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A Walk in the Woods

Cover of A Walk in the Woods

A Walk in the Woods

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A Walk in the Woods is a laugh-out-loud account of an outrageously rugged hike by a beloved comic author.

Bill Bryson decided in 1996 to walk the 2,100-mile Appalachian trail. Winding from Georgia to Maine, this uninterrupted "hiker's highway" sweeps through the heart of some of America's most beautiful and treacherous terrain. Bryson risked snake bite and hantavirus to trudge up unforgiving mountains, plod through swollen rivers, and yearn for cream sodas and hot showers. This amusingly ill-conceived adventure brings Bryson to the height of his comic powers, but his acute eye also observes an astonishing landscape of silent forests, sparkling lakes, and other national treasures that are often ignored or endangered.

The Lost Continent, Bill Bryson's hilarious first travel book, chronicled a trip in his mother's Chevy around small-town America. Since then, he has written several more about the UK and the US, including notable bestsellers, A Walk in the Woods, I'm A Stranger Here Myself, In a Sunburned Country and, most recently, A Short History of Nearly Everything.

The Adobe Reader format of this title is not suitable for use on the Pocket PC or Palm OS versions of Adobe Reader.

A Walk in the Woods is a laugh-out-loud account of an outrageously rugged hike by a beloved comic author.

Bill Bryson decided in 1996 to walk the 2,100-mile Appalachian trail. Winding from Georgia to Maine, this uninterrupted "hiker's highway" sweeps through the heart of some of America's most beautiful and treacherous terrain. Bryson risked snake bite and hantavirus to trudge up unforgiving mountains, plod through swollen rivers, and yearn for cream sodas and hot showers. This amusingly ill-conceived adventure brings Bryson to the height of his comic powers, but his acute eye also observes an astonishing landscape of silent forests, sparkling lakes, and other national treasures that are often ignored or endangered.

The Lost Continent, Bill Bryson's hilarious first travel book, chronicled a trip in his mother's Chevy around small-town America. Since then, he has written several more about the UK and the US, including notable bestsellers, A Walk in the Woods, I'm A Stranger Here Myself, In a Sunburned Country and, most recently, A Short History of Nearly Everything.

The Adobe Reader format of this title is not suitable for use on the Pocket PC or Palm OS versions of Adobe Reader.

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    Chapter 1

    Not long after I moved with my family to a small town in New Hampshire I happened upon a path that vanished into a wood on the edge of town.

    A sign announced that this was no ordinary footpath but the celebrated Appalachian Trail. Running more than 2,100 miles along America's eastern seaboard, through the serene and beckoning Appalachian Mountains, the AT is the granddaddy of long hikes. From Georgia to Maine, it wanders across fourteen states, through plump, comely hills whose very names -- Blue Ridge, Smokies, Cumberlands, Green Mountains, White Mountains -- seem an invitation to amble. Who could say the words "Great Smoky Mountains" or "Shenandoah Valley" and not feel an urge, as the naturalist John Muir once put it, to "throw a loaf of bread and a pound of tea in an old sack and jump over the back fence"?

    And here it was, quite unexpectedly, meandering in a dangerously beguiling fashion through the pleasant New England community in which I had just settled. It seemed such an extraordinary notion -- that I could set off from home and walk 1,800 miles through woods to Georgia, or turn the other way and clamber over the rough and stony White Mountains to the fabled prow of Mount Katahdin, floating in forest 450 miles to the north in a wilderness few have seen. A little voice in my head said: "Sounds neat! Let's do it!"

    I formed a number of rationalizations. It would get me fit after years of waddlesome sloth. It would be an interesting and reflective way to reacquaint myself with the scale and beauty of my native land after nearly twenty years of living abroad. It would be useful (I wasn't quite sure in what way, but I was sure nonetheless) to learn to fend for myself in the wilderness. When guys in camouflage pants and hunting hats sat around in the Four Aces Diner talking about fearsome things done out-of-doors, I would no longer have to feel like such a cupcake. I wanted a little of that swagger that comes with being able to gaze at a far horizon through eyes of chipped granite and say with a slow, manly sniff, "Yeah, I've shit in the woods."

    And there was a more compelling reason to go. The Appalachians are the home of one of the world's great hardwood forests -- the expansive relic of the richest, most diversified sweep of woodland ever to grace the temperate world -- and that forest is in trouble. If he global temperature rises by 4°C over the next fifty years, as is evidently possible, the whole of the Appalachian wilderness below New England could become savanna. Already trees are dying in frightening numbers. The elms and chestnuts are long gone, the stately hemlocks and flowery dogwoods are going, and the red spruces, Fraser firs, mountain ashes, and sugar maples may be about to follow. Clearly, if ever there was a time to experience this singular wilderness, it was now.

    So I decided to do it. More rashly, I announced my intention -- told friends and neighbors, confidently informed my publisher, made it common knowledge among those who knew me. Then I bought some books and talked to people who had done the trail in whole or in part and came gradually to realize that this was way beyond -- way beyond -- anything I had attempted before.

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