A Walk In The Woods by Bill Bryson {Book Review}

How hard can it be?  Sure people who have done it say it is hard, but… well, maybe they are just talking it up.  Come on.  I have been camping all my life.  I have hiked before.  How different can it be?

In my dreams, my imagination during times of boredom, I have more than once imagined myself hiking the Appalachian Trail.  Please, tell me I am not the only one.  The thought of camping for months at a time, the solitude of not a lot of people around yet not too far away, getting to live in nature without being thought of as homeless or destitute … there is appeal in the idea.

A little voice in the head of Bill Bryson presented similar appeals – getting fit, improve his wilderness skills, get to know the country he had been away from for 20 years, and giving him some ‘street cred’ at the Four Aces Diner when all the guys started to talk.  While the allure of the trail for him was a bit different than the little voice presented for me, it was still there.  Another difference?  He actually set about to do it.  Sort of.

What Byrson actually did was mention to a few different people that he was planning to do it.  Then he did research into it and realized what he had actually gotten himself into.  Of course, he could not back down now.  He had already told everyone, including his publisher, that he was going to do this.  So that is what he set out to actually do.  A Walk In The Woods follows his journey from the first concept through to the end reflections.

If you are looking for a guide to hiking the Appalachian Trail, a step by step guide to preparing and hiking through, then this is not the book for you.  If, however, you are looking for a true account of an average guy, someone who does not spend his weekends hiking a 100 miles in all sorts of weather while foraging for wild plants to eat, then you have stopped at the right place.

Every step of the way Bill gives a realistic, and humorous, account of his experiences and conclusions.

For example, more than once his hiking partner grew frustrated and chucked portions of their food and supplies off into the woods, leaving them to eat noodles for days.  Given that noodles was about the only thing either of them knew how to cook, at least they were already resigned to a non-varied trail diet.  The loss of cookies, jerky and canned meat during these fits, though, was felt all the more.  Bill seemed to sort of shrug it off, resigning himself to the new reality.  I am not so sure I would have reacted as calmly to these particular episodes as Bill did.  Maybe that is what makes him a better fit for writing this book than I would.  His ability to kind of roll with things, seeing the humor in them, meant he was able to keep going.

As Bill and his hiking partner worked their way along the trail, having to actually leave it a few times due to previously scheduled engagements, I was impressed with how they kept getting up and going.  With no real previous preparations, here were two guys hiking a trail that other decades younger were doing and found challenging.

Toward the end of A Walk In The Woods I was sure they were almost to the end of the trail and I was waiting for the big “We Did It!!” conclusion.  It never came.

At first, I felt like it had all been a failure.  After all the struggles of their hike and my time spent reading this book … it was supposed to have a happy, wrapped up with a bow on top, ending.  Then I thought about it for a few hours and slept on it.  The next morning I viewed it a bit differently.

Here were two guys, stepping outside their comfort zones, actually doing what I have dreamt of doing more than once but never even started.  They faced personal challenges both physically and mentally, making it out the other side viewing the world around them differently.  They learned things about themselves they had not known before.  How is that not success?

It really was about the journey, not the destination.

Where I would have had a set plan and freaked out when it did not happen the way I thought it should, Bill stepped back and took another look at them.  His ability to think through things and see them from a detached view mean he did not over react and make the trip a horrible one.  Yes, it was not a luxury cruise, but it could have been a lot worse.

Whether this attitude was due to writing the book after the fact, or if it is his personality, I am not sure.  What I do know is that it made me stop and think more than once about my seriousness to events in life.  To reflect on what the purpose really is.  Is it the journey or the destination?  Maybe I have some things backwards.

The ending of the book could have been more conclusive, rather than an abrupt stop that left me hanging.  Perhaps it was done that way on purpose, to make me think. However, it could have been done in a better fashion.

When I began reading this book, I did not realized that it was also being adapted for film.  This review is of the book, not the film, in case that was not clear.

I find it better to read a book before watching the movie so that I am not constantly seeing the actors’ faces and the director’s opinion of how things looked.  Of course, sometime this leads me to being mad at the director for not making the movie look like the one that was playing out in my head as I read the book.  Yes, it is a double standard.

The movie was release here in the US a few weeks ago.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

This post contains affiliate links.