Bill Bryson went for a walk in the woods. Well, actually, he walked part of the Appalachian Trail one spring and summer in the 1990s and wrote a book, A Walk in the Woods, about the experience. Completed in 1937, making it one of the oldest long-distance hiking trails in the world, the Appalachian Trail runs for more than 2,000 miles (the official maps and guidebooks disagree about its length) from Georgia to Maine through the Appalachian Mountains–hence the name. Compared to the walks I’ve done, the AT is a gruelling experience, and only a handful of thru-hikers–people who set out to walk the entire trail–complete the journey. And no wonder: it would take four months to walk every step of the trail, and that’s a long time to be in the woods, sleeping in a tent, carrying a 40 or 50 pound pack and eating instant noodles for supper. I’m not sure I could do it. In fact, I’m pretty sure I couldn’t. Not all in one go. If I were to attempt something like the AT, I’d have to do it as a section hiker–walking part of the trail every year.
Like Bryson’s other books, A Walk in the Woods is engaging and funny and informative. The comedy of his stories about being an overweight, inexperienced, middle-aged man hiking through the forest is juxtaposed against discussions of the various failings of the U.S. National Parks Service, the impact of our industrial economy on the forests of eastern North America (not good, as the story of the extinction of the American chestnut suggests), and the history and geology of the AT. His relationship with his sometime hiking partner, an old friend from Des Moines, is both comic and poignant. It’s a great read–I tore through it in two days–and I would recommend it to anyone who has ever imagined attempting the AT.
It’s a beautiful day here and not impossibly cold, so we went out for a walk around the lake. The sun came out and we could actually feel its warmth on our faces. That will be something to remember over the next couple of months, because it might be that long before we experience it again.