Sunday, March 2, 2008

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

I'll admit it right away, there are many of Bill Bryson's books that I really liked. I had read some of Bryson's later books before I read this one, so there was always the thought that maybe his earlier books would not have the same level of humour, and the great style of writing that I always liked. Well, I felt great while reading the book and did not regret it one bit. He writes a lot about travel and adventure, while presenting a great deal of information. And to tell the truth, I had not heard of the Appalachian Trail before reading this book; by the time I had finished, I knew a great deal more. And it was not only me; after this book was published in 1998, there was an upsurge in interest about the trail, with a lot more people wanting to hike the trail.

A walk in the woods - Bill Bryson
The book is about the attempt by the author and his old college buddy, Stephen Katz, to walk the 2100 miles of the Appalachian Trail from start to finish. Neither of the 2 is in top physical condition, with Katz in a much worse physical condition. By the end, neither of them has done anything like what they attempted to do, having covered a very small section overall of the trail (and for which the book was criticised to some extent, as a travel book that did not even cover the whole trail).
In addition, the book was also criticized to a large degree because of the depiction of fellow hikers, with the author having been accused of turning them into absurdities.
However, the fact remains that this is not just a travel book. The book is not supposed to be a guide for traveling the trail, instead it is a humorous depiction of a journey, with the focus on the effort and the adventures while on the trail. The book is chock full of humour that makes you laugh, and makes you want to read more. About the travel of the author with his old friend, the entire adventure from the start (preparing what to take, and what to discard), and how whether their physical condition is adequate for the trip that they are considering.
The fear of bears, and maybe of mountain lions, is apparent in the writing, and the time where the author described how a bear came into the camp makes for some riveting reading. The book also tries to explain a lot of geological information (how the mountains and its various aspects came into existence), how the trail was formed due to the efforts of 2 dedicated people, and a lot about the fauna and flora along the trail. You also get to read a lot about the various stops, towns, and fellow hikers that they meet when on the trail.
The only time when the book deviates from the light reading and humour is when you can perceive the author's anger against the mismanagement of the trail by various administrative bodies such as the Parks and Forest Services of the federal Government, as well as the ineptitude of the US Army Corps of Engineers. He is downright hostile to their mismanagement, and when you read the way in which the information is presented, you can tend to agree with him.
Overall, this is a book that is worth reading, and you might find yourself chuckling along with the author.

No comments: