Near the end of Bill Bryson’s speech in Frederick, MD the other evening, he took questions from the audience. He answered questions about all of his books, but this article addresses the comments regarding his book, A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail.
Bryson answered a question about his and Katz’s inability to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail (AT). He commented that he really admires thru-hikers. He remarked that thru-hiking is tough, tougher than most can accomplish. One only has to look at the number of thru-hiking attempts vs. completions to gain an appreciation for the difficulty of accomplishing a thru-hike. Bryson said he was really bothered by their not walking the whole trail. He didn’t spend many words on it in the book, but Bryson said he was bothered by it for a few months.
Of course, thru-hiking isn’t the only way to travel the Appalachian Trail. One remark triggered an eruption of applause from the audience. Bryson commented that he believes section hiking the trail “seems the most reasonable.” After the applause finally quieted, he added, “for me at least.” It is hard to describe, and difficult to test, but there seemed to be a message in the extended applause. It seemed as if the audience appreciated a person of authority giving them permission to enjoy the AT without committing to a 6-month thru-hike. Finally, it was ok to walk less than 2000 miles.
Bryson added that the Appalachian Trail must be celebrated, whether by traveling nearly 2200 miles or strolling 2 miles.
Any reader who has begun to read A Walk in the Woods will tell you that Bryson was concerned about bear attacks. The author spent much time and quite a few pages describing the dangers of bears and other creatures along the AT. The book’s cover photo reveals Bryson’s main concern for wildlife.
After his book was published, some readers provided guidance on bear encounters in the wild. One letter included a story about grizzly bears out west. Bryson said he shares this story with all audiences. You’ll find the bear story at 25:57 in the video clip below.
What has kept you from completing a long hike?
What is your greatest fear in the backcountry and why?