If you have any outdoorsy spark within you at all, then certain books are bound to elevate that spark to genuine obsession. A Walk in the Woods did that for me in July.
The stupid book made me want to drop everything, buy a backpack, and go hit the ~2,800-mile-long-trail posthaste. Nevermind the fact that I’m 26 weeks pregnant with twins, and walking a single mile feels like a feat of superhuman strength and stamina.
Reading Bryson’s account of through-hiking the trail reminded me of hiking in and around the Blue Ridge Mountains with my best friend in college–spending Saturdays in the woods, far enough from classrooms and homework that they couldn’t quite touch us, logging mile after mile and then dragging ourselves to Panera afterwards for soup and sandwiches.
Anyway, the whole reading-and-reminiscing thing sparked a conversation with the hubster, who started an AT through hike with a friend several years ago. Sadly, they couldn’t finish because said friend injured his ankle. The hubster’s dream lives on, and mine remains on my bucket list–the same place it’s been for the past four or five years.
Knowing that about 90 miles of the Appalachian Trail runs through western Massachusetts, we decided to look up volunteer opportunities at the trail conservancy in this area. A few days later, Manny informed me that he had signed both of us up to help rebuild a bog bridge on a section of trail an hour and a half away by car + 1/2 mile by foot.
I protested on the basis of exhaustion and general aches and pains. I told him he might end up carrying me back up the trail. And then I went with him anyway.
We met a few scruffy-looking men who could have been 45 or 80. Apparently one was a ridge runner whose full-time job is hiking the AT from one end of Mass. to another to keep an eye on the trail, rumors of bears, fallen trees, and the like. They handed us some wood to carry down the trail, and down we went.
The weather was perfect–mid 70’s, breezy, clear sunshine and cotton candy clouds. I think I waddled the half-mile to the bog bridge and back half a dozen times over the course of the day, alternately carrying a piece of wood, a box of nails, or a hammer.
I will note that the aches in my back and hips and the fatigue of walking, even while carrying lumber and tools, pretty much disappeared as long as I was out there walking in the woods (they all came back in full force later, sadly).
The hubster and I were also elected to walk another mile up the trail in the opposite direction to post a “Beware of Bear” sign near a shelter where a bear had decided to rob some unfortunate hiker of his entire food bag the week before. I was hoping to catch a glimpse of the fuzzy fellow, but no such luck.
But back to the book. If you don’t want to come away from A Walk in the Woods with a compulsion to, well, go for a walk in the woods, probably don’t pick it up in the first place–even though they are making it into a movie next year.
The book itself is hilariously uncouth, captures an incredibly relatable ambivalent love-hate relationship with the trail, and is laugh-out-loud funny. I spewed the tea I was drinking dangerously close to the pages more than once because a particularly entertaining line caught me off-guard. Because of this, I’m calling it the Funny Book on my 2015 Reading List.
Because the spark of obsession was lit, I followed that read with Hiking Through, another AT book, this one from Manny’s section of the home library. It’s an autobiographical account of a former Mennonite hiking the trail after losing his wife to cancer. I respect this guy more than Bryson, but he’s not a writer, and his attempts at both poetry and humor fell rather flat. Still, it was worth the few hours it took to read it. I’m thinking these might lead to a whole series of AT-related reading.
I guess this is all to say that if one day in the not-so-distant future, you read here that the hubster and I are quitting life to take two kids and a dog on a six-month-long walk in the woods, you shouldn’t be terribly surprised.