Author: Bill Bryson
Publisher: Random House
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“And miles to go before I sleep…”
In Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, lies the extent of wanderlust and love for nature that drives man into the deepest of woods and loneliest of trails. It is a story of weird encounters, strange mishaps, the joy of conquering peaks and completing hikes – like the Appalachian Trail (AT) the writer attempts to finish in 1996. This is indeed a travelogue, but with a story.
On a sunny summer whim, Bryson decides to hike the AT starting from Georgia to Maine (the length being approximately 3500km). Most of this trail is wilderness, with occasional presence of interesting little towns, parks and roads. Bryson and his companion in the first half of the trail, Stephen Katz, together make a funny au pair, breaking all the conventional stereotypes of hikers (sturdy and firm) and hiking (a serious affair!).
Along with a detailed description of the hike, we also come to know of the experiences of previous hikers, mostly mishaps, and an information guide to the how-to’s and what-not’s of hiking the AT. Like how stocking snickers is a definite must-not, since it attracts bears into your settlement, and how the wilderness brings out the cavemen instincts in you a.k.a makes you immune to not bathing/cooking/washing etc. As days roll by, the two kindred souls encounter hiking perils like unwelcome travel companions and yet manage to find nature’s glory – even more importantly, stay alive.
And as all good stories go, in the end Bryson tells us through his story, how it is the journey, and not the destination (in this case, the Mount Katahdin) that matters. Rather than a mission to kill, his hike becomes an adventure of sorts that keeps up good spirits and teaches a lot of valuable lessons of the wild.
Page after page, Bryson’s sense of humour and appreciation of the hike manages to tempt the readers themselves to pack bags and set off on the nearest trail, if not the AT. Top the charming narrative with the realism of the situation and voila!, we have the perfect travel companion in hands. A Walk in the Woods makes a good reading for all those who want to venture into the wild and get out in one piece!