This is the tale of how Bryson and an old school aquaintaince, Katz, hike the Appalachian trail, the longest continuous footpath in the world. They don't actually hike the whole thing, but they do cover an impressive amount of it and they have quite an adventure on the way. Bryson's observations on the people they meet along the way is a little cruel sometimes (I'm sure Mary Ellen was difficult to spend a few days with and Katz dousn't sound like the easiest person either, but does this need to be so expanded on? I guess the answer is that is one of the things that sells books).
Bryson weaves into his narrative lots of information about the US National parks system, tree diseases, the history of hiking in the USA (and specifically the Appalachian Way itself), the fact that US towns are designed for motorists and no-one really walks anywhere any more, the complexities of buying hiking equipment, the deprivations of wilderness hiking and how to deter bear attacks. This was the most enjoyable element of the book for me.
I was slightly disappointed that Bryson wasn't more fascinated by the natural history of the forests they passed through. I know that scale of hiking is exhausting and leaves little energy for looking around and taking in your surroundings, but I had hoped for more birding and botanising observations along the way.
Something that amused me was that while Bryson comes across in his writing as an American, his comments about hiking in the Lake District (meaning the English Lake District) make it clear he's writing from a British perspective for a British audience. I wonder if these elements are changed in the US version of the book?
A lot has probably changed since this book was written in 1997 but it's still a fascinating read.
A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson published by Doubleday