A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trailby Bill Bryson
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For reasons even he didn't understand, Bill Bryson decided in 1996 to walk the 2,100-mile Appalachian trail. Winding from Georgia to Maine, this uninterrupted 'hiker's highway' sweeps through the heart of some of America's most beautiful and treacherous terrain. Accompanied by his infamous crony, Stephen Katz, Bryson risks snake bite and hantavirus to trudge up unforgiving mountains, plod through swollen rivers, and yearn for cream sodas and hot showers. This amusingly ill-conceived adventure brings Bryson to the height of his comic powers, but his acute eye also observes an astonishing landscape of silent forests, sparkling lakes, and other national treasures that are often ignored or endangered. Fresh, illuminating, and uproariously funny, A Walk in the Woods showcases Bill Bryson at his very best.
New York Times Book Review
-- Molly Connally, Kings Park Library, Fairfax County, VA
But for the most part the humor is bright sarcasm, flashing with drollery and intelligence, even when it's a far yodel from political sensitivity. Then Bryson will take your breath away with a trenchant critique of the irredeemably vulgar vernacular strip that characterizes many American downtowns, or of other signs of decay he encounters offthe trail (though the trail itself he comes to love). 'Walking is what we did,' Bryson states: 800-plus out of the 2,100-plus miles, and that good sliver is sheer comic travel entertainment.
—The New York Times Book Review
“A terribly misguided and terribly funny tale of adventure...choke-on-your-coffee funny.”
—The Washington Post Book World
“A Walk in the Woods is an almost perfect travel book.”
—The Boston Globe
“The Appalachian Trail...consists of some five million steps, and Bryson manages to coax a laugh, and often an unexpectedly startling insight, out of every one he traverses...It is hard not to grin idiotically through all 304 pages...sheer comic entertainment.”
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- 4.20(w) x 6.90(h) x 1.20(d)
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We hiked till five and camped beside a tranquil spring in a small, grassy clearing in the trees just off the trail. Because it was our first day back on the trail, we were flush for food, including perishables like cheese and bread that had to be eaten before they went off or were shaken to bits in our packs, so we rather gorged ourselves, then sat around smoking and chatting idly until persistent and numerous midgelike creatures (no-see-ums, as they are universally known along the trail) drove us into our tents. It was perfect sleeping weather, cool enough to need a bag but warm enough that you could sleep in your underwear, and I was looking forward to a long night's snoozeindeed was enjoying a long night's snoozewhen, at some indeterminate dark hour, there was a sound nearby that made my eyes fly open. Normally, I slept through everythingthrough thunderstorms, through Katz's snoring and noisy midnight peesso something big enough or distinctive enough to wake me was unusual. There was a sound of undergrowth being disturbeda click of breaking branches, a weighty pushing through low foliageand then a kind of large, vaguely irritable snuffling noise.
I sat bolt upright. Instantly every neuron in my brain was awake and dashing around frantically, like ants when you disturb their nest. I reached instinctively for my knife, then realized I had left it in my pack, just outside the tent. Nocturnal defense had ceased to be a concern after many successive nights of tranquil woodland repose. There was another noise, quite near.
"Stephen, you awake?" I whispered.
"Yup," he replied in a weary but normal voice.
"How the hell should I know."
"It sounded big."
"Everything sounds big in the woods."
This was true. Once a skunk had come plodding through our camp and it had sounded like a stegosaurus. There was another heavy rustle and then the sound of lapping at the spring. It was having a drink, whatever it was.
I shuffled on my knees to the foot of the tent, cautiously unzipped the mesh and peered out, but it was pitch black. As quietly as I could, I brought in my backpack and with the light of a small flashlight searched through it for my knife. When I found it and opened the blade I was appalled at how wimpy it looked. It was a perfectly respectable appliance for, say, buttering pancakes, but patently inadequate for defending oneself against 400 pounds of ravenous fur.
Carefully, very carefully, I climbed from the tent and put on the flashlight, which cast a distressingly feeble beam. Something about fifteen or twenty feet away looked up at me. I couldn't see anything at all of its shape or sizeonly two shining eyes. It went silent, whatever it was, and stared back at me.
"Stephen," I whispered at his tent, "did you pack a knife?"
"Have you get anything sharp at all?"
He thought for a moment. "Nail clippers."
I made a despairing face. "Anything a little more vicious than that? Because, you see, there is definitely something out here."
"It's probably just a skunk."
"Then it's one big skunk. Its eyes are three feet off the ground."
"A deer then."
I nervously threw a stick at the animal, and it didn't move, whatever it was. A deer would have bolted. This thing just blinked once and kept staring.
I reported this to Katz.
"Probably a buck. They're not so timid. Try shouting at it."
I cautiously shouted at it: "Hey! You there! Scat!" The creature blinked again, singularly unmoved. "You shout," I said.
"Oh, you brute, go away, do!" Katz shouted in merciless imitation. "Please withdraw at once, you horrid creature."
"Fuck you," I said and lugged my tent right over to his. I didn't know what this would achieve exactly, but it brought me a tiny measure of comfort to be nearer to him.
"What are you doing?"
"I'm moving my tent."
"Oh, good plan. That'll really confuse it."
I peered and peered, but I couldn't see anything but those two wide-set eyes staring from the near distance like eyes in a cartoon. I couldn't decide whether I wanted to be outside and dead or inside and waiting to be dead. I was barefoot and in my underwear and shivering. What I really wantedreally, really wantedwas for the animal to withdraw. I picked up a small stone and tossed it at it. I think it may have hit it because the animal made a sudden noisy start (which scared the bejesus out of me and brought a whimper to my lips) and then emitted a noisenot quite a growl, but near enough. It occurred to me that perhaps I oughtn't provoke it.
"What are you doing, Bryson? Just leave it alone and it will go away."
"How can you be so calm?"
"What do you want me to do? You're hysterical enough for both of us."
"I think I have a right to be a trifle alarmed, pardon me. I'm in the woods, in the middle of nowhere, in the dark, staring at a bear, with a guy who has nothing to defend himself with but a pair of nail clippers. Let me ask you this. If it is a bear and it comes for you, what are you going to dogive it a pedicure?"
"I'll cross that bridge when I come to it," Katz said implacably.
"What do you mean you'll cross that bridge? We're on the bridge, you moron. There's a bear out here, for Christ sake. He's looking at us. He smells noodles and Snickers andoh, shit."
"There's two of them. I can see another pair of eyes." Just then, the flashlight battery started to go. The light flickered and then vanished. I scampered into my tent, stabbing myself lightly but hysterically in the thigh as I went, and began a quietly frantic search for spare batteries. If I were a bear, this would be the moment I would choose to lunge.
"Well, I'm going to sleep," Katz announced.
"What are you talking about? You can't go to sleep."
"Sure I can. I've done it lots of times." There was the sound of him rolling over and a series of snuffling noises, not unlike those of the creature outside.
"Stephen, you can't go to sleep," I ordered. But he could and he did, with amazing rapidity.
The creaturecreatures, nowresumed drinking, with heavy lapping noises. I couldn't find any replacement batteries, so I flung the flashlight aside and put my miner's lamp on my head, made sure it worked, then switched it off to conserve the batteries. Then I sat for ages on my knees, facing the front of the tent, listening keenly, gripping my walking stick like a club, ready to beat back an attack, with my knife open and at hand as a last line of defense. The bearsanimals, whatever they weredrank for perhaps twenty minutes more, then quietly departed the way they had come. It was a joyous moment, but I knew from my reading that they would be likely to return. I listened and listened, but the forest returned to silence and stayed there.
Eventually I loosened my grip on the walking stick and put on a sweaterpausing twice to examine the tiniest noises, dreading the sound of a revisitand after a very long time got back into my sleeping bag for warmth. I lay there for a long time staring at total blackness and knew that never again would I sleep in the woods with a light heart.
And then, irresistibly and by degrees, I fell asleep.
From the Audio Cassette edition.
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Meet the Author
BILL BRYSON's bestselling books include A Walk in the Woods, I'm a Stranger Here Myself, In a Sunburned Country, A Short History of Nearly Everything (which earned him the 2004 Aventis Prize), The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, and At Home. He lives in England with his wife.
- Hanover, New Hampshire
- Date of Birth:
- Place of Birth:
- Des Moines, Iowa
- B.A., Drake University, 1977
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This is an almost brilliant and deeply flawed work, which I nonetheless highly recommend for its humor and wealth of easily-digested historical and environmental information. One of the things that characterizes the absolute pinnacle of comedic achievement is the willingness to make any and every sort of spectacle of onesself for a laugh...along with the comedic sensibility to carry it off. Gilda Radner as the girl scout. Carol Burnett wearing the curtain rod. Richard Pryor as himself. Bill Bryson proves as early as page 19 that self-humiliating physical comedy can work even in print. One of the problems with this book, however, is that he gets most of his laughs by similarly humiliating everyone he encounters during his on-again, off-again hike of the Appalachian Trail. He has sadly forgotten another of the hallmarks of comedic genius: laughing with, rather than at, one's felllow human being. Bryson seems to revel in a mean-spiritedness that is all the more disturbing in light of his obvious intelligence and insight. He is talented enough to forgo the cheap shots and, besides, he should know better. I began to understand why his family was afraid of him embarassing them. Another and more baffling problem is Bryson's seeming blindness to the rich experience of the wilderness. He has a sort of generalized awe for the majesty of the forest as a whole, here and there, almost as if he occasionally remembered to take a snapshot. But he so belabors his observation that every stretch of forest is like every other, one tree just like the next, that you can't help wondering, as he very frequently does himself, what he is doing there. I personally find a small miracle every three inches along whatever trail I walk. His failure to do so, and the prohibitions he mentions against leaving the trail, made me repeatedly envision a wall of streaky glass along both sides of the path between him and the forest. Which in turn made me picture the trail eventually coming to resemble a sort of museum of the outdoors. Maybe it already is one. Bryson is certainly honest. He makes no bones about whining and wishing for Big Macs, and his clear inability to enjoy the here-and-now. Yet a wistful tone is audible when he speaks of the destruction of the forests, and he has lovingly gathered and presented such a wealth of environmental and historical facts as to nearly make this book a primer for the budding environmentalist. In the end, Bryson himself becomes as fascinating and frustrating as the trail itself. Why is such an insightful person so insensitive to the forest's small delights, and to his fellow human beings? How can he be so courageous and whiny at the same time? (Good time to mention his sidekick, Katz, who somehow actually manages to pull it off with more aplomb. Maybe because Bryson tore him apart so thoroughly at the beginning that you feel sorry for him forever after.) Despite Bill Bryson's being older than I by a number of years, he seems so like young kids now. So lost without modern 'conveniences,' mainly because that is all they know. And yet, little by little, in this book, you can see the light get in around Bryson's blinders. He begins to find civilization ugly and wish for the forest whenever he leaves it. Which is, all in all, an encouraging message.
I cannot remember the last time I read a book that had me laughing so hard. In fact, I would be laughing so much that people would ask me what I was laughing about. While it took Bryson's excellent writing to put the story on paper, it took Katz to make it worth reading. This is the story of two college buddies who reunite in their 40s to walk the Appalachian Trail. Neither one are in shape for their endeavor but that doesn't deter them. Along the way they meet some interesting people (Mary Ellen for one) and find themselves in some funny situations. This is a must read for anyone. In fact, it should be required academic reading.
This is a GREAT book and everyone must read it it. It is not only hilarious, but incredibly informative, which are not two things that usually go together. I've been reading this book in my quiet house only to laugh right out loud and then go in search of someone so I can read the passage out loud! I am a hiker as well, and can greatly appreciate Bryson's experiences. I know it is not a new release, but I don;t care. Go get it and then pass it along. I am on my way to get In a Sunburned Country because I am almost done with this one.
Bill Bryson found a perfect way to portray voyaging across the AT with ease. Bryson lays out his journey in an entertaining matter that will suck the reader in and make you feel like you are right beside him. Bryson's adventures make you laugh and give you the urge to walk the AT yourself - if not the whole thing at least a portion of it. Excellent reading for anyone, especially those with a passion for outdoors.
This is the second Bill Bryson book I have read recently, and I am definitely a new fan. Bill's travel writing takes me there in vivid and hilarious detail. A friend let me borrow "In a Sunburned Country", and after reading it I felt as if I had traveled to Australia myself. So after perusing the choices of his other books, I decided I next wanted to walk the Appalachian Trail (from the comfort of cozy couch - chips and drink right next to me). He did not disappoint. I felt hot, tired and thirsty when he did, felt angered by his description of past and present environmental stupidities, and laughed out loud at the characters he met along his journey. I can hardly wait to read my next choice, The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America. I'm sure he'll take me to all the quirky American places I never knew I wanted to visit! Thank you, Bill!
Thoroughly enjoyed this book. Good balance of telling the story of his walk and adding history and science to make it interesting. His friend Katz also added much to make the story interesting. I found myself rooting for Katz and liking him. I live near the Trail and learned more from this book than I could have learned locally.
Bill Bryson laces funny events with the history of the Appalachian Trail. You hear a lot about hiking the trail but Mr. Bryson puts the difficulty of the venture into real perspective. He also gives the reader insight into the changing face of the Appalachian trail over the centuries. This book was as much a history lesson as it was a light hearted read.
Perhaps the most entertaining, funny,witty and insiteful story ever written.My favorite book by Bill Bryson!! You will laugh out loud and you may even be inspired to get into the great outdoors.
This is a wonderful book. I learned so much and laughed so hard l would love to meet Byson & Katz on any trail,
I would never go hiking, so I don't even know what made me want to read this book. But I'm so glad I did. It was so interesting, so effortless to read, so funny, so touching so... I can't say enough about it. Bill bryson is everyman and yet he is so unique. I love the way he draws you into his persona and whatever he is passionately writing about.
This was a very entertaining book. I thoughly enjoyed it.
The first half of this book was good enough to keep me interested. I was bored by the second half. I expected to read about an exciting adventure, but his journey was actually pretty boring.
After a friend let me borrow this, I went on a Bryson binge. Get hooked!
I have by-passed this book several times. I remember reading a similar book about a hiker in Alaska who dies, which was very depressing. This book is FUNNY! Two essential couch potatoes decide to hike the Appalachian Trail. Many times I've laughed out loud. My husband wants to know what I'm laughing about! Very good read; good to give as a gift. In fact, I was going to email my sister and niece about this book today! I highly recommend it.
I was expecting a dry write-up about hiking and was surprised to be laughing after the first few pages of this wonderful little gem-of-a-book! Whether you are a hiker or not you will thoroughly enjoy this story of two hikers on the Appalachian trail which runs over 2000 miles.
This was one that I read for the book club at the library. Some of the older patrons had mentioned Bill Bryson and that they had enjoyed his books, so I chose this one. I will say I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. Most of the other people at the chat are older than me, and mentioned numerous times that they found a lot of the parts funny. I did find a couple of things amusing, but I think it may be a generational thing, since a co-worker who is close to my age, didn’t really find the book that funny either. While Bill Bryson and his walking companion, Katz, did find growth by the end of the book, I didn’t really find their story that engaging. It seemed like they walked, complained, found a room for the night, and continued the same routine again the next day. What I did enjoy was the history that Bryson incorporated into the book. It was fascinating to find out how the trail came to be, and the history of various stops along the trail. For that alone I would say to give this book a read. The library patrons said all of his books are similar in style, and since I did enjoy this one, I may check out some of his other books including; Down Under and A Short History of Nearly Everything.
Sex is very great when you went to be a mother and a father and when you went to start your own family then you can have all the sex you weny
Sex is good
First and last Bryson book I'll ever read. Hard to believe he's a celebrated author. Read the one star reviews they are accurate. Trying something challenging and hazardous as backpacking the AT when you are ill equipped is just stupid. He laughs and trivializes picking equipment, like a motorcycle racer laughing about helmets. They eat noodles and snickers bars for substance while physically exerting and relying on their stamina for survival, akin to a marathon runner eating donuts and twinkles. Stupid, just stupid arrogant rich guys poking fun at a serious undertaking. And the writing is mostly juvenile. Finally despite the cover, there's NO bears in their experience! It would be better that there was a bear, and it ate them, then there would be no book. FOR MORE COMMENTS AND REVİEWS..
Sorry I paid for this book a few funny stories in the begging but that was about it. Did not enjoy this book at all for me was not worth the money.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It gave an interesting viewpoint on hiking the Appalachian Trail. His whole story is quite impressive, entertaining, and informative.
What can I say except Bill Bryson is the best just as other reviews I found myself laughing outloud. My husband would ask what is so funny and I would start telling him and start laughing. Great book and funny,