Wednesday, January 22, 2014

“I wanted to quit and to do this forever..." - Bill Bryson

I finished A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson last weekend.

Two summers ago, when hiking in the Rocky Mountain National Forest, Mr. Awesome and I found ourselves on a rather secluded, wooded trail about 2 miles in any direction from another person. The scenery was incredibly beautiful: tall pines and aspens, a carpet of discarded pine needles blanketing the path, making the trail soft and noiseless.

The air was so clean, the smell so pure... we were so far removed from everything but nature. For about an hour and half, we were alone in the wilderness. The experience was awe-inspiring and a little bit terrifying. I want to do it again, and I never want to do it again. Which is exactly how Bill Bryson described his experience on the Appalachian Trail:
“I wanted to quit and to do this forever, sleep in a bed and in a tent, see what was over the next hill and never see a hill again. All of this all at once, every moment, on the trail or off.”
I get it. Or, the gist, anyway.

I don't like sleeping in tents. I did so once about 5 years ago, and it was awful. I woke up freezing and sweating at the same time, until I realized the "sweat" was uninvited dew, like I was a plant or tree trunk or rock. I like hiking, I like campfires, I like s'mores and all the trappings that go along with the camp experience except the actual business of living in nature. I need indoor plumbing and a comfortable mattress, thankyouverymuch.

Early in the book, before he sets out on his AT adventure, Bryson describes his experience hiking with his son in Luxembourg:
The footpaths we followed spent a lot of time in the woods but also emerged at obliging intervals to take us along sunny back roads and over stiles and through farm fields and hamlets. We were always able at some point each day to call in at a bakery or post office, to hear the tinkle of shop bells and eavesdrop on conversations we couldn't understand. Each night we slept in an inn and ate in a restaurant with other people. We experienced the whole of Luxembourg, not just its trees. It was wonderful, and it was wonderful because the whole charmingly diminutive package was seamlessly and effortlessly integrated.
Now that's my kind of hiking. It sounds positively delightful. Not at all like Bryson's experience hiking the Appalachian Trail.

Bryson and his friend Katz set off on their adventure in 1996, well before the mass adoption of GPS devices, Google Maps, or consumer dehydrated astronaut food. It's two guys with some rudimentary gear and each other for company, although they don't do much talking - just lots, and lots, and LOTS of walking, mostly uphill, in snow.

As with other Bryson books, this one is filled with colorful descriptions of people and places, interesting anecdotes, humor, and just enough tension to keep the reader moving forward. I got a good picture of what hiking in a remote area of the United States must be like - enough to know that I would be interested in summertime day hikes and nothing more.

I'm glad, though, that I had the experience of being in a remote wilderness, if even for just a couple of hours. It made this book that much more enjoyable.

Next up: The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis.

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