Thursday, August 28, 2014
Home > Gear > How NOT to Hike the AT: 5 Questions Bill Bryson Should’ve Asked Himself First
How NOT to Hike the AT: 5 Questions Bill Bryson Should’ve Asked Himself First

How NOT to Hike the AT: 5 Questions Bill Bryson Should’ve Asked Himself First

[Warning: contains spoilers to A Walk in the Woods]

A year ago, after I announced my intentions of hiking the entirety of the Appalachian Trail, about twenty people recommended that I read Bill Bryson’s book A Walk in the WoodsMany of them were absolutely ecstatic, so I was confident I would love the book as well.  However, when I finally read it over the summer, I was disappointed and a bit disgusted with the guy.  I might have been able to get past his general negative attitude about the trail experience, if not for his intolerant insults and bigamist imaginations of the rural south.  Of course, I have yet to embark on my own thru-hike, so I don’t exactly have a right to judge.  Still, I think a different outlook could have led to a better trail experience.  Here are five questions he should have asked himself before beginning his thru-hike.

1. If you’re living for the towns not the mountains, why are you even hiking?

Initially, he reminded me of Bilbo Baggins, who set out rather spontaneously on an adventure for which he was unprepared.

He even forgot his pipe.  #WhiteGuyProblems

He even forgot his pipe. #WhiteGuyProblems

I assumed that, with time, Bryson would come to embrace The Wild just as Bilbo had, but unfortunately that never happened. Sure, he appreciated the breathtaking views from sporadic overlooks, but he never found joy in his lack of urban comforts.  He seemed happiest when he unexpectedly stumbled across processed food or paved roads.  The Hundred Mile Wilderness (which includes the AT’s most difficult climbs and its greatest isolation) sounds like freedom to me, but Bill Bryson was so miserable there that he quit two days in.

2. If you can’t stand the culture of rural America, why did you choose this hike?

ChurchSign

In case you have had the luxury of avoiding his over-hyped book, know that he found a creationist statement on a rural church sign so appalling that he skipped over a quarter of the Trail by driving from the southern Smokies all the way to Roanoke.  At this point in the book, Bryson lost my respect, for that section of the Trail is the part most familiar to me and most beloved by me.  That section is where, as a child growing up with the hazy silhouettes of the Smokies outlining the horizon of my city, I first felt a burning desire to retreat from “civilization” and embrace simplicity in the undeveloped forest.  I’m not an experienced backpacker.  I may never hike the Pacific Crest or Continental Divide trails.  I chose the Appalachian Trail, in part, to commune with my homeland in a deeper way.  It’s no surprise that Bryson lost my respect when he failed to appreciate the mountains and the culture so near and dear to my heart.  This is not to say that cultural ties to the AT are a prerequisite for thru-hiking, or even that they lead to a better experience.  Rather, I hope to impress upon any potential thru-hikers that if you cannot appreciate, or at least tolerate, the culture of rural America, this may not be the trail for you.

3.  If you’re going to whine the whole way, could you please spare us all by never writing a book?

Trust me, whiny books have been done before.  Many times.

Trust me, whiny books have been done before. Many times.

Bryson’s failure to tolerate viewpoints different from his own, as expressed by small-town Appalachians, prevented his appreciation of the southern section of the Trail, which in turn led to the failure of his thru-hike.  Aside from his whiny attitude, Bryson’s unpreparedness was a huge problem.  Make no mistake; I am not a spontaneous person, so I have great admiration for people who are.  My point is that Bryson’s intentions were half-baked from the start.  He didn’t do any short backpacking ahead of time to try out his equipment and get in shape.  There’s nothing wrong with unprepared spontaneity, so long as you embrace it.  But instead of embracing it, Bryson spent the whole hike, and the whole book, complaining.

4.  If you’re thru-hiking just to say you did it, can’t you find an easier accomplishment to brag about?

More importantly than this, though, Bryson began hiking for all the wrong reasons.  Essentially, he wanted to hike because “all the cool kids were doing it.”  He wanted to thru-hike for bragging rights, so he could say he had done it.  In some situations, that mindset works well.  For example, I once drank a gallon of milk in less than an hour (56 minutes, to be precise) just to say I had done it.

Dumping milk on your little sister does not count.  But it does entitle you to bragging rights.

Dumping milk on your little sister does not count. But it does entitle you to bragging rights.

It was a difficult task, and my success primarily stemmed from my determination to gain bragging rights.  An AT thru-hike, however, requires a much bigger commitment, and therefore much deeper motivation than “it will make me look cool.”

5.  If you have a better reason to thru-hike, what is it?

There are many good reasons to thru-hike the AT, which may be unique to each person.  I suggest reading Zach Davis’ book for some phenomenal advice on sorting out your personal reasons for pursuing this goal.  Even just by reading A Walk in the Woods, though, I realized my reasons are entirely different from Bryson’s.  I want so desperately to escape from a world where people do things because they’re popular and even more so, I want to escape from the part of myself that so frequently succumbs to that mindset.  I want to distance myself from the material comforts that surround me: from Netflix, from iPhones, from Longchamp bags, because I’m uncomfortable with the effect that materialism has had on me.

If you're the lucky soul who's never seen one of these, go ask any preppy college girl to show you hers.

If you’re the lucky soul who’s never seen one of these, go ask any preppy college girl to show you hers.

 

If you’re the lucky soul who’s never seen an iPhone, I’m assuming you just arrived here via time machine and I congratulate you on navigating the internet so as to read this post.

If you’re the lucky soul who’s never seen an iPhone, I’m assuming you just arrived here via time machine.  Congratulations on understanding the internet.

The discomforts that Bill Bryson incessantly complained about are what I anticipate; in fact, they are half of the reason I want to hike in the first place.  In an almost monastic way, I look forward to a five-month purge from my indulgent lifestyle.  When at a gift shop in Shenandoah National Park awhile back, I came across a sticker that read, “The Appalachian Trail: a footpath for those who seek solace in the wilderness.”  I bought it, because it so perfectly captured the reason I yearn for the Trail: I am seeking solace.  Although Bill Bryson didn’t find solace in the tranquility of the forest, I know that I will, because I’ve found it there before.  Friends of mine have occasionally remarked that they find it unusual for “such a perfectionist” to harbor an abiding love for The Great Outdoors.  Invariably, I explain that I love being outside precisely because that is the only place where I do not feel compelled to organize, to impose structure upon chaos.  I have no desire to create order when I’m enveloped in Nature, for the natural world is already impeccably perfect in a different way.  I have never found peace of mind as profoundly as I do on a walk in the woods.  I pity poor Bill Bryson that he does not feel the same way.

In Conclusion

And so, to the friends of mine who feared that Bill Bryson’s book would lead me to abandon my Appalachian Trail aspirations, it did not have that effect.  For those of you who hoped it would inspire me, it did so by confirming that I am setting out on this journey for all the right reasons, and with realistic expectations.  To those of you who love this book, I hope I did not spoil it for you, although I look forward to sharing a different perspective with you when I finish the Trail in August.  To those of you who also aspire to hike the AT, I suggest also looking elsewhere for motivation and insight.  Try reading the multitude of other AT books (such as Appalachian Trials), but also read Thoreau’s WaldenChe Guevara’s The Motorcycle Diaries, Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and Homer’s The Odyssey.  And to all twenty of you who recommended this book, for varying reasons, thank you so much for doing so.  Despite my dislike for Bill Bryson, I am truly glad I read A Walk in the Woods.

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About La Mariposa

I was ten years old when my love for the Smoky Mountains first inspired my dream of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. Twelve years later, I'm taking a gap year after college to make that dream a reality! I'm currently working as a psychology research assistant and although I love my job, I could not be more excited to spend some time away from a computer screen. In addition to hiking, I try to maintain some semblance of sanity through arts and crafts, piano, fantasy/sci-fi books, beer, more beer, and Netflix.
  • Dana

    Did you really think the 100 Mile Wilderness had the some of the AT’s hardest climbs? :)

  • Dana

    Did you really think the 100 Mile Wilderness had the some of the AT’s hardest climbs? :)

  • Ellie B.

    Great post! I was similarly unimpressed with his attitude throughout the entire book. To his credit though, (if I remember correctly, it’s been a few years since I’ve read it) he does a good job writing about interesting trail history. If you haven’t yet, you should read Becoming Odyssa. She does a great job staying positive and embracing the trail.

  • Ellie B.

    Great post! I was similarly unimpressed with his attitude throughout the entire book. To his credit though, (if I remember correctly, it’s been a few years since I’ve read it) he does a good job writing about interesting trail history. If you haven’t yet, you should read Becoming Odyssa. She does a great job staying positive and embracing the trail.

    • Mariposa

      Ellie, you’re right that he includes some great trail history. He also puts forth several environmental messages that I appreciated very much. As you mentioned, though, there are books you can read on AT history and AT ecology without wading through incessant complaining.

  • Beau

    This post lost all credibility as soon as I read that the 100 mile wilderness “includes the AT’s most difficult climbs and its greatest isolation”. Sorry.
    I find it funny that some people are intolerant while calling others intolerant. Bryson wrote an entertaining book, not a “How-to” on the AT. I, too, find it unfortunate that this book is quoted so much by those who have limited knowledge of the trail, but I met many thru hikers that were introduced to the trail because of the book. So, whether or not this was a bad book, Bryson introduced the concept of thru hiking to many hikers.

  • Beau

    This post lost all credibility as soon as I read that the 100 mile wilderness “includes the AT’s most difficult climbs and its greatest isolation”. Sorry.
    I find it funny that some people are intolerant while calling others intolerant. Bryson wrote an entertaining book, not a “How-to” on the AT. I, too, find it unfortunate that this book is quoted so much by those who have limited knowledge of the trail, but I met many thru hikers that were introduced to the trail because of the book. So, whether or not this was a bad book, Bryson introduced the concept of thru hiking to many hikers.

    • Mariposa

      Beau, as I mentioned in the post, I’m thru-hiking this Spring and have not started yet. So, I’m not exactly sure what the most difficult parts are; Bill Bryson seemed to think the 100 Mile Wilderness was one of the toughest parts, and that was my point. I welcome any information or advice you and other experienced hikers have about what areas are the most difficult (although it is my understanding that the Whites are considered the toughest).

      As I mentioned at the end of the post, I, too, am glad I read it, even though I disagree with him.

  • Giggles

    When I hiked it, I complained a lot of the time, its tough! And sometimes you just need to express that discomfort (ie the bug bites, sore ankles etc) Looking back, greatest thing i’ve ever done. I just jumped into it with no training, it added to the experience haha
    Haven’t read his book, mainly because of its negative feedback but no one hikes the AT without a few complaints here and there. If it were easy, everyone would do it.

  • Giggles

    When I hiked it, I complained a lot of the time, its tough! And sometimes you just need to express that discomfort (ie the bug bites, sore ankles etc) Looking back, greatest thing i’ve ever done. I just jumped into it with no training, it added to the experience haha
    Haven’t read his book, mainly because of its negative feedback but no one hikes the AT without a few complaints here and there. If it were easy, everyone would do it.

  • Heather Ward

    To each his own, I guess. I loved A Walk in the Woods…it’s funny and entertaining, simply because it is written from the point of view of a very out of shape everyman who tries and fails.
    Conversely, I found Finding Odyssa to be just about the worst, most negative and self righteous trail account I was unfortunate enough to read. But wow, can she hike!
    So I guess it all comes down to what you are looking for.

  • Heather Ward

    To each his own, I guess. I loved A Walk in the Woods…it’s funny and entertaining, simply because it is written from the point of view of a very out of shape everyman who tries and fails.
    Conversely, I found Finding Odyssa to be just about the worst, most negative and self righteous trail account I was unfortunate enough to read. But wow, can she hike!
    So I guess it all comes down to what you are looking for.

  • Sarah

    This is great – pretty much why I’ve avoided reading it, though everyone I know has asked if I’ve read it as I prepare to leave on my own Trail journey. I also know a number of people who were very annoyed that they think it’s about his journey on the AT – and it is – but have expected him to have finished based on the back cover. My favorite was AWOL on the Appalachian Trail – my inspiration to actually pause “real life” and DO IT!

  • Sarah

    This is great – pretty much why I’ve avoided reading it, though everyone I know has asked if I’ve read it as I prepare to leave on my own Trail journey. I also know a number of people who were very annoyed that they think it’s about his journey on the AT – and it is – but have expected him to have finished based on the back cover.

  • Zach Barger

    I think you and I have a radically different sense of humor. I thought Bill Bryson’s book was hilarious. You should know after reading the following sentence, which can be found in the first chapter, that the author is about to hit you with his own unique/twisted sense of humor:

    “Nearly everyone I talked to had some gruesome story involving a guileless acquaintance who had gone off hiking the [Appalachian] trail with high hopes and new boots and come stumbling back two days later with a bobcat attached to his ear or dripping blood from an armless sleeve and whispering in a hoarse voice, “Bear!” before sinking into a troubled unconsciousness.”

    I applaud Bryson for spreading awareness about the Appalachian Trail, attempting a thru-hike in the first place and then writing a book about his attempt which made it on the New York Times Bestseller list.

    (By the way, good post. I’ll see you out on the trail!!!)

  • Zach Barger

    I think you and I have a radically different sense of humor. I thought Bill Bryson’s book was hilarious. You should know after reading the following sentence, which can be found in the first chapter, that the author is about to hit you with his own unique/twisted sense of humor:

    “Nearly everyone I talked to had some gruesome story involving a guileless acquaintance who had gone off hiking the [Appalachian] trail with high hopes and new boots and come stumbling back two days later with a bobcat attached to his ear or dripping blood from an armless sleeve and whispering in a hoarse voice, “Bear!” before sinking into a troubled unconsciousness.”

    I applaud Bryson for spreading awareness about the Appalachian Trail, attempting a thru-hike in the first place and then writing a book about his attempt which made it on the New York Times Bestseller list.

  • Newton

    The book isn’t meant to be a serious hiking book, never pretends to be – it’s about two out-of-shape fat guys and their hilarious misadventures on the AT.

  • Newton

    The book isn’t meant to be a serious hiking book, never pretends to be – it’s about two out-of-shape fat guys and their hilarious misadventures on the AT.

  • Kate Robinson Brown

    1. I wish you well
    2. While Bryson doesn’t reflect the average thru hiker he did write an entertaining, funny, and slightly educational book. Sorry you didn’t enjoy it. (I will confess he did lose me half way through when i got the sense he was continuing on his section hiking only because he had signed a book contract. But i maintain he’s a great writer.)
    3. You will understand the happiness at coming across roads (which may lead to showers , laundry, resupply) or unexpected prepared food once you hike for a month or so. Loving being in the woods and getting to spend a preponderance of time there only increases appreciation and enjoyment of the modern conveniences. An appreciation one can’t understand when living with them day to day.
    (thru hiked 2012)

  • Kate Robinson Brown

    1. I wish you well
    2. While Bryson doesn’t reflect the average thru hiker he did write an entertaining, funny, and slightly educational book. Sorry you didn’t enjoy it. (I will confess he did lose me half way through when i got the sense he was continuing on his section hiking only because he had signed a book contract. But i maintain he’s a great writer.)
    3. You will understand the happiness at coming across roads (which may lead to showers , laundry, resupply) or unexpected prepared food once you hike for a month or so. Loving being in the woods and getting to spend a preponderance of time there only increases appreciation and enjoyment of the modern conveniences. An appreciation one can’t understand when living with them day to day.
    (thru hiked 2012)

  • heavyblanket

    I love your book and the one Bill Bryson wrote. I’ve actually read all of his books. Both are very inspiring to me. I’m a huge fan. Although, this is funny, it’s a bit misguided. He speaks very highly of the people he met both in the north and the south. If you have read any of his other books, you’ll see he’s a very intelligent and open minded person.

    • http://zrdavis.com/ zrdavis

      Hey Kenny, thanks for the note. I absolutely agree. Although Bryon’s book receives some flack from the hard-core backpacking community, like you I enjoyed the book. I’m a sucker for anything that can make me laugh, and “A Walk in the Woods” accomplished this several times. “A Short History of Nearly Everything” is one of my all time favorites as well.

      This article was the perspective of La Mariposa, one of our very talented 2014 Appalachian Trials Bloggers.

      • heavyblanket

        My apologies. Whew! I’ve been reading those type of reviews of A Walk In The Woods for years and for some reason that top 5 put me over the edge. I love your book and Bill Bryson’s book. Both have done much to inspire me. Keep up the good work.

  • heavyblanket

    I love your book and the one Bill Bryson wrote. I’ve actually read all of his books. Both are very inspiring to me. I’m a huge fan. Although, this is funny, it’s a bit misguided. He speaks very highly of the people he met both in the north and the south. If you have read any of his other books, you’ll see he’s a very intelligent and open minded person.

    • http://zrdavis.com/ zrdavis

      Hey Kenny, thanks for the note. I absolutely agree. Although Bryon’s book receives some flack from the hard-core backpacking community, like you I enjoyed the book. I’m a sucker for anything that can make me laugh, and “A Walk in the Woods” accomplished this several times. “A Short History of Nearly Everything” is one of my all time favorites as well.

      This article was the perspective of La Mariposa, one of our very talented 2014 Appalachian Trials Bloggers.

      • heavyblanket

        My apologies. Whew! I’ve been reading those type of reviews of A Walk In The Woods for years and for some reason that top 5 put me over the edge. I love your book and Bill Bryson’s book. Both have done much to inspire me. Keep up the good work.

  • Tim

    I really liked this post. I share many of your feelings about Bryson’s book.

    On the one hand, it was funny, and a good read, and had plenty of interesting historical and scientific anecdotes. It checked off all the boxes on what makes for solid bestselling nonfiction. Bryson has a knack for finding personal stories behind trivia, and he can string sentences together better than most.

    But I didn’t like his approach to the trail, and I sort of wished he hadn’t been the main character of the book, if that makes any sense. By the end I found him to be a rather smug, obnoxious, and weirdly misanthropic – a very unlikable character, redeemed only by his humor (and even that was often mean-spirited). The people he met were always oblivious caricatures, and he always seemed to have the perfect zinger to put them in their place. It reminded me of the expression, “If you meet an asshole in the morning, he’s the asshole. If you’re meeting assholes all day…you’re the asshole.” It also seems like a weird book to recommend to someone who wants to thru-hike the AT because Bryson has such a cynical perspective on the whole community.

    But what I think what rubbed me the wrong way most of all, was the sense that he only hiked the trail to write a book about it, and he didn’t even bother finishing half the trail. I get it – he’s a writer, it’s his job, etc. But frankly it would have been a better book if he finished the trail. The fact of the matter is there are numerous books written by people who actually thru-hiked, and many of them are quite good. I didn’t resent Bryson all that much because I took the book on its own terms. Then I read some of the other memoirs and realized there were more likable, insightful, and genuinely educational accounts out there, written by people who hiked the AT for its own sake.

    Basically, Bryson wrote a great book for people who aren’t actually interested in hiking the Appalachian Trail, but would like to know a few cocktail party facts about it. For those who are interested in hiking, there are better books out there. David Miller’s “AWOL on the Appalachian Trail” is one I’d recommend. The prose isn’t as showy as Bryson’s, but the content is there and the voice feels honest and sincere.

  • Tim

    I really liked this post. I share many of your feelings about Bryson’s book.

    On the one hand, it was funny, and a good read, and had plenty of interesting historical and scientific anecdotes. It checked off all the boxes on what makes for solid bestselling nonfiction. Bryson has a knack for finding personal stories behind trivia, and he can string sentences together better than most.

    But I didn’t like his approach to the trail, and I sort of wished he hadn’t been the main character of the book, if that makes any sense. By the end I found him to be a rather smug, obnoxious, and weirdly misanthropic – a very unlikable character, redeemed only by his humor (and even that was often mean-spirited). The people he met were always oblivious caricatures, and he always seemed to have the perfect zinger to put them in their place. It reminded me of the expression, “If you meet an asshole in the morning, he’s the asshole. If you’re meeting assholes all day…you’re the asshole.” It also seems like a weird book to recommend to someone who wants to thru-hike the AT because Bryson has such a cynical perspective on the whole community.

    But what I think what rubbed me the wrong way most of all, was the sense that he only hiked the trail to write a book about it, and he didn’t even bother finishing half the trail. I get it – he’s a writer, it’s his job, etc. But frankly it would have been a better book if he finished the trail. The fact of the matter is there are numerous books written by people who actually thru-hiked, and many of them are quite good. I didn’t resent Bryson all that much because I took the book on its own terms. Then I read some of the other memoirs and realized there were more likable, insightful, and genuinely educational accounts out there, written by people who hiked the AT for its own sake.

    Basically, Bryson wrote a great book for people who aren’t actually interested in hiking the Appalachian Trail, but would like to know a few cocktail party facts about it. For those who are interested in hiking, there are better books out there. David Miller’s “AWOL on the Appalachian Trail” is one I’d recommend. The prose isn’t as showy as Bryson’s, but the content is there and the voice feels honest and sincere.

  • Samalee

    Thanks for intro’ing me to Longchamp bags. I probably could feed a village in Calcutta/Kolkata, India, with what it costs. Right? Regardless, I plan to do a itty-bitty section hike this summer with my hubby…in the Smokies…as we both turn 50…and have never read the book.

  • Samalee

    Thanks for intro’ing me to Longchamp bags. I probably could feed a village in Calcutta/Kolkata, India, with what it costs. Right? Regardless, I plan to do a itty-bitty section hike this summer with my hubby…in the Smokies…as we both turn 50…and have never read the book.

  • Speed

    Bryson is an entertainer, a story-teller. As we all know, he did not hike even half of the AT and skipped around. He was doing it only to write a book. Most people find it amusing and there is no doubt it spiked huge interest in the AT and got a lot of folks off the couch and into the outdoors. That is a good thing.
    Speed GA-ME 2013

  • Speed

    Bryson is an entertainer, a story-teller. As we all know, he did not hike even half of the AT and skipped around. He was doing it only to write a book. Most people find it amusing and there is no doubt it spiked huge interest in the AT and got a lot of folks off the couch and into the outdoors. That is a good thing.
    Speed GA-ME 2013

  • dennis_sarasota

    I don’t think there is much I can add,
    I think every emotion/viewpoint/opinion on Bill’s book has been aired
    thoroughly over the years. It always seemed, on the trail, that if
    anyone brought up the topic of his book, it would always lead to
    lively and, sometimes, heated discussion.

    Like so many others, I had wanted to
    hike the AT since the 60′s. My brother and I were going to do it
    together when we finished our military duty. It wasn’t to be, he was
    killed-in-action in Vietnam in ’68. I took his Purple Heart Medal,
    and set out in 2007, and finished in 2008. It was the least I could
    do.

    One point that I like to make about
    Bill’s book is that he only did 600 miles (1000 km). He had a
    schedule to meet, and it had nothing to do with getting to Katahdin
    before closing…in fact, he never made it! Since he was a well known
    author he no doubt had an advance on his book, from the publisher.
    Usually, an author has a date that the manuscript has to be submitted
    by. My guess is, that is what drove the final format of the book.

    He is an excellent writer, I’ve read
    all of his works, many of them involve travel/walking. However, he is
    not a great outdoors man and I suspect, if the truth were known, he
    was probably intimidated by the AT. It is daunting and challenging
    and I suspect he bit off more than he could chew.

    Ultimately, he came up with the gold
    standard of AT stories. I was put off by some parts of it, such as
    driving around Appalachia, this was supposed to be a hike!
    Nonetheless, I laughed, and I learned a few things and the book did
    convince me that this would be the one of the most difficult things I
    would ever undertake…it was.

  • dennis_sarasota

    I don’t think there is much I can add,
    I think every emotion/viewpoint/opinion on Bill’s book has been aired
    thoroughly over the years. It always seemed, on the trail, that if
    anyone brought up the topic of his book, it would always lead to
    lively and, sometimes, heated discussion.

    Like so many others, I had wanted to
    hike the AT since the 60′s. My brother and I were going to do it
    together when we finished our military duty. It wasn’t to be, he was
    killed-in-action in Vietnam in ’68. I took his Purple Heart Medal,
    and set out in 2007, and finished in 2008. It was the least I could
    do.

    One point that I like to make about
    Bill’s book is that he only did 600 miles (1000 km). He had a
    schedule to meet, and it had nothing to do with getting to Katahdin
    before closing…in fact, he never made it! Since he was a well known
    author he no doubt had an advance on his book, from the publisher.
    Usually, an author has a date that the manuscript has to be submitted
    by. My guess is, that is what drove the final format of the book.

    He is an excellent writer, I’ve read
    all of his works, many of them involve travel/walking. However, he is
    not a great outdoors man and I suspect, if the truth were known, he
    was probably intimidated by the AT. It is daunting and challenging
    and I suspect he bit off more than he could chew.

    Ultimately, he came up with the gold
    standard of AT stories. I was put off by some parts of it, such as
    driving around Appalachia, this was supposed to be a hike!
    Nonetheless, I laughed, and I learned a few things and the book did
    convince me that this would be the one of the most difficult things I
    would ever undertake…it was.

  • mytwocents

    Bryson’s
    book sparked my interest in the AT. I am working a 10-year plan to
    thru-hike the AT in 2023, when I’m 55yo (Savings account, gear testing,
    1-week trips, etc.). I’ve done enough homework to realize his book is
    more fiction than fact, but I can’t discount that without it, I may have
    never set this goal.

    BTW, this blog sounds far more bitter and judgmental than A Walk in the Woods sounded.

  • mytwocents

    Bryson’s
    book sparked my interest in the AT. I am working a 10-year plan to
    thru-hike the AT in 2023, when I’m 55yo (Savings account, gear testing,
    1-week trips, etc.). I’ve done enough homework to realize his book is
    more fiction than fact, but I can’t discount that without it, I may have
    never set this goal.

    BTW, this blog sounds far more bitter and judgmental than A Walk in the Woods sounded.

  • Mmmmm….

    First off, I felt like WITW was actually 2 books. I enjoyed the first half, the second half not so much.

    Second, every thru-hike account I’ve read puts an enormous amount of emphasis on reaching the next town, on trail magic, and on meals. Makes sense when you are dropping 30-40lbs on the trail due to caloric deficit. When your body is consuming itself, food becomes the focus of your life.

    Third, it’s pretty “high and mighty” to sit in judgement of this guy’s experience, when you haven’t even attempted it. If you can make it to the end, count how many times you complained, was annoyed by others, or felt like quitting, then label yourself a hypocrite.

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  • Natasha

    I
    certainly agree with the many comments asking hikers to take a step
    back and look at Bryson’s repertoire of work. Don’t be so self-righteous
    and defensive about the trail. Bryson clearly revealed that he is no
    true outdoorsman– admitting to us that he bought all of his gear just
    for his trip on the AT. He chose to write about the Appalachian Trail
    because it is America’s greatest trail and one of America’s greatest
    natural landmarks. He is a great writer who wants to write about great
    places. This is what Bill Bryson does. Everything he has written is
    non-fiction, and predominantly focuses on traveling or places. His work
    is always saturated with irony, satire, sarcasm and humor. This book is
    not meant to demonstrate his conversion into a hiker or for him to prove
    himself. In fact, I think it exudes a lot of humility and humbleness,
    in that he admits much of it was difficult for him. However, he also
    shares many wonderful details about how it feels to be in nature and
    more importantly, he wrote a great deal about the danger the AT and many
    forests are in, due to the work of the organizations that are meant to
    protect them. Most importantly he wrote a book that was constantly entertaining and humorous. His dramaticism of the character Katz made us laugh around every bend in the trail, as did many other details.

    So
    stop making Bryson out to be a fraud and consider that he has indeed
    brought a lot of attention to the trail that only deepened America’s
    respect for it. Hopefully, it may have even incited some activists to
    try to prevent more road building. Appreciate Bryson’s book for what it
    is meant for: foremost to entertain, to inform (if not about hiking,
    then about the history and current tribulations the trail is
    experiencing) and to tell a story of a not-so-likely man hiking upon the
    trail- making it all the more entertaining.

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