A Walk in the Woods

Available at amazon.ca

I read this book at least twice a year.  My copy is dog-eared and tattered with 43 pages bookmarked so I can reread my favourite passages.  I think it appeals to my secret desire to run the Bruce Trail end to end.  Not as a thru-run (not the first time), but in sections.  It’s only 800K (500 miles).  Compared to the Appalachian Trail that’s a stroll. 

The cover?  Amazing.  The woods.  A bear.  Sold!  The title?  Perfect.  The author photo?  Missing.  And seriously, I really need to know what Bill Bryson looks like so I googled him.  Totally not what I was expecting.  At all. 

My review may be biased.  Did I mentioned I adore this book?  Did I mention I adore all his books?  Yes, even Troublesome Words.  Which I actually read cover to cover.  It’s unfortunate that most of the words still trouble me.   A Walk in the Woods is not a book about running, but you probably already figured that out.  But the book does have the spirit of running and there are a few paragraphs devoted to the lunatics ultramarathoners who run The Trail end to end as fast as possible even though there is no officially recorded record to beat.  Plus I’m determined to start trail running this year and this book inspired me to finally sign up for a 5 Peaks Trail Running race.  The author reveals an obsession with animal attack (if you recall, I am very appetizing), unlikely illness (if you recall, I contract Marathonia twice a year), and murder (if you recall, it is just a matter of time before I find a dead body) that parallels my own, as he educates his readers on the many perils of hiking.  And there are many, many fascinating perils.  Few runners will fail to relate to a witty, but reluctant adventurer writing about a long slog through tough terrain. 

The trail is somewhere between 2100 and 2200 miles (3360 and 3520 kilometres) and as of the book publication date about 4000 folks have hiked it end to end.  The thru-hikers complete the feat in a single season, hiking end to end, and the section-hikers tackle the trail bit by bit, stretching completion over months, years, or decades (the record is 46 years).  Over several weeks of section hiking Bryson completed 870 miles (1392 kilometres, or about 40%). 

Interesting factoid stolen from chapter 11: every twenty minutes on the trail Bryson walked more than the average American (and, presumably, Canadian) walks in a week.  The average is 1.4 miles (2.25 kilometres) a week.  This number counts trips from the car to the store/office/hospital and around the store/office/cardiac ward.  This astounds me.  Due to factors largely outside my control, I recently reduced my weekly walking mileage of 30 kilometres to about 15 kilometres and I notice a definite difference in my mood and fitness.  A negative difference.  In that I’m gloomier and fatter.  I do not understand car culture, but admittedly I don’t live in the suburbs.  And I never will.  And when I give in someday and move my 1.4 kids to a big house with storage you can drudge up this post and wave it in my gloomy fat face.  Did I mention I detest all forms of transportation that do not involve self propulsion?   

The Appalachian Trail conference doesn’t recognize speed records, but runners are keenly interested in time.   According to the book, “in May 1999, an ultrarunner named David Horton and an endurance hiker named Scott Grierson set off within two days of each other.  Horton had a network of support crews waiting at road crossings and other strategic points and so needed to carry nothing but a bottle of water.  Each evening he was taken by car to a hotel or private home.  He averaged 38.3 miles per day, with ten or eleven hours of running.  Grierson, meanwhile, merely walked, but he did so for as much as eighteen hours a day“.  The winner came in at fifty two days, nine hours.  I won’t tell you who won. 

Runshort’s Rating: 4/5 shoes.

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9 responses to “A Walk in the Woods

  1. It’s been a million years since i read it, but i still laugh when I think of the description of his friend going insane on day 1 and tossing out all his supplies. I cracked several ribs laughing at that…

    That’s not Bryson’s photo on the cover?

    p.s. you read this book twice a year, you have 43 pages bookmarked and it STILL only gets four stars? Yow, you’re tough.

    • Either shoes are tougher than stars or my gloomy fattness is influencing my highly scientific rating system. Probably the former. I attribute their toughness to early childhood experiences in overseas sweatshops.

  2. I, too, am a Bill Bryson lover (uh, of his books) and own all of them except the Dictionary of Troublesome Words. Oh wait, and the Shakespeare one. I forgot about that one. I care little about Shakespeare so I skipped it. I just couldn’t find the Troublesome Words one back when I was looking for it, or I totally would have gotten it. Anyway, all of this to say that I was such a fan of his books, and then thought that the experience would be amplified by listening to one on tape/CD/MP3, but it actually did the opposite for me. His voice sounds really pretentious to me and it turned formerly funny-yet-ascerbic mental thoughts about others (that he shares with the reader) into a “well-aren’t-we-full-of-ourselves?” kind of situation.

    Why the reduction in weekly walking distance? I totally hear you on the effect it has! I used to walk 0.9 miles to the subway (one way) for five years and then dropped to something like 0.2 mi., and now 0.5 mi. I do notice more love handle-looking things hanging on, but that could also be aging!

    • Have you googled his picture? He seems very jolly but could definitely pull off pretentious.

      My end destination changed and my beloved walk changed with it. I should be walking more, not less, as I rapidly age.

  3. Maybe you could run to work or run home? To make you feel better just think of me on the train going the other way – we are all packed in like sardines!

    • With all that standing your chances of contracting bed bugs are probably lower. Why do I read these scare stories in Toronto Life? As if I need another reason to hate transit.

  4. I missed this post! One of my favourite reads by one of my favourite authors.

    I won;t tell them who won either. Great post.

  5. Pingback: Anybody hear the forest fall | My Running Shorts

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