I’ve heard about A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson throughout the years, but all I really took out of what I heard was that some guy wrote about hiking the Appalachian Trail. I’ve gone on hikes before and I enjoy them, but I’ve always viewed them like I do hockey; it’s most fun to hear about when someone falls down. Then three different people recommended it to me and I saw an ad for it in the span of a week. I’m not a very superstitious person, but I’d say that’s a sign. I’m so glad I did pick it up because it’s not Bill Bryson describing trees and the sky and finding himself, it’s about the people he meets and the towns he stumbles upon. He’s funny even when (especially when) describing experiences that must have been just miserable, and he manages to sneak in historical, political, and environmental facts about the trail without sounding like a boring textbook.
A big comic relief in this story was Bill’s hiking partner Stephen Katz. Some of things he says and does seem to come straight out of a movie with him being the slightly annoying, hilariously out of the loop side kick. (I just found out this book was very recently made into a movie, so if you were planning on capitalizing on that, you’re too late. Robert Redford plays Bill Bryson and Emma Thompson plays his wife, which had to be the biggest ego boost for Mr. Bryson) Though, to be honest, Katz alone is not enough to make the book funny. It’s Bryson’s dry, very British, sense of humor that makes the book so great. He never looks off into the sky and realizes he’s made a ton of mistakes but they all got him here, because while there may be value in those types of stories, that’s not what this story is. This is about him experiencing a majestic and terrifying part of America. The trail is spectacular but hiking the whole thing is hard and there’s no point in sugar coating it.
I’d be interested to have someone that doesn’t know anything about camping read A Walk in the Woods and hear what they thought of it, because while I’ve never done anything quite that difficult, I’ve been camping my entire life and know the basics. Some of the humor for me was being in the know before Bryson and Katz were about what was wrong. There were face palm worthy moments and Bryson, in retrospect, acknowledges this. I do think it’s an enjoyable book for hikers and non hikers alike, and there are some important tangents he goes on discussing the history and politics of the park and the alarming rates at which entire species are begin wiped out largely due to our mismanagement of our forests. His opinions are made very clear and even if you disagree with them, the facts he uses to back himself up are important to acknowledge and be aware of.
The movie just came out this year and given the cast involved (Nick Offerman, Kristen Schaal, Robert Redford, Emma Thompson, Nick Nolte) I think it should be a good one. I do wonder how much of the history of the trail they’ll include because I did find those tidbits fascinating. I guess the only way to know is to go see the movie when it’s available…luckily I’ve already read the book.