Reader Calls Skywalker–Close Encounters on the Appalachian Trail “Better Than Bryson”
“Better than Bryson” was the Title of a Review I got for Skywalker–Close Encounters on the Appalachian Trail. My first reaction was I’m glad it was somebody that said that! But secondly, I am glad he did say it, just because of the relevant discussion it brings about.
What this reader-reviewer was referring to, of course, was the iconic Appalachian Trail book, A Walk in the Woods, by renowned travel writer, Bill Bryson. Amongst that book’s devoted readers has been myself on two different occasions. I thoroughly enjoyed it; in fact, you could even say that it was my original motivation to eventually attempt to ‘thru-hike’ the entire 2,181 mile Appalachian Trail (AT), which runs from Georgia to Maine. I simply had not known there was this entire community extant that arrived every spring at Springer Mountain in north Georgia, attempting to walk the entire trail by the arrival of winter.
But more than just the informational aspects of the book, I simply was entertained by Bryson’s unique brand of irreverent, yet pungent humor. His father was a well-known sports writer, and it must run in the blood. I’ve seen very few that can wield a pen in quite as effective of a manner, even if, as has been commented on by many readers, he is a serial exaggerator. So how in the world could my book–or any other Appalachian Trail narrative–be “better than Bryson” as the reader-reviewer stated.
The answer is that while I find it highly unlikely that anybody has written an AT narrative that was as good of a writer as Bill Bryson, quite a few have had better stories to tell. Having hiked the entire thing myself, the striking thing to me in re-reading A Walk in the Woods, was how few people Bryson and his hapless sidekick, Katz, actually met out there. What’s more, they kept skipping sections, which seriously blunted the momentum of the book. So while I have not seen an AT narrative written as well as his was, I have definitely seen better stories, that might even be better overall books.
Some examples would be Three Hundred Zeroes by Dennis Blanchard, The Barefoot Sisters by Lucy Lechter, Becoming Odyssa by Jennifer Pharr Davis, and Walking on the Happy Side of Misery by J.R. Tate. Hopefully, Skywalker–Close Encounters on the Appalachian Trail fits on that list as well. If nothing else, it has served as a primer to aspiring thru-hikers on what NOT to do on the great AT. One reviewer described my journey as a battle between my determination and incompetence. I couldn’t agree more, and hopefully it has made for some good reading!
Bill Walker is the author of Skywalker–Close Encounters on the Appalachian Trail. He is also the author of Skywalker–Highs and Lows on the Pacific Crest Trail, as well as The Best Way–El Camino de Santiago. Walker, who is nearly 7-feet tall, is currently working on a whimsical book on the subject of height.