Study Guide

A Walk in the Woods

By Bill Bryson

A Walk in the Woods Introduction

Bill Bryson must be a comedic genius, because he managed to make a book about walking a 2,100-mile trail (and learning about American history) into a hilarity-fest.

Seriously. This is a dude whose prose inspires the New York Times to call him not only "equal parts Garrison Keillor, Michael Kinsley and (given his fondness for gross-out humor) Dave Barry," but also "one of the most engaging cupcakes around." That's high (if super-weird) praise.

Well played, sir.

You shouldn't be too surprised, however, as the intersection between humor and knowledge is kind of Bryson's thing. An American who's spent most of his life in England, Bryson has been famous for his unique perspective ever since the publication of Notes from a Small Island in 1996, which was his first big hit. More recently, Bryson earned oodles of praise for his science book A Short History of Nearly Everything, which purports to give, well, a short history of nearly everything.

A Walk in the Woods—which was published two years after his breakthrough book—represents his homecoming to America. After moving to New Hampshire, Bryson stumbles across an entryway to the Appalachian Trail, a 2,100-mile walking path that stretches from Maine all the way to Georgia. Naturally, his first thought is that he simply must hike the entire thing, even if it kills him. Which, you know, it might—bears are a real threat, guys.

Joined by an old frenemy named Stephen Katz, Bryson dives headlong into adventure on the Appalachian Trail. He and Katz push themselves to their physical limits. They dodge near-death experiences. They might even break a heart or two along the way. By the end of their time on the Appalachian Trail, these two bros have seen more than most Americans see in a lifetime… as well as walking more than most Americans walk in a lifetime (seriously).

We can't tell you whether this book will inspire you to grab your pack and start tying up your hiking boots or snuggle deeper into the couch cushions and never leave the house. We can't tell whether you'll want to get out and commune with nature or stock up on bear repellant even if you live deep in the heart of LA County.

But we do know that this is one of those super-rare books that will make you lol harder than a video of a drunk raccoon, even as it makes you "aww" over the bizarre bromance between sweetie-pie Bryson and crusty Katz.

What is A Walk in the Woods About and Why Should I Care?

Everybody needs a little adventure in their life.

Maybe your job is getting so dull that you're perpetually bored to tears. Maybe school is stressing you out so much that you can't think straight. Or maybe you're embroiled in some good old-fashioned romantic drama.

In other words: you need an escape.

So how do you forget about that dead-end job, that tough-as-nails class, or that sultry ex-bae? Well, we'd recommend that you take Bill Bryson's advice and take a nice, long walk in the woods. Or, simply, through a part of your county that you've never seen before.

Because that's what spurs on Bryson to attempt to walk the 2,100 mile long Appalachian Trail—he find a path leading to it in his own backyard. From a little wooded path behind his own dang garage, Bryson embarks on a the kind of journey that would make Frodo Baggins impressed: not only does he walk until his toe-knuckle hair hurts, but he find true bromance with his own version of Samwise Gamgee (the grizzled Katz).

Dude not only learns about hiking, tents, bears, bear attacks, and bear attack prevention (seriously, he has bears on the brain), but he also ends up learning about the truly staggering history of the American wilderness. History—both natural and political—ends up unfurling like a big ol' star spangled banner in front of him.

It's all very well to read a cheesy inspirational poster that says "Every journey begins with a single step" or "You don't have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great," but it's a whole other thing to read a story about how one pudgy middle-aged dude can totally upend his life simply by following a path leading from his own backyard. We can't think of anything more inspirational… and we watch a lot of Lifetime movies.

We're not going to promise that reading A Walk in the Woods is going to turn you into the next Cheryl Strayed. But we are going to promise that reading A Walk in the Woods is going to make you way more perceptive of those weird little pathways that surround your own life, and can lead you on to adventures of your own.

Because without looking for the right path, you'll stay right where you are (which is—if you're anything like us—in the recliner with Cheetos dust on your fingers).

Wipe off your orange fingers. Get out that door. Start looking for little paths. But first, read A Walk in the Woods.

A Walk in the Woods Resources

WEBSITES

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy
This is your one-stop-shop for all things Appalachian Trail.

Bill Bryson's Official Website
Feel like delving deeper into Bill Bryson's literary oeuvre? Your click is our command.

MOVIE OR TV PRODUCTIONS

A Walk in the Woods (2015)
This star-studded adaptation of A Walk in the Woods features Robert Redford and Nick Nolte and Bryson and Katz. Yowza.

A Walk in the Woods Trailer
Okay, so this movie is a lot different from the book, but this trailer shows that it's pretty cool in its own right.

ARTICLES AND INTERVIEWS

Bill Bryson Talks with The Guardian
This chat with The Guardian touches on Bryson's unique relationship with his second homeland of England.

AT Hikers Rise after Release of Film Adaptation of A Walk in the Woods
Looks like art really can change the world: National Park officials expect AT traffic to sky-rocket after the release of A Walk in the Woods' film adaptation.

VIDEO

Bill Bryson: The Full Interview
Want to hear Bill Bryson talk about his love for both Babe Ruth and audio books? Click it or ticket, fools!

Bill Bryson at the NYS Writers Institute
For those interested in Advanced Bryson Studies, this 30+ minute chat will cover every subject that your heart desires.

The Appalachian Trail - Georgia
This killer YouTube series allows you to feel what it's like to actually hike the Appalachian Trail. There are actually videos from the entirety of the hike as well, if you're interested.

AUDIO

A Conversation with Bill Bryson
This chat with Bryson touches on his lifelong obsession with travel, among countless other riveting topics.

The Slippery Trail Podcast
If you caught the hiking bug after reading A Walk in the Woods, then this podcast should get you up to speed on your favorite new outdoors past-time.

IMAGES

A Map of the Appalachian Trail
Holy smokes—we knew this thing was big, but this map really puts it into context.

A Photo from the Hundred Mile Wilderness
This is a river like the ones Bryson and Katz grumpily trudge across at the end of the book. Bet they wish they had a bridge like this, huh?