The ultimate hiking fantasy?

Published 16 October 2013

Smokey Mountain Parkway

Despite being the author of a range of exciting eBooks, most of my reading is done using the old fashioned book. The shelves in our living room are filled with a variety of paperback and hardback tomes, whilst walking guides maps and my notebooks fill two shelves in the bedroom.

The novels of Terry Pratchett, Robert Rankin and Tad Williams fill a substantial amount of space, but dotted around is my collection of travel related books. Tony Hawks and his tales of walking round Ireland with a fridge. Mark Wallington and his travels with Boogie. And then there’s the extensive Bill Bryson collection. I adore Bill Bryson. He combines travel and humour almost effortlessly. I sit on the tube reading Down Under, his book about Australia, and have to stifle the guffaws.

Bryson’s charm and wit is coupled with his ability to make you want to rush off and explore where he has. And there’s no greater example of that for me than his book, A Walk in the Woods. In it Bryson sets off
to walk the Appalachian Trail, a hiking trail which takes the walker along the Appalachian mountain range in the east of the USA.

For me, reading that book is most dangerous of all. It makes me want to go off and do the walk. This is despite the fact that Bryson describes it as spending too much time in trees, away from most civilisation. That there’s next to no facilities and you have to be careful what you do with your food at night else the bears might get it. It’s a million miles away from hiking in Britain where it’s rare
not to find yourself in a cosy village pub in the evening, with a pint and a hearty serving of Steak and Ale pie in front of it.

Yet Bryson makes it so enchanting that every time I read it I want to instantly drag my rucksack out of the loft, pack it with my tent and stove, and rush to the airport ready to catch the first available
plane that will take me anywhere close.

Of course this is a ridiculous notion, and the chances of me ever even starting the Appalachian Trail are pretty slim. For starters it’s 2,200 miles long, and you’re looking at a commitment of five to seven
months to finish the whole thing. Who can commit that amount of time? I’d have to quit my job, leave my other half to look after our son for half a year and persuade the US immigration service that I really do
want to spend six months wandering around the wildness of the USA. And when I get there I might not even like it. I’m not even that big a fan of walking in forests.

But still, the words of Bryson make me want to wander; to buy that ticket and head out there. For me it represents the ultimate challenge; the one walk I could do to rule them all. Maybe one day I will manage to head out there; to see if it lives up to the panacea that it is in my mind. Or whether turn out to be like Bryson and not actually even get close to finishing the thing. But in the meantime I might just resist reading it again, just to avoid the temptation.

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