if the number seems high or low, given the reactions Cheryl Strayed got while hiking the PCT.

Part of what propelled me to read this book now was the opening of the movie today. It looks pretty good, and despite knowing it can’t top the book, because, well, they never do, I’m still ready for it. Did I mention the cast is pretty fantastic? Check out the trailer:

You’ll love the book. I hope you like the movie. I hope I like the movie.

In case you’re thinking of taking a hike I suggest checking out the National Park Service’s Find Your Park.

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