Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods; Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail (New York: Broadway Books, 1995), 284pp.
When Bill Bryson returned to the United States after living in Britain for twenty years, he decided to reacquaint himself with his home country in a rather unique way. He would hike the Appalachian Trail. The AT, in hiker lingo, opened in 1937 and snakes 2,100 miles across 14 states, from Georgia to Maine. Nor did he go it alone; Stephen Katz, a colorful childhood friend from Iowa whom he had barely seen in 25 years, joined him. Both hikers were grossly out of shape as they approached their mid-life venture, and neither knew the least thing about hiking and camping. Bryson is a brilliant writer and a comic genius, and in his hands their many AT experiences spring to life—from buying their equipment, to obsessing about bear attacks, through rain and snow, filth and mud, and encounters with oddballs and eccentrics they met along the trail. Interspersed among the comic narrative, Bryson alternates with the history, topography and geography of the AT. As I prepared to hike the comparatively short John Muir Trail in California, a mere 200 miles, a friend who knew that I was a rookie recommended that I read this book. Bryson's Walk enjoyed a run on the bestseller list of the New York Times a few years ago, and I found myself resonating with one reviewer who compared Bryson to a combination of John Muir and Dave Berry. The AT is a hike of five million steps, says Bryson, but you can enjoy this wonderful book without ever leaving the house.