In A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail, Bill Bryson recounts his attempts to walk the Appalachian Trail. After living in England for years, Bryson has moved back to the States, and he decides to reacquaint himself with America and try to get into better shape by walking the trail. To his surprise, an old friend named Katz, a reformed drug user, decides to come along.
Bryson is an amusing writer. He mixes interesting facts about the trail and information about the environment with stories about who he and Katz meet and what happens to them. I was particularly struck by how two such mismatched companions not only did not kill each other but actually treated each other considerately.
The two out-of-shape and inexperienced hikers start out with far too much equipment and then as they continue, Katz begins throwing things out, including the food. It seems they make just about every mistake a couple of neophyte campers can make, except being eaten by bears.
They run out of time after walking a few hundred miles of the trail in the south, and Bryson’s attempts to finish the trail devolve to what he can accomplish by driving to different portions of it and hiking on long weekends. But the longer hike that the two of them take is the meat of the book.
A few people have criticized the book because Bryson didn’t actually manage to hike the entire length of the trail. I think they are missing the point of the book, which is about friendship, about the interesting things that happen on the trail, and the history of the trail itself. In fact, few people do manage to complete the entire length of the trail, from Maine all the way to Georgia.