A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail

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Overview

A CLASSIC FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF ONE SUMMER

Back in America after twenty years in Britain, Bill Bryson decided to reacquaint himself with his native country by walking the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail, which stretches from Georgia to Maine. The AT offers an astonishing landscape of silent forests and sparkling lakesand to a writer with the comic genius of Bill Bryson, it also provides...
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A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail

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Overview

A CLASSIC FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF ONE SUMMER

Back in America after twenty years in Britain, Bill Bryson decided to reacquaint himself with his native country by walking the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail, which stretches from Georgia to Maine. The AT offers an astonishing landscape of silent forests and sparkling lakesand to a writer with the comic genius of Bill Bryson, it also provides endless opportunities to witness the majestic silliness of his fellow human beings.

For a start there's the gloriously out-of-shape Stephen Katz, a buddy from Iowa along for the walk. Despite Katz's overwhelming desire to find cozy restaurants, he and Bryson eventually settle into their stride, and while on the trail they meet a bizarre assortment of hilarious characters. But A Walk in the Woods is more than just a laugh-out-loud hike. Bryson's acute eye is a wise witness to this beautiful but fragile trail, and as he tells its fascinating history, he makes a moving plea for the conservation of America's last great wilderness. An adventure, a comedy, and a celebration, A Walk in the Woods has become a modern classic of travel literature.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Bill Bryson, whose previous travelogues The Lost Continent, Neither Here Nor There, and Notes from a Small Island have garnered the author quite a following, now returns to his native United States after more than two decades of living abroad. In order to rediscover America by, as he puts it, "going out into an America that most people scarcely know is there," he set out to walk, in the company of Stephen Katz, his college roommate and sometime nemesis, the length of the Appalachian Trail. His account of that adventure is at once hilarious, inspiring, and even educational.
From the Publisher
“Bryson is . . . great company right from the start—a lumbering, droll, neatnik intellectual who comes off as equal parts Garrison Keillor, Michael Kinsley, and . . . Dave Barry...[Readers] may find themselves turning the pages with increasing amusement and anticipation as they discover that they're in the hands of a satirist of the first rank who writes (and walks) with Chaucerian brio.”
—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.”
—Kirkus Reviews

Dwight Garner
[Bryson is] a satirist of the first rank, one who writes (and walks) with Chaucerian brio.
New York Times Book Review
National Geographic Traveler
A laugh-out-loud account....If you were to cross John Muir's writings with Dave Barry's you'd end up with A Walk in the Woods.
National Geographic Traveler
A laugh-out-loud account....If you were to cross John Muir's writings with Dave Barry's you'd end up with A Walk in the Woods.
Geographic Traveler
National
Forbes
Very funny...Bryson's humor is winning and succinct; he has a knack for boiling down his observations to their absurd essences.
National Geo Traveler
A laugh-out-loud account.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Returning to the U.S. after 20 years in England, Iowa native Bryson decided to reconnect with his mother country by hiking the length of the 2100-mile Appalachian Trail. Awed by merely the camping section of his local sporting goods store, he nevertheless plunges into the wilderness and emerges with a consistently comical account of a neophyte woodsman learning hard lessons about self-reliance. Bryson The Lost Continent carries himself in an irresistibly bewildered manner, accepting each new calamity with wonder and hilarity. He reviews the characters of the AT as the trail is called, from a pack of incompetent Boy Scouts to a perpetually lost geezer named Chicken John. Most amusing is his cranky, crude and inestimable companion, Katz, a reformed substance abuser who once had single-handedly "become, in effect, Iowa's drug culture." The uneasy but always entertaining relationship between Bryson and Katz keeps their walk interesting, even during the flat stretches. Bryson completes the trail as planned, and he records the misadventure with insight and elegance. He is a popular author in Britain and his impeccably graceful and witty style deserves a large American audience as well.
Forbes Magazine
A delightful, insightful, irreverent, oft-funny account of the writer’s attempt to trek the 2,100-plus-mile Appalachian Trail. Hiking the Appalachian Trail is incredibly hard work, with grueling terrain, frequently intemperate weather, a heavy backpack and no comforting motels and amenities at the end of the day. It combines beauty with a heaviness that Bryson convincingly conveys. His observations on the people he encountered during this unique journey read as if Charles Dickens had become a scriptwriter for Saturday Night Live. (16 Apr 2001)
—Steve Forbes
School Library Journal
Leisurely walks in the Cotswolds during a 20-year sojourn in England hardly prepared Bryson for the rigors of the Appalachian Trail. Nevertheless, he and his friend Katz, both 40-something couch potatoes, set out on a cold March morning to walk the 2000-mile trail from Georgia to Maine. Overweight and out of shape, Katz jettisoned many of his provisions on the first day out. The men were adopted by Mary Ellen, a know-it-all hiker eager to share her opinions about everything. They finally eluded her, encountered some congenial hikers, and after eight days of stumbling up and down mountains in the rain and mud, came to Gatlinburg, TN. Acknowledging they would never make it the whole way, they decided to skip the rest of the Smokies and head for the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia-by car. Late that summer, for their last hike, the pair attempted to hike the Hundred Mile Wilderness in Maine, near the trail's end. They got separated and Bryson spent a day and night searching for his friend. When they finally were reunited, "...we decided to leave the endless trail and stop pretending we were mountain men because we weren't." This often hilarious account of the foibles of two inept adventurers is sprinkled with fascinating details of the history of the AT, its wildlife, and tales of famous and not-so-famous hikers. In his more serious moments, Bryson argues for the protection of this fragile strip of wilderness. Young Adults who enjoy the outdoors, and especially those familiar with the AT, will find this travelogue both entertaining and insightful.
-- Molly Connally, Kings Park Library, Fairfax County, VA
Dwight Garner
[Bryson is] a satirist of the first rank, one who writes and walks with Chaucerian brio.
The New York Times Book Review
National Geographic Traveler
A laugh-out-loud account....If you were to cross John Muir's writings with Dave Barry's you'd end up with A Walk in the Woods.
Dwight Garner
Don't look to A Walk in the Woods for forced revelations about failed relationships or financial ruin or artistic insecurity. Bryson is hiking the trail because it's there, and he's great company right from the start -- a lumbering, droll, neatnik intellectual who comes off as equal parts Garrison Keillor, Michael Kinsley and given his fondness for gross-out humor Dave Barry. -- New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
The Appalachian Trail from Springer Mountain, GA, to Mount Katahdin, ME consists of some five million steps, and Bryson (Notes from a Small Island, 1996) seems to coax a laugh, and often an unexpectedly startling insight, out of each one he traverses. It's not all yuks though it is hard not to grin idiotically through all 288 pages, for Bryson is a talented portraitist of place. He did his natural-history homework, which is to say he knows a jack-o-lantern mushroom from a hellbender salamander from a purple wartyback mussel, and can also write seriously about the devastation of chestnut blight. He laces his narrative with gobbets of trail history and local trivia, and he makes real the 'strange and palpable menace' of the dark deep woods in which he sojourns, the rough-hewn trailscape 'mostly high up on the hills, over lonely ridges and forgotten hollows that no one has ever used or coveted,' celebrating as well the 'low-level ecstasy' of finding a book left thoughtfully at a trail shelter, or a broom with which to sweep out the shelter's dross. Yet humor is where the book finds its cues—from Bryson's frequent trail companion, the obese and slothful Katz, a spacious target for Bryson's sly wit, to moments of cruel and infantile laughs, as when he picks mercilessly on the witless woman who, admittedly, ruined a couple of their days.

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.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780767902526
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/28/1999
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 18,176
  • Lexile: 1210L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Bill Bryson

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.

Biography

A backpacking expedition in 1973 brought Des Moines native Bill Bryson to England, where he met his wife and decided to settle. He wrote travel articles for the English newspapers The Times and The Independent for many years before stumbling into bestsellerdom with 1989's The Lost Continent, a sidesplitting account of his rollicking road trip across small-town America. In 1995, he moved his family back to the States so his children could experience "being American." However, his deep-rooted Anglophilia won out and, in 2003, the Brysons returned to England.

One of those people who finds nearly everything interesting, Bryson has managed to turn his twin loves -- travel and language -- into a successful literary career. In a string of hilarious bestsellers, he has chronicled his misadventures across England, Europe, Australia, and the U.S., delighting readers with his wry observations and descriptions. Similarly, his books on the history of the English language, infused with the perfect combination of wit and erudition, have sold well. He has received several accolades and honors, including the coveted Aventis Prize for best general science book awarded for his blockbuster A Short History of Nearly Everything.

Beloved on both sides of the pond, Bryson makes few claims to write great literature. But he is a writer it is nearly impossible to dislike. We defy anyone to not smile at pithy, epigrammatic opening lines like these: "I come from Des Moines. Someone had to."

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    1. Hometown:
      Hanover, New Hampshire
    1. Date of Birth:
      1951
    2. Place of Birth:
      Des Moines, Iowa
    1. Education:
      B.A., Drake University, 1977

Read an Excerpt

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 snooze--indeed was enjoying a long night's snooze--when, at some indeterminate dark hour, there was a sound nearby that made my eyes fly open.  Normally, I slept through everything--through thunderstorms, through Katz's snoring and noisy midnight pees--so something big enough or distinctive enough to wake me was unusual.  There was a sound of undergrowth being disturbed--a click of breaking branches, a weighty pushing through low foliage--and then a kind of large, vaguely irritable snuffling noise.

Bear!

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.

"What was that?"

"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 size--only 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?"

"No."

"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 wanted--really, really wanted--was 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 noise--not 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 do--give 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 and--oh, shit."

"What?"

"Oh.  Shit."

"What?"

"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 creature--creatures, now--resumed 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 bears--animals, whatever they were--drank 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 sweater--pausing twice to examine the tiniest noises, dreading the sound of a revisit--and 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.

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First Chapter

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 snooze -- indeed was enjoying a long night's snooze -- when, at some indeterminate dark hour, there was a sound nearby that made my eyes fly open. Normally, I slept through everything -- through thunderstorms, through Katz's snoring and noisy midnight pees -- so something big enough or distinctive enough to wake me was unusual. There was a sound of undergrowth being disturbed -- a click of breaking branches, a weighty pushing through low foliage -- and then a kind of large, vaguely irritable snuffling noise.

Bear!

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.

"What was that?"

"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 size -- only 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?"

"No."

"Have you got 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 wanted -- really, really wanted -- was 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 noise -- not 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 do -- give 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 and -- oh, shit."

"What?"

"Oh. Shit."

"What?"

"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 creature -- creatures, now -- resumed 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 bears -- animals, whatever they were -- drank 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 sweater -- pausing twice to examine the tiniest noises, dreading the sound of a revisit -- and 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.

Reprinted from A WALK IN THE WOODS by Bill Bryson. Copyright © 1998 by Bill Bryson. Excerpted by permission of Broadway Books, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc.

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Interviews & Essays

On Sunday, June 21st, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Bill Bryson to discuss A WALK IN THE WOODS.


Moderator: Welcome to barnesandnoble.com, Bill Bryson. Thanks for joining us -- on Father's Day, no less -- to discuss A WALK IN THE WOODS. How was your weekend?

Bill Bryson: Well, thank you for having me. My weekend has been terrific.


Amelia from Asheville, NC: Why the Appalachian Trail, Mr. Bryson? Why would you want to reinitiate yourself to the United States by traveling in this neck of the woods?

Bill Bryson: Well, what happened was, after living in England for 20 years, I moved back to America with my family in the spring of 1995, and settled in Hanover, New Hampshire, and discovered quite unexpectedly that the Appalachian Trail runs through the town. And that was what peaked my interest, originally. I found myself captivated by the idea of this immensely long hiking trail, and decided to try to do it. It was really as simple as that.


Kerry Norman from Yaphank, NY: I know from friends who have hiked the AT that you learn what you need most by how long you decide to carry it. So, after your trip to the camping store, what was the first thing to go? Or, what was the most surprising thing you kept?

Bill Bryson: The very first thing to go was a can of Spam. I'm not sure that we even took it to the trailhead. I can't think of a particularly surprising thing I kept, but the one thing that was always real important to me was a book to read just before bedtime in the evening. I only allowed myself one book at a time, and it was essentially my most treasured possession.


Hank from Portland, ME: Can you tell us about your traveling companions? How did you select them, and did you kill each other before you finished the trip?

Bill Bryson: My traveling companion was an old school friend named Stephen Katz, who was a somewhat unlikely hiking companion, because he was very out of shape (so was I, come to that), but he had the great virtue that he was willing to come with me. Although we had our squabbles from time to time, we actually became very very good friends, as a result of the shared experience, and have remained very good friends since leaving the trail.


Newt from Newton, MA: What was your favorite stretch of the Appalachian Trail, in terms of how beautiful it was -- and because the two (I've learned) aren't always the same thing, which was your favorite to hike, physically?

Bill Bryson: Well, in our case, the two actually coincided. My favorite stretch of the trail, and the most beautiful, was Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. A big reason for this was that it was the first place where we got continuous good weather. Before that, we had a really rotten spring -- a couple of blizzards, and lots and lots of really cold rain.


Phil T. Treahing from Old Bridge, NJ: How come you didn't talk much about ticks? I would have thought that ticks would have been quite worrisome when hiking in the woods. Personally, I get nervous when in the woods -- bears don't scare me, ticks do!

Bill Bryson: I can beat up a tick. Ticks are indeed worrying, and we certainly checked ourselves for them, but luckily we didn't have any problem with ticks.


Joanne from Washington, D.C.: How did you tackle the trail? Did you go north-south, south-north? Did you do it in legs, or try to do the whole thing from spring to fall?

Bill Bryson: We started at the southern end in early March, and hiked north. Our intention at the outset was to hike the whole thing, but we realized after a few weeks that we were never going to do every bit of it. So, after that, we just tried to hike as much of it as we could and felt like doing. We hiked in lots of different places -- the two national parks, around the Delaware Water Gap, the Berkshires in Massachusetts, most of Vermont and New Hampshire, and the hundred-mile wilderness in Maine -- and did about 870 miles altogether. I still hope to finish off the trail one day.


Penney from West Virginia: Hi, Mr. Bryson. Welcome back to the States! When you moved to England, did you know you would be there for 20 years? Had you been back at all in that time? How had America changed the most in the time you were gone?

Bill Bryson: No, when I first went to England, I didn't realize I would be staying so long. What happened was I met an English girl and got married and settled down over there. I had been back to America several times on visits, but I discovered when we moved back permanently in 1995 that living in a place, even your own country, is very different from visiting it. A lot of things had changed. For one thing, road maps weren't free anymore.


Lisa from Albuquerque: Who are you rooting for in The World Cup? Does the American team even rate in your loyalty to the English team?

Bill Bryson: Well that question is very much easier to answer now, because I gather America has been eliminated, so I'm cheering for England and Scotland. Frankly, I would just like to see any English-speaking nation win it.


Brenda from Belmar, NJ: Was there ever a time when you were on the trail that you wanted to throw in the towel and give up?

Bill Bryson: The question would be better phrased as, was there ever a time when we didn't. Seriously, the trail was wonderful, and incredibly rewarding, but there was hardly a moment when it wasn't also extremely hard.


Gilleen from Bennington, VT: How did your family deal with your decision to hike the trail? How long or how often were you gone?

Bill Bryson: The longest I was away at one stretch was six and a half weeks. It was during that stretch that I realized I didn't want to be away from my family that long ever again. So, after that, I was never away for more than about two weeks at a time. My wife was very supportive. She hates the separations, as I do, but she recognizes that this is the sort of thing I do to make a living.


Rachel from Weston, CT: Can you recommend any books for anyone who loves the AT? What did you read to prepare for your trip? How did the literature compare with the real thing?

Bill Bryson: My favorite book was


Lowell Petersman from Raleigh, NC: In your mind, what can we do to protect the AT from destruction? What is the biggest threat to it today?

Bill Bryson: The AT itself is probably more secure than it has ever been. It has so many friends and admirers that it's virtually inconceivable that anyone could do anything terribly destructive toward it. The real danger is to the woods around the trail, in a more general sense. I'm no authority on environmental matters, but even a layman can see that there are a lot of stressed trees out there, and a lot of views that are nothing like as pristine as they were 25 years ago.


Josie from New York, NY: Have any of the people that you encountered on your hike read A WALK IN THE WOODS? Did they show up at any of your book signings? Has Mary Ellen read A WALK IN THE WOODS?

Bill Bryson: Certainly at least two people I know have read the book. One was Katz, who thought it was all bullshit, but very funny. And the other was was an Irish fellow we hiked with for a couple of days in the Deep South and who wrote to me after the book came out there. As far as I know, Mary Ellen has not read the book. She didn't strike me as a great reader.


Kiernan from Richmond, Va: I've heard that on the weekends, the AT can be like a sidewalk full of people, with everything from weekend warriors to families out for a picnic. Is this true? Was it crowded on your trip? How often did you see people?

Bill Bryson: It is certainly true that some of the more popular parts of the AT can get pretty crowded at certain times. I'm thinking especially of the two national parks, Mt. Greylock in Massachusetts and Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. But most of the trail is relatively quiet even at peak time. I suppose, on average, we saw two or three other hikers an hour -- hardly an overwhelming number.


Kent from Cheyenne, WY: What did you learn about bears on your trip?

Bill Bryson: I learned, I am greatly relieved to tell you, that bears are not really a threat on the Appalachian Trail. There are actually very few recorded instances of black bear attacks on the AT.


Frederique Albom from Washington, D.C.: Hello, Mr. Bryson. What did you miss the most about the United States when you were living in Great Britain? Was there anything that you did not miss at all? Also, I was wondering how long you plan on staying in this country. Thank you for taking my question.

Bill Bryson: Baseball! I really missed that. I also missed the more emphatic weather of North America. I really like very cold winters and very hot summers. I didn't miss American commercials. As for how long we will stay here, we're not sure, but very possibly forever. My wife and kids love it here very much. Personally, I would like to be in a position to divide our time between the two, as I like them both very much.


Elliott from Athens, GA: If you have gleaned one key piece of wisdom from your travels to give as advice to future maniacs who would like to hike the AT, what is it?

Bill Bryson: Don't feel that you have to do every inch of it. There's this horrible idea that the AT is an all-or-nothing proposition -- that you either do it all, or you don't do any of it. My philosophy would be to do just as much of it as you enjoy.


Jonas from Boca Raton, FL: I love your writing -- most notably, your incredibly funny voice as a writer. How long did it take you to find and shape that voice? Do you have any suggestions or advice to a young writer?

Bill Bryson: Thank you for your praise. I don't know about finding my voice. Sometimes I feel as if I'm still searching for it. One of the nice things about writing, I find, is that you always feel as if you can get better at it. In terms of advice, the only real suggestion I can give is to persevere, persevere, persevere -- and get lucky.


Eleanor from New England: Where do you like to go on vacation? Has vacation become like work for you now?

Bill Bryson: To me, the biggest possible treat in life is to go somewhere with my family knowing that I don't have to write a word about it.


Steven from McAlester, OK: You must agree that you have the best career in the world. If you don't agree, I'd like to hear your defense! I loved A WALK IN THE WOODS and I'm glad to find you online.

Bill Bryson: Yes, I do!


Moderator: Thanks so much for joining us tonight, Bill Bryson. We wish you much luck in your future travels and hope that you'll join us online again. Do you have any final comments for the online audience?

Bill Bryson: Just thank you very much for your stimulating questions, this has been a real pleasure!


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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 561 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 2, 2000

    Brilliant one moment, baffling the next

    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.

    18 out of 23 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 4, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Bryson makes you want to grab your pack and hit the trail

    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.

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 18, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Bryson takes you on a ride (more or less a walk) without leaving your arm chair.

    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.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 5, 2013

    Boorish and miserable

    Brysons writing talent is substantial as is his boorish hatred for most people. The first few chapters were outstanding but book becomes dark and hurtful when bryson reveals his disdain for southerners and relegion. There are so many more enjoyable reads. Bypass this one.

    4 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 24, 2009

    I flippin' LOVE this book

    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.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 21, 2012

    A Fun Book - Well Worth the read

    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.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 25, 2009

    You'll Read it again and again...

    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.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 27, 2013

    G R C

    This is a wonderful book. I learned so much and laughed so hard l would love to meet Byson & Katz on any trail,

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 13, 2013

    Funny and entertaining!

    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!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 7, 2012

    Highly recommended

    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.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 18, 2012

    Underwhelming

    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.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 15, 2012

    Hate it

    Hate it. It reads like a non-fiction book. It has some funny parts but if your looking for a good story, don't read this book.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 10, 2009

    Author has intellectual superiority complex

    This author tainted the value of this book by showing a bias against religious people and the South.

    2 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 2, 2007

    A Protracted Whine

    As a hiker laying in a strategy to thru-hike the AT in a couple years, I was looking forward to a light and lively tale. Boy was I disappointed. Grumping about the cold, rain, mud, vermin, tourons, monotony, ugly people and places, and an inept hiking partner didn't let up. Oh, and Bryson has a pathological fear of being eatten by a bear. He goes on about grizzly bears, for crying out loud, at the beginning of the book. Then, on the next to last page relates regret he never actually saw one. He's also hung up about being murdered on the trail. More likely that he'll die in a home invasion in his snug New Hampshire parlor. I found the political commentary about the Park Service and the Corps off-putting. Yeah, policy makers and bureaucrats could use a collective thump on the head. I work for a gov't agency, I know. But Bryson's observations about lack of funding and tragicly misguided agency priorities aren't inspiring or galvanizing, they come off as no more than unhelpful complaining. There is humor that gestures towards the pain and discomfort we all live with, and invites laughter for heart's ease. And there is whining or snarling that rubs a raw spot, like a badly fitting boot, and then pokes at it. I found 'Walk in the Woods' to be the latter.

    2 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 25, 2013

    I was very disappointed to know that the author did not complete

    I was very disappointed to know that the author did not complete the appalachian trail, did not even come close.  His stereotypical descriptions of encounters with southerners was not so shocking,being that he is from New Hampshire, but appeared typically ignorant.   He meanders from topic to topic, and spends much time on the history of his home area, in the northeast, most of which he probably learned in grade school.  I feel thoroughly ripped off, and only completed reading the book because I paid 16.00 for it.  It is not a book for hikers.    

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 15, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Still doesn't want to go hiking!

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 19, 2012

    I REALLY ENJOYED THIS BOOK

    This was a very entertaining book. I thoughly enjoyed it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2012

    Great read for the mountain man or woman inside of us.

    I highly reccomend this to anyone considering the 5 month adventure that is the Appalachian Trail.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 10, 2012

    Had to read more!

    After a friend let me borrow this, I went on a Bryson binge. Get hooked!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 2, 2010

    Funny!

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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