Bill Bryson is one of my favorite authors. This week I will be blogging about several of his travelogues that I have enjoyed reading over the past couple of years. I will begin today with my favorite, A Walk in the Woods which is about his experience hiking the Appalachian Trail. There are several aspects of this book that make it a gem of a book to read.
The people he meets on his hike are often hilarious. This includes Katz, an old school friend who wants to join him on the hike but has trouble walking up the stairs in Bryson’s home; then there is Mary Ellen, the obnoxious young woman who is “a piece of work” that latches on to them while they hike.
Then there are the experiences that he and Katz have on the Trail. There are the scary ones, like the time they get caught on a side of a mountain in a blinding snowstorm. There are the laugh-out-loud funny ones, which include all of their encounters with Mary Ellen, as well as the week they get to share a Gulag-like campground with about a hundred other stranded hikers. Then there are the truly memorable experiences, like the times when they come upon a “real” town after hiking for days in solitude & surviving on noodles the whole time. The first real meal in a real town he describes has to be one of the best culinary writing I’ve ever read, as well as the funniest to boot.
His description of the various parts of the Trail and its history make for some fascinating reading. The often harsh and unforgiving parts of the Trail that go up steep mountains, through thick woods and often icy water show that a serious hike on this Trail is anything but a “walk in the woods.” But there is much beauty to be found as well, and Bryson spends a fair amount of time relishing what he sees as he hikes the Trail. The history of the Trail that he intersperses throughout the book is interesting and certainly worth reading the first time through, but it is not nearly as fun to read as his actual adventure on the Appalachian Trail.