Study Guide

A Walk in the Woods Part 1, Chapter 3

By Bill Bryson

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Part 1, Chapter 3

  • The Appalachian Trail all started with one man: Benton MacKaye. MacKaye was at a crossroads when he first thought up the AT, stuck in a dead-end job at the U.S. Labor Department and reeling from his wife's recent suicide.
  • In the weeks following that tragedy, MacKaye starts cooking up a plan to build a "long-distance hiking trail" the likes of which the world has never seen (1.3.1). This plan—which eschews profit in favor of commune-ish values—is eventually published in a friend's architectural journal.
  • He actually manages to garner support for this plan, although things are slow going at first. It's not until 1930, when a man named Myron Avery joins the project, that work actually begins.
  • The two men get into frequent conflicts: MacKaye is an ambitious dreamer while Avery is a practical do-er. They're like the Odd Couple.
  • Back in the present, Bryson and Katz are being driven to the AT from their hotel. Their driver, who's met countless hikers over the years, tells them how few people actually make the walk.
  • They spend the night at a lodge, though Bryson is so amped up that he hardly sleeps. It's also insanely cold for Georgia right now (eleven degrees!), which doesn't help.
  • He finds Katz in the morning shamelessly flirting with the waitress at the hotel cafe. Katz begs him to cancel the trip because it's so cold, but Bryson predictably refuses.
  • They begin the hike after lunch. Bryson is "hopelessly out of shape," but he quickly gets into the swing of things (1.3.51). Katz, on the other hand, falls further behind with each passing minute.
  • The plan for today will be to trek about seven miles. Easy enough, right? Well trust us—each mile feels way longer when you've got a massive pack on your back.
  • Bryson reaches the top of Springer Mountain at midday, but Katz is nowhere to be found. Concerned, Bryson goes out looking for him and finds him on the verge of "hysteria" (1.3.64).
  • It turns out that Katz had dumped out a lot of stuff out of his pack in an attempt to ease his load. Ugh. He tossed a bunch of food too, which is a real drag on their stores.
  • Katz makes some coffee the next morning (using toilet paper because surprise! he threw away all the coffee filters) in an attempt to apologize.
  • They go through their supplies and realize there's a lot more missing than they thought—all they have left are noodles. Katz is also devastated to learn that Bryson never brought the Little Debbie snacks in the first place.

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