Many years ago, I took my first solo road trip. I was very proud of myself for mapping out a route that took me through the western part of Kentucky and Indiana. I ended my trip with two nights spent at one of Kentucky's many lovely state parks, Pennyrile, near Dawson Springs.
I tell you this because for some reason during my stay there I decided it would be a fun experience to hike one of the park's many trails. It was my first experience with solo hiking (or really any hiking for that matter) and one that I won't be doing again. I took off on a very, very gentle quarter-mile loop through the forest. Soon after entering the woods it occurred to me that I was so alone, that no one knew where I was or would miss me if I didn't return to my room (at least until checkout time) and that if there was an axe murderer in the vicinity, he was probably just behind that tree! I told myself not to be silly and continued on stumbling over tree roots, tripping on the smallest rocks, swatting insects, and listening intently for that axe murder. Or even a bear...
Let's just say I couldn't see the forest for the fears.
I survived, of course. But I kept thinking of that experience as I read Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods, an account of his attempt to hike the entire 2100-plus mile Appalachian Trail that stretches from Georgia to Maine.
What was he thinking?
Mr. Bryson is one of my favorite authors and I would follow him anywhere - even along the grueling AT, as it is called.
As is his way, Mr. Bryson not only informs but entertains and causes one to smile, chortle, and laugh out loud at his shenanigans. He had a much worse time of it than I did on my little 1320-foot trek.
He sets off one fine spring day in March with his childhood (and terribly out of shape) buddy, Steve Katz. Soon, spring has turned to winter and they find themselves slogging through knee-high snow. They meet other intrepid hikers along the way. They despair of aching muscles, noodle dinners, soaking wet clothes, struggles with expensive and unwieldy equipment, a million irritating insects, rushing streams, a possible nighttime visit by a bear (never actually confirmed), and a multitude of other horrors that are to be experienced in the deep, dark woods.
And this was just the first day.
To be fair, every now and then along the way they were rewarded for their efforts with a fine view or a shower and a good meal when the trail happened to cross near a town. But most of the trip sounded totally exhausting. And, really, not all that much fun although Bryson makes it sound enticing in a masochistic sort of way.
I read A Walk in the Woods to further prepare me for reading Walden. I was amused to read Bryson's jab at Thoreau:
The American woods have been unnerving people for 300 years. The inestimably priggish and tiresome Henry David Thoreau thought nature was splendid, splendid indeed, so long as he could stroll to town for cakes and barley wine, but when he experienced real wilderness, on a visit to (Mount) Katahdin in 1846, he was unnerved to the core. This wasn't the tame world of overgrown orchards and sun-dappled paths that passed for wilderness in suburban Concord, Massachusetts, but a forbidding, oppressive, primeval country that was "grim and wild...savage and dreary," fit only for "men nearer of kin to the rocks and wild animals than we." The experience left him, in the words of one biographer, "near hysterical."
I feel your pain, Henry.