Broadway Books, 1998
Bryson is an adventurer for the armchair outdoorsman. If the ideas of proper planning of gear seems unnecessary, long hikes makes you tired, surviving on camping food sounds like medieval prison torture, and spending weeks with a quirky buddy you haven’t seen in over a decade is your idea of reading fun, this book’s for you. You’ll visit the over 2,000 mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail with a witty friend who neither has the usual long distance hiker’s planet-sized reverence for all things outdoors, or the reticent city dweller’s inordinate fear of too many trees.
From March to August Bryson and pal, Katz, wind their way from Georgia to Maine along a trail that is a national treasure of changing landscape. The most engaging parts of the odyssey are Bryson’s witty descriptions of the adventure, the not-a-mountain-man Katz, an odd collection of people whose paths they cross, and not unexpectedly, his personal revelations. For people who are avid backpackers and trail walkers, Bryson and Katz will seem elementary and with a touch of the moronic, but for the person who considers a trip to the city zoo an outdoor adventure, it will be revelatory. They will understand Bryson’s relief when after several weeks of walking, Bryson and Katz realize they have only covered two inches of map and being mortal, they cannot possibly achieve the initial goal of walking every inch. After all, “My hair had grown more than that.” Relieved of the city dweller’s fantasy, they can relax and enjoy the journey.
Woven throughout are mini-reports for the reader to more deeply understand the surroundings of this wild, untamed land that occasionally crosses the ever encroaching settlements and determines the industry of humans. He describes the trail’s natural life of trees, how the mix of trees is changing, its density, fearsomeness and the animals who more often than not seem to be watching from the shadows as the ever-growing number of annual hikers pass through their home. He touches on the timeless tales of animal encounters, but somehow their threat seems less gruesome and more avoidable than the lurking danger of the occasional deranged human.
Several times he broadly covers the geological history, climate, and how they have provided for industry and the towns that dot and no longer dot its course. Then, of course, there is the mini-course on trail founding, history, and his take on the success of the U.S. Park Service.
A Walk in the Woods is an easy, enjoyable read, meant to spoon-feed information and a hiking story of two friends on a remaining stretch of wildness bordered by the ever-inching in of human life.