A Walk in the Woods

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

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There’s not often I’ll read a book and bust a gut laughing. Most written humor isn’t worth more than a chuckle. This book is different.

Perhaps it is my upbringing as the son of a former logger, who used to tell tales of hiking to camp for the season with a Franklin stove strapped to his back, or as the grandson of a miner who on a Friday night would run 10 miles down the mountains to play piano in a dance band, then run back up the mountain in time for work the next morning. Every summer our family used to drive up abandoned logging roads and climb directly over mountains (instead of around them) to reach a mountain lake situated almost exactly at 10,000 ft in elevation. If you got there too early in June or too late in August, you risked being snowed in. The weather was below freezing at night, sometimes hot during the day, and could change from warm and sunny to snow within minutes. This was what we called fun.

I remember one summer my father took a friend and I camping. We hiked quite a ways along a trail before stopping for the night. Shortly after making camp, a group of young men arrived, made camp, and commenced drinking, swearing, and generally doing what young, unaccompanied young men do. My father put on his boots, his cowboy hat, and his .45 revolver, then walked into their camp and invited them to leave. Within minutes, they were gone.

When I tell you this book rings true, you can believe me. I know what it is like to be overweight, out of shape, and stupidly attempting things that young men would be wary of. I saw my father do it over and over again. And I remember when he, like Stephen Katz in the book, would begin deliriously divesting himself of various gear, comestibles, and assorted clothing. It’s only after hiking uphill to almost 12,000 ft that you suddenly realize you don’t need that second cast aluminum skillet, or that huge roll of 6 mil plastic, or that bag of Quikrete you intended to use to route a spring to a place nearer to the campsite.

When I tell you I laughed out loud, it is because I recognized something of myself, my father, and our silly exploits in this book.

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