Study Guide

A Walk in the Woods Visions of the Appalachian Trail

By Bill Bryson

Visions of the Appalachian Trail

Running more than 2,100 miles along America's eastern seaboard, through the serene and beckoning Appalachian Mountains, the AT is the granddaddy of long hikes. (1.1.2)

No matter how "serene and beckoning" those mountains might be, 2,100 miles of 'em will still leave you pooped. Bryson doesn't care too much about this, however—he's so focused on conquering the Appalachian Trail that he can't think about anything else. Still, he's about to get a rude awakening if he thinks that this thing will be a breeze.

Daniel Boone [...] described corners of the southern Appalachians as "so wild and horrid that it is impossible to behold them without terror." (1.4.4)

Daniel Boone was the Chuck Norris of his day—a truly fearsome dude who seemed like he could do anything. With that in mind, it's quite telling that even he was intimidated by the Appalachian Mountains, as this dude had seen his fair share of insane stuff in his time.

America is still to a remarkable extent a land of forests. One-third of the landscape of the lower forty-eight states is covered in trees. (1.4.8)

You could've have fooled us, because everywhere we go seems to be nothing but strip malls and fast food restaurants. As we learn over the course of A Walk in the Woods, however, America likes to keep its cities and countryside extremely separate—for better or worse.

And then we were alone with our packs in an empty motel parking lot in a dusty, forgotten, queer-looking little town in northern Georgia. (1.5.71)

During their walk, Bryson and Katz get a tour of various small towns across America. To be honest, Bryson's a little biased against the South—his depictions of Southern life often border on the stereotypical. Still, the guy does not like the South, and he makes that belief abundantly clear.

Distance changes utterly when you take the world on foot. A mile becomes a long way [...] fifty miles at the very limits of conception. (1.6.1)

Walking across America is a completely different experience from driving across it. You can still have plenty of great experiences while taking a cross-country road trip, sure, but Bryson is getting to know the land on an incredibly intimate level.

Gatlinburg is a shock to the system from whichever angle you survey it, but never more so than when you descend upon it from [...] isolation in the woods. (1.8.3)

Gatlinburg is a crazy place: a tourist town tacky beyond belief. This is even more pronounced because Bryson and Katz have just been walking along a desolate countryside for weeks. That would be like wearing earplugs for a year and then taking them off to go to Coachella.

That was the trouble with the AT—it was all one immensely long place, and there was more of it, infinitely more of it, than I could ever conquer. (2.14.10)

This is a lesson Bryson learns well over the course of his journey. At a certain point, he even realizes that it will be impossible for him to literally traverse the AT from end to end. You might thing that this realization would be discouraging, but it instead helps him better appreciate the experience as a whole.

This was of course, the trouble with trying to do the AT in day-sized pieces. It was designed for pushing on, ever on, not for dipping in and out of. (2.14.81)

This is another big realization for Bryson. After trying to hike the Appalachian Trail piecemeal, he quickly realizes that this method lacks the immersion that makes the AT so amazing. It's like having a hundred pieces of pizza but only being able to eat the crust.

The great Dan "Wingfoot" Bruce notes that when the northbound hiker leaves Vermont he has completed 80 percent of the miles but just 50 percent of the effort. (2.17.10)

That's because they're entering the Hundred Mile Wilderness, the most brutal (and most amazingly named) section of the entire Appalachian Trail. If Bryson and Katz thought that the AT was a toughie before, then they better get ready because they ain't seen nothing yet.

It has the air of a world's fair bizarrely transferred to a mountaintop. You get so used [...] to sharing summits with only a few other people [...] that this was positively dazzling. (2.18.11)

Mount Washington might have the strangest summit in the entire Appalachian Trail. While the AT is known as a whole for its isolation from civilization, this mountain actually has a full-on parking lot and visitor center on its lofty summit. In a way, this symbolizes the dichotomy between nature and civilization that defines the AT.