"A Walk in the Woods" by Bill Bryson

Wednesday 13 May 2009
by  Thomas B
popularity : 16%

Mr Bryson’s "A Walk in the Woods" is a hilarious account of an extraordinary quest which takes him and a friend along the Appalachian Trail; a 2000 mile-long path on the eastern coast of the US.

Following his return to America after twenty years in Britain, Bryson decides to familiarise himself with his native country by hiking the AT. Furthermore he believes that hiking the trail for 6 months through 14 states, six national parks and eight national forests would get him fit "after years of waddlesome sloth".

However the book’s success is also due to Bryson’s naive hiking buddy from Iowa: Stephen Katz. In the 25 years since their schooldays together, Katz had substantially put on weight. In fact, Bryson says "he brought to mind Orson Welles after a very bad night. He was limping a little and breathing harder than one ought to after a walk of 20 yards." Katz often speaks in monosyllables and Bryson brings his limited vocabulary humorously to life.

After months of preparation, the fascinating pair set-off into the wild. Once Bryson and Katz settle into their stride, it’s not long before they come across the difficulty and the dangers of the trail. Mile by arduous mile these latter-day pioneers walk America, surviving the threat of bear attacks, the loss of key provisions, and everything else the wilderness can throw at them.

The author has thoroughly researched the history and the making of the Appalachian Trail. Bryson describes the destruction of many parts of the forest and warns of the continuing perils she faces. Bryson weaves his adventure beautifully with numerous amusing annecdotes. "A Walk in the Woods" is not simply an out-of-shape man’s desire to prove that he can still accomplish a major physical task; it’s also a plea for the conservation of one of America’s last wilderness. A comedy, a lament, a celebration and an adventure, "A Walk in the Woods" is destined to become a modern classic of travel literature.