Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Walk this Way

A Walk in the Woods
by Bill Bryson

I swear, Bill Bryson could write about the mating habits of fruit flies and make the finished product interesting and hilarious. This one of his has been on my list of things to read for years and I finally got to it. Interestingly, I read it just before immersing myself in a lot of writing about pilgrimage and journeying, but in retrospect I see that Bryson's adventures on the Appalachian Trail have a lot of the characteristics of pilgrimage. His desire to hike the trail certainly did not come from a need for a relaxing vacation. The yearning seemed to come more from a hope to experience something that would move him and restore his spirit in some way. He also used the seemingly endless miles that he hiked (many of them with his out-of-shape buddy, Katz) as a chance to test his own endurance and consider what is truly important (especially when making decisions about what to carry in a backpack).

Bryson pokes fun at other hikers (especially know it alls), but reserves his most wry observations for his descriptions of himself. The ups and downs that he and Katz go through in their relationship are indicative not only of the tensions that develop between participants in an intense physical experience, but the inevitable gratings and irritations that we are going to go through with anyone with whom we choose to hike the long-term path. It is also significant that the two guys work through those moments - rifts do not have to be permanent and irreparable.

I started the book under the impression that Bryson was one of the few who had hiked the whole Appalachian Trail - a feat very few accomplish. It turned out that Bryson and Katz opted out of a major chunk of the Tennessee trail, and they also did not make it to the northernmost point, located in Maine. In the end, though, that did not matter. They did what they could. They experienced something that enriched their lives and their relationship to one another. Bryson went on to write a book that educates anyone who cares to read it about the history of the AT, the need to preserve it, and the necessity of pushing our bodies and stretching our spirits if we are to be fully alive. Pick this one up and read it. It's worth the trip, and may give you impetus to pull those hiking boots out of your closet.

Reverent Reader


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