Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in The Woods” does not follow through with what all the hype in the media made for it. The title and art work seem to portray that the book was written about a complete journey on the Appalachian Trail by an experienced hiker which after reading the book we see was no such thing. He meets up with a Christian couple who gave credit to God for the strength to complete the entire trail and proceeded to mock them, really?
All through the book the subject was actually around 90 percent history of the trail, the book would have better been titled “History of the Appalachian Trail”. In the time that the book was released into circulation there were not a whole lot of AT books written (1988), his book seemed to say, “This is the book of all books on the AT” then when you read it, there is hardly any talk about actual trail experience or hiking.
He never completes the trail, a large portion of the book is actually written from a time where he left the trail due to sore feet. His partner drops out half way through the book which was the best part of the book. Hikers are very well experienced in the AT once they begin to talk about it and are very protective of the trail and their experiences. So there is no surprise that a lot of avid hikers hammer this book.
Bill Bryson recounts his experience as an attempted thru-hiker, focusing on the ways in which he does and does not consider the A.T. holy. Unfortunately, the book flounders in boring digressions and fails to maintain its promising focus. Bryson manages to offend other trail lovers as well, writing about avoiding a difficult peak by taking a logging road, wishing there were hostels spaced a day’s hike apart along the trail, or even his partner, Katz’s throwing an empty soda can into the woods!!
Even though the first half was alright, the second half got much less interesting. The day trips and the abortive Maine portion were actually kind of disheartening. The whole feel of the prose got sort of mean spirited. He didn’t have to walk the whole trail to feel like he walked it, but I honestly would have preferred to see him expand the first half and leave the second half out completely.
It would make an excellent book if it weren’t buried under all the garbage with which Bryson has filled A Walk in the Woods. The end of the book is surprisingly rewarding; the last chapter almost succeeds in salvaging the book’s focus. By the time you get there, though, you are so relieved to be finished that you couldn’t enjoy it.
You can’t help but think that it would have been better to skip Bryson’s tangents the way he and Katz skipped unnecessary sections of the trail. As an avid hiker myself and expert columnist on the Appalachian Trail it is clear that the experience Bryson outlined in the book was very discouraging and wrong, anyone that has ever attempted to thru hike the AT knows.
But even the newest hiker that chooses to only hike a section of the trail at a time will tell you that their experiences are life changing in a positive way and very spiritual as well as something you will never forget. And at all costs, never skip portions of the trail just to make ground or take a logging road around a mountain the trail crosses.