EPS Review #34 - A Walk in the Woods

by Bill Bryson, 1998

Bill Bryson hikes 39.5% of the Appalachian Trail (not that he feels defensive about not doing it all, or anything). Many people (in England at least) seem to have read "Notes from a Small Island", which was very funny and apt. I admit I have also laughed out loud at his other books, but usually at humor that is pretty slapstick:

The photograph caught four black bears as they puzzled over a suspended food bag. The bears were clearly startled but not remotely alarmed by the flash. It was not the size or demeanor of the bears that troubled me -- they looked almost comically unaggressive, like four guys who had gotten a Frisbee caught up a tree -- but their numbers. Up to that moment it had not occurred to me that bears might prowl in parties. What on earth would I do if four bears came into my camp? Why, I would die, of course. Literally shit myself lifeless. I would blow my sphincter out my backside like one of those unrolling paper streamers you get at children's parties -- I daresay it would even give a merry toot -- and bleed to a messy death in my sleeping bag.

Since it's hard to be consistently funny about the woods -- Bryson remarks that they all look the same after a while -- he is funny about fellow-hikers, the towns they visit and so on. There is an awkward serious moment about his walking companion's alcoholism toward the end, and there's a bunch of moderately-researched ecological information. At he end it seems that he and his friend will walk across Maine to Katahdin, but they wimp out, partly because it involves hiking through swamps up to your neck while holding your backpack over your head. Suddenly I am interested.