Pocahontas County Free Libraries had a VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) last year named Christine Holsinger, who worked out of McClintic and helped us start some great new programs, such as a Shut-In Delivery and remote collections in our senior centers in Marlinton and Green Bank. After her time with us was up, Christine decided to do something incredible: she decided to hike the Appalachian Trail, 2,200 miles of rugged beauty and wilderness. We remained Facebook friends, and just last week I saw photographic evidence that she had actually completed hiking the entire trail! What an achievement – I’m so proud of her.
Between that news, and the release of the film “A Walk in the Woods” starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte, I decided to revisit one of my favorite reads, “A Walk in the Woods: rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail,” by Bill Bryson, which was the basis for the movie. While all five branches have print copies, Green Bank, Durbin and Linwood all own the audio version, and I decided to listen to Bryson read his own book. I made a good choice.
Bill Bryson is an experienced travel writer. He has written for National Geographic magazine for years. Born and raised in Des Moines,Iowa, Bryson moved to England in the late 70s. After living there for 20 years, he decided to move back to the United States with his English wife and their four children. And he decided that, one of the best ways to try and reconnect with the country of his birth, after being gone for so long, would be to hike one of its most beautiful nature trails.
The problem was, he didn’t want to go alone. He managed to hook up with an old school buddy, Stephen Katz. Bryson and Katz took a walking tour of Europe 25 years earlier, which Bryson wrote about in his book “Neither Here nor There.” Katz assured him that he was in top physical condition and eager to hike the AT. And so, A Walk in the Woods begins…
Bryson’s book is a memoir, a history of the Appalachian Trail and surrounding region, and a hilarious travelogue. We discover along with Bryson that Katz has exaggerated the level of his physical fitness just a wee bit. And Bryson has not confided to Katz his fear of bears, which borders on the pathological. He does extended research into bear attack statistics, and finds out that only 500 people were attacked by black bears between 1960 and 1980 (he works this out to 25 attacks a year from a population of roughly half a million bears). Bryson worries: “…is 500 certified attacks really such a modest number, considering how few people go into the North American woods? And how foolish must one be to be reassured by the information that no bear has killed a human in Vermont or New Hampshire in 200 years? That’s not because the bears have signed a treaty, you know. There’s nothing to say that they won’t start a modest rampage tomorrow.”
In spite of all this, Bryson and Katz set out on the journey of a lifetime. Do they hike the entire 2,000+ miles of the trail? You’ll have to read this one to find out.
I’ve heard Bill Bryson described as a cross between Garrison Keillor and Dave Barry, and I think that’s a pretty accurate description. He can be very sarcastic; if he sees something absurd or ridiculous, he doesn’t hesitate to point it out. On the other hand, if he experiences something wonderful, he writes in such a way that you experience it, too.
I love his writing.
Oh, and if you friend McClintic Library on Facebook, you can see Christine’s triumphant photo.