In a previous post, Ria left a note recommending a book: A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
What a great book! Funny and inspiring. I read it on the plane to Chicago, on my way to California. The gal next to me probably was concerned for my mental state because I burst out in laughter while reading the book repeatedly.
Basically, Bryson, a travel writer who’s lived around the world, moves back to the US and decides to walk the Appalachian Trail (AT). I don’t know which was funnier: his preparation to walk the AT (mostly focused on reading about bear attacks and being amazed at the cost of equipment) or the start of his walking the AT with his out-of-shape recovering-alcoholic mooch friend Katz. I had my doubts they would make it to the AT (you have to hike about eight miles to get to the start of it), let alone through it.
The tone of the book gets more serious and philosophical as he goes. I learned some fascinating stories about some of the regions he travels through as he goes. (Centralia, for example — a town that was mostly torn down because the coal underneath caught on fire in the early 60s and was still burning at the writing of the book.) I learned a bit about forestry and how the trail is maintained, how the mountains along the AT were formed, etc. Bryson is a great writer to read if you just like to learn and know stuff. He’s insatiably curious, which is a great quality. And his descriptions of the thru-hikers and residents he met along the way are priceless. I will say that the end of the book was a teensy bit disappointing to me, but I don’t want to give it away, so I won’t go into details.
Quite frankly, if these two guys can walk almost the whole trail, so can we. It was a very motivating book and there were a number of parallels between the experiences doing the AT and in life regarding persisting on a journey and overcoming challenges. I was ready to strap on a pack and go! This passage about his friend Katz touched me:
“The Appalachian Trail is the hardest thing I have ever done…. Katz responded to this in a way that I have never seen from him. He showed a kind of fixated resolve, as if the only way to deal with this problem was to bull through it and get it over with.”
This was not condescension, but real admiration and respect.
I followed up with several other AT books while I was stuck in bed sick, as well as the 2009 AT planning guide. Obviously with small children, I won’t be walking it just yet (it takes about 6 months to walk the 2000-ish miles), but when they are teens — perhaps they’ll want to do it with me. And I’ll only be in my mid-50s!
I had a poster of the AT up in my office for years, and then finally got rid of it a few years ago thinking it would just forever be a dream. I’m resurrecting this dream and putting it back on my vision board.