A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson ~ Nonfiction Book Review

book21.jpgI picked up this book as a means of research because I wanted to learn more about hiking the Appalachian Trail . I’ve been mulling over the same book idea for over a year, but just couldn’t seem to put it to paper. I’ve hiked parts of the AT, but only those found in the northeast. How could I possibly write about a 2100+ mile trail that begins in Georgia and ends in Maine without seeming like a total fraud? Or worse, an inexperienced idiot? I set out to solve this problem the same way I always do – by reading.

I picked up this book by Bill Bryson before I knew that it was being made into a movie. It seemed like an ideal starting point to learn more about hiking the AT without losing myself in a dry, technical trail guide. My hope was that this firsthand account would provide me with with both information and color – and it did!

This book mixes Bryon’s account of hiking the trail with the history of the AT, the surrounding wilderness, and anything else Bryson thought would be useful (or fill pages). The end result is an awesome educational tool (for me) that is surprisingly funny! I enjoyed this book much more than I anticipated I would enjoy reading about two middleaged men walking in the woods. It was, in my opinion, a delightful surprise that held my attention and made me itching to lace up my hiking boots and hit the trail. Five stars.

Victory is Mine!

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Victory is mine – but it is not sweet. It isn’t even bittersweet. The long awaited, much anticipated conquering of the Franconia Ridge Loop has come finally come to fruition. I hiked the entire notch, 9 something miles of mountain, Labor Day weekend. Only it started pouring rain just as we were reaching the summit of Little Haystack. The fog was so thick at the top, that you could barely see more than 20 feet in any direction. The ‘amazing view’ that I was so looking forward to was not to be had.

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The 1.7 miles across the top of the ridge as you climb up and over Mount Lincoln and Mount Lafayette seemed like an eternity of misery, each step hampered by wet clothes, the wind whipping the rain up into a maelstrom of mayhem that lashed at my face like a cat-o-nine-tails. I wanted to complain, (I really wanted to kick something), but what was the use? I feel very ripped off that I couldn’t see anything. The only up side is that we had the mountain to ourselves.

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We surged forward, too uncomfortable to stop and eat our lunch, searching in vain for the AMC (Appalachian Mountain Club) hut that we had heard about. Yet each apparition rising out of the mist before us was – yep, you guessed it – more mountain to climb. It was becoming obvious that we had become trapped in an episode of Night Gallery, doomed to forever walk through the freezing rain and fog, an endless search for a destination we’d never find. Until finally, luckily, we encountered a ranger on the far side of Mount Lafayette, a dutiful soul braving the elements in order to alert those crazy enough to be enjoying the weather on that glorious day of the turn for the descent, thus saving us from a who knows how long detour continuing along the Appalachian Trail.

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Thus began our perilous climb down the mountain, over slick rock and through muddy puddles, our vigor renewed, our destination promised to be only a mile down the mountain. With the hope of a bit of warmth looming on the horizon, we picked up pace. I’m not sure-footed on the best of days, so you can imagine what a challenge it was to descend such a steep incline, every surface wet and slippery, clothing soaked and hindering movement, my normally 15 pound pack drenched and weighing at least 30 pounds. Not my most graceful day in history. Amazingly, I completed the entire hike without (serious) injury.

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The hut…..was not what we had imagined. No roaring fire, no welcoming smiles, not even, much to my partner’s chagrin (who, as a giant, has a much warmer body temperature), an ice cold beverage to be had. There was a counter, however, where we were able to purchase a couple of dry shirts which we wrapped in a spare rain poncho so we’d have something dry to wear on the way home after we got back to the car. We quickly left the hut and continued on our way down the mountain.

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The rain had finally stopped. The fog was lifting in places, and I was able to get a few pictures, which made me a little happier about the situation. I also learned that brown rocks tend to be much more slippery than gray, an invaluable lesson. Then the glorious moment came when we could hear traffic noises from the road and we knew that our adventure was coming to an end. Was it everything we had hoped for and expected? No. Was it a rewarding and wonderful memory? No. Would I do it again knowing what it would be like? Yeah, why not? Not everything in life worth experiencing is enjoyable. I know now that I can do it (and still walk the next day). I’ve proven my point to myself. But next time, I expect a view.

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