Let's take a stroll back to 1983. The place: western Quebec. The scene: a group of campers who have gone to sleep after suspending their food between two trees to keep it away from bears.
To make a long story short, a bear manages to snag all of their food. Even worse, it starts poking around their campsite, returning several times before finally killing a twelve-year-old kid.
So, yeah—harrowing stuff. Bryson is reading this story (among countless others) in Bear Attacks, and they're sort of freaking him out.
That being said, "the possibility of a serious bear attack on the Appalachian Trail is remote" (1.2.7). There are mostly just black bears in the area, who are puppies compared to the grizzly bears that rule the West Coast.
Still, there's no universally agreed-upon method of avoiding a bear attack. What works with one bear might not work with another, so it's just a gamble. How comforting.
Because of this, Bryson wants to bring a buddy along for the hike. He sends out a bunch of letters to friends in December but doesn't hear a response until two months later.
In February, he finally receives a letter from an "old school friend named Stephen Katz" (1.2.19). When they were younger, Bryson and Katz had traveled across Europe together (which Bryson documented in another book called Neither Here nor There).
Katz is broke and bumming, but Bryson is just happy to have a compatriot. His wife is less enthused: she remembers how crazy Katz drove Bryson by the end of their trip.
Six days later, Bryson is standing in the airport as Katz touches down. He looks a lot chubbier than when Bryson saw him last, but he's quit drinking, which is definitely a good thing.
The first thing Katz requests upon their meeting are doughnuts—he claims to have a medical condition that requires him to eat constantly. Which is perfect for hiking, right?
He eats even more when he arrives at Bryson's crib. Afterwards, they go out to buy even more food (this stuff is for the trip), although Katz ends up picking up a bunch of needless treats.
In the end, they're forced to leave a bunch of stuff behind because it simply won't fit. Bryson leaves behind oatmeal and a simply shocking amount of Little Debbie desserts.
Before Bryson leaves, his wife gives him a walking stick as a gift from her and the kids. This almost moves Bryson to tears.