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

A Walk in the Woods

Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail

Paperback

Published: 26th December 2006
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Back in America after twenty years in Britain, Bill Bryson decided to reacquaint himself with his native country by walking the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail, which stretches from Georgia to Maine. The AT offers an astonishing landscape of silent forests and sparkling lakes--and to a writer with the comic genius of Bill Bryson, it also provides endless opportunities to witness the majestic silliness of his fellow human beings.

For a start there's the gloriously out-of-shape Stephen Katz, a buddy from Iowa along for the walk. Despite Katz's overwhelming desire to find cozy restaurants, he and Bryson eventually settle into their stride, and while on the trail they meet a bizarre assortment of hilarious characters. But A Walk in the Woods is more than just a laugh-out-loud hike. Bryson's acute eye is a wise witness to this beautiful but fragile trail, and as he tells its fascinating history, he makes a moving plea for the conservation of America's last great wilderness. An adventure, a comedy, and a celebration, A Walk in the Woods is destined to become a modern classic of travel literature.

About the Author

BILL BRYSON was born in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1951. He settled in England in 1977, where he lived for many years with his English wife and four children before moving with his family to America. In 2003 the Brysons came back to England where they intend to remain. He is the bestselling author of THE LOST CONTINENT, MOTHER TONGUE, NEITHER HERE NOR THERE, MADE IN AMERICA, NOTES FROM A SMALL ISLAND, A WALK IN THE WOODS, NOTES FROM A BIG COUNTRY and DOWN UNDER, as well as, most recently, A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING, which won the Aventis Prize 2004 and was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize.

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A Walk in the Woods
 
4.0

(based on 5 reviews)

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100%

of respondents would recommend this to a friend.

Pros

  • Well written (4)
  • Deserves multiple readings (3)
  • Easy to understand (3)
  • Informative (3)

Cons

    Best Uses

    • Gift (4)
    • Older readers (4)
    • Travel reading (4)
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    Reviewed by 5 customers

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    4.0

    Almost inspired me to go

    By Al

    from Brisbane

    About Me Everyday Reader

    Pros

    • Deserves Multiple Readings
    • Easy To Understand
    • Informative

    Cons

      Best Uses

      • Gift
      • Older Readers
      • Reference
      • Travel Reading

      Comments about A Walk in the Woods:

      Set as a bookclub read I approached this with some trepidation but was pleasantly surprised. I enjoyed the wry humour interspersed with historical, environmental and social observations concerning the Appalachian Trail in the USA.

      Comment on this review

       
      4.0

      Light humourous story

      By History buff

      from Hobart

      About Me Everyday Reader

      Verified Buyer

      Pros

      • Deserves Multiple Readings
      • Easy To Understand
      • Makes You Chuckle
      • Well Written

      Cons

      • Short And Not In Depth

      Best Uses

      • Older Readers

      Comments about A Walk in the Woods:

      A nice light book on walking the Appalachian trail. I enjoyed it , with Bill Bryson's wry sense of humour. You don't have to be a hiker to appreciate it.

      Comment on this review

       
      4.0

      Classic Bryson - hilarious

      By Banksy

      from Melbourne, AU

      About Me Bookworm

      Verified Buyer

      Pros

      • Deserves Multiple Readings
      • Informative
      • Well Written

      Cons

        Best Uses

        • Gift
        • Travel Reading

        Comments about A Walk in the Woods:

        You may wish to be careful where you read this book - you are likely to burst out in laughter at any moment! Extremely informative about the Appalachian Trail in the US but also historical. The author can make any situation seem comical but also forces us to see our mundane existence this way as well. A great pick me up when life gets stressful. Highly recommended - as is anything by this author.

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        4.0

        Hilarious and informative

        By The Spinner

        from Sydney, AU

        About Me Everyday Reader

        Verified Buyer

        Pros

        • Easy To Understand
        • Informative
        • Well Written

        Cons

          Best Uses

          • Gift
          • Older Readers
          • Travel Reading

          Comments about A Walk in the Woods:

          Hats off to Bill for undertaking the challenge of the AT. One thing it's not is an easy 'walk in the woods'. Don't read this on a bus, train or plane if you're embarrassed by laughing out loud every few minutes.

          Comment on this review

          (2 of 2 customers found this review helpful)

           
          4.0

          A great little book about an iconic walk

          By Lincoln

          from Melbourne Australia

          About Me Everyday Reader

          Verified Buyer

          Pros

          • Well Written

          Cons

            Best Uses

            • Gift
            • Older Readers
            • Travel Reading

            Comments about A Walk in the Woods:

            Bill Bryson's view of the world is always respectful even if he picks out the absurdity of the world and amplifies it. He does the same with this book in the iconic Appalachians and among the odd assortment of walkers on the historic trail. Bill has his own odd obsession to walk the spine of eastern USA, and admirably giving up easily when it gets way too hard, but he meets and describes many other interesting misfits along the way. He also throws in alot of history and erudite descriptions of the beautiful landscapes along the way. It isn't a guidebook but you have fun, laugh alot and learn a bit through his journey.

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            "Bryson is a very funny writer who could wring humor from a clammy sleeping bag." -"The Philadelphia Inquirer""Short of doing it yourself, the best way of escaping into nature is to read a book like "A Walk in the Woods"."-"The New York Times""A terribly misguided, and terribly funny tale of adventure.... The yarn is choke-on-your-coffee funny." -"The Washington Post""Bill Bryson could write an essay about dryer lint or fever reducers and still make us laugh out loud." -"Chicago Sun-Times""Delightful." -"The Plain Dealer""It's great adventure, on a human sacle, with survuivable discomforts, and, happily, everybody goes home afterwards." -"Times Picayune"

            We hiked till five and camped beside a tranquil spring in a small, grassy clearing in the trees just off the trail.  Because it was our first day back on the trail, we were flush for food, including perishables like cheese and bread that had to be eaten before they went off or were shaken to bits in our packs, so we rather gorged ourselves, then sat around smoking and chatting idly until persistent and numerous midgelike creatures (no-see-ums, as they are universally known along the trail) drove us into our tents.  It was perfect sleeping weather, cool enough to need a bag but warm enough that you could sleep in your underwear, and I was looking forward to a long night's snooze--indeed was enjoying a long night's snooze--when, at some indeterminate dark hour, there was a sound nearby that made my eyes fly open.  Normally, I slept through everything--through thunderstorms, through Katz's snoring and noisy midnight pees--so something big enough or distinctive enough to wake me was unusual.  There was a sound of undergrowth being disturbed--a click of breaking branches, a weighty pushing through low foliage--and then a kind of large, vaguely irritable snuffling noise.

            Bear!

            I sat bolt upright.  Instantly every neuron in my brain was awake and dashing around frantically, like ants when you disturb their nest.  I reached instinctively for my knife, then realized I had left it in my pack, just outside the tent.  Nocturnal defense had ceased to be a concern after many successive nights of tranquil woodland repose.  There was another noise, quite near.

            "Stephen, you awake?"  I whispered.

            "Yup," he replied in a weary but normal voice.

            "What was that?"

            "How the hell should I know."

            "It sounded big."

            "Everything sounds big in the woods."

            This was true.  Once a skunk had come plodding through our camp and it had sounded like a stegosaurus.  There was another heavy rustle and then the sound of lapping at the spring.  It was having a drink, whatever it was.

            I shuffled on my knees to the foot of the tent, cautiously unzipped the mesh and peered out, but it was pitch black.  As quietly as I could, I brought in my backpack and with the light of a small flashlight searched through it for my knife.  When I found it and opened the blade I was appalled at how wimpy it looked.  It was a perfectly respectable appliance for, say, buttering pancakes, but patently inadequate for defending oneself against 400 pounds of ravenous fur.

            Carefully, very carefully, I climbed from the tent and put on the flashlight, which cast a distressingly feeble beam.  Something about fifteen or twenty feet away looked up at me.  I couldn't see anything at all of its shape or size--only two shining eyes.  It went silent, whatever it was, and stared back at me.

            "Stephen," I whispered at his tent, "did you pack a knife?"

            "No."

            "Have you get anything sharp at all?"

            He thought for a moment.  "Nail clippers."

            I made a despairing face.  "Anything a little more vicious than that?  Because, you see, there is definitely something out here."

            "It's probably just a skunk."

            "Then it's one big skunk.  Its eyes are three feet off the ground."

            "A deer then."

            I nervously threw a stick at the animal, and it didn't move, whatever it was.  A deer would have bolted.  This thing just blinked once and kept staring.

            I reported this to Katz.

            "Probably a buck.  They're not so timid.  Try shouting at it."

            I cautiously shouted at it: "Hey!  You there!  Scat!"  The creature blinked again, singularly unmoved.  "You shout," I said.

            "Oh, you brute, go away, do!"  Katz shouted in merciless imitation.  "Please withdraw at once, you horrid creature."

            "Fuck you," I said and lugged my tent right over to his.  I didn't know what this would achieve exactly, but it brought me a tiny measure of comfort to be nearer to him.

            "What are you doing?"

            "I'm moving my tent."

            "Oh, good plan.  That'll really confuse it."

            I peered and peered, but I couldn't see anything but those two wide-set eyes staring from the near distance like eyes in a cartoon.  I couldn't decide whether I wanted to be outside and dead or inside and waiting to be dead.  I was barefoot and in my underwear and shivering.  What I really wanted--really, really wanted--was for the animal to withdraw.  I picked up a small stone and tossed it at it.  I think it may have hit it because the animal made a sudden noisy start (which scared the bejesus out of me and brought a whimper to my lips) and then emitted a noise--not quite a growl, but near enough.  It occurred to me that perhaps I oughtn't provoke it.

            "What are you doing, Bryson?  Just leave it alone and it will go away."

            "How can you be so calm?"

            "What do you want me to do?  You're hysterical enough for both of us."

            "I think I have a right to be a trifle alarmed, pardon me.  I'm in the woods, in the middle of nowhere, in the dark, staring at a bear, with a guy who has nothing to defend himself with but a pair of nail clippers.  Let me ask you this.  If it is a bear and it comes for you, what are you going to do--give it a pedicure?"

            "I'll cross that bridge when I come to it," Katz said implacably.

            "What do you mean you'll cross that bridge?  We're on the bridge, you moron.  There's a bear out here, for Christ sake.  He's looking at us.  He smells noodles and Snickers and--oh, shit."

            "What?"

            "Oh.  Shit."

            "What?"

            "There's two of them.  I can see another pair of eyes."  Just then, the flashlight battery started to go.  The light flickered and then vanished.  I scampered into my tent, stabbing myself lightly but hysterically in the thigh as I went, and began a quietly frantic search for spare batteries.  If I were a bear, this would be the moment I would choose to lunge.

            "Well, I'm going to sleep," Katz announced.

            "What are you talking about?  You can't go to sleep."

            "Sure I can.  I've done it lots of times."  There was the sound of him rolling over and a series of snuffling noises, not unlike those of the creature outside.

            "Stephen, you can't go to sleep," I ordered.  But he could and he did, with amazing rapidity.

            The creature--creatures, now--resumed drinking, with heavy lapping noises.  I couldn't find any replacement batteries, so I flung the flashlight aside and put my miner's lamp on my head, made sure it worked, then switched it off to conserve the batteries.  Then I sat for ages on my knees, facing the front of the tent, listening keenly, gripping my walking stick like a club, ready to beat back an attack, with my knife open and at hand as a last line of defense.  The bears--animals, whatever they were--drank for perhaps twenty minutes more, then quietly departed the way they had come.  It was a joyous moment, but I knew from my reading that they would be likely to return.  I listened and listened, but the forest returned to silence and stayed there.

            Eventually I loosened my grip on the walking stick and put on a sweater--pausing twice to examine the tiniest noises, dreading the sound of a revisit--and after a very long time got back into my sleeping bag for warmth.  I lay there for a long time staring at total blackness and knew that never again would I sleep in the woods with a light heart.

            And then, irresistibly and by degrees, I fell asleep.

            ISBN: 9780307279460
            ISBN-10: 0307279464
            Audience: General
            Format: Paperback
            Language: English
            Number Of Pages: 397
            Published: 26th December 2006
            Dimensions (cm): 17.7 x 11.3  x 2.8
            Weight (kg): 0.2