Tag Archives: Bill Bryson hiking book

Is “A Walk in the Woods” a good thing for the Appalachian Trail, or a bad thing?

Here is my two cents for those now inspired to hike the Appalachian Trail now that the movie “A Walk in the Woods” will be released.

I just got back from a weeklong hike on the Hundred Mile Wilderness, the third time in my life I walked that section of the Trail. I’ve hiked 1,100 miles of the Trail in sections in the past. I was/am an Eagle Scout.

If that’s not enough street cred, here’s a picture of me at Katahdin:

In 1982 or 1983. I'm the one actually touching the sign. When you hike Katahdin in February you don't have to wait in line to get the summit photo. Oh and by the way, most of the time it's too cold for this pose.....

In 1982 or 1983. I’m the one actually touching the sign. When you hike Katahdin in February you don’t have to wait in line to get the summit photo. Oh and by the way, most of the time it’s too cold for this pose…..

see the following sign. It’s still in place about a hundred yards down the Trial from the Golden Road ( needs repainting if you ask me)

it might as well say "Abandon Hope, all ye who enter here" but for some reason, the new hikers have not all considered the warning, prior to arrival at the sign. It is quite necessary to prepare.

it might as well say “Abandon Hope, all ye who enter here” but for some reason, the new hikers have not all considered the warning, prior to arrival at the sign. It is quite necessary to prepare.

I saw a few parties that were skirting with trouble, mainly because the people underestimated what they were getting into. Also, there are local outfitters willing to bring food re-supply to the 40-mile mark these days – you no longer need to bring all ten day’s of food, as I did in 2000 when I hiked it with “Gummi Bear.”

who were these folks?

First was a family of five from Colorado that managed to get all the way to Rainbow Stream Lean-to. . They had a dog (not on a leash). They were so tired they took a rest day there. Problem was, they had pre-arranged a food drop at Jo-Merry road crossing, the leader ( the dad) told me they were going to need to hike a 28-mile day to make the rendezvous.

Um, no. This was not an accurate assessment of their capability. Dad was never going to be able to whip his team into shape. Loss of face for the dad. .They learned stuff about the Maine woods – it was just not the stuff they thought they were going to learn

The 28 miles that lay between them and the food drop was more difficult terrain than what they had crossed, by far. I tried to find a way to tactfully suggest that alternatives would need to be considered, but – there are times when a person needs to learn that for himself. Fortunately, they also crossed a logging road  about four miles further on; I was told by another hiker that the family decided to bail at that spot.

They  could have had a great trip to the Maine North Woods if they did some other activity.

Next was a mother/daughter combo. The daughter was flipflopping and already was doing fifteen miles a day. The mom wanted to co-hike but spent all day hiking 3.8 miles to Hurd Brook Lean-to. Obviously a disparity in fitness. It was sweet that mom wanted to support her daughter. After some heartfelt discussion, mom decided she would go back to Abol ( the starting point) and set up some “slackpacking” days, where a driver would ferry their backpacks around to a predetermined spot down the trail.

This created bad karma between Mom and Daughter. Nobody’s life was at stake, but the fantasy of a pleasant hike was dashed to smithereens. The team needs to be in harmony. Doing this activity with other persons is a form of enforced intimacy that’s probably closer than being married ( in some ways, not all!)

Next, a foreign guy with a 50-pound pack. Ouch. He was young and strong though – just headed for pain.

And various others in the mix, obviously carrying way too much stuff. My friend Tom Jamrog reports that somebody told him there’s been a forty per cent increase in hikers starting the Trail going South Bound ( SoBo, in A.T. slang) and that many now get about three days in, then quit.

Now, I have not seen the Walk in the Woods movie, just the trailer, which seems to promote  the idea of male bonding (it seems to have more of a plot than the book. The book was terrific but more of a collection of stories. I always thought Bryson did a great job) But I think they need to make a ten-minute short to show along with it, that emphasizes how to prepare. People actually die doing the A.T. and I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.

In 2012 I wrote a piece for beginner hikers, and everything in it is still true today.

Answer the question, Joe!

I think the movie ( along with “Wild” which is about the Pacific Crest Trail is a good thing, if it gets people out in to the woods.

Bottom line before you hike:

  1. get in shape. best way to do this is by hiking  in your own neighborhood.
  2. try out your equipment.
  3. take short trips.
  4. do a “shakedown”
  5. have some heartfelt discussions with your potential hiking buddies.
  6. read the books – here is a good one!
  7. be realistic…
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