Bryson kicks this chapter off with a stirring ode to… trees. While there are plenty along the AT today, there were even more before–in fact, there was a whopping "960 million acres of woodland" in the U.S. before European colonization (1.4.5).
The bulk of the remaining forest is now under control of government, where it is overseen by the most dastardly bunch you'll ever meet—the Forest Service.
Instead of caring for forests (as its name implies), the Forest Service mostly just loves building roads. Oh yeah, and they also sell tons of land to lumber companies. Because that makes sense.
Things are pretty quiet in these woods, however: Bryson and Katz spend their days walking separately through this frigid, dead-quiet natural wonderland.
They meet a "friend" on their fourth night (1.4.22). Her name is Mary Ellen and she's a Chatty Cathy, to say the least.
After a night of being thoroughly critiqued by Mary Ellen, Bryson is quite annoyed. Katz, on the other hand, seems like he's going insane.
They arrive at a traveler's lodge that day. The trio buys delicious food and enjoys some much-deserved R&R.
Mary Ellen is missing when it's time to go. Our two heroes feel like they've won the lottery and hustle back to the trail before anyone realizes what's going on.
But of course, Mary Ellen suddenly appears when they pitch their tents that night.