Walking in the Woods
The book I read from my “to be read” shelf last week was A Walk in the Woods, by Bill Bryson. It has a clearance sticker from Half-Price Books on it, so I must have picked it up at a clearance sale at some point because the topic appealed to me, but then I never got around to reading it. This is a non-fiction book about an American writer who’d been living in England for a long time, then moved back to the US. While getting adjusted to being back in his home country, he became fascinated by the idea of the Appalachian Trail and decided he wanted to try hiking the whole thing. He invited a number of people to go with him, and the only person who responded was an old acquaintance he actually found kind of annoying.
Still, they got geared up, flew to Georgia, and began hiking at the beginning of the trail. The book follows their adventures as they spent their days hiking and camped along the trail, covering their hardships and some of the interesting people they met along the way. Interspersed with this story is information about the trail itself, how it came to be, its history, and how it’s maintained. The story parts of the book are often laugh-out-loud funny. These guys were in way over their heads and got into a few scrapes, and there was a lot of sometimes silly conflict between them.
The book appealed to me because I love hiking, and there’s a part of me that would like to do something like that, just set off across the country. However, I’m not sure I could deal with walking all day, then sleeping on the ground, and going days without any kind of shower or real bathroom. There were a few places along the trail where they were able to get to a motel or stay at a lodge, but otherwise it was primitive back country camping, and I’m too much of a delicate flower for that.
I know someone who tried through-hiking the Appalachian Trail a few years ago. She and her pre-teen sons and their dog hiked, and her husband followed along in an RV with their cat (he was able to work remotely). Most of the time, she and the kids would camp on the trail, but when the trail got close enough to meet up with a road, her husband would pick them up in the RV, so they could get a shower and sleep in a bed. When she was able to get a signal, she’d post an update. It was fascinating to read, but I’m not sure I could do it. I don’t remember how far they made it before they decided to stop and come back home, but it wasn’t the whole way even after months of hiking.
Still, reading this book made me really want to go hiking. I love walking and hiking — I’m not sure what the difference is, though I consider hiking to be off paved trails. One reason I live in my neighborhood is its network of walking trails. There’s also a park on the edge of the neighborhood where there are trails through the woods. My happy place is walking through a forest. I don’t do it nearly as much as I’d like to. I started last year with a First Day hike at a state park and had grand ambitions of finding a hiking group, but then the pandemic hit. My last few real vacations were to go hiking. We’re getting to the time of year when you can do long walks and hikes around here, and that’s a lot of what I have planned for my fall break. It was nice getting to do that vicariously while reading this book, and I will appreciate being able to walk for an hour or two, then come home and take a hot shower and sleep in my own bed.
There are some stretches of the Appalachian Trail that are more accessible for day hikes in Virginia, so maybe I’ll keep walking at least a little of the trail on my Bucket List, even if I have no desire to do the whole thing. That was the part in the book that sounded closest to what I think I could do.
Now I kind of want to see the movie based on this book. I can see how much of the story would make a good film, and I’m curious how they deal with the structure. They did a good chunk of the trail before stopping for a break. The author visited some other pieces of the trail on his own, then his friend joined him again to tackle the rest. I’m guessing they cut out the middle part and keep the two guys together. In the movie, the actors are in their 70s while the real people were in their 40s when they did this, so they seem to have turned it into an old guy Bucket List sort of thing. I may wait a little while before watching it because a movie is almost always disappointing soon after you’ve read the book.