Monday, April 25, 2016
A Walk in the Woods
In his middle age, Bill Bryson developed the urge to hike the Appalachian Trail. The Trail runs from Georgia to Maine through the hills and mountains along the East Coast of the USA. It is more than 2000 miles long. In some places it is well maintained and in others, not so much. Most of it is up and down and, although many start out, few complete the whole trail in one trip.
Bryson hiked quite a bit when he lived in England. But the Appalachian Trail is not a pleasant stroll through settled and tamed countryside. It goes through rugged wilderness, with amenities few and far between.
Not wanting to tackle this wilderness alone, Bryson searched in vain for a friend to accompany him. He failed to find anyone until a very old friend from back home in Iowa got in touch with him. Stephen Katz needed to get away from troubles at home and offered to go with Bryson on his hike. Bryson had his doubts as Katz was known to be a drinker and he didn't think Katz was up to it. But Katz was the only one who was willing and so they started out down in Georgia.
Hiking with a loaded pack on steep grades is a real challenge. Both of the men were suffering the first few days, Katz especially. Bryson would often sit alongside the trail, waiting for Katz to catch up. They were frequently passed by younger, fitter hikers but they kept on. They kept on through the rain, through the snow, through the mud and dirt and later on, the clouds of annoying bugs. But at the end of their hike, they asked themselves, "Why?' And that's when they couldn't come up with a good enough answer and went home.
Altogether, Bryson walked about 800 miles, Katz somewhat less. And although they didn't do the whole distance, they still felt like they had accomplished something: they hiked the Appalachian Trail.
This was a fun read. Bryson has a great sense of humor and doesn't mind laughing at himself and the world around him. He also gives the reader a real sense of what it is like to be on the trail and the struggles associated with such a grand undertaking. He gives a bit of history of the Trail and the locale and how development has or hasn't affected not only the Trail but the surrounding area. Particularly interesting is the story of Centralia, Pennsylvania, the town that is perpetually on fire. Bryson has wide ranging interests and is a very intelligent man and his books are always informative without being stuffy and are seasoned nicely with humor.
For another review, see https://www.nytimes.com/books/98/05/31/reviews/980531.31garner.html