When I read Bill Byrson’s A Walk in the Woods a couple of months ago I laughed out loud so many times that Butch laid in wait for me to finish it so he could read it himself. I had been hoping that he would grace F that S with a guest book review, but when pressed he threatened to write “Out of shape writer goes for a walk with overweight friend. The end.”
While that is a fairly genius way to sum up Bryson’s odyssey on the Appalachian Trail, there is more to it than that. Bryson is no outdoorsman, and he, and his hopeless/helpless hiking buddy Katz, don’t come close to actually completing the trail. But that somehow makes the adventure nobler than if they had been seasoned backpackers marching from Florida to Maine in record time. The hike wasn’t about outpacing the other guy or proving his manly worth, it was about reconnecting with a country that he hadn’t lived in for 20 years.
I noticed some reviews criticizing A Walk as not informative enough on the history of the Trail or on organizations focused on conserving it. True, Bryson bashes the Parks Department and the Army Corp of Engineers, and laments to the condition of the AT, while not offering any solutions or suggestions for further reading…but who cares? I didn’t pick up this book expecting a lesson plan on trail maintenance – I wanted a humorous tale of a self-deprecating everyman attempting something larger than himself, and that’s exactly what I got. And I would hope that if reading A Walk in the Woods inspired someone to look further into the preservation of our National Parks, that they would be industrious enough to walk themselves to the library and research it for themselves.
So whether you’ve attempted the Trail yourself, or if you’re more of the armchair outdoorsman type, A Walk in the Woods is a breezy read that takes a serious endeavor and makes it feel like a casual walk in the park.
Cover from Better World Books