Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Know Thyself

I tried to read Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods, but I did what he did. I didn't read all of the book and he skipped hiking parts of the Appalachian Trail. He began his quest to hike the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine with a lot of optimism and naive assumptions. It quickly became an exercise in survival. It was a good lesson in geography and history of the regions where the Appalachian Trail meanders through the Eastern part of the United States. Along the way, it became convenient for him to begin skipping parts of the trail for various reasons. The trail was never fully developed to the extent that the planners had intended which made it very difficult in some regions.

It had some interesting moments and was a little funny at times, but I kept wondering why he was doing it. Maybe it is like "why they climb the mountain..because it is there." I've read that people in Europe walk a lot and hike a lot and I think he got into that when he was living abroad. I know there are folks who like to hike, but I think they don't take too long to figure out a little goes a long way. I don't need six hours in the wilderness to remind me how much I enjoy a hot shower, clean toilets, clean beds, and warm food cooked on a stove.

I found parts of the book to be tedious and boring, so I skimmed big sections of it. It is a good "how to" manual for those who want to commit a few months of their lives to hiking the Appalachian Trail. I have to wonder if the book would encourage or discourage anyone seriously considering such an undertaking.  I have a lot of respect for his research and his list of suggested readings. I enjoy his folksy style of writing layered over some well-considered advice on the topic of serious hiking.

I stopped reading it before page 300. I skimmed over the rest. I went to the last chapter and read how he felt about the whole experience, but I thought it could have come a lot sooner. Generally, it was too much information, that I didn't need or want. I preferred mining for his nuggets of "self-realization" as I read how he reacted to various situations. His revelations about other hikers that crossed his path would have been a red flag to me. There are criminals in nature as much as on a big city sidewalk.

He learned a lot, and I suppose he wanted to know all of those things and wanted to write a book, but I didn't really care about most of it. I found the lesson about hypothermia to be good to know and a word to the wise to those who should stay out of the wilderness. I also thought the notion that it is dangerous to wander off the trail was a good piece of advice. Everyone has their levels of tolerance and I glaze over at the idea of spending that much time in the woods. Mention bears, snakes, insects, challenging weather conditions, and mind-numbing exhaustion, I could be quickly cured of the impulse to wander into the woods even with a GPS and a cell phone. I think he discovered the stuff of which he is made and sounded a bit sad about it. I'm sure he found some parts of the experience to be very rewarding. Whatever they were, I'm okay with not having that experience. I'm not willing to pay the price he paid. He did a respectable amount of hiking the Appalachian Trail, and wrote a book which I could vicariously enjoy without making such a huge commitment. I enjoyed his Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid more than his Walk in the Woods.


  1. Well, on that recommendation, I think I'll skip it. I learned everything I need to know from your review. Thanks, R.J.! :-)

  2. I read this book some years ago. If I remember correctly, I enjoyed it but was not very impressed with his hiking skills or his motivation. While I am not a serious hiker, my son is, and he wouldn't give Bill Bryson the time of day. Considering his lack of skill, though, he did accomplish quite a bit.

  3. Well, I am impressed you read up to page 300. Lol. That's the sort of book that I don't like, not to mention it sounds long winded. No thanks.

  4. And yet... even though I doubt I would read this book, I can see where my son would really find it interesting since he does these crazy things.